Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?
I had a conversation with a woman who was attending a Pentecostal Church. She was earnestly seeking whether speaking in tongues was real. After a short discussion, she revealed that she had spoken in tongues and it seemed real to her, but she came out of a tradition that looked down upon miraculous gifts and she wanted to know whether her experience was genuine or not.
I presented an insight that rang true to her: Those who experience tongues will believe in tongues. Those who have not experienced it will not.
I gave her a lot of credit. Many people experience things and immediately assume it is true. Today, many people call themselves prophets or healers because they had an experience once. Yet, they do not appear to have this gift at their beck and call when asked to repeat the experience. In her case, she had an experience but still wanted to know what the Bible had to say about it. Although she was an infant in the faith, she had the heart of a Berean.
The Miraculous Gifts
When it comes to the miraculous gifts, there seem to be three types of people. Continuationists are all-in and believe the gifts are for today and anyone can have them. Cessationists believe the miraculous gifts were only for the Early Church, in order to build the foundation, but has since ceased.
Finally, there are those who are in-between. They see the gifts written about in the Bible but don’t agree that the Bible is explicit in stating that the gifts were only for the Early Church. Yet, they are not won over by the evidence of those proposing to have these gifts. The uses of these gifts seem sporadic and unpredictable and they are not convinced that they have seen the genuine article. These people are open, yet undecided.
I believe most Christians fall into this last category, including myself. I have been part of both the Presbyterian Church and a Pentecostal Church and find myself open to both ways of thinking, and yet unconvinced by either.
The Bible is understood plainly regarding most of the subjects she covers. There is consensus and therefore little or no argument. This does not mean that the consensus is correct – they sometimes are not. On the other hand, the Bible is less clear in other areas and the truth is more difficult to discern. This does not mean that there is no final truth – there always is. However, there may be truths that we will not know until it is revealed in the next world.
This subject should not be one of them. We should strive to find out the truth.
What the Bible Does Say
I believe the Bible gives us solid information regarding the gifts. While we might be unclear whether these gifts are still valid for today, we can know what they might look like if they were.
In terms of speaking in tongues, I do not believe what we see today in most Charismatic and Pentecostal environments is the same as what we read about in the Bible. The Book of Acts is clear; each mention of the gift of tongues is of another language. Acts 2 plainly states that the people were from all areas of the world and understood what the Apostles were saying in their own language.
1 Corinthians 13:1 is the only place that “tongues of angels” is found. Is Paul using hyperbole to make a point, as he does in Galatians 1:8? Two things are clear: not everyone receives this gift (1 Corinthians 12:30), and the gift is for evangelistic purposes (1 Corinthians 14:22).
That said, I have heard of examples of actual tongues and interpretation being done today: An English speaker suddenly spoke Chinese, which he had never spoken or known, giving the gospel to a Chinese person visiting the church who did not speak English. This seems to be good evidence for the Continuationist. Yet, I only heard this story. I was not an eyewitness nor do I know of any. This seems to back up what the Cessationists always say, that the evidence is always lacking.
I’ve used tongues as an example of how we might not be exhibiting the same gift that was seen in the Bible. The same is true for prophesy and healing. What are we to think? I think care is needed. We need discernment (James 1:5). We don’t want to be like the Pharisees who attributed the work of the Spirit to Satan.
On the other hand, Satan can do miracles and to attribute every unexplained miracle to the work of the Holy Spirit will open the door for Satan to deceive. This is exactly what the Bible says will happen in the End Times. Since I believe we are living in those days, it seems we will see deceptive miracles and we should not be deluded.
I don’t believe there has been a definitive Biblical answer to the use of miraculous gifts for today. We should not be swayed by experience because Satan can deceive. Yet, we should be open to the Spirit working miraculously.
We should not create theologies based on spiritual gifts since it is so uncertain. Our focus should not be on the gifts, but on God, the giver of the gifts.
If the miraculous gifts are still being distributed by the Holy Spirit, I do not think they look anything like what we see in most charismatic churches today. We’ve discussed tongues as an example, but the same is true with healing and especially with prophesy.
Should we experience or witness the use of a miraculous gift, let’s use discernment. Let’s follow Paul’s teaching regarding prophecy for all the miraculous gifts: Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the miraculous. Yet, test them (using discernment and the Bible). Keep what is good. Stay away from what is of Satan. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22)