The first thing that we have to figure out in dealing with the subject of spiritual gifts is the question “are spiritual gifts for today?". There are two streams of thought concerning this question. There are those that believe that spiritual gifts ended with the death of the last apostle. They believe that the spiritual gifts talked about in first Corinthians 12 are not for today but that they were part of ushering in the church age. This theological viewpoint is called cessationism coming from the fact that they believed the gifts ceased. They base this viewpoint on a passage in first Corinthians 13 verse eight where it says that prophecies will fail, tongues will cease, and knowledge will be done away with. They tie that verse with a belief that there are no recorded instances of spiritual gifts being used in history after the death of the apostles.
The other viewpoint concerning spiritual gifts is that there was no “age of apostles” but that there is only the “church age”. This viewpoint believes that at the ascension of Christ and the subsequent pouring out of the Holy Spirit ushered in what is called the church age. They believe that from that time until now we have been living in the church age. Because of this, they believe the spiritual gifts or not limited to just the apostles but were and are available to every believer. They do not believe that the gifts of the spirit died out with the last apostle but were used throughout history up until our modern era. They will wholeheartedly admit that there were times in history where the use of spiritual gifts waned but credit this to the spiritual condition of the church rather than believing it was God’s will that the gifts died out. Their answer to the question are spiritual gifts for today is a resounding yes.
So let’s take a look at the scripture used by both camps to prove their viewpoint and let’s take a look at the historical record to see whether or not spiritual gifts are for today.
Are spiritual gifts for today?
The scriptural argument concerning spiritual gifts.
Let’s take a look at the passage in first Corinthians that talks about the end of spiritual gifts.
1 Corinthians 13:8-12
New King James Version (NKJV)
8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
As you can see the Bible clearly states that spiritual gifts will end. The question is not if they will end but when they will end. In verse 10 it states that the gifts will end when that which is perfect has come. The cessationist’s viewpoint is that this scripture is talking about the Bible. That since there are many places in the scriptures where talks about God’s word being perfect that when the New Testament was completed that there was no need for spiritual gifts any longer.
The other viewpoint to the scripture believes that although the Bible is perfect and God’s word never fails, but this particular scripture is not talking about the Bible or the completion of the New Testament but instead is talking about the return of Christ. They believe this because of what is written in vs. 11 and 12 where it says that now we see dimly but then face to face, that now we know in part that then we shall know as we are already known. They contend that we still only see dimly, that we still only know in part, but that when Jesus returns it will be then that we see Him face to face, that we will see clearly, and we shall know Him the way he already knows us. I personally find this interpretation to be more accurate considering the context.
The historical argument concerning spiritual gifts.
Does history support the claim that spiritual gifts stopped operating after the death of the last apostle? This question is very important because if there is no record of spiritual gifts being operated after the death of the last apostle then it gives much more credence to the interpretation that spiritual gifts were given by God to help the early church before the writing and formation of the New Testament. However if there is historical evidence of the operation of the gifts of the Spirit after the death of the last apostle and the writing of the New Testament then it totally invalidates the cessationist point of view. So let’s take a look at the historical record to see if we can find any evidence of the operation of the gifts of the Spirit.
JUSTIN MARTYR. A.D. 100 to 165.
“for many of our people, of us Christians, have healed and still continue to heal in every part of the world, and even in your city (Rome) numbers possessed by evil spirits (are healed) such as could not be healed by other exorcists, simply by adjuring them in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate. There are prophetic gifts among us even until now. You may see with us both women and men having gifts from the Spirit of God.”.
EUSEBIUS. The famous Church historian of Caesarea. A.D. 260 to 340.
“Of those that flourished in these times, Quadratus is said to have been distinguished for his prophetical gifts. There are many others, also, noted in these times, who held rank in the apostolic succession…. The Holy Spirit also wrought many wonders as yet through them, so that as soon as the gospel was heard, men in crowds voluntarily and eagerly embraced the true faith with their whole minds.”
IRENAEUS, The overseer of the Church at Lyons in France. A.D. 115? 125? to 202
“Wherefore, also, those who were truly His disciples, receiving grace from Him, in His name performed these things for the benefit of the rest of men, as everyone received the free gift from Him. Some, indeed, most certainly and truly cast out demons, so that frequently those persons themselves were cleansed from wicked spirits, believed and were received into the Church. Others have the knowledge of things to come, as also visions and prophetic communications; others heal the sick by the imposition of hands, and restore them to health. And, moreover, as we said above, even the dead have been raised, and continued with us for many years. And why should we say more? It is impossible to tell the number of gifts which the Church throughout the world received from God, and the deeds performed in the name of Jesus Christ that was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and this to every day for the benefit of the heathen, without deceiving any, or exacting their money. For as she has received freely from God, she also ministers. Nor does she perform anything by means of angelic invocations or by incantations, or by any other wicked, curious art; but directing her prayers to the Lord who made all things, in a pure, sincere and straightforward spirit, and calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, she has been accustomed to work miracles for the advantage of mankind, and not to lead them into error. —- The name of our Lord Jesus Christ EVEN NOW confers benefits, and cures thoroughly and effectually ALL who ANYWHERE believe on Him.”
SOUER. The German Historian.
Souer writes on page 406 of the 3rd volume of his “History of the Christian Church,” that Martin Luther experienced the gifts of the Holy Spirit: “Dr. Martin Luther was a prophet, evangelist, speaker in tongues and interpreter, in one person, endowed with all the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”
“While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, ‘There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!’ A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, ‘Do you know Mr. Spurgeon?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the man, ‘I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and, under his preaching, by God’s grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place; Mr. Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit out of it. I did take ninepence that day, and fourpence was just the profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul though him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul.’”
That quote from Charles Spurgeon was taken from his very own autobiography. That was the spiritual gift of the "word of knowledge".
The conclusion to the argument asking “are spiritual gifts for today?”
As you can see there is historical evidence of the gifts of the Spirit in operation throughout history. These gifts did not stop with the deaths of the apostles or with the compilation of the New Testament. Because of that, I can only come to the conclusion that the answer to the question “are spiritual gifts for today?” has to be a resounding yes! As much as I love my brothers and sisters who believe otherwise, their argument that the gifts of the Spirit ceased at the death of the last apostle just does not hold water. I would encourage each and every one of you to continue along with me in this series on spiritual gifts so that you too can understand spiritual gifts and fulfill the admonition given by the Apostle Paul to not be ignorant concerning spiritual gifts.
Blessings to you all!