Q65 : Are Supernatural Gifts Evident Today?

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Q65 : Are Supernatural Gifts Evident Today?

Are the Gifts of the Spirit (the supernatural manifestation type) for today? I was raised in a liberal Baptist church that taught the Gifts died with the Apostles, although they never could explain all the others (the seventy, the many in Acts) that operated in the gifts such as miracles and healings , spent many years in a Pentecostal church learning that everyone operates in the gifts, and now am confused about the gifts of the Spirit in operation today.

Many years of study, and I find evidence of both views, the Gifts seem to be in operation in the Early Church based on writings of the Early Church Fathers, contrary to what I was taught in the Baptist church. Although, I see the fraudulent use, emotional manifestations, and disruption of services in the Pentecostal church. Could I be correct in believing that the miracles, healings, gift of tongues, as well as the gifts that are not manifestations, are operating properly today? I do see them as out of balance and used for all the wrong reasons in many if not most cases, but need some doctrinal guidance.

I do not have access to what I would call a balanced teacher because I am basically a shut in, with a very rare disease that is debilitating. I know a fairly large number of Pastors but they are all so denominational, I can not seem to find an objective view.

We do have verses that seem to confuse the issue such as:

What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. (1Cor. 14:15)

Paul seems to be saying that when he prays in the Spirit, it is without his knowledge of what he is saying.

My goal is to draw closer to God, however, in doing so, I need a clear understanding on previous teachings that have taken root and if they are faulty doctrine, I must root them out, an example would be that I can speak in an unknown (to me) language and unlike many I've heard that sound like one or two words over and over, mine is diverse, and I would have to describe it as sounding like an actual language with many, many different words. Another thing I noticed is that while speaking in this manner, I can think about something else or read. I am just a country boy, so the ability to do two things at once is pretty foreign to me.

This is a perplexing issue for me, I have tested the Spirits and prayed about it for a number of years without a clear answer.

PS your E-Sword Testimony of Jesus Christ is the first truly comprehensive, point by point guide for understanding Revelation I have ever encountered. It has caused me to re-evaluate a couple of things I was taught, but thankfully, the Holy Spirit has kept my understanding on base on most of my beliefs. This is truly a blessing to me, and as such, I will be reviewing the rest of your teachings.

A65 : by Tony Garland

Before I proceed, let me issue a disclaimer: the topics touched upon by your question are complex and cannot really be dealt with appropriately in a simple question and answer format. Still, at the risk of oversimplifying the issues, I'll summarize what I see in Scripture and how it compares with Pentecostal practices of our day.

By way of background, let me say that my exposure to the subject of modern day use of supernatural gifts was the reverse of yours: I was born-again at a Pentecostal church during a worship service where many were singing and praising God using ecstatic speech. (By ecstatic speech, I mean the words employed were not that of any bona fide language.) As I was discipled within the Pentecostal movement, I was taught that "speaking in tongues" was the sign that a person had been baptised in the Spirit and endued with power for evangelization. Over time, like those around me, I began to use ecstatic speech both in prayer and worship—and assumed it meant I had "received Spirit baptism." I continued in this practice for a period of some 5 years.

During most services, ecstatic speech was employed both in corporate worship and individually (the former generally being accompanied by an interpretation). Many other supernatural gifts were also evidently exhibited such as personal and corporate prophecy, words of knowledge, etc.

After several years within the Pentecostal movement, including participation in a series of mission trips overseas, I began to have concerns about these practices. I describe these concerns in more detail in one of my topical presentations entitled The Promise of Pentecosta. I recommend this presentation to anyone who has been involved with the Pentecostal movement like I was and has developed scriptural or experiential questions about the modern use of supernatural gifts. Perhaps listening to that presentation will help answer some of your questions.

Suffice it to say that my own growing doubts were fueled by several factors:

  1. Experience vs. Scripture - My own experiences, and those of others in the movement, did not jibe with what I saw described in Scripture. For example, there was often considerable "coaching" (even outright manipulation) to get people to use ecstatic speech. Yet in every case illustrated in Scripture, we see that those who spoke in tongues had no preconceived expectation of doing so. They certainly were not coached or cajoled to do so. In fact, it was completely unexpected (e.g., Acts 10:45). Then there was the problem that People who were unable to speak in ecstatic speech felt like second-class Christians (lacking in power or spiritual maturity) and typically experienced great frustration. Questions arose as to why God wouldn't give them the gift and whether there were unknown lingering sins which were the root cause? There were also the many prophetic pronouncements which were either artificial and vague (untestable) or which did not come true (the few testable ones). The characteristics of the prophecies that were given did not match the pattern of prophecy seen in either the OT or NT. This included numerous "prophetic words" spoken over me which subsequently were seen to be in error. For instance, it was prophesied that I would learn Hebrew and Greek supernaturally. After many, many hours of diligent study—and still a mere baby at both languages—I can assure you my progress has not been supernatural (although I am cognizant of the help of God in the process).

  2. Misunderstanding of Tongues - Those leaders who were most experienced in the use of tongues seemed to be ignorant of several scriptural aspects of their use. (1) The misinterpretation of 1Cor. 13:1 notwithstanding, there is no objective evidence in Scripture that tongues are other than bona fide human languages. (2) Tongues in Scripture were never used to preach or present the gospel. They were not, as many held, the means by which the gospel is to be presented to foreign speakers. (3) Many in the movement had no real understanding of 1Cor. 14:22a, "Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers." This is a key aspect of the historical transition taking place in the Book of Acts which is not understood by most in the Pentecostal movement because it has to do with a judgment taking place on unbelieving Jews on the Day of Pentecost. I began to wonder that if these aspects were not taught by those in the movement, how well did they really understand biblical tongues?

  3. The Giving of the Spirit - As I grew in my understanding of Scripture, I came to gain a better appreciation of the transitions which take place as God unveils His plan in history. In regard to tongues and supernatural gifts, grasping the implications of John 7:38-39 is essential to understanding the words of Jesus in Acts 1:4-8. Once one understands the importance of the transition taking place in the coming of the Spirit, one can then consider the aspect of continuity. This helps avoid two errors we tend to make when interpreting Acts. (1) Everything recorded in Acts is for today. (2) Nothing recorded in Acts is for today. Instead, we begin to see Acts as the record of a historical transition, many elements of which do not apply today since the Church is no longer in its infancy.

  4. Holy Spirit: the Source of Error? - Ultimately, the Holy Spirit is the "Spirit of truth" (John 14:17). If so, I began to ask myself, how is it that so much of what passes as the operation of Gifts of the Spirit is manifestly false? Why are no bona fide human languages in evidence in modern "tongues speaking" (as in Acts chapters 2, 10, 19 and implied in 8)? Where are the bona fide prophets who can truly prophesy like the prophets of the OT and NT (Acts 21:10-11)? Why do modern "prophecies" contain obvious errors and why are many untestable in any objective sense? (Another example comes to mind here concerning a woman who was "prophesied" over that she was to meet her future husband during a mission trip. When the trip ended without having met any future spouse, the woman was crushed and her faith was severely tested. It is this negative aspect of the modern signs movement which removes any hesitancy I might have to speak candidly on this topic.) If NT prophecy can be an admixture of truth and error, then how can prophets (themselves issuing truth mixed with error) judge prophecies made by others (1Cor. 14:29)? These are just a few of the questions which arose in my mind over time. How could the "Spirit of truth" be claimed as the source of so much error? Clearly, whatever was transpiring—including my own use of ecstatic speech—it could not be originating in the Holy Spirit. (For the record, I believe that much of what transpires in the modern signs movement is fueled by the flesh and possibly, in some cases, by demonic influence.) I asked myself how it was that the signs and supernatural gifts exhibited by the early Church had great influence on unbelievers whereas the modern signs movement is generally regarded as a curious oddity by nonbelievers? Clearly, whatever the New Testament Church experienced in the way of sign gifts, they were of a much different quality than what is exhibited today.

No matter how one interprets what Scripture says about the timing of when certain supernatural gifts will cease (1Cor. 13:8-12), and there are numerous views:

At least seven interpretations have been suggested for the meaning of "the perfect" in verse 10: The completion of the canon (Merrill Unger, Joseph Dillow, Myron Houghton), the maturity of the Church at the end of the apostolic age (Robert Thomas), at the time the believer dies and is face to face with the Lord (Thomas R. Edgar), at the Rapture (Stanley D. Toussaint), at the Second Advent of Christ (Charles C. Ryrie in the Ryrie Study Bible, but he seems to suggest the canon view in Balancing the Christian Life, the eternal state (John F. MacArthur, Jr.) and the eschaton in general (Gordon D. Fee).
— Robert Dean, Jr., "Three Arguments for the Cessation of Tongues," The Conservative Theological Journal, Vol. 9 No. 26, March 2005, 63-86, p. 73.

ultimately the question remains as to the legitimacy of what today passes for these gifts? It is not simply a matter of what God could do, but a question of what He is doing? We can be sure that whatever is done of God will be completely true and have no lingering questions of legitimacy. It is my belief that when objectively evaluated, the modern signs movement simply doesn't measure up. (Incidentally, my own view at present leans toward understanding 1Cor. 13:8-10 as teaching that certain gifts ended with the maturing of the early Church.)

Regarding 1Cor. 14:15, I agree with your assessment that Paul is saying to the Corinthians that there are times when he prayed and sang "in the Spirit," but did not himself understand that which he pronounced. This seems especially clear from the wider context (1Cor. 14:8-15). However, all this requires is that Paul spoke in a bona fide language unknown by him. It does not provide evidence for the view that tongues in 1 Corinthians are ecstatic speech and differ from the normal human languages clearly evidenced in the Book of Acts. The "two tongues" view (regular human languages in Acts vs. ecstatic speech used as a private "prayer language" in 1 Corinthians) is imposed upon the text—there is no textual evidence for two classes or categories of tongues.

Most commonly, the response will be made that Paul referred to his own use of ecstatic speech in 1Cor. 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1Cor. 13:1-3, NKJV)

Several things may be said in response:

  • All that can be proved from this verse is that Paul mentions the possibility (even likelihood) that there are non-human languages known to the angels. It does not follow that ecstatic speech (or any "unknowable" utterance) qualifies as angelic language.
  • Paul is not saying that he has ever spoken in such a language. This becomes more clear by examining the passage in reverse and recognizing the use of hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point). (1) Did Paul ever give his body to be burned (v. 3)? No. (2) Did Paul bestow all his goods to feed the poor (v. 3)? No. (3) Did Paul understand all mysteries and all knowledge and have all faith such that he removed mountains (v. 2)? No. (4) Did Paul speak with the tongues of men and of angels (v. 1)? Clearly, the implication is No! Paul is using hyperbole to teach the superiority of love over the more attention-getting gifts. This is the focus of the entire chapter and it is not his intention to convey his own use of "angelic tongues" — a common interpretation among Pentecostals to justify ecstatic speech as a manifestation of biblical tongues.

In my answer, I have focused mostly on tongues and prophecy since these are the most visible uses of sign gifts in our day. It is my view that what is evidenced today as tongues and prophecy is not the tongues and prophecy manifested by the early Church in the New Testament. This can only mean that the genuine use of such gifts is either extremely rare or has already passed (1Cor. 13:8-12).

I would also clarify that I am discussing the distribution of supernatural spiritual gifts on an ongoing basis to individual believers (1Cor. 12:7-11)—I am not discussing what God might choose to do on an individual basis through the hands and faith of believers in a specific situation (e.g., healing and other supernatural acts which suit His purpose).

To summarize: I don't believe ecstatic speech qualifies as biblical tongues; I don't believe that the modern signs movement exhibits God-given supernatural power as seen in the NT; but I do believe God may act supernaturally as He determines through believers today as individual circumstances arise.

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