Question and Answer
Charismata/Gifts of the Spirit
I am writing a question to you about the "charismata." I want to know if you teach against speaking in tongues and other gifts of the Holy Spirit. Are your members, pastors and elders permitted and/or encouraged to worship in the Spirit in this manner? I am a Christian who believes that the gifts are in use today, and I would like to know your position.
Thank you for your interest in the Orthodox Presbyterian (OPC) position on the special gifts of the Holy Spirit in relation to our times. We believe that the “charismata” (those first introduced at Pentecost and further dealt with in 1 Corinthians 12–14) have ceased with the end of the apostolic age. I will list our reasons for that strong conviction.
1. From the birth of the New Testament (NT) Church at Pentecost through to the end of the first Century of the Christian era, the church was in her infancy. It was then that the blood sacrifices were done away, as well as the need for Mosaic ordinances, since the veil of the temple was rent (Matt. 27:51, cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). This explains the frequent references to prophetic utterances during the times after Pentecost. The NT books were in the process of being written during those years, hence the need for special revelations to guide the infant church during those turbulent years.
2. There seems to have been a terminus of the special miracles referred to in 1 Corinthians 12:4–11. That comes at the very end of the Bible in Revelation 22:18–19. One might say, “but those curses against adding to or taking from what is written in ‘this book’ apply only to Revelation.” Does that mean that we can add to, or subtract from, other NT books, but not Revelation? Also, Revelation is placed historically at the very end of the NT era. It was probably written around 95 AD. No NT writing was written later, and John was the last of the Apostles to die.
One could also use Luke 16:23–31 (our Lord’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus) with the understanding that Jesus was speaking to Jews before he had been sacrificed. This moves what he said to the end of the Old Testament (OT) era. When the rich man pleads with Abraham to send someone back from the dead to warn his five brothers, Abraham said, “They have Moses and the prophets,” but the man in hell protested, “they will not listen to them.” Abraham said, “If they will not hear Moses and the prophets (i.e., the OT), neither will they be persuaded though someone rises from the dead.”
The meaning is clear: God’s written Word is sufficient! Push that principle back to Isaiah’s time; the same principle applies: “To the law and the testimony. If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn [no hope for the future].” So, even in the OT era, the recorded Word of God was sufficient. How much more when the last inspired Scripture was written? The Bible is sufficient!
3. The various charismatic gifts referred to in 1 Corinthians 12 were given to the NT church by the Holy Spirit who himself was given at Pentecost (verse 4). But notice in verses 7–8 that it was the Spirit who gave the respective gifts: “But one and the same Spirit works all these things distributing to each one individually just as he wills” (verse 11—my emphasis). Let me ask a question. By what biblical authority does your church hold that all those baptized in the Spirit should have the gift of tongues? Tongues seem to be elevated above the other gifts, whereas in chapter 14 Paul insists that prophecy was to be preferred in worship because tongues, being private, edified only the speaker, while prophecy edified the whole church.
4. Tongues were for a sign (chapter 14:21–22), and that sign was one of judgment (quoting Isa. 28:9–13). Translations vary, but the deeper meaning is that, like little children babbling without conveying any meaning to their words, so Israel would come under the rule of the Babylonians whose speech would be like a babbling of children to them, but would bring divine judgment.
Admittedly the connection between the Apostle’s saying it is for a sign, and relating it to an earlier parallel in the history of Judah and Jerusalem, is difficult. But the gift of tongues commencing at Pentecost was indeed a sign of the gift of the Holy Spirit prophesied in Joel 2:28–32. And the general understanding of these words spoken in a tongue and understood by those who heard them in their native tongue were “the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11).
The “sign” (tongues speaking) drew the crowd. But when Peter rose to explain the meaning of this sudden manifestation, he preached his sermon in a known tongue. And indeed there were two or three repeats of Pentecostal signs in Acts. First, there is 8:4–27 (though speaking in tongues is not specificcally mentioned there). In Acts 10:44–46, tongues are spoken. In addition, tongues occur in Acts 19:1–7. These were delayed-action dispensings of the Spirit with accompanying gifts.
The first group of people in view were Samaritans. They were a mixture of Jews and Gentles. The second took place at the house of Cornelius, an uncircumcised Gentile and his household. The third group was a group of seven men who had heard the ministry of John the Baptist and nothing more till they came in contact with Paul in Ephesus.
In Acts 2:9–12 the company was made up of mostly Jews plus a few proselytes, who were Gentiles in blood turned Jews through circumcision and ceremonial washings. Samaria was a half-way step from Jews to Gentiles. Cornelius and his household were all Gentiles. The twelve men at Ephesus were an exception in that they’d missed NT history from John to Pentecost—an exception which had to be brought up to date. But, assuming that the Samaritans received the gift of tongues, these three were mini-Pentecosts. Bear in mind that the signs of the Apostles did not continue in the church after the death of the apostles!
5. There is an argument from post-apostolic history of the NT church. There is a sudden absence of miracles in general, including references to the gifts found in 1 Corinthians 12–14. It wasn’t till centuries later that “miracles” of any kind were brought into vogue, and those were those miracles ascribed to the Roman Catholic “saints”—either attributed to them after their death or attributed to their bones buried in numerous cathedrals. They are as like the miraculous gifts of Jesus and his apostles as black is like white.
Much later, the tragic life of Edward Irving (1792–1834) formed a brief parenthesis in church history in which an attempt was made to demonstrate the continuance of charismatic gifts in the British Isles. Irving was a godly man who thoroughly believed in continuing miraculous special gifts of the Spirit. It was at the height of his brief ministry that attempts were made to send missionaries to evangelize people of strange languages through the gift of tongues. It ended in utter failure. In fact, Irving lived in ill health, dying of “consumption” (tuberculosis) which his “gifts” failed to heal.
It wasn’t till around 1904, in Los Angeles, that the modern “Pentecostal” movement was born. From shortly after the death of the apostles till then (with the exception of the Irving years) these gifts were not significantly claimed in the church of Jesus Christ. Yet there was the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century which revived a dying Christianity. There were the numerous special works of the Spirit in England, Wales, Scotland and America which blessed the church beyond all expectations. During all those in-between centuries, we had the same Holy Scriptures.
The great scholars could have come to the conclusions of the modern charismatic Christians, but they didn’t see it. Some individual churches here and there have yielded to the influence of Pentecostalism, but the Orthodox Presbyterian Church steadfastly resists the doctrine as unbiblical. I have relatives who believe as you do. I love them as fellow Christians. But we disagree on these issues. Why? Because the tendency in Pentecostalism is to emphasize experience over doctrine. The extreme examples is found in the “Vineyard” churches, out of which has erupted the “Toronto blessing” which I believe has lost sight of God’s Word altogether.
Perhaps I’ve given more of an answer than you asked for, but I didn’t want to disagree with any brother or sister in Christ without giving the reasons why from the Bible. Otherwise, your opinion is as good as my opinion or any other opinion. In Christianity opinions don’t matter unless they are drawn from the Word of God.
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