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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Introduction to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: How Do Various Christian Groups View Spiritual Gifts?

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How Do Various Christian Groups View Spiritual Gifts? (Charismatics, Cessationists, Pentecostals, Dispensationalists, Covenant Theology)

Introduction to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Question 2

With respect to issues regarding the gifts of the Spirit, or spiritual gifts, there are a number of prominent groups of Christians who have various opinions on the subject. These include; charismatics, non-charismatics, cessationists, non-cessationists, Pentecostals, Dispensationalists, and those holding to Covenant, or Reformed Theology.

It is important to understand who these particular groups are and what they stand for. This will give us a better overall understanding of where various believers stand on the subject of spiritual gifts.

The Labels Are for Understanding, Not Division

The fact that we use labels to describe the beliefs of various Christians should not be seen as a means of separating or dividing believers from one another. It is merely a convenient way of explaining some of the main differences that Bible-believing Christians hold.

Having said that, there are a number of the labels that are used which are most unfortunate and unbiblical. The problem is they have become part of the vocabulary of modern Christians. While we will refrain from using these types of labels in our discussion of spiritual gifts it is necessary for believers to understand what they mean when others use them.

With respect to the issue of spiritual gifts it is important that we do have an understanding of the following terms.

Charismatics (Non-cessationists)

One label that has been given certain Christians is “charismatic.” This term usually refers to those who believe that all of the gifts that God have originally gave to the church are still valid today. The people involved in the exercise and promotion of these gifts, especially the spectacular sign gifts, are part of what is known as the “charismatic movement.”

These people are also called non-cessationists because they do not believe any of the spiritual gifts that God gave to the church have ceased to function. Since God is the living God, He can work any way that He pleases. This position feels that people have too often limited God in what He can and cannot do. It is claimed that systems of theology are built that do not allow God to accomplish all that He purposes.

Among other things, they believe the Scripture does not teach the cessation of any spiritual gift. Also they teach that believers desperately need all of the gifts that God originally gave to the church to fulfill the Great Commission. They also see the blessings of God when all of the gifts are properly used.

Non-Charismatics (Cessationists)

Non-charismatics would refer to believers who think that God has withdrawn some of the original spiritual gifts that He originally gave to the church. Those who hold this view are also called “cessationists” because of their view that certain gifts have ceased being given by God. Most, but not all, who hold this view believe that a number of supernatural gifts died out with the apostles.

To call certain Christians “non-charismatics” is unfortunate since the Greek word charisma refers to spiritual gifts in general – not merely the spectacular sign gifts. Therefore, any Christian who has a spiritual gift, which includes every Christian, is “charismatic” in the biblical sense of the term. Thus, while the term charismatic is today used to speak of only one group of Christians, this is an unbiblical use of the term. We will refer to the two positions with the terms cessationist and non-cessationist.

Cessationists Do Not Believe They Are Limiting God

Those who hold the cessationist perspective are often accused of “limiting God” to what He can and cannot do. However this is not the case. Cessationists argue that God has limited Himself in certain ways in which He will work with believers. They are merely trying to understand the various ways in which He has done this – they are not the ones limiting Him.

While God often works in ways in which we cannot understand He will not work in ways in which He has specifically said that He would not. The key is to find out to what extent God has limited the ways in which He will work. This is the real issue in the cessationist, non-cessationist debate.

Pentecostal Theology

Pentecostal theology describes the beliefs of the Pentecostal denomination. This is a Protestant denomination that formed at the end of the 19th century. It usually describes those who believe a number of things about the work of the Holy Spirit. For one thing, Pentecostals believe that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is a second experience that accompanies salvation. They hold that the power of the Holy Spirit is received separately from the initial reception of the Holy Spirit Himself.

They also believe that the gift of tongues is the sign that a person has experienced the baptism with the Holy Spirit. They make the distinction between the sign of tongues, which is for every believer to experience, and the gift of tongues – which is only given to a few believers. Pentecostal theology holds that all of the gifts of the Spirit still operate.

Not All Non-Cessationists Embrace Pentecostal Theology

Often a person who believes that spiritual gifts are still operating today is wrongly associated with Pentecostal theology. We must not make this mistake. There are many people who believe that all the spiritual gifts which God originally gave are still functioning in the church while, at the same time, rejecting Pentecostal theology.

Some believe that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is a second experience that comes after salvation. However they do not believe that speaking in tongues is the sign of the reception of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Indeed, they contend that there may be other signs or there may be no sign at all. Those who hold this position usually believe that the sign gifts are still operating in the church.

Others do not believe that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is a second experience that accompanies salvation, neither do they believer that speaking in tongues is a sign of receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit. However they do believe that all of the original gifts that God has given are still functioning. Yet they do not insist that everyone should speak in tongues. They want to make it clear that one can believe that all of the original gifts of the Spirit are still operating without accepting Pentecostal theology. This perspective attempts to find a balance between the extremes of overemphasis on spiritual gifts on the one hand, and the neglect of certain gifts on the other hand.

Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology (Reformed Theology): Sign Gifts No Longer Operate

There are theological systems known as Dispensationalism and Covenant, or Reformed theology. Both of these systems reject the belief that all the spiritual gifts are functioning in the church today. However they do so for different reasons.

Dispensationalism believes that the New Testament church is a unique people of God. This perspective holds that the church distinct from the nation Israel. They believe that certain gifts, known as the signs gifts, were basically directed at Israel. Dispensationalists believe that these signs were withdrawn after the death of the apostles and the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70. However they believe these gifts will return after the end of the church age when God once again deals with the nation Israel.

Covenant, or Reformed Theology

Covenant theology, or Reformed theology, sees Israel and the church as one continuous people of God. They believe the sign gifts were withdrawn after the apostolic era. However they do not believe these sign gifts will ever return. This is because they do not see any future program for the nation of Israel in the plan of God. They generally associate the New Testament sign gifts as one of three clusters of miracles found in Scripture. The purpose of each cluster was to confirm new revelation. Once the revelation was confirmed the miracles were withdrawn.

Reformed theology also argues from the ceasing of the apostolic office. Scripture knows nothing about the idea that the apostles would have successors. Since the apostles did not have successors, the gift has been withdrawn. If this one gift, apostle, has been withdrawn, then it is possible that other spiritual gifts have also been withdrawn.

There Are Many Believers Who Are Undecided on These Issues

We can add another category to the cessationist, non-cessationist question; undecided believers. There are a number of Christians who are not really certain which position is correct in this particular issue. They are still studying the Scripture in an attempt to find a satisfactory answer to these difficult questions. Therefore they cannot be placed in either the cessationist or non-cessationist camp and nobody should attempt to label them as such.

These Are Bible-believing Christians Who Differ

It must be stressed that these groups are made up of people who are Bible-believing Christians. They are all attempting to understand exactly what the Bible has to say on these difficult subjects surrounding the gifts of the Spirit.

The fact that they hold differences of opinions between each other does not mean they are divided as Christians. It cannot be overemphasized that Christians who hold different views on the subject of spiritual gifts all basically believe the same thing with respect to Jesus Christ.

Indeed, we are all one in Him. Any differences on these issues pale in significance to the things that we all have in common. We must never forget this.

Are There Spirit-filled and Non-spirit Filled Christians?

There are times when some unfortunate labels are applied to a group of believers in this matter of spiritual gifts. Some believers are referred to as “spirit-filled” while others are “non-spirit-filled.” Spirit-filled refers to those who practice the spectacular spiritual gifts; usually speaking in tongues. Other times these people refer to themselves as those who believe in the “fullness of the Spirit” or who believe in “the gifts of the Spirit.”

They also use terms such as “non-spirit-filled,” to those who “do not believe in the fullness of the Spirit.” We also find them referring to those who “don’t believe in the gifts” to refer to believers who do not practice certain extraordinary spiritual gifts

These are really tragic labels. It assumes that those who have convictions that the Bible teaches that God has withdrawn some of the spectacular spiritual gifts are somehow not filled with the Holy Spirit, that they reject the fullness of God’s Spirit, and that they do not believe in the gifts of the Spirit. Not only is this perspective unbiblical, it betrays a spiritual ignorance and immaturity on the part of those who use it. No one can be a Christian without the Holy Spirit and no one can do anything for the Lord without the filling, or controlling, of the Holy Spirit.

In addition, cessationists do believe in the gifts of the Spirit. However they do not believe that God meant for all the gifts to be used during the entire church age. This distinction must be appreciated.

Many Godly and Spiritually Influential People Thought Certain Gifts Had Ceased

Moreover, we should note that some of the most godly and mightily used people in the history of the church did not believe that God meant for all of the spiritual gifts to last during the entire church age. This includes people such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. To label people like them as “non spirit-filled,” or those who “don’t believe in the gifts” is a terrible injustice. These labels should never be used to describe other Christians for it gives the impression of superiority on the one hand and inferiority on the other. There is no such thing as first class Christians and second-class Christians.

Three Things Are Necessary in Dealing with Spiritual Gifts: Understanding, Love, and Unity

In the study of spiritual gifts there are three things that are absolutely necessary for believers to put into practice: understanding, love, and unity.

First, we need to understand what other Christians believe on this subject and why they see things differently. It is important that we know why they believe what they believe about this subject. Indeed, they may be right!

Secondly, we need to love other Christians in spite of our differences. This is primary. The Lord Jesus commands us to love one another. In the discussion of spiritual gifts, the love of Christ is indeed necessary.

Finally, we need to go forward in a unified manner based on our common faith in Jesus Christ. This is not an issue upon which Christians should keep themselves separate from one another.

Thus, while it is important to understand what various Christian groups believe about the subject of the gifts of the Spirit we should always strive for unity when examining these issues. This is what the Lord commands us to do.

Summary – Question 2
How Do Various Christian Groups View Spiritual Gifts? (Charismatics, Cessationists, Pentecostals, Dispensationalists, Covenant Theology)

The subject of spiritual gifts is an important one to study. Consequently, it is vital to understand the ways in which various Christians view the issue of the gifts of the Spirit. This includes knowing the different ways these groups are labeled.

Those who accept the idea that all spiritual gifts still operate in the church are called charismatics or non-cessationists. Those who believe that God withdrew some of the more spectacular gifts are known as cessationists or non-charismatics. Charismatic and non-charismatic are not biblical descriptions of groups of believers. It is better to describe their positions with the terms cessationists and non-cessationists.

Pentecostal theology believes the baptism with the Holy Spirit is a definite experience that occurs after a person is saved by trusting in Jesus Christ. They hold that speaking in tongues is the sign of receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Pentecostals believe all the spiritual gifts are still operating in the church.

Not everyone who believes that all the gifts are still operational holds to Pentecostal theology. Some believe the baptism with the Holy Spirit is an experience that occurs after one is saved but they do not believe that a person must speak in tongues upon reception. Others, while believing all the gifts are still operating reject the idea that the baptism with the Holy Spirit occurs after a person is saved. Instead they see it occurring the moment one trusts Christ.

The theological systems of Dispensationalism and Covenant theology believe God has withdrawn some spiritual gifts. Covenant theology believes this is permanent while Dispensationalism believes that some miraculous signs will return immediately before the Second Coming of Christ.

Many of the labels, while widely used, have no biblical basis. This is especially true of the terms “spirit-filled” and “non spirit-filled” and those who “believe in the gifts of the Spirit” and “those who do not.” Christians should refrain from describing other believers in this manner. They are not only unfortunate terms they incorrectly describe the beliefs of these people.

With respect to the subject of spiritual gifts Christians need understanding, love, and unity. Indeed we need to be unified in our diverse views concerning spiritual gifts.

Why Is It Important to Study the Subject of Spiritual Gifts? ← Prior Section
What Are Spiritual Gifts? Next Section →
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The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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