What do Christians believe about the spiritual gifts? Are the charismatics on tv representative of Christianity? Is there one correct, proper Christian position?
Like some things on Facebook, it’s complicated.
It’s safe to say that there is one correct view. But there may yet be acceptable errors, errors which are not heretical. (Between historic premillenialism, dispensational premillenialism, and amillenialism, we have at least two errors; but none of them is a heresy.)
The two generic positions on the spiritual gifts are Continuationism—the view that all the spiritual gifts continue—and Cessationism—the view that some of the gifts have ceased.
The gifts in question are (to use my old theology teacher’s listing) apostleship,miracles/healing, prophecy, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpretation of tongues. I will call these gifts by the common name “the charismatic gifts.”
Now some time ago I suggested that there is another view available, a sort of hybrid of Continuationism and Cessationism which I dubbed Ceasingism.
But this is still too simple. Three isn’t enough. There are at least five views that should be distinguished. Here they are.
Simple Cessationism: The charismatic gifts operated in the early church, where they had the primary functions of acting as miraculous signs to confirm the truth of the Gospel and of dispensing God’s verbal revelation to his people. However, these gifts ceased to operate in the era of the early church, shortly after the New Testament was completed, because the verbal revelation was then complete and these gifts were no longer needed.
Open-Canon Continuationsim: The charismatic gifts continue to operate in the church today, and in the same way as they did in the New Testament.
Closed-Canon Continuationism: The charismatic gifts continue to operate in the church today, but not in quite the same way as they did in the New Testament. Whereas in the New Testament an apostle has the authority to write holy Scripture, and a prophet or a speaker in tongues gives us the very words of God, people who use these gifts today do not use them for that purpose. (I believe this is the position of John Piper and of the theologian Wayne Grudem.)
Ceasingism: The charismatic gifts do cease, but they have not ceased yet at all times and in all places. After the New Testament is made fully available to a branch of the church, the gifts cease to operate there.
Miraculous Sign Cessationism: The charismatic gifts have ceased. At times and in places where the New Testament is not yet fully available, their function of miraculous signs to confirm the Gospel is fulfilled by occurrences of speaking in tongues or prophecies or miraculous healings. However, no one has the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues or prophesying or miraculously healing on a regular basis.
Even five isn’t very thorough. This summary leaves out, for example, the compromises where one but not all of the charismatic gifts is taken to have ceased.
So which view is correct? Hard to say. I won’t say—not today, anyway. But Miraculous Sign Cessationism, Ceasingism, and Closed-Canon Continuationism have a lot going for them. These are all pretty safe views. Simple Cessationism is also safe. Open-Canon Continuationism, however, is very dangerous.
Dr. Mark J. Boone is a teacher and researcher in philosophy, especially the history of philosophy, primarily the ancient and medieval eras, writing his dissertation on Saint Augustine. Dr. Boone is the Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Forman Christian College. Mark is an occasional book reviewer for the journal Augustinian Studies and has written articles dealing with Plato, William James, theology and the arts, and religious epistemology. In some of his precious little spare time Mark makes animated cartoons based on famous speeches and dialogues in the history of philosophy, available on YouTube and Vimeo under the username TeacherofPhilosophy.