Are Miraculous Spiritual Gifts still in Operation Today?
Question: Greetings in the name of Jesus. I am born-again child of God, filled with the Holy Spirit. I have been reading many of your articles, they were indeed helpful to me. I have learnt a lot I just want you to clarify to me what you meant in Peter # 18 (eternal rewards). You said we should not desire/pursue spiritual gifts which are at present non-operational (i.e., prophecy, tongues, healing. May you kindly show me from scripture, where the Bible says these gifts are non operational at present? Thank you for your help.
Response: First let me say how pleased I am to learn that these studies have been of some use to you. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to hear this. On the issue spiritual gifts, I believe I would put it a bit differently than in your question. I certainly would love to have the gift of healing, for example, although I have second thoughts when I consider the implications. Yes indeed, all of the overtly miraculous gifts were/are/will be wonderful things - and it is true that all of us are gifted in some way or other by the Spirit for the accomplishment of specific ministries and specific good works which God ordained for us in eternity past to do in His strength according to His plan and will (Eph.2:10). So I want to make it very, very clear that I am in no position to speak for the Almighty. I am an interpreter of His Word according to the gifts I have received. As far as I am aware, there is no place in scripture where God has bound His own hands, so to speak, to prevent the giving of these gifts here and now. He certainly gave the gifts of prophecy, tongues and healing in the past, and, the way I read Joel (among other scriptures), indicates to me that the resurgence of miraculous gifts of this sort will herald the Messiah's return, similar to the way they called attention to His Messiahship and to the authority of His apostles.
That having been said, it is true that I am not convinced that at this present moment such miraculous gifts are being given or are at work in the Church. To some extent, this is an empirical question. We are given the gifts we are given. If God makes us a foot, we are not going to be a hand, just because that is what we might prefer (and vice versa: 1Cor.12:12-30). So it is a matter of fact: God either is presently bestowing such gifts or He is not. And while it may take discernment and judgment to ascertain whether an individual has the gift of teaching, or administration, or helps etc., it should be relatively easy to discern, for example, whether a person is truly speaking in tongues (or prophesying, or accomplishing divine acts of healing, etc.).
From my own personal investigations and study, I have not seen this. I have seen much which is meant to pass for it, but, in the case of tongues, for instance, I have never met a person who could speak a discernable language and give the gospel to native speakers, even though said person had never studied, learned or been exposed to the tongue, nor, indeed, understood what he was saying. So, again, it would be most desirable to have this gift, and I fully understand why many believers would love to have it, and there is no question but that God could give it, if it were in His plan to do so at this time - but I do not see any evidence of this. And on the other hand, we know from the history of Israel, and can plainly see from the history of the Church, that the intense periods of miraculous activity such as these gifts evince were always short and concentrated (the ministries of Moses, Elijah, our Lord, and His apostles being the most notable). That is the case even if one wishes to see true spiritual gifts at work in the activity abroad in the church visible today about which we are discussing - even if one thinks there are genuine tongues today, where were they 300 year ago, for example, and what has changed in the Church theologically that would lead to the revival of miraculous gifts which were clearly quiescent in the past (even if one maintains the position that they are active today)?
In terms of "proof", therefore, I can only offer the negative evidence that I have never seen anything that could be proved be without question genuine and legitimate. So that, really, it is impossible for me to prove to you that these gifts are not operational now without personally investigating every case where they are claimed. Still, one would think that if these gifts were indeed in wide distribution now, that every Christian would in their walk come across some concrete evidence of the fact.
And although it is impossible to say from scripture that these gifts definitively are not currently operational, there are certainly very good biblical reasons why these particular gifts may indeed be in hiatus at the moment (as I believe they are). First of all, we are between advents, at present, and have been for some time (and these gifts surely have their prime purpose in calling attention to those special times, underscoring the special authority that apostles and the 144,000 have as proclaimers of the resurrection and return of the Messiah respectively). Miracles also preceded and accompanied the Exodus, the likes of which were not repeated until Elijah and Elisha (i.e., even in Israel, a widespread and continuous regime of miracles was not God's way). Secondly, in terms of the Church, all of the actual cases of the operation of these miraculous gifts of which we speak as recorded by scripture occurred at the hands of or under the tutelage of the apostles. That is to say, they occurred - so far as they are demonstrable from the Bible - in an interim period within which the Church was being established and the Bible completed. It is not a far jump, therefore, to understand that they served an interim purpose as well, specifically, helping to bridge the gap between the early days of the incipient Church and a fully functioning Church with the entire Bible in hand. Prophecy would help make up for lack of a complete Bible. Tongues would help spread the gospel before seminaries and established local congregations could approach the task systematically. Healing would act as a mark of authority that God was really among these strange new groups. Today, one would hope that His presence among us is so clear from the track record of love and charity and godly power in Christians throughout the world that tangible miracles are not necessary - blessed are those who have not seen yet believe (Jn.20:29).
If one takes this view, then it makes a good deal of sense to take Paul's words in 1Cor.13 about the extraordinary gifts "coming to an end" as referring to just this hiatus on the overtly miraculous gifts which he foresaw at the end of the apostolic period. Such gifts are sensational, but serve a temporary end (celebrating and establishing the incipient Church). Christian virtue, love in particular, based on believing and practicing truth, are far greater (Gal.5:6), and never come to an end (1Cor.13:8; 13:13). Once we as Christians are able to delve deeply into the Word of God and build our faith, hope and love with His truth, then the powerful and genuinely miraculous things He can and will do for us and through us are truly "greater things than these" sort of overtly miraculous activities, as Jesus Himself said (Jn.14:12). For it is not the outward form that is truly important, but the inner power of the Spirit where our true power lies (1Ki.19:12; Zech.4:6).
Here are a few more files available at the site which may be helpful to you (they have more of the scriptural arguments and analysis vis-a-vis specific gifts):
Thanks again so much for your kind comments. Hope you find this helpful.
Yours in our Lord Jesus Christ,