Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Best of: Sign Gifts?

When I was serving as the minister of music at Dutton Baptist Church, my wife and I were dealing with the fact that we had not been able to have a child. Obviously, this was a source of great emotional pain for us. Mother’s Day was particularly tough for my wife. On one particular Mother’s Day, my wife left the sanctuary upset. One of the ladies of the church followed her out to the bathroom and proceeded to tell her that God had told this woman that my wife would have a child by that time next year. Now, we were in a fairly orthodox Southern Baptist church, mind you. There was no pew jumping, snake handling, nor was there anyone saying “tiemybowtieuntiemybowtie” over and over. Needless to say, we were shocked. Neither one of us believed that God had “told” her that. It was quite upsetting to my wife which, as you can imagine, didn’t sit too well with me. The same time that next year we were at another church where I was serving as pastor and, lo and behold, we were still childless. It took every bit of self restraint that I had to not go to that woman and ask if she was prepared to own up to being a false prophet. Needless to say, I think there has been quite a bit of misunderstanding regarding supernatural sign gifts in church. I would like to offer some evidence that seems to indicate that miraculous sign gifts are no longer in operation in the church today.

First of all, I think it is important for us to recognize that the Bible lists three classifications of spiritual gifts in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul lists gifts that are speaking gifts such as teaching or exhortation, serving gifts such as mercy or helps, and miraculous sign gifts such as healings or speaking in tongues. All of these gifts, he says, are given by the same Holy Spirit to different believers for building up of the church.

However, scripture seems to teach that miraculous sign gifts, such as prophetic revelation and healings, were not normal for all Christians but were rather restricted to the apostles. For instance, in the book of 2 Corinthians 12:12, Paul writes “12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” Further, the writer of Hebrews also observes in chapter 2 verses 3 and 4 “3 how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard,4 God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will”. It seems, then, that God used these miraculous signs to build up the church and confirm the message of the apostles. Paul speaks of the church being built in Ephesians 2:19-22 when he writes “19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints , and are of God's household,20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord,22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit”. These signs were given as authentication of the message given by these apostles.. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, “8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy , they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part;10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away”. The word translated “perfect” is the Greek word “teleios” (5046) which is used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe something as being complete or mature (Hebrews 5:11 and 1 Corinthians 14:20). When the canon of scripture was closed with the book of Revelation, that perfect thing that Paul spoke about was there—the Holy Bible.

The testimony of the early church also suggests that supernatural sign gifts have become inoperable. For instance, the early church recognized that the book of Revelation closed the canon of scripture and that no new revelation from God in the form of new books of the Bible was to be expected. Also, it is recorded that both John Chrysostom (347-407) and St. Augustine (354-430) indicated that the gifts had in fact passed from operation in the church. Augustine is quoted as having said “In the earliest time, the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed, and they spoke with tongues which they had not learned as the Spirit gave them utterance….This thing was done for an authentication and passed away.” Further, there is no suggestion of a recognized prophet of God after the death of John the Apostle.

I would suspect that there are more than a few people who would disagree with me on this issue. I think that is a good thing and I do not intend to suggest that I have spoken the last word on the subject or that if you disagree with me you’re just plain wrong. The fact is, all of us, Calvinists and Armenians, cessationists and non- cessationists, are going to see that when we get to heaven we all misunderstood some things because we see through eyes clouded by sin. I suspect we’ll all have a good laugh about it around the wedding supper of the Lamb while we’re passing around the fried chicken and sweet tea.

In Christ


St.Lee said...

Great post, Joe. Well thought out and thorough. It was an especially good point that you made about the early Church noting that the sign gifts had ceased. Sometimes I think we are tempted to ignore history because of what we "think" the Bible says, rather than to allow history to confirm what the Bible really does say.

Glad to hear your eyes are improving. Praise the Lord for that!

Joe Blackmon said...

Thanks, Lee buddy. Our God is faithful and has been so good to me. As to your comment about the early church, it may not be inspiried but the writings of the early church fathers do help us see some about what was going on at that time. Praise God those men left some kind of record.

Nathan W. Bingham said...

Joe: It is sad to read the story of your wife, and the "word" she received from that lady. It grieves me to say that not only were my wife and I the recipients of such words at one time, but we in fact delivered such words.

Thanks for laying out your thoughts. I hope it brings edification.

While I agree with your final paragraph, it remains that errors like Arminianism ultimately have dramatic effects on the way one functions and makes decisions in ministry. The gifts of the Spirit especially effect the daily life of the believer in how they relate to God, communicate with God, and grow in sanctification. Therefore I think it is important to do as you have done; teach on the subject to correct people's thinking, and not simply put it in the "it's secondary" basket, leaving the sheep suffering under false teaching.

You're probably aware that I've begun to put together a resource of links, articles, and MP3s that deal with this subject at Cessationism: An Ultimate Resource.

Joe Blackmon said...


Brother, thank you for your kind words. I agree that we have to confront error and I would say there is no "secondary" truth because all truth is God's truth. Ultimately, our entrance into heaven doesn't depend on us having perfect doctrine but that does not absolve us for not rightly dividing the word of truth and then speaking that truth in love when confronting error.

I have noticed your compilation of resources there. Good stuff. Thanks for posting the link.