This blog post is an answer regarding a common objection continuationists make, and that is, to say that the Spirit is no longer distributing miracle sign gifts (tongues, miracles and prophecy) that this ‘puts a limit on God.’
|Pentecost, Giotto, 1310|
This is a very important topic. 1 Corinthians 12:10 speaks of four (temporary) signed gifts; miracles, prophecies, languages, and the interpretation of languages. A continuationist is a person who believes these miracle sign gifts have always continued since Pentecost. A cessationist (like me) says they ceased before the New Testament was even finished being written, that they were never meant to be permanent.
Formerly, this ‘continuing-or-ceased’ issue was seen as a secondary issue, or a non-essential to the faith. It was one of those ‘let’s agree to disagree’ things, and everyone went on their way. However, the fastest growing faith sector in the world is Holiness/Pentecostal/Charismatic believers who hold to the notion that men still perform miracles, speak in babbling tongues, and can receive prophecy directly from God which is separate revelatory knowledge distinct from the bible.
The Strange Fire conference showed me two startling things: that the fastest growing religion is not Islam, it is charismania. There are a billion people in the world who believe, in effect, the bible is not the final word of God. This has diluted the word of God and the works of God -as He has revealed them- from something final, absolute, and with integrity, to something that is secondary to the latest word one has received this day. This has opened the door to everything from merely wayward thinking, to people making a shipwreck of the faith, to the purely demonic. Therefore with this many people at risk, it is no longer a secondary issue.
Every cessationist, like me, and every continuationist knows, that God is infinitely powerful, and can do anything. He has no limit, at anytime. However, there are two things to consider here. First, God does not intervene in a visible, global, or dramatic supernatural way very often. Even in the bible days, seas parting, fire coming down, and resurrections etc. were not common.
Secondly, God already limits Himself TO US in at least one important way: His revelation of Himself . 1 Corinthians 13:12 says that we know in part now but later we will fully know. He has chosen to limit His infinite revelation to us for now, through creation (Romans 1:19-20) and the bible (Revelation 22:18-19; Hebrews 1:1). It is not germane to any discussion to allow the talk of “that puts a limit on God” to become part of the discussion. We are talking the miracle Spiritual gifts here, and those gifts were given to humans to employ. THAT is what we are talking about. Humans working the gifts, not God working supernaturally.
|Lazarus, come forth, Salvador Dali, 1964|
So the Word is where we look for a basis for any discussion about whether miracle gifts continue, or not.
And what the bible says, is that the sign gifts (tongues, miracles and prophecies) were given to men by the Spirit to authenticate Jesus’s message. (2 Corinthians 12:12, Hebrews 2:3). The bible even shows that tongues were not meant for the church, but for those who didn’t believe, a fulfillment of an OT prophecy. (1 Corinthians 14:22; Isaiah 28:11-12.) Now that the message is complete, the Spirit is no longer giving those particular sign gifts to men. Though we all agree God could perform them if He wants, and Revelation is full of examples of how He will do exactly that, in the Tribulation.
The difference is, the Spirit does not give miracle working ability to men like He did before the canon was complete. Today, there are no apostles bringing His message, it’s all of us bringing it (Mark 16:15) and we can authenticate the message through His word, (Acts 17:11) with the Spirit’s help. That is why the miracle sign gifts faded away even as the NT was being written.
As far as God moving in supernatural ways, no, God has never stopped. That is what providence is. (Romans 8:28). It’s what justification is. (Romans 4:25). It’s what regeneration is. (Titus 3:5). It’s what sanctification is. (1 Thessalonians 4:3). But He did stop giving men the gift of miracles, tongues, and prophecy.
|Miracle of the Loaves & Fishes, James Tissot, 1896|