|The Word of God sets forth in the New Testament certain special gifts which were found in the church, including miracles, tongues and special gifts of knowledge and revelation. One of the issues or questions that occurs in connection with these gifts is their place and intention. Do they continue today? If not, why not? Now there is a scriptural answer to these questions which is important. To understand that answer the subject must be treated in a certain context. That context is the historical situation of the New Testament church and the offices which were given in the church. Scripture consistently connects the gifts of the Spirit with the offices in the church. Moreover, the special or exceptional gifts of the Spirit are connected with the temporary offices of Apostle and New Testament prophet.
I. The office of apostle
In treating this subject there is an important distinction which needs to be kept in mind between that which was unique to that specific office and that aspect or function of it which continues in the New Testament form of the church institute.
- Three qualifications were specific to the unique character of the office of apostle.
- They were eyewitnesses of Jesus' resurrection, having seen the risen Lord.
- They were called directly by Christ, personally, to that office
- They were directly and personally trained for their labor and office by the Lord Himself.
- All the elements were necessary.
1. Eyewitnesses: There were many others who were eyewitnesses to Jesus' resurrection. He appeared to above 500 at once on a mountain in Galilee, I Cor. 15:5-8. In Paul' s case this plainly occurred on the road to Damascus, and it is this to which Paul refers in
I Cor. 15:8. Being an eyewitness was necessary. Paul says in I Cor. 9:1, "Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?"
2. Personal and direct call:
- The personal call of Christ to that office was necessary also. The term apostle itself means "one sent" and the idea of it is that of one called and sent by Christ. The principle or function of that calling and sending still abides in the church in this respect: that Christ, by his Spirit in the heart, calls men to seek office in the church, subjectively. He also calls and sends men to the labor of the ministry of the Word, and to be elders and deacons, objectively, by an external call to office through the church (Acts 6:3; Acts 13:2; Rom. 10:15) see also Belgic Confession 31. This includes ordination to office in the case of the ministers of the Word by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery (eldership) as was the case with Timothy, (I Tim 4:14), and it includes gifts to perform that office, II Tim. 1:6. Both the subjective and objective aspect of this one call to office are necessary, which is why spiritual qualifications for office are set down in the Scriptures, I Tim. 3; Titus 1:6 ff.
- In the case of the apostles, this calling to office was direct, immediate and a personal-physical call by Christ Himself as head of the church. They were called to be "fishers of men," as Jesus showed in the miracle of the draught of fishes. Paul also was a "chosen vessel" for the same purpose, Acts 9:15. Paul must be understood as having seen Christ directly in heaven in such away that the barrier between heaven and earth was opened in his call.
- The apostles, together with the prophets had also a unique task to perform, that of laying the foundation of the New Testament form of the church institute. Paul indicates this in Eph.. 2:20, when he says that the church is 'built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets...." of which Christ Himself is the chief Cor.nerstone.
3. Instructed by Christ: Included in this call is also that the apostles were personally and directly instructed by Christ for their calling and office and trained by Him. This is reflected in Jesus' promise to them in the upper room to the eleven, (Judas having already left) that is, that He would give His Spirit Who would "...teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you," John 14:26. In the case of Paul, who had not walked with Jesus those three years, Jesus gave that instruction also directly, probably during his sojourn in Arabia. He repeatedly emphasizes that he did not learn his doctrine from any other disciple and describes that experience in II Cor. 12. That he is referring to himself in II Cor. 12:2-4 is plain from verse 7. This is why Paul repeatedly quotes from that direct instruction, "I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you..." I Cor. 11:23; see also I Cor. 7:10.
Offices set in the body, the church
As to the place of that office, there are a couple of other elements which need to be considered to rightly understand the gifts of that office. The church is a body, a living organism, in which the members are bound and united together, as Paul describes it in I Cor. 12. The offices, all of them, are set in the body. They do not exist independently of it. Hence, the normal order is calling by Christ through the church. The apostolic office, while laying the foundation of the church and having a calling made directly by Christ, was nevertheless set in the body, Eph. 4:11, 12. The principle in Eph. 4:12 makes it clear that by the offices set in the body, it is, properly speaking, the body itself which preaches. The body is not simply edified, or built up, by the preaching, Eph. 4:12, but is edifying or building itself up, Eph. 4:16, "edifying itself in love." This is true of the apostolic office also, which is why Paul, though an apostle, is called and sent to do mission work by Christ through the church, Acts 13:2.
The second element is that there is a sequence to how Christ gave the offices, particularly that of the ministry of the Word to the church. This is found, not only in Eph. 4:11, Apostles - Prophets- Evangelists - pastors and teachers, it is also found in I Cor. 12:28, " 1st Apostles, 2nd prophets, 3rd teachers, after that miracles, gifts of healing, helps governments diversities of tongues, etc. The office of the ministry was unfolded in the life of the church in harmony with the need to lay the foundation and then build upon it. The role of New Testament prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher must be seen in this light. There is a certain development which was going on in the church, in its New Testament institutional form. ( more on this below)
"The signs of an apostle"
It is in the context of that organic unfolding and development, as the church grew into its full New Testament form and institution, that God gave both certain temporary offices and temporary gifts which were necessary to lay the foundation of the New Testament church. The word preached, that Christ was the fulfilment of the promises, the true promised Messiah or Christ, had to be confirmed specifically for believers by signs and wonders. There were also special gifts needed for the work, of which divine inspiration in the giving of the Scriptures was one of them. This was also the case with miracles and gifts of healing (which Paul evidently distinguishes in I Cor. 12:28). These gifts belong to the apostles, in the life of the body or church, and were found in connection with their labors, also among their co-laborers. They were gifts given to the church, but centrally residing in the office of apostle.
Mark 16. In the latter part of the Mark 16, Christ is speaking to the "eleven," Mark 16:14. It is to them, and in them, to the church, that Christ gives the commission to go and preach the gospel, Mark 16:15, (see also Matt. 28 19, 20) . With this commission Christ also gave the promise of a twofold fruit upon the labor (faith and unbelief, Mark 16:16). He also promised the disciples that certain gifts and powers would accompany their preaching labors among those that believe, Mark 16:17-18.
- What is often overlooked in this discussion, however, is the purpose of these signs: "...The Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following..." Mark 16:20; that is, their function was to confirm the apostolic Word. They were not intended for just any purpose.
- Secondly, the language of Mark is also overlooked. It is speaking of the apostles when he says,"so then after the Lord had spoke unto them ...(the eleven of verse 14) ...And they (the apostles) went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them...." Mark 16:19, 20. That this included the co-labors of men like Philip, and other office bearers, in the light of the organic reality of the church as a body, does not lessen the fact that Mark is speaking specifically of the Apostles.
- Thirdly, it should also be noted that Mark speaks of the matter as a promise made which was fulfilled. "And these signs shall follow...( Mark 16:17)... And they went ( past tense) forth... with signs following," (Mark 16:20). The viewpoint of Mark is that Jesus promised it, it happened as promised, and it is now fulfilled and done. He speaks of something accomplished, not something continuing in the church. There is nothing in the text which suggests or intends to speak of something perpetual in the special gifts of the apostles in the church.
- The gospel having been declared, confirmed, and set down in the Scriptures, the function of these signs is, in fact, fulfilled. They served the laying of the foundation of the church. That does not mean there is no abiding element, as both the commission to preach the gospel abides and the miracles confirming the gospel are recorded in Scripture. The miracles, which are intended to confirm the faith of believers, are now recorded in Scripture, and they are sufficient for our faith. The Scriptures were written by eyewitnesses of these things. To require miracles today is to declare that the Bible is insufficient for faith.
Hebrews 2:3, 4. In connection with the discussion of Mark 16 and the concept of apostolic gifts to confirm the word, Heb. 2:3, 4 also needs to be considered. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?" Hebrews 2;3, 4.
- The point of the text in Hebrews 2:3, 4 is that the gospel was first preached by Christ Himself and then by the apostles, and that God bore them witness and confirmed their words with wonders, miracles, and gifts. The point of the text is that these extraordinary gifts were signs given of God to confirm the word of the apostles in their preaching. They pointed to Christ confirming the gospel of Christ. That was their function by the hand of the Apostles.
- Moreover, God was Himself bearing witness to the truth that Jesus was indeed the promised Christ by them. This was the function of healings and other wonders to confirm the Word. The text also speaks of this as something past and now accomplished. It is clearly implied that God bore them witness, and that witness having been established, the need for it has also ceased. It is something past. It is also not something ongoing in the church or among those to whom he is writing. They, the Hebrews, are not themselves doing wonders, miracles, etc., which is what Pentecostalism requires.
II Corinthians 12:12. It is in that connection that the statement of the Apostle Paul also has significance. "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds, " II Cor. 12:12.
- The statement, " signs of an apostle," is rather clear. The miracles Paul did were a proof of his apostolic office and his preaching, which is what Paul is defending throughout much of II Corinthians.
- Exactly, however, in that they were marks of his office, they were bound to that office. When the apostles passed away, these signs of their office also ceased. This is both scriptural and an historical fact. It is the testimony of the early church that the extraordinary gifts of tongues, miracles, healings etc., all passed away with the death of the apostles. When teachers have come in the history of the church, claiming their restoration, they have been condemned as heretics. This was the case of Montanus (about 150-200 AD), who claimed he was the promised Paraclete or comforter, together with his women prophetesses.
To this must be added the explicit statement of Paul that certain of the gifts found in the church were temporary and would cease, "Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away." I Cor. 13:8. The apostle says they shall cease and they did.
II. Prophetic office and gifts connected with it
To put this matter in its proper perspective, it is also necessary to say something about the other temporary office of prophet and its character.
New Testament prophets New Testament prophets were added to the apostles as the second office of preaching and teaching in the church. The word prophet must be carefully understood. It means literally to "tell forth." The idea of it is that one is given to tell forth God's word. This is not only something respecting the future as in predictive prophecy. Predicting the coming famine or Paul's imprisonment as was done by Agabus is only one aspect of it and a very minor one.
- To tell forth the Word includes the special gifts of expounding the Scriptures, when as yet the New Testament was not written. The Church at first had only the Old Testament as written Scripture. They did not yet have either the Gospels or Epistles. They needed special gifts of the Spirit to expound that Old Testament, without being able to compare Scripture with Scripture. It is this to which the Apostle refers in I Cor. 14:26-33.
- There were special preaching gifts including special revelations of knowledge. Revelations of the gospel were also given by means of tongues. The Prophets, under the influence of these gifts, would come with a Psalm or a doctrine which they would expound in preaching. The reference to Psalms must be taken in the ordinary sense of the New Testament, that is as a reference to the 150 Psalms of the Old Testament. Likewise the reference to doctrine or teaching is a reference to the consistent declaration of the scriptures on a certain point and Jesus' own instruction which was given the church by revelation. This is true also of the purpose of speaking in tongues, which was to tell forth "the wonderful works of God," Acts 2:11. It is under this work of the Spirit that New Testament worship was originally conducted, the prophets speaking by turn, I Cor. 14:29. While women also were partakers of this gift in that they also were able to know the Scriptures for themselves and confess the wonderful works of God in Acts 2 and elsewhere, they were forbidden to exercise this gift in the public worship of the church and forbidden to preach, I Cor. 14:34, 35.
Special gifts for preaching
It is specifically this special gift serving the preaching, that of tongues and knowledge in its special character as involving in some measure direct revelation, that the Apostle Paul says will cease or fail and pass away in the church. It was temporary, served a specific purpose but was not intended to continue. Its principle function was not future prediction but the giving of the New Testament Scriptures under divine inspiration by men like Luke, Mark, James, and Jude along with the apostles. The spiritual principle of it continues in the church in connection with the Scriptures, in that all believers are anointed with the Spirit, and have the "unction of the Holy One" to know and understand the Word of God in the Scriptures for themselves ( I John 2:13, 14, 21, 27) This is the office of believer. Moreover, the function of telling forth the Word in an official way now abides in the third office of the ministry and that of teacher ( I Cor. 12:28).
Role of tongues It is in that light that the gift of tongues must be understood. It was a gift given to serve the preaching of the gospel, to enable the apostles and prophets to tell forth the wonderful works of God.
- As given on Pentecost the point of it was two fold: it was a sign that the gospel was going to the nations and that gentiles as gentiles would be gathered into the people of God. It was also a sign of warning to the unbelieving Jews of Judea that the gospel was being taken from them.
- Until Pentecost the promises of Christ by the types and shadows of the Old Testament and the Scriptures had been given in one language, that of the Jews, namely, Hebrew. With the coming of the Spirit, the gospel is preached in "other tongues" (other than Hebrew, Acts 2:4, 11). The Jews in Jerusalem who could not understand those other tongues heard only the noise of a drunkard (Acts 2:13), while the Jews from other countries heard an amazing wonder: the gospel preached in their own native tongue of the land in which they were born.
- It is for this reason that the apostle says that tongues are a "sign not to them that believe but to them that believe not," I Cor. 14:22. It is also the reason why he makes the point that prophesying is more useful and profitable, as it edified all. The trouble in Corinth is that they approached these special gifts not in harmony with their divine purpose, but out of sinful pride in having them. For the same reason he points out that speaking in an unknown tongue when there is none to interpret or when one does not know what one is saying is unprofitable both for the speaker and hearer.
It is also clear that all of these special gifts were not universal, not given to everyone in the church, nor intended for everyone, nor were the offices in the church for everyone, I Cor. 12:29-30. As with the telling forth of God's Word, (prophecy) the principle remains in the church, though the special gift has failed and passed away. The same thing is still true of tongues. The special gifts of tongues have ceased. In I Cor. 13:8 the term is literally "cease of themselves." The gospel is still proclaimed in other tongues to those who have never heard the gospel. The principle and the commission to go into all the world and preach remains. It is only the special character of the gift which has ceased. The Pentecostals with their second blessing idea totally miss the point, intention. and purpose of tongues.
I Corinthians 13:8 The point with much of this is that it confirms what the apostle says also in I Cor. 13:8. Concerning this passage, there is, in a sense, a certain organic unfolding of what is said. Verse 8 emphasizes that the extraordinary gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge shall fail, cease of themselves and pass away. It is all incomplete and partial. (verse 9). A better perfection is coming, verse 10. These gifts belong to childhood, verse 11. The New Testament church is in its infancy; it must be brought to adulthood. When that adulthood comes, these childish things will cease, fail, and pass away.
Does that mean prophecy, in the sense of telling forth God's word by preaching out of the finished scriptures, preaching the gospel to the nations (the real purpose of other tongues) and knowledge by the Spirit ceases? No, but doing so by extraordinary gifts (miraculously) ceases. This is adulthood as opposed to being a child.
But that adulthood is still not perfection. Even under the preaching of the gospel and the ordinary gift of the Spirit to know God's Word, we are still seeing through a glass darkly. We do not yet see face to face. Full adulthood and perfection can only come at Christ's return. The apostle looks at this matter as having certain phases of development to it. From special gifts to their ordinary use in the church to perfection at Christ coming.
The office of Evangelist
There is one other temporary office that needs to be mentioned, as those holding it also partook in some measure of the special gifts of the Spirit. In Eph. 4 the Apostle Paul also mentions the office or function of evangelist, which is not mentioned in I Cor. 12. What this function or office was is not difficult to determine. The word itself means to gospelize. Timothy is told to do the "word of an evangelist." Philip is also called an evangelist. The evangelists were co-laborers with the apostles. Peter, John , Paul and the others could not be everywhere at once. The apostles had with them co-laborers who assisted them in the work, particularly of missions. This work was not independent from that of the apostles. Philip, for example, preached to the Samaritans. When a group was formed, Peter and John were sent to that work, Acts 8:12-17. In like manner Titus is left in Crete by the Apostle Paul to finish the work there, Titus 1:5, and set things in order. In the same way. Paul remains in Athens while Silas and Timothy remain in Macedonia to finish the work there, Acts 17:14, 15.
Insofar as there was a distinct office of evangelist. as is suggested by Eph. 4:11, it was that of a co-worker/assistant to the apostles in their missionary labors. What the office emphatically was not was that of someone who went to those who were already Christians, or where the gospel had been preached with a view to stirring them up by some kind of religious pep rally. It was always in connection with mission work where the gospel had never gone before and always in connection with forming and establishing churches. Titus was to ordain elders in Crete. The distinction is somewhat between that of a groundbreaker, Paul, and one who finishes and lays the foundation upon that plowed ground. It is for this reason that Paul, while he labored extensively in Corinth, says that he did not baptize many there and was not sent to baptize, I Cor. 1:13-17. The work of teaching and baptism, following it, was evidently conducted by his co-laborers, since we know that a large church was formed in Corinth and that Paul labored there for an extended period of time.
Again, while the distinct character of this function as a co-worker with the apostles has ceased, the principle of it abides in the present office of the ministry of the Word, which is not only that of pastor and teacher but also that of an evangelist. Timothy, manifestly, as Paul's life was drawing to a close, was laboring as the pastor of the church in Ephesus ( see II Tim.). It is particularly the function of missionaries sent by Christ through the church to do the work of an evangelist, though every preacher is engaged in gospelizing those who hear. Moreover, none of these men simply roamed around at will. They certainly were not unsupervised. They were under the apostles' direct supervision and instruction as to their work.Hence we have an epistle like Titus. Their work was always among the unchurched, where the gospel had not yet gone. The purpose of it was always to establish in good scriptural order, churches. They were not laymen, but ordained office bearers, called to that labor as was Barnabas, Acts 13:2, and Timothy, I Tim 4:14.
The warnings against false miracles and gifts
It is in the light of these principles that historic Christianity has always maintained that these gifts, also of prophecy, knowledge, and tongues were apostolic gifts belonging to the laying of the foundation of the church. They ceased with the death of the apostles.
The Scriptures also warn us against false teachers and false prophets, II Peter 2:1. They warn us against false miracles and signs and wonders which belong to the spirit of antichrist, II Thess 2:9. The fact is, that false miracles of healing, tongues etc. are found in Hindu temples to this very day. Moreover these pagan phenomena have a common characteristic with the Pentecostals: they are uncontrolled phenomena which seize the worshiper. This is what Paul means when he says the Corinthians were "carried away" unto dumb idols, I Cor. 12:2. They were out of control. Order, not chaos, is the work of the Spirit, I Cor. 14: 32, 40.
To claim, as the Pentecostals do, that God has now restored these special gifts is without Scriptural foundation. False references to the latter rain in the land of Canaan taken from the Old Testament prophets are just that, false references that twist the Scriptures. To maintain that these gifts have either continued or been restored in the church opens one up to all the medieval nonsense of Rome, to miracles of Mary, weeping statues, and the apochryphal stories of the medieval saints. It also opens the door to the lies of the Mormons and other cults of additional revelation.
Historic Christianity has always rejected such claims as deceitful delusions. The Reformation of the 16th century was in part about removing these abuses and superstitions from the church, which is one of the reasons why Luther, Calvin and the other reformers also opposed the false visions and prophets associated with many Anabaptist groups.
By Rev. Thomas Miersma