Now I will provide the scriptures that support the continuation of the Holy Spirit’s gifts into modern times. I originally had this material grouped in with a previous post, but I decided to split it up to focus the arguments and improve readability. (For Part 1 on cessationism, click here.)
Scriptures that Support Current Manifestations of the Spirit
Let’s begin with the words of Jesus:
“And these signs will accompany those who believe [emphasis added]: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well” (Mark 16:17-18).
Notice Jesus doesn’t say “These signs will accompany my apostles” or “These signs shall follow the Early Church believers.” Anyone reading this scripture would logically conclude that Jesus is referring to all believers–past, present and future. However, my NIV Bible lists a disclaimer with this passage of scripture: it’s not found in earlier manuscripts. So if someone wishes to exclude it from the argument, they can. There are plenty of other relevant passages that aren’t in question, such as this one:
“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord” (Acts 2:17-20; Joel 2:28-31).
Prophecy is one of the gifts, or signs, of the Spirit. So here’s a question: If the signs were only meant to accompany Christ’s apostles, why does Peter, one of those apostles, tell the Jews at Pentecost that their children will demonstrate these signs? Surely these “sons and daughters” would continue living after the apostles’ deaths and, perhaps, even after the last book of the New Testament was penned.
Some might point out that Peter is repeating an Old Testament prophecy; therefore, the “sons and daughters” could be referring to the disciples themselves. However, from the context it appears that the signs of the Spirit are to continue until Christ’s return. “The last days” refers to the time from Jesus’ ascension to Jesus’ return. Last I checked, we’re still in that period!
Also, sometimes in scripture, references to children take on a much broader context, meaning one’s descendants. The term “sons and daughters” could easily encapsulate several generations of progeny. I don’t want to be dishonest in claiming that this is absolutely the case here, but it’s worth considering in light of the context. Let’s continue:
I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed (1 Corinthians 1:4-7).
In this scripture, the assertion that the gifts of the Spirit are to continue until the return of Christ is made a bit stronger. (Remember the gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation of tongues.) Using a Strong’s concordance, I looked up the Greek translation of the word “gift” as used in 1 Corinthians 1:7 to make sure it wasn’t referring to something else. Strong’s defined it as “a divine gratuity,” “a spiritual endowment,” and “miraculous faculty.” Not sure how it gets any clearer than that!
The Purpose of the Gifts
Certainly, the gifts of the Spirit were used to validate the gospel of Christ and lend credibility to the Early Church. No one can deny that. But it’s interesting that when Paul speaks of the role of the gifts in the Early Church, he mentions neither of these things. Instead, he says that the gifts are used to build up, or edify, the body of believers:
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. […] [T]he one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church (1 Corinthians 14:1, 3-4).
Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church (verse 12).
Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers (verse 22).
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done [in such a way] so that the church may be built up (verse 26).
So if the gifts were only to function as proof of the gospel’s legitimacy, why all this talk from Paul about edifying the church? Is edifying somehow a synonym for establishing? To find out, I turned to Strong’s again. On Paul’s use of “edify” in verse 4, it can mean “to construct.” However, it can also mean “to embolden.” So while the gifts were used to construct the Early Church, they were also used to embolden the body of believers.
Do believers no longer need to be emboldened? Do Christians no longer require encouragement and comfort? Have all unbelievers been convinced of the gospel’s legitimacy? If any cessationist would answer any of these questions with a no, then he admits the gifts of the Spirit are still needed today! Otherwise, how would these things be accomplished?