The Function of Pneumatic Charismata in the Contemporary Church

Dove
The Dove is typically the symbol for the Holy Spirit.

Introduction

There is tremendous evidence of the continuation of spiritual gifts throughout church history and in the present-day church, but are all spiritual gifts mentioned in Scripture available today? If so, how should they function in the modern church? The Holy Spirit’s work in believers is evident in conforming them to the image of Christ, and even in bringing the unbeliever to faith. Richard B. Gaffin states, “No work of the Spirit, I hold, is more radical, more impressive, more miraculous, and more thoroughly supernatural than what he does—now, today—with people who are nothing less than “dead in … transgressions and sins” (Eph. 2:1, 5).[1]

Despite the amazing work of the Spirit, He is the person of the Trinity that is discussed in church today. Many focus on the work of Jesus Christ, largely ignoring the works of the Spirit. Scripture indicates that the Spirit’s work is vast and necessary in the believer. In this paper, the entirety of the Holy Spirit’s work will not be addressed, but it will focus on the pneumatic charismata.

Pneumatic Charismata

Pneumatic charismata is a phrase derived from the Greek words charismata and pneumatika, commonly referred to as spiritual gifts.[2]  These gifts include words of wisdom and knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, discerning of spirits, tongues, and interpretation (1 Cor. 12:8-10). The pneumatic charismata may also institute such roles and ability in believers to act as prophets, teachers, apostles, evangelists, and pastors (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). While many of the gifts are listed, it should not be thought of as exhaustive of all the gifts possible from the Holy Spirit.

Williams defines a miracle as “an event manifesting divine activity that is other than the ordinary processes of nature… that cannot be explained in terms of the normal workings of nature.”[3] By his definition, it is unmistakable that spiritual gifts are miracles. Their occurrence is evidence of the Spirit’s present work in the modern church. As these miracles continue to occur, then it is not surprising that the pneumatic charismata are becoming more frequent and significant.

Second Baptism

In discussing the pneumatic charismata, the topic of a “second baptism” is not easily avoidable, or it would be a disingenuous as many charismatics and Pentecostals consider it crucial for the believer. On the day of Pentecost, the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and are described as speaking in tongues (Acts 2:1-13). For some, this experience establishes a framework that a Spirit-filled baptism will occur after the conversion of a believer. This baptism is considered a second baptism of the Holy Spirit, possible even after the initial baptism of the Spirit at conversion (1 Cor. 12–14). Oss states this experience does not necessarily have to take place with delay as occurred at Pentecost, but instead, both the initial indwelling of the Spirit and the Spirit-filled baptism are possible at conversion; however, the remission of sins must precede the charismatic or empowering work of the Spirit albeit without a discernable delay.[4]

Others argue that the Spirit-filled baptism at Pentecost is not to replicated in the modern era. Instead, it was a product of God’s redemptive plan, only made possible after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, so from that point forward, a one and only baptism by the Spirit occurs at the time of conversion in each believer (Eph. 4:4-5). Gaffin asserts that the Pentecost’s spirit and fire baptism is “nothing less than the culmination of the Messiah’s ministry” that “is no more capable of being a repeatable paradigm event than are the other events.”[5] Further, he argues that to view the Pentecost’s spirit-filled baptism as repeatable while holding Jesus’s resurrection and ascension as once-for-all events is inconsistent; thus, the Pentecost should not be considered a framework for today.[6]

If Pentecost is considered extraordinary and non-repeatable, it still cannot be said that it marked the end of miraculous gifts like the pneumatic charismata.[7] But one cannot assume that all of the gifts were to continue in perpetuity based on Luke’s account within Acts, either. A question arises, if the gifts did not cease with Pentecost, then are the gifts available today, and if so, which ones?

Tongues

Today, one of the most intense debates is regarding the speaking of tongues. As first recorded on the day of Pentecost, Luke describes the Spirit coming upon the people causing them to speak a multitude of languages and others hearing them speak in their own native language (Acts 2:6-11), as was previously prophesied (Mk. 16:17). Even after Pentecost, Paul records tongues as occurring in his ministry (1 Cor. 12:10; 28-13:1; 14:2-5; 14:26-33).

It is evident that the gift of tongues, as were the other pneumatic charismata, occurred during the Apostolic era. Even today, many charismatics, especially those of Pentecostal origin, make claims to have received the gift. There is no debate regarding this occurring today as one can step into one of these churches, and they will likely see it for themselves. The better question and discussion are whether the ecstatic spiritual language experienced today is the same tongues-speaking as recorded in Scripture. Additionally, one must interpret Scripture to decide if the speaking of tongues is referring to the same act throughout Scripture or are there different types discussed.

Glossolalia

The ecstatic spiritual language spoken today is called glossolalia. Fee argues Paul describes this phenomenon in 1 Cor. 13:1 in speaking of “the tongues of angels.”[8] And while Fee’s assessment appears valid, Clowney argues differently, stating it would be “strange indeed” that what Paul described was not the same as described by Luke regarding Pentecost.[9] Instead, Clowney says that the language was only meant for God as there was no interpreter present.[10]

Xenolalia

Clowney asserts that because Luke enumerates different natural languages spoken at Pentecost, thus, Paul may be referring to natural languages, although not known, are spoken in Corinth.[11] Further, as D.A. Carson has stated, the glōssa contained in these passages necessitates that it be able to be interpreted, such as in a natural language, so Scripture is indeed speaking of natural languages.[12] Thus, it is unlikely that the tongues described are glossolalia, but unknown natural languages are being spoken that are able to be interpreted by speakers of that language, known as xenolalia. If this is the case, questions must be asked regarding modern glossolalia.

Positions on Pneumatic Charismata

With the numerous accounts of pneumatic charismata in Scripture, but the sparse reports in church history, a debate regarding the place of pneumatic charismata in the modern church exists. While some may believe all miracles ceased, this paper will not cover that view as it appears to be an invalid view. There are indeed miracles reported, such as healings, glossolalia, and xenolalia, so it seems futile to argue they do not occur today. Instead, the focus will be upon views that allow for miracles to occur but question the operation of certain pneumatic charismata for today.

Cessationist

The cessationist view, sometimes wrongly understood, does not state the pneumatic charismata have ceased; however, it does hold that revelatory gifts like prophecy, tongues, and their interpretation have ceased.[13] Instead, cessationists do not consider whether Spirit continues to endow gifts today, but which gifts are provided today.[14] Gaffin, a cessationist, does question the mechanism of certain miracles. He considers the gift of healing today to no longer operate as it once did. While it was a mark of an apostle in the early church, today, he believes it is not achievable through a person, but through individual and corporate prayer toward God for the healing.[15] He states, “In this sense they are “the [signs] that mark an apostle” (regardless of the correct interpretation of 2 Cor. 12:12), and their continuation into the postapostolic era may not simply be presupposed.”[16]

The main arguments for the cessation of certain gifts are that they were for establishing the foundations of the early church and the lack of the canon of Scripture. The cessationist interprets 1 Cor. 13:8-10 as suggesting that prophecy and tongues will cease once the canon of Scripture is finished or closed. Gaffin asserts that arguing the continuation of these gifts “stands in tension with the canonicity of the New Testament” and the authority of Scripture.[17] Because many continuationist recognize that there are no apostles today, Gaffin argues they are indeed cessationists in recognizing that the apostles held unique authority.[18] As John Calvin said,

“Therefore the Spirit, promised to us, has not the task of inventing new and unheard-of revelations, or of forging a new kind of doctrine, to lead us away from the received doctrine of the gospel, but of sealing our minds with that very doctrine which is commended by the gospel.”[19]

Cautious Continuationist/Open But Cautious

For others, they are open to the pneumatic charismata as being possible according to God’s sovereign plan as they do not view Scripture as explicitly teaching that it would cease.[20] Saucy states that if the charisma of apostleship did not continue through church history, then we must accept that it’s possible that not all other charismata continued into today.[21] Because of historical evidence of the church has been used for both the cessation and continuation of the pneumatic charismata, it must be recognized that it is difficult to interpret, and the fact it is difficult to distinguish genuine miracles from demonic activity makes it that much more so.[22]

Regarding healings, Saucy states that post-apostolic historical evidence suggests they occurred through prayer, not through one that is anointed with the gift as during the apostolic era.[23] As “Scripture reveals that the level of God’s working of miracles was not primarily dependent on human faith, but on his sovereign plan and purpose,” so the charismata of the apostolic era operated with a different purpose than today, but it still leaves open the possibility of the Spirit working.[24] Additionally, Saucy interprets 1 Cor. 13:8-10 differently, stating that his view is that the perfect will come at the Parousia.[25] Even still, he does not believe Scripture affirms that the gifts will continue until then.[26]

Continuationist

For the continuationist, God desires to continue empowering believers with revelatory gifts of prophecy.[27] It may be argued that even miracles during Biblical times were not all that frequent, but were clustered during specific events of history, as seen during the days of Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Christ, and the apostles.[28] Storms argues that miraculous phenomena can be so narrowly defined as to eliminate the miraculous events that have occurred throughout history.[29] When it comes to whether the gifts continue today, Oss views the cessation of them as implying that the Spirit would have to change His nature as to discontinue operating in believers.[30] As the Spirit does not change His nature, the pneumatic charismata will continue today. Instead, one should accept that the Spirit does as He wills, and limitations should not be imposed upon His work.

Conclusion

It seems preposterous to argue that miracles and pneumatic charismata do not occur today. Instead, it may be of better use to discuss whether they operate in the same manner as they once did. Additionally, it is even worse to put limitations on what the Spirit can and cannot do. Ultimately, if one falls within the scope of the three views outlined in this paper, they affirm that the Spirit is working, but to what degree and for what purpose varies.

While all may not agree with each other, every Christian must approach one another with charity and attempt to understand other views. In doing so, the church grows stronger in unity so that the gospel message is furthered. The goal of the church is to glorify God, not flex theological muscles. A humble heart and mind will help all in conforming more to the image of Christ.

Contemporary Pneumatic Charismata Workings

In the modern church, pneumatic charismata should not be desired to bring power or fame to the individual, nor should it be sought for entertainment value.[31] At the same time, if a need exists, one should not exclude ordinary means, seeking a miracle instead.[32] Asking for a miracle does not guarantee it, but when they do occur, one should give the glory to God and not be afraid of making it known as it will bring others to faith and strengthen the faith of others.[33]

While tongues are of the most debate today, the church should remain open to this pneumatic charismata. Even the most hardcore position should accept that the Spirit may do as He wills. As people are continuing to receive miraculous healing, there are accounts of both glossolalia and xenolalia. In one such case, a couple considering an abortion heard an English speaking person preaching outside an abortion clinic in their own language, Spanish.[34]

The Way Forward

Instead of focusing upon the tribalism that comes in differing theological views, let the church unite in welcoming all that the Spirit desires to provide. Together, the church can come to a stronger understanding of Scripture. At the same time, the church should not misrepresent the views of others or assume that they know all that they need about their own views and those of others.

While the Word of God should be handled with the utmost care, it does not require one to believe God is no longer moving. God is the living God who continues to work today. Even a person that doubts the pneumatic charismata must admit that the Spirit works within every person that has come to faith, so one cannot discount that the Spirit stopped working completely in the post-apostolic era. Even if one is uncertain of which pneumatic charismata may continue today, accept that the Spirit may give any of them or others unknown as He wills. Through this, be obedient to the will, purposes, and empowerment of the Spirit.


[1] Richard B. Gaffin, “A Cessationist View,” in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: 4 Views, ed. Stanley N. Gundry and Wayne A. Grudem, Zondervan Counterpoints Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 26.

[2] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Spiritual Gifts,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1992.

[3] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 1996), 141.

[4] Douglas A. Oss, “A Pentecostal/ Charismatic View,” in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: 4 Views, ed. Stanley N. Gundry and Wayne A. Grudem, Zondervan Counterpoints Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 242.

[5] Gaffin, 32-33.

[6] Ibid., 33.

[7] Ibid., 38-39.

[8] Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 890.

[9] Edmund P. Clowney, The Church, ed. Gerald Bray, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 245–246.

[10] Ibid., 246-247.

[11] Ibid., 245.

[12] Ibid., 246.

[13] Storms, “A Third Wave View,” in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: 4 Views, ed. Stanley N. Gundry and Wayne A. Grudem, Zondervan Counterpoints Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 185.

[14] Gaffin, 41.

[15] Ibid., 42.

[16] Gaffin, 42.

[17]Gaffin, 44-45.

[18] Ibid., 45.

[19] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 94.

[20] Robert L. Saucy, “An Open but Cautious View,” in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: 4 Views, ed. Stanley N. Gundry and Wayne A. Grudem, Zondervan Counterpoints Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 100.

[21] Ibid., 102.

[22] Saucy, 113.

[23] Ibid., 114.

[24] Ibid., 119-120.

[25] Saucy, 123.

[26] Ibid., 123-124.

[27] Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology: Revelation and God, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 413.

[28] Storms, “A Third Wave View,” in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: 4 Views, ed. Stanley N. Gundry and Wayne A. Grudem, Zondervan Counterpoints Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 186–187.

[29] Ibid., 188.

[30] Oss, 271.

[31] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 370.

[32] Ibid., 371.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Studios, Apologia. “Miracle Story: True Tongues” (Video), on Youtube. June 29, 2020. 2020. Accessed July 2020.

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Gordon Bland

I am a seminary student working toward my M.Div. While I grew up Pentecostal, within my first semester of seminary, I came to a different understanding of the Word and theology. I am now Reformed Baptist. #1689 I love teaching others about Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, for it was Christ that transformed me. For a number of years, I was a militant atheist and substance abuser. If God can change me, I know he can do the same for you! I am but a wretch, yet He still chose to give me grace. He truly is amazing and deserves all our praise!

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