Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Review of "Are Miraculous Gifts for Today"


A Review of "Are Miraculous Gifts for Today" 
By Daniel King

Cessationist View Point
The Cessationist viewpoint is presented by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. He is a professor of systematic theology at Westminister Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and has written a book defending cessationism, Perspectives on Pentecost: Studies in New Testament Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Graffin believes the Spirit of God is working today, primarily in the area of salvation by reviving those who are dead in sin.[1] But, he rejects the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the gift of tongues, the gift of prophecy, and the gifts of healing and miracles.
            Graffin resents that cessationists are accused of “an intellectualized quasi-deism” or an “anti-supernatural hermeneutic.”[2]  But, his dismissal of modern-day miracles is more influenced by Hume’s attack on miracles then on an honest reading of the book of Acts. The cessationist position is that God used to move, but does not move today; God used to speak through prophets, but does not speak today; God used to perform miracles, but does not perform miracles today; God used to confirm the preaching of His word with signs following, but does not do so today.
Graffin believes that Pentecost was a one-time occurrence in the same sense that Calvary was a one-time event. Just as Jesus does not need to die again, the Holy Spirit does not need to come again.[3] Pentecost is relegated to being part of the history of salvation (historia salutis) and not the order of salvation (ordo salutis).[4] Thus, Graffin believes Christians do not need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit in a subsequent experience to salvation. He believes that every Christian receives the Holy Spirit upon conversion. In asserting this opinion, he rejects the evidence of Acts 8 (Samaria), Acts 10 (Caesarea), and Acts 19 (Ephesus).
            Griffin does not reject all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He believes in the gifts of teaching and preaching and he believes in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Griffin also believes that God can still do miracles[5] and that God can heal people miraculously today.[6] But, he questions whether the gifts of healing and of working miracles (1 Corinthians 12:9-10) are given today. So, according to him, God can use the elders of the church to effect healing (James 5), but God does not especially give the gift of healing to an individual preacher today.  He says that God in His sovereignty can do miracles, and indeed does do miracles, but he seriously doubts that God would stoop to performing miracles through modern Pentecostal preachers. Griffin wants to have his cake and eat it too. In the area of miracles, he is a cessationist only in regards to the ministries whose style of ministry he finds distasteful. He says, “to observe that in Acts others than apostles exercise miraculous gifts (e.g., 6:8) is beside the point.”[7] As Storms notes, that is “precisely the point.”[8]
            Griffin’s main concern is the cessation of the gift of prophecy. This stems from a misunderstanding on his part concerning the revelatory gifts. He feels that once the canon was closed, God ceased to speak. According to his theology, any additional words from God would subtract from the sufficiency of Scripture. His stance that God used to speak, but has nothing to say today is short-sighted. The Scripture is clear that believers are to go into all the world and preach (Mark 16:15), but the Scripture has no specific guidance for a young man who is wondering if he should travel to Brazil or Africa to be a missionary. Could it be that God would speak to that young man through a modern-day prophet?
            Griffin claims there are no apostles today. The word “apostle” means “sent one.” Today, missionaries and church planters are sent, thus they function in the role of the apostle. What Griffin really means is that there are no founding apostles alive today, in the sense that an apostle is one who met Jesus, was empowered to do miraculous signs, and who prophetically wrote Scripture. To give an analogy, the founding fathers of America are now dead. No one today functions as George Washington or Thomas Jefferson functioned. Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and Washington set a precedent as president. But, while there are no founding fathers alive today, the United States still has presidents. In the same way, the founding Apostles of the church are gone, but there are still those who function as apostles in the modern church.
            Griffin fails to make a strong case for cessisionism. He ignores or explains away the Biblical evidence that refute his stance. Griffin argues that “signs” were for the confirmation of the revelatory word of God. In other words, the main purpose for miracles was to affirm the ministries of those who wrote the Bible. But, there is no Biblical reason to suppose that God would not continue to confirm His Word today through signs and wonders.

Open but Cautious Viewpoint
            Dr. Robert L. Saucy is the Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Talbot School of Theology in California. He graduated from Dallas Seminary. Saucy writes that “evangelical believers worship a God of supernatural power” but he erroneously believes that Scripture does not provide explicit teaching whether the spiritual gifts are for today.[9] He accepts that God, in His Sovereignty, can do miracles today but is not sure if the operation of miraculous gifts continues in the same manner they occurred in early church.[10] He argues that the apostolic age was a unique time.[11]
              Like Griffin, he argues for special periods of miracles throughout history where miracles function as a sign that gives credibility to prophetic proclamation. While it is true that miracles are signs, there is no need to restrict miraculous signs to the revelation of the canon of Scripture. Yes, miraculous signs were part of salvation history, but for the evangelist today, miraculous signs are still needed to convince sinners who need a personal “salvation history.” If God used signs in the past to affirm His word, why would He not use signs today to confirm the preaching of His word?
             Saucy writes, “…in each of these instances in the New Testament where miracles occur, the preaching is the inspired proclamation of those with the gift of prophecy, not just the witness of believers who spread the gospel wherever they traveled (c.f. Acts 8:4).”[12] Yet, he ignores the fact that in the next couple of verses, Philip the evangelist preaches about Jesus and experiences amazing miracles in Samaria. There was nothing special about Philip. He was just a deacon, chosen to serve food to the widows. His preaching is not a special case of apostolic “prophetic proclamation” he is just an example of one of the witnesses who spread the Gospel. The writer of Acts presents Philip as an example of what a normal believer’s life should be like, not as a spiritual superman who is uniquely anointed to preach the gospel.
             Saucy does not take a stand on either side of the issue. He does not know if the Bible explicitly teaches or does not teach that the gifts are for today. In similar manner, he does not know if church history shows that the gifts continued or did not continue.[13] Saucy does not believe that the lack of miracles can be a sign of sin or unbelief. He offers a convoluted explanation of why Jesus’ lack of miracles in Nazareth cannot be used to support this position.[14] His reasoning is that miracles are not dependent upon human faith but upon God’s Sovereignty.
The presuppositions one brings to the evidence determines how one interprets the evidence. For example, Saucy offers the instruction to elders to pray for the sick (James 5:14-16) as evidence none of the elders had the gift of healing, but this exact same evidence could be offered to show that all the elders were expected to function with a gift of healing.[15] In like manner he says, “We do not see average church members performing miracles of healing” unless one counts Philip the table waiter (who later became an evangelist) as an average church member.
            A selective reading of Scripture will lead to an erroneous understanding of Scripture. For example, Saucy asserts, “Jesus’ charge to his disciples during his earthly ministry does not belong to the church of all time.”[16] As evidence Saucy quotes Matthew 10:7 where Jesus commands the disciples to “heal the sick, raise the dead, and cleanse leprosy.”[17] He says “these commands were not part of the final commission that the resurrected Christ gave to the disciples.” But, in Matthew 28, Jesus commands the church to make disciples “teaching them to obey all things I have commanded you.” Surely, the command to heal the sick should be included as one of Jesus’ commands to his disciples. Further, Saucy’s point can be further disproved by continuing past Mark 16:15 to 16:18 where Jesus promised, “they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.”
Saucy is right that the evangelist often sees miracles as part of preaching God’s word. Saucy is right to acknowledge the possibility that the gifts can operate today, but he is overly cautious in accepting the gifts. However, he is headed in the right direction and would benefit from taking a few more steps in the direction of the miraculous.

Third Wave
Dr. C. Samuel Storms is the president of Grace Training Center, a Bible school in Kansas City. He is part of the Vineyard Movement. Storms believes the gifts of the Holy Spirit are in operation today. The main difference between his position and the Pentecostal/Charismatic position is that Storms believes that “Spirit-baptism is a metaphor that describes what happens when one becomes a Christian.”[18] However, he does believe in multiple, subsequent outpourings of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. So, he thinks Evangelicals are right that Spirit Baptism occurs at conversion but he also thinks Charismatics are right to affirm the on-going work of the Holy Spirit is the believer’s life.[19] According to him, there is “one Spirit-baptism, but multiple fillings.”[20]
            Storms points out that even if one has a gift for healing, the healing is still a sovereign work of God. He says, “It is unwise to draw too much of a distinction between what God does through gifted people and what he does independently of them.”[21]
            Storms rightly notes that miracle continue throughout redemptive history. He quotes Jeremiah 32:20 that says God continued to do miracles through Israel’s history. Thus, the cessationist idea that limits miracles to only a few time periods is erroneous. Storms includes a lengthy story from the prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon, who once operated in a gift of prophecy to show that the gifts continue today.
            Storms gives five reasons he believes the gifts of the Holy Spirit are valid for the contemporary church. First, the Bible gives no evidence indicating they are not valid. Second, the ultimate purpose of the gifts is to build up the body of Christ, Third, Scripture indicates the gifts should continue until Jesus returns (1 Cor. 1:4-9, Eph. 4:11-13). Fourth, the gifts are for today just as the Lord’s supper and church discipline continues today. Fifth, the Holy Spirit does not just inaugurate the new age and then disappear.[22]
            Concerning prophecy, Storms notes that just because the Holy Spirit speaks accurately does not mean humans always hear Him accurately. Thus, prophecy should be judged by Scripture. Just as teachers are sometimes wrong, prophets are sometimes wrong. Just because some prophecies are wrong does not mean the church should completely forsake the gift of prophecy. Storms also offers a lengthy defense of the gifts of healing and the gift of speaking in tongues.

Pentecostal/Charismatic
Dr. Douglas A. Oss is a professor of hermeneutics and New Testament at the Assembly of God Central Bible College in Springfield, MO. Oss denies that Pentecostals teach that the spirit is not received at salvation. He says that everyone who is saved has the Spirit but the “baptism of the Spirit” or the “receiving of the Spirit” or the “infilling of the Spirit” is a subsequent empowering of the Holy Spirit given to the believer for charismatic ministry. So, in Pentecostal theology, there are two works of the Holy Spirit. First is an inner-transformation, regenerating, sanctifying work and the second is an empowering work. In fact, there can be many refills that happen repeatedly in the believer’s life.
            Oss provides a biblical-theological overview of the Spirit’s work. In the Old Testament the Spirit “came upon” individuals for a short time of empowerment, in the New Testament, the Spirit “fills” and lives inside the believer. The Old Testament period is a foreshadowing of a new age.
            Paul and Luke both have distinctive theologies of the Holy Spirit and each author should be allowed to speak for himself. The Pentecostal position concerning the Holy Spirit relies heavily on the accounts in Luke/Acts without ignoring the theology of the Pauline epistles.
Oss writes, “in the New Testament both salvation and baptism in the Holy Spirit often occurred as part of one conversion-initiation complex of events.”[23] In an ideal situation, the new believer is saved and filled with the Holy Spirit and begins to speak in tongues all at the same time.
Classical Pentecostals believe that the initial physical evidence of Spirit-baptism is speaking in tongues. In Acts, tongues is often part of being filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:4-11; 10:46). Oss points out that the charismatic movement has a variety of positions concerning a second blessing. Some charismatics hold to Pentecostal theology where the infilling of the Holy Spirit occurs subsequent to salvation and other charismatics believe the new believer receives everything at the moment of salvation and only actualizes it later. Whether a new believer receives the Spirit immediately and actualizes his gifts later, or receives the Spirit in a second blessing does not seem to make much difference in the people’s actual experiences.
Both Pentecostals and charismatics believe that Christians should seek to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. They both believe that the miraculous gifts have not ceased. Oss argues for this position by discussing Peter’s declaration that the “last days” have started, the Davidic kingdom, the Spirit’s work in redemptive history. The weakest of these points is the discussion of the Davidic kingdom. It did not seem to add much to the discussion.
Oss summarizes,

“It strains credulity to postulate a point in time (whether the death of the last apostle, the end of the New Testament canon formation, completion of the foundation of the church, or whatever) that effects a dramatic mutation of the Spirit’s person and work so that he is no longer the power-anointing, charismatic being he once was, but is now restricted solely to his inner-transforming work.”[24]

The Author’s Position
As one preacher has said, “A man with an argument is no match for a man with an experience.” The cessationist claims that no one can be baptized with the Holy Spirit, but the author has seen ten thousand people baptized in the Holy Spirit in a single service. The cessationist claims that speaking in tongues is not for today, but the authors speak in tongues every day of his life. The cessationist claims the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not in operation today, but the author has personally operated in the gift of faith and the gifts of healing as he has prayed for the sick and witnessed thousands of healings in his evangelistic ministry. The cessationist claims that the gift of prophecy is obsolete, the author’s whole ministry can be traced to the day a prophetess prophesied over him when he was five years old. In short, the tired out, frozen cold, arguments of the cessationist make little headway against what the author has seen with his eyes, heard with his ears, and witnessed in nations around the world.
            Besides, the arguments of the cessationist are extremely weak in the first place. They claim to believe in the supremacy of Scripture, but then they ignore or explain away so many Scriptures that disprove their position. The author believes in the gifts of the Holy Spirit precisely because he believes in Scripture.
According to Romans 12:6, we each have different gifts, according to the grace given us. Paul writes, “If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith” (NIV). Then he goes on to mention several more gifts including serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, and showing mercy. Paul is not writing to Apostles, he is writing to the normal believers in Rome. There is no indication that Paul intended for prophesying to cease and for the other gifts to continue. Any reasoning that teaches that prophecy is not for today must come from outside of Scripture.
Ephesians 4:11 reads, “It was he [Jesus] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers” [NIV]. What justification is there to say that apostles and prophets are no more, but evangelists, pastors, and teachers continue today? By what authority does the cessationist draw a line through the middle of this verse and say the first half of this verse only applies to the first century and the second half of the verse is for today?
            Mark 16:17-18 promises, “These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well” (NIV). Jesus does not say these signs will only take place until the canon is closed, he promises “these signs will accompany those who believe.” If the cessationist does not see these signs today, perhaps it is because he does not believe.
            In Matthew 10:8, Jesus commanded the disciples to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons” (NIV). The same command applies to those who follow Jesus today.
            In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, Paul lists nine gifts of the Holy Spirit and in 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul says, “God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues” (NIV). He tells the Corinthian church to “eagerly desire the greater gifts” (12:31). The “greater gifts” Paul is referring to are the gifts of the apostle and the prophet. Why would Paul tell the Corinthian church to desire to be an apostle if the group of apostles was limited to the original twelve plus Paul?  Paul repeats himself in 1 Corinthians14:1, “…eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy” (NIV). Does this imperative only apply to the Corinthian church, or does it apply to those who read it today?
            Nowhere does the Scripture indicate the gifts were only available when the apostles were alive. If the instructions concerning spiritual gifts do not apply to the church today, then none of the Bible applies to the church today. If the church ignores the Holy Spirit and his gifts, she will be weak and ineffective. From personal experience, the author of this paper can say boldly that the Holy Spirit is needed today. As an evangelist, he has seen the Holy Spirit work around the world. Oss is right when he writes, “There is every reason to expect that gospel proclamation will be accompanied by miracles today.”[25]




[1] Richard B. Gaffin, “A Cessationist View,” in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 26.

[2] Ibed.

[3] An obvious answer to this assertion is that in the same way that Calvary is applied to a person’s life at the moment of salvation, Pentecost becomes real in a person’s life at the moment of Spirit baptism. Both of these events in salvation history must become a reality in the life of each individual. 

[4] Gaffin, 30-31.

[5] Gaffin, 41.

[6] Gaffin, 42.

[7] Gaffin, 39.

[8] Storms, 76.
[9] Robert L. Saucy, “An Open but Cautious View,” in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 97.

[10] Saucy, 100.

[11] Saucy, 101.
[12] Saucy, 111.

[13] Saucy, 113.

[14] Saucy, 119.

[15] Saucy, 122.

[16] Saucy, 118.

[17]  Saucy’s footnote that the church tends to ignore other imperatives in Matthew 10 to limit money and clothing and to preach first to the Jews is a good point. But, the church’s ability to follow or not follow these commands still does not invalidate Jesus’ prior command to heal the sick.
[18] C. Samuel Storms, “A Third Wave View,” in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 176.

[19]  Storms, 179.

[20] Storms, 180.

[21] Storms, 185.

[22] Storms, 205-206.
[23] Douglas A. Oss, “A Pentecostal/Charismatic View,” in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 255.
[24] Oss, 271.
[25] 280.