Theme: Spiritual Gifts and Prophecy
Leading Question: Do some “spiritual gifts” carry more clout than others?
In three of his letters Paul includes lists of spiritual gifts (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:8-10, 28-30; Eph 4:11-12). The question often discussed by Christians today is whether or not all of those gifts would continue beyond the New Testament era. The standard adult study guide quotes a modern fundamentalist preacher, John MacArthur, Jr., as distinguishing between the “edifying” gifts, such as knowledge, wisdom, teaching, exhortation, faith, and mercy and the “sign” gifts, such as prophecy, healing, tongues, and miracles. MacArthur, reflecting a strong anti-charismatic bias, argues that the latter ceased with the New Testament era (Charismatic Chaos, p. 199).
Within Adventism, Ellen White made her position clear in the “Introduction” to The Great Controversy:
In harmony with the word of God, His Spirit was to continue its work throughout the period of the gospel dispensation. During the ages while the Scriptures of both the Old and the New Testament were being given, the Holy Spirit did not cease to communicate light to individual minds, apart from the revelations to be embodied in the Sacred Canon. The Bible itself relates how, through the Holy Spirit, men received warning, reproof, counsel, and instruction, in matters in no way relating to the giving of the Scriptures. And mention is made of prophets in different ages, of whose utterances nothing is recorded. In like manner, after the close of the canon of the Scripture, the Holy Spirit was still to continue its work, to enlighten, warn, and comfort the children of God. GC, viii
Quoting Jesus’ promise of the Spirit in John 14:26, Ellen White goes on to make the following claim:
Scripture plainly teaches that these promises, so far from being limited to apostolic days, extend to the church of Christ in all ages. The Saviour assures His followers, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Matthew 28:20. And Paul declares that the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit were set in the church “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and [ix] of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:12, 13. – GC, viii
If the gifts were to be present “in all ages,” how are we to identify them today? Three questions deserve close attention:
1. Primacy and continuance of the gift of prophecy. The standard adult study guide notes that the gift of prophecy is the only gift found in all four of Paul’s lists, suggesting that it is more important than the others. If that is so, why has the Adventist church not recognized a holder of the gift since Ellen White’s death in 1915?
2. Prophecy as prediction. The word “prophet” implies the ability to predict the future. But what evidence can we cite from Scripture to suggest that the work of the “prophet” is more “forthtelling” than “foretelling”? Does the presence of “conditional prophecy,” as in the book of Jonah, lessen the value of prediction in any event?
3. Tongues. Two chapters in the New Testament present the gift of “tongues” (Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14), though some have noted that the gift in Acts 2 is really the gift of “ears” since everyone heard in their own language (Acts 2:8). In reaction to what is perceived as charismatic abuse of the gift of tongues, it is possible to argue (as the standard study guide does) that the gift in Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 are both the gift of “real” languages. Yet Paul states in 1 Corinthians 14:2 that those who speak in a tongue “do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit.” What might be some possible reasons for rejecting a more “charismatic” interpretation of the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14? Would the astonishing manifestation of the Spirit in the experience of King Saul (1 Samuel 19:18-24) suggest that not all gifts of the spirit need to be “rational” experiences?