Gifts of the Spirit in Review, Part 1

D. Thomas LancasterOn the last, great day of the festival, Yeshua stood and called out, saying “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. One who believes in me, as the word is written, from his belly will flow rivers of living water.” He said this about the spirit that those who believe in him would receive, because the Holy Spirit was not given before Yeshua was glorified.”

John 7:37-39 (DHE Gospels)

We confuse ourselves regarding the giving of the Holy Spirit when we assume that, prior to the Shavu’ot event described in Acts 2, Jewish people did not have the Holy Spirit. That assumption also leads us to believe that non-Messianic religious Jews after that could not possibly receive inspiration from the Holy Spirit, act in any capacity of the Holy Spirit, or perform miracles by the Holy Spirit. These assumptions, I believe, are based squarely upon a misunderstanding of John 7:39 where it says, “He said this about the spirit that those who believe in him would receive, because the Holy Spirit was not given before Yeshua was glorified.”

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Chapter 3: A Pledge of What is to Come,” pg 39
Gifts of the Spirit

I so agreed with Lancaster’s statements in the third chapter of this book, and as originally presented at the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot Conference “Gifts of the Spirit” last May at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin, that as I was mentally planning to write this blog post, I couldn’t imagine it being something that John MacArthur and the other presenters at last October’s Strange Fire conference would criticize. Then I re-read the opening of the chapter again and realized they would not only be dismayed, they would be startled. I mean, how could any “normative” Christian believe that “non-Christian” Jewish people would have any access at all to the Holy Spirit post-Acts 2?

But what I was considering was that Lancaster didn’t offer any commentary on the “gifts of the spirit” as being apprehended by the faithful in the modern era. His entire talk centered about “the ministry of Jesus” and the Messianic promises presented in the gospels and other areas of the Bible that involve the Spirit of God.

Consider Ezekiel 45:4-5 and the filling of the Third Temple by the Divine Presence, or Joel 2:28 where God’s Spirit will be “poured out on all flesh.”

But there is no Third Temple containing the Shechinah, and the Holy Spirit has yet to be poured out on all living beings of flesh, so obviously, the work of the Spirit and of Messiah is not complete. Not by a long shot. In fact, Lancaster considers the giving of the Spirit as we see it in Acts 2 and subsequently in the New Testament as a down payment on the future, and a promise of what is to come.

Where both Boaz Michael and Rabbi Carl Kinbar linked the Holy Spirit with the Torah, Lancaster associates the Spirit with the Temple.

The whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy Temple of the Lord. In him you are also being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (emph. Lancaster)

Ephesians 2:21-22

Lancaster employs a play on the words “mishkan” and “mashkon”, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll have to refer you to the book for the details.

When we think of gifts of the Spirit, our mental image naturally reflects Pentecostal Christianity, since this is the denomination and movement that sought to restore the spiritual gifts of the church. And as we in the Messianic Jewish movement seek to objectively analyze and possibly incorporate the gifts of the Spirit, it is natural that we would begin by looking at Pentecostalism. But we should at least understand what Pentecostalism is and the mind-set that results in the outward expressions that we associate with the gifts of the Spirit. If we accurately understand Pentecostalism’s attitude toward the implementation of the gifts, then we can evaluate that viewpoint fairly and can determine which aspects of it are in line with a Messianic Jewish worldview and which are not.

-Aaron Eby
“Chapter 4: The Pentecostal Experience,” pg 53
Gifts of the Spirit

The first sentence Aaron uttered when he began this presentation was, “I spent most of my childhood years and my early adulthood in an Assemblies of God church.” Aaron brought a wealth of history and personal experience in describing how the “gifts of the Spirit” were practiced within his early church experience and then offered the counterpoint from a Messianic Jewish perspective. He was fair and honest in his appraisal of both without at any time denigrating or belittling anyone else’s religious orientation or perspective.

He did have this to say, which I tend to apply to the aforementioned “Strange Fire” conference, even though the “Gifts of the Spirit” Shavuot conference occurred a full five months before MacArthur’s gathering:

I saw another category of responders to Pentecostalism as well: the detractors, who thought we were either insane, demonic, or charlatans. That mind-set always offended me, and it still offends me to hear people speak of charismatics that way. There are probably all three kinds of people in the charismatic movement, but in my experience most of us were sincere, intelligent, sane, and spiritually healthy people who loved God.

-Eby, pg 54

To which any “Strange Fire” speaker would probably add, “…and you were also wrong.”

Aaron EbyI think what I took away from reading Aaron’s presentation and the very well-balanced nature of it, was how the focus between “Gifts of the Spirit” and “Strange Fire” were so different. Basically, they were addressing the same topic: the nature of the work of the Holy Spirit in our world today, but while MacArthur and Strange Fire defined itself as who and what they were against, FFOZ and Gifts of the Spirit defined themselves by who and what they were for.

That didn’t mean they didn’t tell the truth or watered down criticism. It meant that they did what Aaron said he wanted to do. They were fair.

I find that’s what attracts me to FFOZ and certain other individuals, organizations, and books: the desire to be fair and to be defined by what they believe in rather than who their “enemies” or “opponents” are. I can only imagine that if I were a Pentecostal sitting in a pew at Beth Immanuel and listening to these presentations (and I know some Pentecostals were present), I would be more inclined to listen and take note of what was being said, even when it contradicted my stated beliefs, than if I attended or listened to the podcasts of the Strange Fire conference.

Wearing a bow tie and jacket that clearly indicated that he was channeling his inner “Dr. Who,” Jacob Fronczak began his presentation “The Historical Context of Pentecostalism” (Chapter 5) with the words, “I love history.”

Though actually a Pastor, Jacob looks the part of the young history instructor at a liberal arts college who has just started teaching after receiving his degree. He did take the historical approach to Pentecostalism by way of nineteenth-century evangelicalism, enlightenment and post-enlightenment, heresy trials, modernism, fundamentalism, and finally, “Azusa Street.”

The “Strange Fire” conference also provided a historical approach, specifically with Steve Lawson’s presentation on Charismatic Calvinists, as well as Lawson’s commentary on Puritans vs. Quakers, but the difference was that Fronczak refused to take any sides, presenting history as history, a series of influential events that shape our understanding of both the past and the present, in an attempt to discover why “do some (churches) believe that these gifts were temporary means to grow the church in the first century while others believe that they are valid expressions of faith today” (pg 76).

There was also a more pointed reason for Fronczak reviewing the history as he did (pg 89):

Understanding how and why these movements came to be is a prerequisite to fully understanding their traditions — why their adherents practice the way they do. Once they are understood, these traditions can be analyzed, sorted through, and brought into line with the Scripture and with the emerging Messianic Jewish corpus of tradition.

He further said that we “must have a balanced, historical perspective on our own faith as well as on the faith of those who do not share our convictions.” Yet another piece of evidence that trying to authentically understand even those with whom we do not agree is a better and more noble road to communication and promoting healthy change (in my opinion, anyway) than wholesale “demonizing” of Pentecostals and Charismatics.

Aaron Eby returned to the podium for his presentation “The Miracles of Yeshua” (Chapter 6) to explain the relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit relative to the miracles of Christ.

John MacArthurThat Jesus had the Holy Spirit rest upon him is not in dispute (Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:22) as well as the fact that he performed many miracles in the three years of his ministry, but the question Aaron raised at the conference and in the pages of this chapter is the purpose of those miracles.

Somewhere in my “Challies Chronicles” notes, there is a reference to one presenter (it may have even been John MacArthur) stating that miracles were to validate the message of the gospel and that the speaker was an apostle (this also presumably applies to validating Jesus as “the Christ”). Once that need was fulfilled, according to cessationists, the “gifts of the spirit” stopped.

Aaron disputes that the miracles of Jesus were to validate the authenticity of his teachings or his identity as Messiah or Divine.

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, “Let us go after other gods,” which you have not known, “and let us serve them,” you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams.

Deuteronomy 13:1-3

The Bible is replete with tales of prophets and magicians who did not serve God and who were able to perform miraculous signs and wonders, so the fact that someone can perform miracles is no indication at all that they must be a servant of God. So much for the cessationist rationale for the purpose of miracles in the New Testament.

There were a number of episodes in the FFOZ television series A Promise of What is to Come that touched on what the miracles of Jesus and the apostles were supposed to communicate: the Gospel message of the coming Kingdom of God. If you followed my reviews of the show, you’ll likely see the connection.

That said, Aaron concluded (pg 110):

There are a few things that we can take away from this. First of all, miracles and signs should not be our primary focus. If they are, we place the cart before the horse, since miracles are simply the byproduct of the nearness of the kingdom. It is not for us to decide whether or not miracles should be happening in our day and age. Our particular beliefs on the matter do not dictate to God whether he will or will not do miracles for us. Rather, our Master taught us, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Thus, our goal should be to bring the kingdom nearer and to bring ourselves nearer to the kingdom.

What we believe, the theology to which we cling, and the doctrine we espouse, does not define God to God, it only helps define God to flawed and imperfect human beings.

In “Chapter 7, The Age of Miracles,” Toby Janicki asks if the age of miracles ended with the closure of canon or the death of the last apostle. And if miracles are happening today, where are they? Why don’t we see them?

Toby didn’t use the terms “cessationist” or “continualist” but he did say that the proponents of the end of the age of miracles often use 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 to justify their point of view. The problem is that “when the perfect comes” is up for grabs. How could “the perfect” be the death of the last apostle or the canonization of scripture (it wasn’t finally canonized for several centuries after John, the last of original apostles, died)?

From Toby’s point of view, “the perfect” can only mean the Messianic Age (see Jeremiah 31:34 and Joel 2:28-29 for instance).

Cessationists say that miracles were only to get the Church “off the ground,” so to speak. If that’s true, what about all of the miracles in the Old Testament (Tanakh)?

toby_janicki_vimeoOf course, it depends on what you define as a miracle. I just read about a miraculous healing of a Christian woman being treated for a cancerous tumor in Israel in the Israel Today online magazine. No special “faith healer” was involved, nor did anyone claim they utilized a “gift of the spirit” in her healing. It was just God. Her doctors had no explanation for why her tumor so dramatically reduced in size.

Toby says that a miracle doesn’t have to break the laws of physics. First off, our physical laws just describe what we observe about the usual behavior of the universe, it’s not a law code like the Torah. Toby pointed out that famed Christian theologian C.S. Lewis had much to say about miracles and their continuation in our world.

Of course, we’re not apostles, who were unique witnesses to Messiah, and so we shouldn’t expect to operate at their lofty spiritual level, but that doesn’t prohibit God from acting supernaturally, even today. In fact, if the Holy Spirit wasn’t active, no one would ever come to faith, which I consider a miracle. Toby also mentioned, that it doesn’t matter what a person does or doesn’t believe (relative to cessationism or continualism), since God acts according to His own will, not ours.

He made a number of other good points (buy the book if you want to find out what they are) but I thought this part of his conclusion was important (pg 131-2):

Miracles, as we have said, are not an end in themselves; they are not the goal for which the disciple labors. They are evidence of the Holy Spirit working among us, and they should, as they did with the apostles in Acts, instill in us the fear of the Lord. Miracles should cause us to tremble as we realize that God is among us and we become aware of his presence.

If the goal of our faith is receiving spiritual gifts of supernatural powers for healing or whatever, then we are nothing more than “spiritual thrillseekers.” Toby’s right. Seek first the Kingdom of God. God will take care of the rest.

There are four more chapters in this book and for the sake of length, I’ll cover them in Part 2 of this review.

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23 thoughts on “Gifts of the Spirit in Review, Part 1”

  1. This article included, “Aaron disputes that the miracles of Jesus were to validate the authenticity of his teachings or his identity as Messiah or Divine.”

    I used to believe that the idea of validating Jesus and His disciples was correct. Recently, I had the thought that the miracles of God found throughout the Tanakh and New Testament writings are simply gifts from God because He had compassion for the folks who received the miracle.

  2. Greetings, Jimmy.

    Actually, the issue is a little more complex given that Jesus said this to John’s disciples:

    Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: 5he blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the [e]gospel preached to them.And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”

    Matthew 11:2-6

    Evidently, Jesus did intend for some of his miracles, the ones that specifically mapped to the prophesies of Isaiah, to be evidence of his identity as Messiah. That said, I agree that just because a person can perform miracles doesn’t mean they are Messiah or even that they serve the God of Israel.

  3. Perhaps this is just a clarification, but regarding the purpose of miracles, I agree that miracles, by themselves, do not constitute confirmation of the one who performs them. After all, the Bible does speak of “false miracles”.

    However, I don’t think we should conclude that miracles are “no indication at all” that the person performing is a servant of God.

    Regarding the miracles of Moses: Deut 4:34-35 – “34 Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 To you it was shown that you might know that the Lord, He is God; there is no other besides Him.”

    The miracles of Jesus: Acts 2:22 – 22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know”. (Of course, there is also the Matt 11:2-6 verse you just mentioned).

    The miracles of the apostles: Acts 14:1-3 – “1 In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. 2 But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren. 3 Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.”

    Miracles to confirm the gospel: Hebrews 2:3 – “3 how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”

    Jesus cites the purpose of raising Lazarus: John 11:41-45 – “41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42“I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” 45 Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done.”\

    Also, the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum were rebuked for failing to recognize God’s work in the miracles they had witnessed (Matt 11:20-24).

    So, I think miracles are used for the purpose of confirmation. But the key point is that they cannot confirm things that oppose what God had taught before (which is the point of the Deut 13:1-3 verse you cited).

    Personally, I am not bothered by the idea that miracles might cease (or at least become extremely rare) for long spans of time. In scripture, miracles seem to occur in “spurts”, and they do seem to have the purpose of authenticating (and perhaps drawing attention to) specific periods of time in which God is at work in a special way. The time of Moses (the giving of the law) and the time of Christ and his apostles (the giving of the gospel) are certainly such special time periods.

  4. I put a couple quotes on Facebook. Just a funny aside, Toby Janicki’s name autocorrects to Habakkuk. Who would have known!! Lol

    I’ve listened to the audio and will go back and listen again. That’s good stuff!!

  5. @Jerry: To play the other side of the coin though, the “cessationists” (those people in certain Christian streams who believe that all “gifts of the spirit” stopped at the end of the apostolic era) believe that the NT miracles existed only for the purpose of validating Jesus as “the Christ” and the apostles as his holy witnesses, and once that period of time ended with the death of the last apostle John, the purpose of the aforementioned gifts ceased. It’s a very narrow and reductionistic window to view the acts of the Holy Spirit in and through the lives of human beings. I’m trying to reflect the message of the “Gifts” conference presenters and drive the thinking of my readers to a more expanded perspective.

    @Esther: Toby and Habbakkuk!!! Wow! I wonder if Toby’s heard about this? 😀

  6. I’m not certain, but it seems to me that you’ve identified a problem with the cessationist viewpoint very similar to that of Calvinists — both groups deliberately and systematically ignore evidence that their system is in error, both scripturally and existentially. Only a little investigation is required to find examples of actual spiritual gifts and similar psychological phenomena even among non-Christians. The cessationist’s only recourse is to deny that HaShem is behind any of them, thereby dismissing true followers of Rav Yeshua along with those who are dedicated to other values and gods alien to HaShem.

    So what can one say, except that they are patently wrong? So another group of Christians is in error and in denial of the truth. It’s terribly sad, but it’s hardly news. Does it merit the amount of discussion devoted to it, I wonder?

  7. Does it merit the amount of discussion devoted to it, I wonder?

    I suppose it depends on who you are and what you want. For some, it might. In my case, I’m trying to provide a unique perspective of comparing and contrasting the FFOZ “Gifts of the Spirit” conference with MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” event, and as far as I know, I’m the only one in the blogosphere taking that particular course.

    Anyone tired of this debate will probably just bypass my write ups altogether, but anyone who wants to see specifically a Messianic Jewish perspective (I’m sure there’s more than one) on the matter, can read my reviews, and pick up a copy of the “Gifts” book or the Audio CD of the presentations.

    Admittedly, reviews are, at least in part, a marketing tool to “spread the word,” so to speak, and I’ll admit to a desire to help FFOZ promote its materials, but for the cause of creating a balance of information in the Christian/Hebrew Roots/Messianic Jewish online space related to the topic. Also, since the FFOZ “Gifts” conference and materials presents a viewpoint of the working of the Holy Spirit that is unlike either the cessationist or continualist points of view, some folks might be interested in looking “outside the box.”

  8. @James – A couple points:

    First – Apparently, there are differences even among cessationists. The idea that *all* gifts of the Spirit have ceased is actually new to me, and it’s not what John MacArthur teaches. He says the following on his Grace To You site:

    “Recognizing and exercising spiritual gifts is a confusing and difficult issue for many believers. At one end of the spectrum are Christians who may attend a church for many years without ever recognizing any spiritual gift. That causes passivity in the church and can lead to a disabled body of believers—one with severed limbs and missing organs (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:14–25; Ephesians 4:11–13).

    At the other end of the spectrum are professing Christians who presumptuously try to exercise gifts they don’t possess. The havoc caused by such people is readily apparent in many charismatic churches—the abundance of self-appointed apostles and female preachers is a prime example.”

    http://www.gty.org/blog/B130827

    ~~~

    Second – You said that these cessationists “believe that all “gifts of the spirit” stopped at the end of the apostolic era) believe that the NT miracles existed only for the purpose of validating Jesus as “the Christ” and the apostles as his holy witnesses, and once that period of time ended with the death of the last apostle John, the purpose of the aforementioned gifts ceased. It’s a very narrow and reductionistic window to view the acts of the Holy Spirit in and through the lives of human beings.”

    This prompts me to ask you a couple questions:

    1. What do you believe was the purpose of the NT miracles?

    2. You say that “It’s a very narrow and reductionistic window to view the acts of the Holy Spirit in and through the lives of human beings.”. And yet isn’t that (the acting of the Holy Spirit through the lives of people) exactly what we are talking about when we discuss spiritual gifts?

    A least, that’s my understanding of spiritual gifts. It’s what Paul spoke about in 1 Cor 12:

    “7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”

    Isn’t this gifts (even miraculous ones) being given to individuals?

  9. I suppose I should clarify my somewhat jaded rhetorical question. I don’t question the value of discussing the proper understanding and usage of spiritual gifts, but only the useless cessationist viewpoint that cannot contribute to that discussion because it denies its validity a priori. On the contrary, presenting additional clarification and depth of insight derived from the Jewish and historical perspective of the relevant scriptures contributes very much to their proper understanding.

  10. @Jerry: The Strange Fire presentation certainly presented a different outlook on spiritual gifts, one much more restrictive than what you are saying here. I don’t know if you read any of my “Challies Chronicles” series, but reading all of Pastor Challies’ “liveblogging” of the MacArthur conference gave me a different perspective on his attitudes regarding “gifts.”

    You can read a number of those reviews here or just go to my source and read all of Challies’ blogs on Strange Fire. You might find a different John MacArthur depicted relative to his conference.

    Frankly, I’m surprised after reading all of Pastor Challies’ blog posts that MacArthur can write words such as: “At one end of the spectrum are Christians who may attend a church for many years without ever recognizing any spiritual gift.” I definitely got the impression that there simply were no “spiritual gifts” possessed by any Christian anywhere since the closer of NT canon.

    I promise that a lot of other online commentators have the same impression based on the Strange Fire conference.

  11. From Thomas Lancaster: “We confuse ourselves regarding the giving of the Holy Spirit when we assume that, prior to the Shavu’ot event described in Acts 2, Jewish people did not have the Holy Spirit.”

    Prior to the coming of Jesus and prior to the first post-resurrection Pentecost, the Spirit was at work with some select individuals but not necessarily among the general population, (not even all of the devout) however, after Jesus and that Pentecost, the Spirit is given and intended to be received by ALL followers of Jesus and is not an optional extra best left to Pentecostals and charismatics.

    The Spirit is given for ALL of Jesus’ followers to receive, to be the INDWELLING motivator and enabler leading the believer to holiness and equipping for service.

  12. James, as you said in your article, one should desire fairness and balance in the discussion of such matters — and I do appreciate that your blog does reflect that desire.

    But to be fair to MacArthur, one should evaluate his position based on what he says, not on what others say he says. As I’ve mentioned before, I was part of JM’s congregation for many years and I’m equally surprised to see people comment about him as if he teaches that spiritual gifts in general have ceased. He never taught that.

    Perhaps JM is at times guilty of misrepresenting the “continuist” position, and maybe even of being excessively harsh. But I think it cuts both ways — people do have a tendency to exaggerate the views of others with whom they disagree.

    If you are interesting in a more direct understanding of JM’s views, I recommend the following:

    http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/1214/miracles-healings-and-tongues

    I expect that you may not fully agree with him, but you’ll probably find that he’s not as much of a “cessationist” as you thought.

  13. OK, Jerry. I do want to be fair, so I waded through the entire text version of MacArthur’s 1972 sermon (I can read faster than people speak so I opted to read rather than listen to the recording). Here’s what I got from MacArthur’s message:

    MacArthur: No. I don’t think miracles have ceased. I know they’re going on all over the place. I’ve seen miracles constantly. God is a God of miracles. You say, “Well, and let me – give me a definition of a miracle.” A miracle is no big thing. Everybody gets all, you know, the unbeliever gets all upset about a miracle. It’s nothing. It’s nothing.

    Read C.S. Lewis’ book on miracles. He covers the whole subject very aptly.

    One of the “Gifts” speakers also commented on C.S. Lewis and Lewis’s commentary on the continuing of miracles.

    A miracle is God just sticking His finger in the pond and making a ripple. And if there is a God and He made the pond, He can stick His finger in it anytime He wants.

    Not sure I’m getting MacArthur’s point here.

    I even believe that God could give to a missionary somewhere the ability to speak a language he didn’t know. That’s a miracle. I don’t think that’s the Biblical gift of tongues. That was an apostolic gift. But I think God can do miracles with people’s mouths as much as He can do with any other part of their body.

    Interesting.

    The gift of miracles, today, we believe has ceased with the ceasing of the apostolic era.

    OK, no gift if miracles. But what about the above?

    It says, “Healing,” verse 9, “Now you say that then God doesn’t heal the sick.” Of course not. God heals the sick. He restores the sick. But there are no people today walking around who at will heal everybody in response to a gift as in the apostolic era.

    It sounds like what MacArthur is saying is that God does miracles, but not though human beings. God acts independently of human beings when he interacts with our world.

    He was the one who at four years old was supposed to have the gift of healing and his parents put him on the stage…

    OK, what I can agree with (and I say so in my blogs) is that gifts of the spirit aren’t part and parcel of being an entertainer or a spiritual thrillseeker. Anyone who pulls in a crowd and who gains an income on the reputation of being a healer or a miracle worker is most likely a crook out to fleece the naïve and the desperate.

    I believe God heals, but I believe He heals in response to His sovereignty and in response to prayer.

    I never got this impression from “Strange Fire” and I came away from the whole experience wondering why we even have prayer lists printed at my church and put in the Sunday bulletin.

    The gift has clear design by God. Always to unbelievers had no point, never had any point in building the body. It never had any effect on the body, and always to Jewish unbelievers. And every time tongues is ever seen in the New Testament, Jews are present. And because they weren’t present in Corinth, it is condemned. And yet He allows for it to exist because of the tremendous Jewish population moving in and out of the Corinth center of commerce.

    Read Acts 18. There were Jews there and so the gift needed to be in Corinth because of the many Jews. And it could be rightly used toward those Jews. But it had been pushed way out of whack, and especially so since those Corinthians had come out of the Oracles. And that which involved ecstatic speech was a part of their whole worship.

    Not sure what his point is about “the Jews” but he’s making me nervous.

    You say, “Well, when did it fizzle out?” Well, as I said, the indication at least would be 70 A.D. is a good starting place.

    People bring upon themself a self-induced state of hypnosis, etcetera, etcetera. Much of it is psychological. Some of it I believe is Satanic. And I have had personal encounter with demons vocalizing through an individual. I’m not gonna go into details, just believe me. It is true.

    So far, it seems as if MacArthur is saying that “Yes, God can do miracles in the present age,” and “No, God does not heal, send prophesy, have people speak in unintelligible languages, or perform any sort of miracle through any human being.” On the other hand, he says that people can be possessed by supernatural demons.

    Third thing is I think many people want physical healing and emotional experience because they have a lack of faith.

    See my blog post for Friday. It’s like MacArthur is shooting all around the target but missing the bullseye.

    and Satan can make counterfeit experience. Tongues is not unique to Christians.

    There actually is a presenter, I think in tomorrow’s blog post, who quoted a Jewish scholar as saying the same thing, and a bit more.

    Yes, I do try to be fair. Even though the article you sent me the link to was written the year I graduated high school, that is to say, a long, long time ago, MacArthur doesn’t seem like he’s changed a bit. His opinions, his attitude, his “voice,” all seem the same.

    I’m not really happy that he dragged “Eskimos” (Inuit people…”Eskimos is considered offensive) into this since Christianity has a long history of abusing indigenous populations. I think he could have made his point without involving the practices of other people groups.

    I don’t doubt for a minute that MacArthur truly serves God within the context of his interpretation of the Bible and the application of that interpretation on the world and the people groups around him, but I still find his language a little heavy on “justice” and a little light on “mercy.”

  14. “And every time tongues is ever seen in the New Testament, Jews are present. And because they weren’t present in Corinth, it is condemned.”

    Did MacArthur really say this? (I tried to access the link but couldn’t get through) because THAT is a total misrepresentation of tongues AND what Paul wrote about tongues in 1 Corinthians. I have to say I have strong concern for MacArthur and those he leads astray through teaching like that.

  15. I tried opening the page again, but something seems to be wrong. When I ping the URL, the request times out. I suspect their server is temporarily offline. Probably a maintenance thing. Try later.

  16. Thanks for taking a look at it. I certainly didn’t give you the link with intent to defend everything JM said — I don’t agree with (or understand) all he says. Still, you should come away with a better understanding of what he says than that he denies spiritual gifts at all.

  17. Thanks for that Jerry and maybe I missed it, but exactly what spiritual gifts does MacArthur say still exist? I could pick up his message that was substantially similar to the “Strange Fire” message. No miracles, healings, tongues, or prophesy through human beings. Yes, there are miracles and healings, but performed independently of human beings and by the Sovereign will of God. All that seems clear, but I couldn’t figure out what spiritual gifts MacArthur says human beings can still apprehend. Can you clarify?

    I’m not trying to be difficult. I want to understand what MacArthur’s saying, that’s all. Thanks again.

  18. Attributed to MacArthur: “I even believe that God could give to a missionary somewhere the ability to speak a language he didn’t know. That’s a miracle. I don’t think that’s the Biblical gift of tongues. That was an apostolic gift.“

    The very first example of Tongues in the NT occurred on the day of Pentecost when those who received the Holy Spirit spoke in the languages of Jews from other nations. That is the only biblical example of tongues being specifically mentioned as used in a “missionary” context. Elsewhere the purpose of tongues is demonstrated as ONE means of signifying that the Holy Spirit has been received (note particularly the case of Cornelius) and also as a form of prayer, “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God” and “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also”
    Apart from those clear oversights on MacArthur’s part, he also makes the unsubstantiated claim about tongues being an “apostolic gift” – which is a completely unbiblical term. Scripture nowhere details some gifts as “apostolic” with the inference that a) they are the domain of the apostles alone or b) they are valid only during the apostles’ lifetimes.

    The more I find out about MacArthur’s claims the more I wonder why his teaching is so widely followed considering so much very quickly crumbles when tested by scripture.

  19. @James, well your question is quite right. MacArthur certainly says much more on what spiritual gifts aren’t rather than what they are. (And I agree with your more general criticism that he is more known for what he is against than what he is for).

    I believe he would answer you mainly by citing Romans 12:6-8.This link is a brief Q&A where he may explain his position better than I can.

    http://www.gty.org/resources/bible-qna/BQ022412/discovering-your-spiritual-gift-

  20. Let’s start with the actual scripture, and MacArthur only quotes verse 6:

    Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if [g]service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

    Romans 12:6-8 (NASB)

    OK, so according to this, and if this is MacArthur’s template for the spiritual gifts that persist into the present age, different individuals can expect to experience the following, “according to the grace given to us.”

    1. Prophesy
    2. Service
    3. Teaching
    4. Exhortation
    5. Giving (Charity)
    6. Leadership
    7. Showing Mercy

    Right off, prophesy is a problem because MacArthur calls this a “sign gift” which was on it’s way out of Biblical history along with the apostles. MacArthur is either going to have to explain why prophesy in Romans isn’t a “sign gift” as it is in 1 Cor. or admit that Paul expected the population of Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome to apprehend the gift of prophesy.

    MacArthur said:

    First Corinthians was written about a.d. 54 and Romans some four years later. It is important to note that none of the sign gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:9–10—namely, the gifts of healing, miracles, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues—is found in Romans 12.

    It seems evident, therefore, that Paul did not mention the sign gifts in Romans because their place in the church was already coming to an end. They belonged to a unique era in the church’s life and would have no permanent place in its ongoing ministry.

    I believe that MacArthur is guilty of a logical fallacy. Just because Paul mentioned certain spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians and then, approximately four years later (assuming MacArthur’s estimation of the timing of when 1 Cor. and Romans were written), he didn’t mention those gifts or mentioned different gifts in Romans does not mean that “it seems evident…that Paul did not mention the sign gifts…because their place in the church was already coming to an end.”

    The overall purpose of writing the two different letters to two different populations was probably very different, so While certain spiritual gifts may have been appropriate to include in 1 Cor., they may not have been relevant to the topics discussion in the Romans letter.

    Paul didn’t do a “brain dump” in each of his letters so that he was communicating literally everything he thought and believed on each occasions, so you shouldn’t expect what he wrote about in 1 Cor. to necessarily map to Romans. If I write an email to my Mother and write a second one to a friend in Israel, they might (and probably wouldn’t) include the same information or be written on similar topics, especially if each email were written four years apart, even if I was writing on religious topics in both emails.

    That said, I do believe that God “programs” or “wires” us to have certain talents. Some people are just naturally better at leadership than other, or at teaching, or exhorting. I don’t know that they are “spiritual gifts” per se. I see them as inborn traits and that God gives each of us “hardwired” capacities to aid us in fulfilling the purpose in life for which each of us was created.

    But that’s different (in my opinion) than the Holy Spirit coming upon an individual and enabling that person to exceed their measurable limits and to demonstrate abilities or capacities that are remarkable or even sometimes supernatural.

    BTW Jerry, I’m not writing all of this to be cranky or oppositional, but rather simply to point out that I don’t always agree with MacArthur’s interpretation of scripture, and I’m trying my best to explain why I don’t agree.

    I know that may sound rather “cheeky” because MacArthur has the reputation he has and I don’t, but as much of an authority MacArthur may be in his field, I don’t believe he is incapable of error (I know I’m not). I think that his interpretation of the Bible and everything that follows is based on a foundation that is at least as much grounded in Fundamentalist Christian tradition as it is in the Bible. In other words, MacArthur’s “filter” dictates what he believes the Bible says, but that filter, like any other bias, permits certain things through and blocks other information, sort of like a polarized lens.

    We all have filters, so no one of us gets raw, unaltered access to the Bible. There may be people who are closer to “the truth” than others, but I believe that all human beings miss certain things the Bible is trying to say somewhere along the lines. That’s why I can’t wait for Messiah to return to explain our errors and show us what God is really trying to say about each detail. I suspect as a result, we will all be somewhat chagrined.

  21. Again, thanks for taking the time to read & respond. Frankly, I agree with everything you just said.

    I also believe that MacArthur tries to force certain views into the scripture. I suppose we all do that to some extent in our fallible efforts to form a self-consistent overview of what scripture says.

    Personally, I don’t think one can “prove” (scripturally or otherwise) that the miraculous gifts have ceased. I also don’t think we can prove that miraculous gifts are still occurring apart from actually witnessing them (which I have never done).

    BTW, many Christians throw around the word “miracle” rather too loosely for my taste. I prefer to use with the same meaning with which the refers to “miracles” (or “signs and wonders”). That is, things that are clearly recognizable as supernatural, whether the observer is a believer or not.

    To me, the most important issue (and perhaps JM would concur) is not really cessation, but genuineness. I’m quite confident that things are being called manifestations of the spirit, which are in fact false. I also believe that such falsehoods are rampant and that they have severe consequences. I don’t mind that unbelievers unjustly consider us to be fools — we are taught to expect that. But these falsehoods give them justifiable cause to ridicule the church. Christ is widely blasphemed among unbelievers because of the false “miracles” and the appearance of gullibility ascribed to Christians.

    I do realize that many Christians believe that such miracles are still genuinely happening today. I admit that (1) I don’t *know* that they are wrong, and (2) that my tendency is to be skeptical. For example, if I see someone speaking in an actual foreign language they had never learned, I would recognize it as the miraculous gift of tongues. If I see someone speaking what appears to be gibberish, I tend to think that it probably is gibberish. In any case, if it is indistinguishable from gibberish, I don’t see how it edifies the church (a point Paul makes in 1 Cor 14).

    If there are genuine miracles going on today, I can’t imagine that they are benefitting the church as much as the false ones are doing harm. Of course, I acknowledge that it’s not for me to be the judge of that.

  22. No problem, Jerry. I’ve enjoyed our discussion (and apologize for the numerous typos in my response above, I was keyboarding rather fast and didn’t take the time to edit my comment). As far as a more complete thought on the topic in relation to the “Gifts of the Spirit” book with a dash of “Strange Fire” thrown in, don’t miss Part 2 of this series which published today, and Part 3 which will publish tomorrow. On Friday I’m publishing a special commentary on the meaning of “healing faith” which I think illuminates the topic. That should finish off my review of the “Gifts” book and the rather lengthy series of commentaries I’ve written on Strange Fire and on spiritual gifts in general.

  23. Jerry said:
    “To me, the most important issue (and perhaps JM would concur) is not really cessation, but genuineness.”

    I suppose that depends on how “genuineness” is defined – if one insists on a doctrine of cessation (as per MacArthur), then NO manifestation of Spiritual gifts will be seen as genuine. Also, if cessationism is one of the foundations of a person’s beliefs, then he will very likely try to interpret scripture in a way coloured by that cessationist foundation, no matter how inventive that interpretation may have to become, instead of having his views on the gifts shaped by scripture according to its simplest and clearest meaning.

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