Friday, August 02, 2013

What About Tongues, Prophecy, and Miracles Today?

1 Cor 13:8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Many sincere, religious people today believe that they have experienced or witnessed tongues-speaking, prophecy, and healing miracles as they occurred in the New Testament era. These include Pentecostal groups, charismatic groups, Mormons, some Catholics, some Protestants, and various individuals in community churches. Some are so convinced of this subjectively that it is difficult for them to reconsider it in the light of Scripture. When asked for biblical support, these well-meaning people will turn to 1 Cor 13:8-13.
They read “the perfect” in verse 9 and understand it to refer to the final state of God’s people in heaven. Because we are not perfect, the church is not perfect, and the world is not perfect, they insist that the first-century gifts must exist now and continue until the Lord returns.
Let’s consider several lines of evidence that support the cessation of these special gifts. We are not limiting what the Lord can do, but rather considering what the Lord does or does not do.
The word “perfect”
The Greek term τέλειος (teleios) is an adjective meaning “having attained the end or purpose.” It refers to the finishing or completing of a process which has been begun. The purpose of the miraculous gifts would be accomplished, and then they would cease. That purpose was to confirm the identity of Jesus Christ and the truth of the apostolic gospel message (Heb 2:3b-4).
When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, revealed knowledge and prophecy were still partial, given in bits and pieces (13:9). The biblical canon was still open, as the Spirit was leading Paul and others to proclaim God’s inspired Word. Once the New Testament was finished, and the canon was closed, God “perfected” or “brought to its end or purpose” the process which was still unfinished at the time of writing.
All or nothing
Read the list of special gifts listed in 1 Cor 12:28-30. Some (like healing) are specifically miracle gifts, bringing a dramatic, supernatural effect. Others (like prophecy) are revelation gifts, bringing content which could be considered inspired. Tongues-speaking was a combination of both. One could speak in a language he had never learned, and through that miracle new content would be revealed, which had not been known before.
If tongues-speaking were to continue today, the other gifts – all of them – would continue as well. There would be continuing inspired revelation. The canon would still be open. The Bible would remain unfinished. We would be lacking part of God’s revealed truth. And this incomplete state would continue until Christ returns.
One more thought. If all the gifts of 1 Cor 12:28-30 continue until the Second Coming of Christ, then we must have apostles as well. The Mormons are at least consistent in this, with twelve “apostles” leading their group. Virtually all other Bible believers recognize, based on Acts 1:21-22, that the role of apostles was limited to the first century.
If our charismatic friends can explain why there are no longer apostles in the church today, and why the Bible is complete, we can use that same reasoning to discuss tongues and miraculous healings.
In Acts 2 the apostles preached the gospel in other dialects or languages, as the Spirit enabled them. If one could do that today, he would be able to preach the gospel in foreign lands, in the tongue of the audience, without having studied the language. This simply does not happen today. Before Pentecostal missionaries go into a new country, they must first study that other country’s language.
Read Acts 9:36-43, which records the raising of Tabitha or Dorcas from the dead. It became known throughout Joppa, where she lived. If this happened today, it would again become known throughout our city. It would be evident. However, it has not happened.
So-called faith healers insist that the problem is a lack of faith. Is there no one, anywhere, who has sufficient faith today? What about the mustard-seed faith that Jesus described in Luke 17:6? Also, some may suggest that Tabitha was raised as a result of the faith of others, her friends who summoned Peter. Would it not seem reasonable that faith healers could do the same today? If the faith healer believes, and some in the crowd believe, shouldn’t someone somewhere be raised from the dead?
The man Jesus healed in John 5 expressed no faith before the miracle occurred. In fact, he did not even know who Jesus was until later. See John 5:12-13.
The crippled beggar healed in Acts 3 did not express faith; he was hoping to receive money. His healing confirmed the gospel message about Christ’s resurrection and ascension. It did not reflect the beggar’s level of faith, nor was it hindered by his lack of faith.
The Pentecostal movement began in 1906 in Los Angeles, CA. Until that time, it was accepted by virtually every Bible student, and every religious group, that tongues and apostolic miracles had ceased. This conviction was also held by the early, post-apostolic church.
Early church leaders constantly referred to Scripture as the only divinely inspired revelation. Origen (AD 185-254). From the quotations and materials in his writings, you could virtually reconstruct the New Testament. He and others understood that the canon was closed, that divine revelation had ceased, and that the Holy Spirit was no longer inspiring Scripture.
The Didache is an early-second-century document which described worship, outlined a pattern for life, and warned against false prophets who would come. There is no mention of tongues-speaking or miraculous healings, which would have confirmed the message of true prophets.
In the latter part of the second century, a man named Montanus arose. He was a convert to Christianity in the province of Phrygia. He was convinced that he himself was inspired by the Holy Spirit and appointed to bring the church back to the exercise of miraculous gifts. He converted two women, who put themselves forward as prophetesses. In Asia Minor his efforts moved forward with a great deal of force. The church historian Eusebius mentions him.
Between AD 157 and 173, churches took action against Montanus and his followers. If this had been a common thing, if Montanus had been right, and if people had actually been exercising these gifts, the churches would have taken no such action.
Chrysostom (AD 300’s) spoke based on 1 Cor 12. He said, “This whole passage is very obscure, but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur, but now no longer take place.”
Augustine (contemporary of Chrysostom, who died sometime later), in homilies on 1 John, said: “In the earliest times the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed, and they spake with tongues which they had not learned, as the Spirit gave them utterance. These are signs adapted to the time. But there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues to show that the gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away.”
Our God is an awesome God! There is no limit to what He can do. Nothing is impossible with Him. The Scriptures indicate that He chose to enable tongues-speaking and indisputable miracles in the first century, for the purpose of confirming the identity of Christ and the truth of the gospel. The Scriptures also indicate, as history and experience confirm, that God has completed that process and fulfilled that purpose. To God be the glory.

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