What About Pentecost? Pastor Larry, with Pentecost upon us I've been considering the Holy Spirit Baptism and its relation to "power gifts" in modern times. Most Charismatic Christians only ever pray in indiscernible tongues. Scripture shows that everyone the apostles prayed for were healed totally and instantly. If Christians still have access to these gifts, why doesn't the church see the miraculous like the 1st century Church did? Are we doing something wrong or is it something that God has taken away as cessationists believe?
Great question Michael,
When we look at the Bible, especially the book of Acts, we find some continuity and some discontinuity concerning the more supernatural gifts of the Spirit. It does appear that we have two discernable groups today concerning this question. The Pentecostal/Charismatics tend to see complete continuity between the church today and that of the Apostles, and Evangelical/cessationist churches see complete discontinuity. I think the Bible describes a balance between these two positions. Concerning continuity I would say there is no Bible verse that speaks of a cessation of the gifts taking place before Jesus comes back. Some appeal to 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, which does talk about a cessation of the gifts, but the scholarly consensus today is that the time of cessation referred to in 1 Corinthians 13 is clearly the return of Christ. “When the perfect comes” and seeing “face to face” refers to Jesus second coming. This would actually argue for the opposite of what cessationists claim. The passage actually says the supernatural gifts referred to won’t cease until Jesus comes back, because they will no longer be necessary when Jesus is with us face to face. This non-cessationist view is also backed up by Acts 2:16-21. Peter is explaining the event of Pentecost to the observers and quotes Joel chapter 2. In verse 16 he says this (the day of Pentecost with tongues, etc.) is that (the prophecy made by Joel). In verse 17 he says it will be in the last days, actually describing the very end of the last days in verses 19-20. According to this passage the last days began at Pentecost and will be finished when the Day of the Lord comes. One simply has to ask, “Have we passed the last days yet?” Dreams, visions and prophecy, along with tongues since it was included in the “this is that” by Peter, will all take place in the church during the entirety of the last days. Notice Peter is in complete agreement with Paul. Continuity is established by these two passages. But there is also some discontinuity discernable in the New Testament. Acts elevates the Apostles as a unique group who had complete authority over the entire church and were able to perform miracles like Jesus did, instantaneous and complete. See Acts 1:2; 2:43; 4:33; 5:12-16; 9:27 and 19:11-12. The Apostles did pass on the ministry, including miraculous gifts, but they were also seen as unique. In 2 Corinthians 12:12 Paul argues for a unique ministry in the miraculous for the Apostles. The Apostles had seen Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:7-9; Acts 1:21-22; 22:14), which was a requirement for joining this unique club. This is because the Old Testament Prophets and the New Testament Apostles were considered the foundation of God’s people with Christ as the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20; 2 Peter 3:2; 1 Corinthians 4:1; 1 John 4:6). Wayne Grudem makes an excellent case for the idea that the New Testament Apostles are the counterpart to the Old Testament Prophets and the New Testament gift of prophecy is not like the Old Testament prophecy of the Prophets; it is not The Very Words of God but rather impressions from God put in our own words that need to be tested(see Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today). God can speak to His kids today, but He doesn’t speak in such a way that it is equal to the Bible. God can heal today, but no one can heal instantaneously everyone he or she meets, like Jesus and the Apostles could. Tongues are for today, but they need to be regulated in accordance to 1 Corinthians 14. So the Bible seems to indicate that there is some discontinuity between the original Apostles and the church today. I think the Bible presents a balance between the Pentecostals and the Evangelicals. We can learn from both groups. The gifts are for today, but we need to be cautious and abide by Paul’s warnings and parameters in 1 Corinthians 14. We should have an expectancy and excitement about what God can do like the Charismatics tend to have, alongside recognition that God does not always heal or give everyone the same Spiritual gift. We should have both a theology of glory and a theology of suffering in the Now/Not yet of the Kingdom of God. Balance is the best.