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Scripture Versus Spiritual Gifts?

Copyright 1993 by the Christian Research Institute.

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“Scripture Vs. the Spiritual Gifts?” by Elliot Miller (from the Viewpoint column of the Christian Research Journal, Summer 1988, Volume 11, Number 1, page 31.)  The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.

 

Scripture vs. the spiritual gifts? The very idea is self-contradictory, since God is the source of both. And yet, this contradiction has been a lamentable reality in the twentieth-century church. More often than not, the Bible and the “charismata”(gifts of God’s grace) have been set at odds, with one being made the reason for ignoring (if not rejecting) the other.

At the bottom of this conflict is a crucial issue for the Christian faith — _revelation._ Although the anti-charismatics (e.g., many dispensational and reformed believers) would agree that some spiritual gifts are functioning today, they often argue that the more dramatic “sign” gifts (e.g., prophecy, speaking in tongues, healing, miracles — see 1 Cor. 12:8-10) served special authenticating and revelatory functions in the first century only. Basing their position largely on 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, they maintain that once the canon of Scripture (“that which is perfect”) was completed, the sign gifts with their “partial” revelation were no longer needed and so ceased to exist. Thus, the anti-charismatics view the modern charismatic movement as being unbiblical and in direct competition with biblical revelation, allowing extra biblical “messages from God” to supersede Scripture.

A survey of the twentieth-century Pentecostal/charismatic movement would seem to vindicate such charges. Although there are notable exceptions (e.g., the Assemblies of God), charismatics seem to have a propensity for novel and controversial doctrines (e.g., “manifest sons of God,” demonization of Christians, “shepherding,” “positive confession,” “kingdom now”). In fact, there _is_ a prevailing tendency among charismatics to view the charismata as a source of continuing revelation. Some formally affirm this belief (see, e.g., “The Gospel According to Paulk” on p.21). But even among those who would not consciously embrace it, it is not uncommon to find the sign gifts functioning as revelation in their lives. For examples: doctrines are accepted as biblical mainly because they received a “prophetic” endorsement; church and personal decisions are more often based on prophetic “words” than Scripture; supernatural manifestations are pursued with greater zeal than understanding of Scripture and sound doctrine.

The conflict of “Scripture vs. the spiritual gifts,” then, might be restated as a conflict over whether extra biblical revelation, in the form of the sign gifts, is biblical. But this brings us right to the root of the problem. _Both_ sides of the debate have a mistaken view of the biblical purpose and function of the sign gifts. And worse, the charismatic side has a deficient appreciation of biblical revelation.

In the sense of the term used here, a revelation is God’s authoritative disclosure to man of universally significant truth. God’s revelation in Christ, as recorded in Scripture, is final and complete (Heb. 1:1-2; Jude 3; Eph. 2:20; etc.). As God’s unique and infallible word, Scripture is sufficient for all our doctrine, and is the absolute standard by which we must judge all things (2 Tim.3:15-17; Isa. 8:20).

Biblically, the sign gifts serve distinctly different, non-revelatory purposes. Space will not permit an analysis of each sign gift to prove this point. But if it can be established in regard to _prophecy,_ it would seem obvious that the others are non-revelatory as well.

Because it _does_ consist of messages from God to man, prophecy could have _conceivably_ substituted for Scripture until the canon was complete. But is that what 1 Corinthians 13 is saying? Historically, the church has understood this passage to mean by “that which is perfect” the Second Coming of Christ. Dispensationalists argue, though, that the Greek word for “perfect” (_teleion_) is in the neuter gender, indicating the apostle meant Scripture rather than Christ. However, the Greek can as easily mean “mature” or “complete,” and it would appear from the context that Paul uses the neuter gender because he is writing about particular _states_ or _levels of maturity_ (cf. v. 11). In our future, “mature” or “perfect” state, after we are glorified at Christ’s second coming, we will no longer need the gifts God has given us to help us get by in our present feeble condition. We will _then_ “see face to face” and “know fully” (v. 12; cf. 1 John 3:2).

If the anti-charismatics are wrong, and prophecy (understood as messages from God to man) is meant to continue, does that mean those charismatics who believe in ongoing revelation are right? While prophecy _was_ an important means of revelation in biblical times, the “prophecy” referred to as a spiritual gift given to the church in 1 Corinthians is manifestly of a different kind. This is evidenced by Paul’s instruction: “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be exhorted” (14:31). Certainly, _all_ of the Corinthians were not capable of transmitting authoritative revelation comparable to that of Paul, Peter, and
John!

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