Are Charismatic Gifts for Today?
David W. King
We speak of “charismatic gifts” because Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12, speaks of the charismata (the Greek plural of charisma, meaning “free and gracious gift”) given by the Holy Spirit. These are miraculous gifts, not possessed by any person apart from the Spirit’s giving them.
“Charismatic” Christians claim that they receive and use charismatic gifts. Other Christians believe that the Holy Spirit stopped giving miraculous gifts after the time of the apostles, and that modern-day “charismatics” are wrong. Obviously when Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the Spirit was giving these gifts. Is there any biblical reason to believe he stopped giving them and has not started doing so again?
Charismatic gifts passed from the life of the church after the age of the apostles. Down through the centuries, groups here and there have claimed power to prophesy and work miracles—all of them promoting false, unbiblical teachings of one sort or another. The modern Pentecostal movement began in the last century among Arminian perfectionists. Our Lord called the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth.” Would “the Spirit of truth” now restore miraculous gifts through those who teach false doctrines?
We may not, however, just point to the doctrinal errors of Pentecostals and charismatics. We need to grasp the historical nature of God’s unfolding plan of salvation and of the Bible that reveals it, in order to see the place of the true charismata and understand why they are no longer given to the church.
Miraculous Gifts in the History of Redemption
The Bible is historical. It records God’s mighty actions and words as he revealed himself more and more fully and carried forward his work of redemption—all of it preparing for and culminating in the fullness of his revelation and saving work in Jesus Christ.
The coming of Christ from heaven fulfilled the promises and foreshadowings of all those centuries of preparation. He is the one to whom the Law and the Prophets were pointing. The Son has come in all his greatness, and he has spoken (Heb. 1:1–2). What could surpass that? All that we sinners need for our salvation we find in Christ (Col. 2:9–10).
The gift of the Holy Spirit (not gifts, but the one gift that consists of the Spirit), working and dwelling in saved people, is not something in addition to Christ. It’s not that God worked for centuries in the age of shadows, then the Son came as Jesus and did his atoning work, and now the Spirit occupies the center stage in God’s work. When Christ finished his work on earth and ascended into heaven to the right hand of his Father, he came to his church in the gift of his Spirit. From heaven, Christ poured out the Holy Spirit on his church (Acts 2:33). The Bible speaks of believers being “in Christ” and of Christ dwelling in us; this is by the Spirit. “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27) is the Spirit dwelling in you (Rom. 8:9–10), uniting you to Christ, who is in heaven. The book of Acts is the record of what Jesus has continued to do and teach from heaven by the Holy Spirit (1:1).
The point is that no separation can be made between Christ and the Spirit in the life of Christians and the church. Sometimes we are told, “You believed in Jesus to be saved; now you need to receive the Spirit.” The impression is given (1) that, while being saved by believing in Jesus is necessary, the really great experiences of the Christian life come after you get the Spirit, and (2) that getting the Spirit is different from and comes later than receiving Christ in salvation. People who believe this speak of the baptism of the Spirit as a “second blessing,” which moves Christians from being “just” saved to really knowing and living in the power of God. But Paul refutes this when he says, “By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). There is no special group of Christians who have been baptized by the Spirit, while others are weak and ordinary. Everyone who is truly a Christian has been baptized by the Spirit and is indwelt, led, and empowered by the Spirit (Rom. 8:5, 9–14).
Christ and His Apostles
Just as the Father certified the authority of Jesus, his Son, by the miracles that he did in the power of the Spirit, so Christ certified the apostles as his personal representatives by the miracles that the Spirit enabled them to do in Christ’s name (Heb. 2:4). Jesus had promised them a special ministry of the Spirit. And after Pentecost the preaching of the apostles was accompanied by miracle working, showing that in and through them Jesus was continuing his work.
In Acts, we find others than apostles doing miracles. But the pattern is that these others received this power of the Spirit through the laying on of the hands of apostles (Acts 8:13–18; 19:1–7). The church in Corinth received an abundance of these gifts of the Spirit. Later, when false teachers came to Corinth and attacked Paul to discredit his teaching, Paul defended himself. Part of his defense was to point to the spiritual gifts abounding in the Corinthian church: “I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:11–12).
So bound up with the apostles are the miraculous gifts of the Spirit that Paul speaks of them as “the signs of a true apostle.” Their presence in the church in Corinth was God’s attestation that a true spokesman for Jesus Christ had preached to them and laid hands upon them.
The role of the apostles was historically unique; they laid the church’s foundation (Eph. 2:20). The Great Commission was first given to them, and they made a good start! Yet they did not finish the task, and the church still carries it on. With the completion of the Bible and the passing away of the apostles, the foundational era of the church ended, and with it the need for the signs of true apostles. The apostles did not add their words to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The apostles’ words were the revelation of God in Christ. We know Christ only through the Gospels, the Epistles, Acts, and Revelation. There is no additional revelation from God to add to his revelation in his Son.
Salvation and Sanctification by the Ordinary Means of Grace
The Holy Spirit still works! The risen Christ still works! Christ, by the Spirit, uses his Word to convert and save lost sinners. The miraculous gifts attested the authority of the apostles to speak for Christ, but they are not signs of regeneration and saving faith. God the Spirit does not need miracles to convince people of the truth of the gospel and bring them to saving faith. After Thomas had seen and touched the wounds of our risen Savior and confessed, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus replied, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:28–29). His verbs are in the past tense, but he is speaking of us. The Spirit, by the Word, brings dead sinners to life and faith—the greatest of miracles.
The demonstration of the Spirit that we must seek and pray for consists not of the miracle-working charismata, but of the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Spirit. Repentance for sin and faith in Christ are the saving gifts of God by the Spirit. Changed lives, no longer lived under the rule of sin in rebellion against God, but now lived in the power of the Spirit in obedience to the Lord, demonstrate the saving and sanctifying presence and work of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:5–14). Heed the warning of our Lord in Matthew 7:21–23, and seek the sanctifying “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22–23).
The charisma of prophecy may no longer be given. But Christ, by the Spirit, enables men to understand and teach his Word, and he uses their preaching to convert unbelievers and build and sanctify his church. The charisma of healing may no longer be given, but God still hears prayer and often answers in powerful ways that we call “miracles.” God uses the “ordinary” means of grace, the Word and prayer, to do his amazing works.
The mania for the miraculous that one finds among charismatics has the effect of making God’s promised means of grace look dull and uninteresting to many. There is a great danger in this. If we despise what God does use in preference for dramatic “ministries” carried on and hyped up by the will and energy of man, we will get man-made “blessings” instead of God’s real work. Paul warns that when the man of lawlessness is revealed, his coming will be “in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thess. 2:9–10).
The author is pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Janesville, Wis. He quotes the NASB. New Horizons, January 2012.