by C. Samuel Storms

In view of the constraints on space, I’m going to forego any introductory comments and come straight to the point. I propose to articulate what I consider to be seven good reasons for believing in the continuation of all spiritual gifts in the church today. These aren’t the only reasons, but they are the best.

Bad Reasons for Being a Cessationist

The first good reason for being a Continuationist is the numerous bad reasons for being a Cessationist. For example, even most Cessationists now agree that the “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10 cannot be a reference to the canon of Scripture or the alleged maturity of the church in the first century, but clearly refers to the fullness of the eternal state ushered in at the second coming of Christ.

Contrary to what many Cessationists have said, signs, wonders, and spiritual gifts don’t authenticate the apostles, but rather Jesus and the apostolic message about him. Furthermore, nowhere does the NT say that authentication or attestation was the sole or exclusive purpose of such displays of divine power. These supernatural phenomena also serve to glorify God (John 2:11; 9:3; 11:4, 40; Mt. 15: 29-31) to evangelize the lost (Acts 9:32-43), to display love and compassion for the hurting (Mt. 14:14; Mk. 1:40-41), and to build up the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:7; 14:3- 5, 26). Even if the ministry of the miraculous gifts to attest and authenticate  has ceased (a point I concede only for the sake of argument), such gifts would continue to function in the church for the other reasons cited.

Some have pointed to 2 Corinthians 12:12, where Paul asserts that “the signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles” (NASB). He does not say the insignia or marks of an apostle are signs, wonders and miracles, but rather that miraculous phenomena accompanied his ministry in Corinth as attendant elements in his apostolic work. They were not themselves “signs” performed exclusively by apostles.

Others contend that since we now have the completed canon of Scripture we no longer need the operation of so-called miraculous gifts. But no biblical author ever claims that Scripture has replaced or supplanted the need for signs, wonders and the like. Furthermore, if such supernatural phenomena were essential in bearing witness to the truth of the gospel then, hwy not now? The miracles which confirmed the gospel in the first century would serve no less to confirm the gospel in subsequent centuries, even our own.

We mustn’t forget that Jesus thought it necessary to utilize the miraculous phenomena of the Holy Spirit to attest and confirm his ministry. If it was important for him, how much more so for us. If the glorious presence of the Son of God himself did not preclude the need for miraculous phenomena, how can we suggest that our possession of the Bible does?

Some claim that if one spiritual gift, such as apostleship, has ceased to be operative in the church, perhaps other (even all) miraculous gifts have ceased to be operative.  But there is serious doubt that “apostleship” is a spiritual gift. Even if it is, there is nothing inconsistent about acknowledging that one gift might have ceased while others continue. If you can make an exegetical case for the cessation of apostleship, fine (although I don’t believe you can). But then you must proceed and make an equally persuasive exegetical case for the cessation of other gifts.

Others fear that to acknowledge the contemporary validity of revelatory gifts such as prophecy and word of knowledge would necessarily undermine the finality and sufficiency of Holy Scripture. This argument is based on the false assumption that such revelatory gifts provide us with infallible truths that are equal in authority to the biblical text itself.

Nor can one appeal to Ephesians 2:20 on the assumption that a gift such as prophecy was uniquely linked to the apostles and therefore designed to function only during the so-called foundational period in the early church. There are numerous instances in the NT where prophecy was unrelated to the foundation of the church and was exercised by non- apostolic believers  (consider  Acts  2:1-4,17-18;   19:1-7; 21:9; 1 Cor. 12:7- 10, 14:1,26,39; Rom. 12:6, 1 Thess. 5: 19-21). Both the nature of the prophetic gift as well as its widespread distribution among Christians indicate that there was far more to this gift than simply the apostles laying the foundation of the church. Therefore, neither the passing of the apostles nor the movement of the church beyond its foundational years has any bearing on the validity of prophecy today.

The fact that today we don’t typically see miraculous phenomena equal in quality to what was present in the ministries of Jesus and the Apostles is no argument against the validity of the spiritual gifts described, for example, in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. If the apostles set the standard by which we judge the validity of all spiritual gifts, we might be forced to conclude that no spiritual gift of any sort is valid today, for who would claim to teach like Paul or evangelize like Peter. No one measures up to the apostles in any respect.

Another common Cessationist argument is that signs, wonders, and miracles were clustered or concentrated at specific times in redemptive history (such as during the Exodus, the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, and in the early church). But this at most demonstrates that supernatural phenomena were more prevalent than at other times, but not that during other seasons they were non-existent or that we shouldn’t pray for them today. More important still is the fact that the cluster argument is patently unbiblical and false. Miraculous phenomena occur consistently throughout the OT (see Jer. 32:20). Prophecy in particular was prevalent through most of the QT, being absent or comparatively less active only because of the idolatry of Israel (cf. Ps. 74:9-11; 77:7-14).

The Presence of All The Gifts In The New Testament

A second good reason for being a Continuationist is the consistent and altogether positive presence throughout the NT of all spiritual gifts. Christians in Rome (Rom. 12), Corinth (1 Cor.  12-14),  Samaria  (Acts  8), Caesarea (Acts 10),   Antioch (Acts 13),    Ephesus  (Acts 19; 1  Tim.  1),  Thessalonica (1 Thess.  5), and Galatia (Gal. 3) experienced the miraculous and revelatory gifts. How else could the NT authors have said any more clearly than this what New Covenant  Christianity is supposed to look like?

Supernatural Manifestations Among Non-Apostles

A third good reason for being a Continuationist is the extensive NT evidence of non-apostolic men and women across breadth of the Roman Empire consistently experiencing these supernatural manifestations.  Others, aside from the apostles, include (1) the 70 who were commissioned in Luke 10:9, 19-20; (2) at least 108 people among the 120 who were gathered in the upper room on the day of Pentecost; (3) Stephen (Acts 6-7); (4) Phillip (Acts 8); (5) Ananias (Acts 9); (6) church members in Antioch (Acts 13:1); (7) new converts in Ephesus (Acts 19:6); (8) women at Caesarea (Acts 21:8-9); (9) the unnamed  brethren  of  Galatians  3:5; (10) believers in Rome (Rom. 12:6-8); (11) believers in Corinth (1 12:7-10; 14:1ff.); and (12) Christians in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 5:19- 20).

The Purpose of the Charismata To Edify

A fourth good reason for being a Continuationist is the explicit purpose of all the charismata: namely, the edification of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:7; 14:3,26). Nothing in Scripture leads me to believe we have progressed beyond the need for edification and therefore beyond the need for the contribution of the charismata. I freely admit that spiritual gifts were essential for the birth of the church, but why would they be any less important or needful for its continued growth and maturation?

The Continuity of the Church in Acts with Later Churches

The fifth good reason for being a Continuationist is the fundamental continuity or spiritually organic relationship between the church in Acts and the church in subsequent centuries. Notwithstanding the existence of a so-called “apostolic age” in the first century, the NT nowhere suggests that certain spiritual gifts were uniquely and exclusively tied to the apostles or that their passing entails the cessation of such gifts. The universal body of Christ that was established and gifted through the ministry of the apostles is the same universal church or body of Christ that exists today. We are, together with Paul and Peter and Silas and Lydia and Priscilla and Luke members of the same one body of Christ.

Miraculous Gifts As Characteristic of the New Covenant Age 

A sixth good reason for being a Continuationist is what Peter says in Acts 2 concerning the operation of miraculous gifts as characteristic of the New Covenant age of the Church. As D. A. Carson has said, “the coming of the Spirit is not associated merely with the dawning of the new age but with its presence, not merely with Pentecost but with the entire period from Pentecost to the return of Jesus the Messiah.”1 The gifts of prophecy and tongues (Acts 2) are not portrayed as merely inaugurating the New Covenant Age but as characterizing it.

The Operation of the Gifts Until We Attain Maturity

The seventh good reason for being a Continuationist is what Paul says in Ephesians 4:11-13 where he affirms the necessary operation of such gifts “until we all attain to the Unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Surely, the church will not experience this consummate expression of spirituality until the return of Christ himself.

More could be said and other arguments might be cited, but I hope this brief summation will help us all as we continue to wrestle with this complex and important theme.

C. Samuel Storms is President of Enjoying God Ministries in Kansas City, Missouri.

(This article was first published in the Areopagus Journal Miracles March/April 2008)

Notes

1 D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A. Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 155.