Have the Gifts of the Spirit Ceased?

Have the Gifts of the Spirit Ceased?

Question

Have the gifts of the Spirit to which Paul referred in 1 Corinthians 12-14 ceased? Or will they continue until the coming of "perfection" at the consummation of God's kingdom?

Answer

There are four major views on the continuation or cessation of the charismatic gifts:

Cessation: The most common position is that the "spectacular" or "sign" gifts (prophecy, miraculous healing, tongues, etc.) ceased with the apostolic age. These gifts were manifested for the purpose of validating the gospel and apostolic authority. Once the apostles' ministry had been sufficiently validated, the Spirit ceased to give these gifts. This view appeals in part to the phrase "foundation of the apostles and prophets" in Ephesians 2:20. From this phrase, it argues that the prophetic gifts were "foundational," pertaining only to the foundational period of the church, that is, to the apostolic period (from "apostles and prophets"), though some extend this period until the formal closure of the Canon. It also appeals to the evidence in the New Testament that the more spectacular gifts seemed to be on the decline even while the apostles were still ministering. This position tends to limit its list of gifts to those mentioned in the New Testament (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; 14; Eph. 4).

Continuation: This position is probably the least common within the Reformed community. It asserts the continuing validity of all the gifts mentioned in the New Testament. However, it does not assert the necessary manifestation of any or all of the gifts (especially of the spectacular/sign gifts) in any person, place or time. Rather, it merely asserts that God can do whatever he wants whenever he wants, and is not bound never to manifest these gifts simply because the apostolic age has passed. This position tends to limit its list of gifts to those mentioned in the New Testament (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12-14; Eph. 4), though some claim the manifestation of new gifts as well.

Charismatic: This position is very similar to the continuation position, and indeed they are often seen as one and the same. Simply for the sake of discussion, it is worth distinguishing them on the basis that continuation (as I have defined it here) does not insist on the necessary manifestation of all the gifts in any given person, at any given place, or in any given time. The charismatic position, in contrast, generally argues that all believers have all the gifts listed in the New Testament, and that this has been characteristic of the true church throughout the ages. Some also argue that all true believers will manifest the gift of tongues. There may be some in the Reformed community who hold this view, but I know of none.

Modification: Somewhere between the cessation and continuation positions in popularity, this position argues that the gifts have been modified. They have not necessarily ceased, but are now normally manifested somewhat differently than they were during the apostolic age. For example, those who hold this position may argue for the continuation of the gift of prophecy, but assert that it is now limited to the proclamation of existing special revelation (i.e. Scripture), and that it excludes the reception and proclamation of new special revelation. Like the other positions, modification tends to limit its discussion of gifts to those listed in the New Testament.

Some few who hold to modification, however, believe that the gifts listed in the New Testament were only samples or examples of the types of gifts that were manifested during the apostolic age. They argue for this point in part by noting that the lists in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14, and Ephesians 4 differ from one another, and by pointing out that lists in the Bible are frequently not exhaustive (e.g., "love" is not limited to those manifestations listed in 1 Cor. 13). In short, they argue for the continuation of "gifting" without specifically arguing for or against the continuation of any particular gift or manifestation in any given person, place or time, and without limiting potential gifts to those listed in the Bible. The idea is that the Holy Spirit is free to manifest any sort of gifting in any person, at any place, during any time he sees fit.

At Third Millennium, we hold to modification. I myself also hold the latter form of modification which affirms "gifting" in general rather than limiting the gifts to those mentioned in the New Testament.

All the foregoing positions hold that any and all spiritual gifting that currently exists will cease when Christ returns. Only the cessation position asserts that all spectacular/sign gifts have necessarily and permanently ceased. The other positions all affirm the actual or possible manifestation of the spectacular/sign gifts in all ages and in all places.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.