The Bible is clear that in the days between Jesus’ first and second coming, God gifts His church. He does this to enable and empower her for witness and bold proclamation of the gospel and to help build the church up and encourage her. These gifts include things like hospitality and giving and singleness and teaching gifts and many more. Like the rest of the Holy Spirit’s work these gifts are not designed to focus attention on themselves or on us, but on Jesus.
Historically there has been much debate about the so called ‘sign gifts’ in 1 Corinthians 14, namely prophecy, tongues and healing. Do these gifts continue today or have they ceased?
Broadly speaking there have been two camps. Cessasionists argue the gifts have ceased with the death of the last Apostles in the first century. Continuationists argue that the gifts were never meant to stop and have continued throughout church history, though to a greater or lesser degree at certain times.
One of the key passages is 1 Corinthians 13:8-12
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
Ceassionists will argue that Paul means by ‘face to face’ the closure of the New Testament canon. When the last book of the Bible was written we begin to see God face to face in Scripture and know Him fully. Things like prophecy therefore only existed while the Bible was being written as an interim measure to provide revelation to the churches until such time as Bibles came into their possession. At this point prophecy was cemented into the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20).
At Moulton Church we’re not persuaded by that argument. It seems much more likely Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 is talking about heaven, the day we physically see Christ face to face. As such we believe all the gifts of the Spirit are available today and are to be pursued eagerly by the church (1 Cor. 14:1). Clearly these gifts have been abused and excesses in the charismatic world abound but we do not believe this means we ought to ‘over correct’ and become unblblical in the opposite direction by the suppression of these gifts and the consequent quenching of the Spirit that Scripture also forbids (1 Thess. 5:19).
We believe prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14 is ‘low level’ revelation from God (1 Cor. 14:30), information of particular relevance and application to the life situations of members of the congregation. That sort of lesser revelation existed in Old Testament times (Num. 12:6-8) and when shared sensitively and without unhelpfully claiming Scripture-level authority or clarity it can result in great encouragement, consolation and edification for the church.
Having said that, Paul lays out very clear boundaries for the practice of these gifts and if we are to honour the Lord we must keep the boundaries in play for the health of the congregation. One such boundary is the careful weighing of anything claimed to be ‘from the Lord.’ Paul’s apostolic writing is our final authority in all matters of faith and conduct (1 Cor. 14:37 and as we’re reminded in the Canons of the Church of England, Canon A5). Sadly a lot of what today is claimed to be prophecy and ‘from the Lord’ is nothing of the sort – it clearly contradicts what the Bible teaches and should be called out as such. However, we believe sometimes revelations are ‘from the Lord’ where they line up with Scripture and we neglect this gift to our detriment.
As a church we therefore encourage people with these gifts to use them for the building up of the body. We want to pray passionately that God would give these gifts to us.
Please come and chat to the leadership if you’d like to discuss this further. In the meantime do go to our sermons page and listen to our series on 1 Corinthians 12-14 here.