A friend of mine sent me the following e-mail and I thought I’d include it and my reply on my blog:
“Hi there. I have been having theological discussions with my husband and I am wondering about spiritual gifts. What is the Scriptural evidence that certain gifts have ceased? This is really something that I don't know with any certainty, but now that my kids are older and we have some friends who are Charismatic and others who are staunchly Reformed cessationists and we even have some who are Reformed Charismatics....I am realizng I don't have good answers for my children! Can you direct me in Scripture to something that may clear it up a little. :)
I appreciate, in advance, any help you can offer.
Dear Muddled --
I had never heard the word “cessationist” until 10 or 15 years ago. One of my students asked me if I was a cessationist and I told her, “No, I think Texas should stay in the Union.” ;^)
I can’t really call myself a cessationist because I can’t find any evidence that the “sign gifts” have totally ceased. I have many students of just about every theological persuasion, so like you, I count both charismatics and cessationists among my friends.
However, I believe that the charismatics are incorrect in seeking the sign gifts for the following reasons (not all of these apply to all charismatics):
1. They read the Book of Acts (and sometimes the Gospels) as prescriptive rather than descriptive. Acts is a history book and describes the development of the early church. It does not instruct us to do as the early Christians did. Just because Peter and Paul healed and laid hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit does not mean that we must.
As a matter of fact, Acts presents the miracles as rare and limited to only a few persons.
2. When Paul tells the church at Corinth to “earnestly desire the greater gifts” (l Corinthians 12:31), he is speaking to the church, telling them to seek for these gifts to be exercised in the assembly. He was not telling them as individuals to seek to acquire or even develop these gifts. The giving of these gifts is in the sovereign will of the Triune God (12:4-7).
3. At least one gift, the gift of apostle, has clearly passed. An apostle was one who had seen Christ risen and been sent out (Greek apostello) by Him (Acts 1:15-26); 1 Corinthians 9:1, 2). Paul in Ephesians 2:20, refers to the apostles and prophets as foundational to the church. This could imply that the gift of prophet, too, has passed.
4. There is evidence that the sign gifts were especially meant for the first generation Christians and were not common among those of the second generation. In 2 Corinthians 12:12, Paul speaks of having performed “signs and wonders and miracles.” These he refers to as (literally) “the signs of the apostle.” If anyone could perform them how could they validate his apostleship?
The author of Hebrews, apparently a second-generation Christian, speaks of “signs and wonders and … various miracles and … gifts of the Holy Spirit” as confirming the message of “those who heard” the Lord (that is, the first generation) “to us” (2:3, 4).
Can God use the sign gifts today? God is God and can do what He pleases. But should we expect them to be the norm for the church today? No – I don’t believe it was the norm for any generation.
Trust this helps,