Taking into consideration the ideas from the first study, I feel it pertinent to address the issue of the continuation vs. the cessation of the gifts in Christ’s body. I do not profess to have the right view on these matters nor do I intend to propose an all satisfying solution. Much of the Church’s debate over this issue has revolved around an either/or controversy. Scriptures seem to both support and contradict the two sides. But what if we were to look at things from a dialectical stand point and consider that both sides ring elements of truth?
The Spiritual Church
This is the whole of the historical Church. It is the Bride as she was brought forth at Pentecost and sent into the world to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom to the ends of the earth. It is made up of every tribe, nation, language, and people group. Jesus spoke specifically of this when he said, “I will build my Church (ἐκκλησίαν, ekklesian)…” (Matt 16:18). It is the ongoing building project of Christ that has been, so far, two thousand years in the making. This is where it is possible for all people to see eye to eye and to live together in equality regardless of race, sex, class, or age. Here, we are all on the same plane because we all have the same One dwelling within.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19-21)
There was a great outpouring of the Spirit at the entrance of the Church into the world (Acts 2) as the prophet Joel prophesied. It was the beginning of the “last days” before the one dreadful “Day of the Lord” which is yet to come. God is putting the final pieces of his grand puzzle together with the work of the Church.
Of course it was necessary for Jesus to come to start the Church. If he didn’t come there would have been no “chief cornerstone” for its foundation. After him, he endowed special people, Apostles and Prophets, to lay its foundation:
…the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now (νῦν – at present) been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. (Ephesians 3:5)
This was an intense time for the Church. Infancy is by nature a very delicate and fragile time and needs more protection and nurturing than any other time in life. Thus, great signs and wonders were necessary. The gospel and the Church needed confirmation. The gates of hell tried hard then to snuff it out, but Jesus’ words proved true and eventually the Church became a fact of life. Whether the world liked it or not, it was here to stay.
Scripture seems to reveal a building process and order to the spiritual Church:
And God has appointed in the church first (πρῶτον, proton) apostles, second (δεύτερον, deuteron) prophets, third (τρίτον, triton) teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:28)
It is hard to say whether Paul meant a logical order or if he meant something along the lines of “order of importance”. If it is the former, we could say that we are in the third phase of the building project. Gifted Pastors and Teachers are everywhere abundant, while Prophets and Apostles seem to have vanished. If it is the latter interpretation, which to me seems to best fit the tense of “has appointed in the church (ἔθετο ὁ θεὸς ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ)” better, then maybe it is our faith that seems to have vanished and not so much the apostolic and prophetically gifted individuals.
Ephesians 4:11-16 seems to speak to this building project in terms of growth. Paul says the whole body working together makes the body grow. Through building itself up, it grows up into its head who is Christ. From this passage we get the idea that the purpose of this building project is “a unity of the faith” and a “unity of the knowledge” of the Son of God where it attains “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. The Church is very old by now, yet it has a ways to go to meet the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Christ’s body has been growing up in maturity—into its head, the Christ—for a long time. The Church started with very dim sight but as it has grown and matured, it’s sight has become more clear. Eventually it will attain the fullness and perfection that it longs for when the Perfect comes. There will be yet unity in the body of Christ!
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:11-14)
The Manifest Church
This is the local, concrete manifestation of the spiritual Church that Jesus is building. It comes and goes, and is constantly changing in form and function. Indeed it needs to be continually changing. As Boniface of the 8th century once stated, “the customs of past ages must be measured by the correct taste of modern times.”
The church is still to seek and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts. Why? Because it still needs to build itself up into Christ. We have not arrived into any kind of fullness or unity yet. Things are different and have changed of course. We as a Church are no longer in a vulnerable infancy stage. Things have long settled and the foundation has been firmly established. Although there may not be any more Apostles or Prophets, there are still apostolic and prophetic manifestations of the Spirit, and they are needed.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation (φανέρωσις, phanerosis – exhibition, expression, coming to light) of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Cor 12:4-7)
It is probably pointless to categorize the gifts, services, and activities of the Holy Spirit bestowed on his people. There are so many varieties and ways in which He works through us. 1 Corinthians 14:1-5 teaches that prophetic words in the local church are needed for building its members up, encouraging them, and consoling them through the hard times. Every church needs that! It is also taught that everyone can do this! Paul also teaches that the gift of tongues has to do with praying with your spirit and not your mind. Just like we could legitimately sing praise with our spirits without coherent words so we can legitimately pray without coherent words. As far as church practice goes however, it is better to speak coherent words because incoherent words don’t build up. Such a gift then is more attuned to personal prayer (1 Cor 14:2) in that it builds up oneself and not the church (unless there is interpretation).
The local church goes through its own growth from infancy to maturity as well. Take 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 for example. The people in this church still needed to grow up spiritually. Hebrews 5:11-16 gives another example. These people still needed milk though they should have been by that time taking in solid food.
1 Corinthians 3:5-9 shows that church-planting is a work that requires ‘apostolic’ and ‘prophetic’ giftings from the Holy Spirit. In order for a new church to flourish it needs to have a solid vision and purpose for where it is, just as the spiritual Church has always had a solid vision and purpose in this world. Moreover, it needs to be able to hear from God intimately in order to survive. New churches require a lot of divine help in order to find establishment and growth. Even if there are very knowledgeable individuals with Master’s degrees in the Bible—if there is a lack of vision and listening to the voice of God, where will that new church end up? In the dumpster.
It remains that nothing of the scriptures makes any spiritual sense without faith. The Spirit’s work in our lives is also unseen without eyes of faith. Without faith we are blind. It should be questioned therefore why any Christian would doubt that there are any wonders or miracles of God in our day. I believe God still speaks to us and still works miracles among us, but we must (re)learn as a Church and as local churches to walk by faith and not by sight as we see the Day draw all the more near.