|Study 2: The Spirit of God
Definition | Inspiration | Gifts of the Holy Spirit | The Withdrawal of the Gifts | The Bible The Only Authority | Digressions (Is the Holy Spirit A Person?, The Principle of Personification, Calvinism, "Ye shall receive the . . . Holy Spirit", "These signs shall follow") | Questions
2.4 The Withdrawal of the Gifts
The miraculous gifts of God's spirit will be used again by the believers in order to change this present world into God's Kingdom, after the return of Christ. The gifts are therefore called "the powers of the world (age) to come" (Heb. 6:4,5); and Joel 2:26-29 describes a great outpouring of the spirit gifts after the repentance of Israel. The very fact that these gifts will be given to the believers on Christ's return is proof enough that they are not possessed now - seeing that to any Christian with eyes open to both Scripture and world events, the Lord's return must surely be soon (see Appendix 3).
There are clear Biblical prophecies that at some point in time between the first century, when the gifts were possessed, and the second coming, the gifts were to be withdrawn:-
The spirit gifts possessed in the first century were to be withdrawn "when that which is perfect is come". This cannot be the second coming of Christ, seeing that at that time the gifts will be given again. The Greek word translated "perfect" strictly means 'that which is full or complete'; it does not necessarily mean something sinless.
This complete thing would replace the partial knowledge which the early Christians had as a result of the gift of prophecy. Remember that prophecy was the gift of speaking forth the inspired words of God; it is the written record of such words which makes up the Bible.
In the first century, the average believer would only have known a fraction of the New Testament as we know it. He would have heard some words of prophecy from the elders of his church about various practical issues; he would have known the outline of the life of Jesus, and may well have heard one or two of Paul's letters read out. But once the written record of the words of prophecy was completed and circulated, there was no need for the gift of prophecy to still be possessed. That which was complete, and which thereby replaced the ministry of the spirit gifts, was therefore the completed New Testament:-
That which makes perfect, or complete, is "all scripture"; so once "all scripture" was inspired and written, "that which was complete" had come, and the miraculous gifts were withdrawn.
Ephesians 4:8-14 now slots into place to nicely complete the jigsaw puzzle:-
The gifts of the first century were to be given until the perfect, or mature, man was reached, and 2 Tim. 3:16,17 says that "the man of God (is) perfect" through accepting the guidance of "all scripture". Col. 1:28 also teaches that 'perfection' comes from response to God's Word. Once all Scripture is possessed, there is no longer any real excuse for being puzzled by the multitude of doctrines offered by various churches. There is only one Bible, and as "thy Word is truth" (Jn. 17:17), through study of its pages we can find the "unity of the faith", the one faith which Eph. 4:13 speaks of. True Christians have therefore reached the possession of that one faith; in that sense they are complete ("perfect") as a result of "that which is perfect" or complete - the written, completed Word of God.
In passing, note how Eph. 4:14 likens being under the ministry of the miraculous gifts, to spiritual childhood; and, in the context of prophesying, how the miraculous gifts were to be taken away. 1 Cor. 13:11 says the same. Making such a fuss about possessing the spirit gifts is therefore not a sign of spiritual maturity. The progress each reader of these words should now make is towards a deeper appreciation of the written Word of God, to rejoice in the completeness of God's basic revelation of Himself to us through it, and to respond to it in humble obedience.
Present Claims Of Spirit Possession
Finally, a number of other points have to be made concerning the repeated claims of those who think they now possess the miraculous gifts:-
- Present "speaking in tongues" tends to repeat the same short syllables over and over again, e.g. "Lala, lala, lala, shama, shama. Jesus, Jesus...". This is not in the syntax associated with any language; when one hears someone speak in a foreign tongue, it is usually possible to discern that they are communicating something by the pattern of words they use, although we may not understand those words. Yet modern tongue-speaking does not feature this, underlining the fact that it is not providing edification, which was the purpose of the first century gifts.
- Some Pentecostals claim that speaking in tongues is a sign of being "saved" and will therefore accompany every true conversion. This claim runs into serious difficulty with the description of the early churches as a body, in which those possessing different gifts were like the different parts. Not everyone was an arm or leg, and so likewise not everyone possessed any one gift, e.g. tongues. 1 Cor. 12:17, 27-30 makes this clear:-
The same point was made earlier in that chapter:-
Such emphasis cannot just be disregarded.
Another problem for the Pentecostal argument is that Philip converted many people in Samaria - i.e. they were baptized in water after understanding the Gospel, but they did not receive the Spirit gifts; because after this, Peter and John came to them: "Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit...then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit...Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given" (Acts 8:4-18). It is possible that the passing on of the Spirit gifts was only by this laying on of hands, which is not frequently practiced by modern claimants.
Other Pentecostals say that tongue-speaking is not a proof of having been saved. This highlights the fact that there are major doctrinal differences between those claiming to possess the gifts. Thus some 'charismatics' believe that God's Kingdom will be on earth, while others say it is in heaven. Catholic 'charismatics' claim that the Holy Spirit tells them to worship Mary and the Pope, whilst some Pentecostal 'charismatics' say that their possession of the Holy Spirit orders them to denounce the Pope as antichrist, and to condemn Catholic doctrine. Yet Jesus stated beyond doubt that those possessing the Comforter, "which is the Holy Spirit", would be guided "into all truth...in that day ye shall (need to) ask me nothing...the Comforter...shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (Jn. 16:13,23;4:26).
There should not be any split in fundamental doctrine amongst those who possess the Comforter - the fact that there is, indicates that those claiming its possession just cannot be taken seriously. The marked inability of some of these claimants to Biblically justify their beliefs indicates that they have not been guided into all truth and total knowledge by the Comforter.
The claims of tongue-speaking and miracles being achieved by modern charismatic Christians must be weighed against the considerable information which we have presented in this study concerning the work of God's Spirit. The fundamental point to make is that whatever such people claim to achieve, it cannot be as a result of their possession of the Holy Spirit. Whoever argues that they do possess the gifts, has a hefty homework to do in answering the Biblical arguments which we have presented.
However, it is reasonable to expect some explanation of why the phenomena of partial healings and 'tongues' (in the sense of 'mumbo-jumbo' speaking) occur.
It has been realized that human beings only use a fraction of their brain-power - as low as 1%, according to some estimates. It is also recognized that the mind can have an almost 'physical' control over the body; thus through psyching themselves to believe that fire cannot burn, Hindus have walked on fire barefoot without being burnt. In times of stimulus, it is possible for us to use a far greater percentage of our brain-power than usual, and therefore to have the capacity to achieve physical effects with, and upon, our body which are outside of normal experience. Thus, in the excitement of battle, a soldier may be quite unaware that his hand has been blown off until hours afterwards.
In conditions of fervent religious belief and the stimulation of certain music, with the influence of a charismatic leader, it is quite possible that things outside the realm of normal human experience will occur. The 'miracles' claimed by 'Christians' of today are of the same order of exceptionality as the paranormal experiences of other religions; thus voodoo worshippers experience the same phenomena of 'mumbo-jumbo' speaking, and Muslims can also testify to 'miracles' of a similar order to those claimed by modern Christianity. Yet the whole point of the Spirit gifts being possessed in the first century was to show the obvious supremacy of true Christianity over all other religions; the fact that the 'miracles' of present-day Christianity are of a similar order to those of other religions, shows that the Holy Spirit gifts of the first century are not now possessed.
Much significant information in this area is presented in William Campbell's 'Pentecostalism' (The Churches of Christ, 1967). He shows that many pagan religions have this same feature of 'tongue' speaking. Thus in Kawaii, the priests of the god Oro supposedly reveal his will with indistinct sounds which are interpreted by other priests. Exactly the same occurs in Pentecostal meetings.
The continuing triumph of Islam over Christianity in much of Africa would surely not be seen if popular 'Christianity' were doing real miracles of the scale and convicting power of those in the first century. And those who truly possess the "Comforter" of the Holy Spirit gifts will do even "greater works" than those Jesus did (Jn. 14:12,16). The excuse that Christians could do such miracles if they had more faith, meets big problems here. Either they possess the miraculous gifts of the Comforter, or they do not, and if they claim that they do - "greater works than these shall ye do" (Jn. 14:12) - not 'you might do'!