With this series of posts, we're reexamining the roles GOD placed within Jesus' church, their purpose and how they apply to us today.
This study is within the context of looking at GOD's overall purpose for individual Christians and for the church.
In this post, we'll study the purpose of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit upon the church.
Let's begin by looking at Scripture. Paul wrote the following to the Corinthian Christians:
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.
(1 Cor. 12:27-31 NIV)
We've previously looked at the role of apostles, prophets and teachers.
Now, it's time to look at miracle-workers.
At the close of Mark’s gospel, we read these words of Jesus:
17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
(Mark 16:17-18 NIV)
Each of these things happened within the first few decades of the church's existence.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. 12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.
(1 Cor. 12:7-12 NIV)
In his subsequent letter to the Corinthians, Paul stated that he also had performed many miracles. This, he said, was a mark of a true apostle.
12 I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles.
(2 Cor. 12:12 NIV)
So, miracles and healings demonstrated that the one performing the actions had indeed been sent by GOD (Jesus) with a message that needed to be heeded.
The Hebrew writer made this point as well, saying:
1 We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3 how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
(Heb. 2:1-4 NIV)
Miracles confirmed both the message and the messenger.
Jesus referred to His miracles as evidence to prove He is indeed the Messiah and had the approval of the Father.
Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37 Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. 38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”
(John 10:36b-38 NIV)
When we look at the historical account in Acts, the apostles would use miracles as a door-opener to create an opportunity to share the gospel with lost people.
- the crippled man in Acts 3;
- the lame and paralyzed in Samaria found in Acts 8;
- the crippled man from Iconium in Acts 14;
- casting out the demon-possessed girl in Philippi recorded in Acts 16; and
- the healing of the sick on the island of Malta recorded in Acts 28.
In this regard, it's easy to see how similar ability might be beneficial today.
Does the Holy Spirit still give miraculous gifts today?
While I never rule out GOD working miracles in specific situations, which I believe He does, as He's very much active in the world today, I believe that the time for miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit as we read of in the New Testament has passed.
Consider the following facts.
- While there is not a Scripture that states that gifts of healing would cease at some point, 1 Cor. 13:8-10 states that miraculous gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues would cease once "completeness" arrived—which I believe happened in the first century. (If you'd like a detailed explanation of why, read this series.)
- At the same time, IF the purpose of miracles and healings was to confirm the message and the messenger as being GOD-sent, then it would seem logical that those confirmations are no longer needed because this work has long been completed.
- We do not see widespread, indisputable evidence of Christians performing miracles and healing people today. There were imposters in the first century and there are imposters now who pretend to have this ability. However, the genuine miracle-workers who were empowered by the Holy Spirit that we read about in Scriptue—there was zero dispute that what they were doing was real and outwardly-visible.
- There are numerous claims among early Christians that the miraculous gifts of healings and casting out demons lasted into the third century (more on this below). It is possible these people were mistaken.
- GOD is still the same God He was in the first century and, if He chooses to, He is absolutely capable of performing the same miracles today that He did through Christians of the first century.
- There are countless examples of inexplicable events and healings that have occurred, and do occur, even in modern times. These events are often attributed by people to GOD as being "a miracle." James tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from above (Jam. 1:17).
Here are some interesting quotes from early Christian writers on gifts of the Holy Spirit (taken from David W. Bercot's A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs).
Seeing that the divine fruits of righteousness abound among you, I rejoice exceedingly and above measure in your happy and honored spirits. For you have received the engrafted spiritual gift with such effect. Barnabas (c. 70-130)
Daily some are becoming disciples in the name of Christ, . . . who are also receiving gifts, each as he is worth. These are illuminated through the name of this Christ. For one receives the spirit of understanding, another of counsel, another of strength, another of healing, another of foreknowledge, another of teaching, and another of the fear of God. Justin Martyr (c. 160)
The prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time. And hence you should understand that [the gifts] formerly among your nation have been transferred to us. Justin Martyr (c. 160, speaking to a Jew)
Those also will be thus confuted who belong to Simon and Carpocrates [heretical teachers], and if there are any others who are said to perform miracles. For they perform what they do neither through the power of God, nor in connection with the truth, nor for the well-being of men. . . . They can neither confer sight on the blind, nor hearing on the dear, nor expel all sorts of demons—except those who are sent into others by themselves (if they can even do this much). . . . And so far are they from being able to raise the dead, that they do not even believe this can possibly be done. However, the Lord raised the dead, and the apostles did so by means of prayer, and this has been frequently done in the brotherhood on account of some necessity. When the entire church in that particular locality entreated God with much fasting and prayer, the spirit of the dead man has returned, and he has been bestowed in answer to the prayers of the saints. Irenaeus (c. 180)
What is nobler than to tread under foot the gods of the nations, to exorcise evil spirits, to perform cures, to seek divine revelations, and to live to God? These are the pleasures—these are the spectacles—that befit Christian men. Tertullian (c. 197)
There are still preserved among Christians traces of that Holy Spirit that appeared in the form of a dove. They expel evil spirits, perform many cures, and foresee certain events. Origen (c. 248)
The Jews no longer have prophets or miracles. Yet, traces of those things are still found among Christians to a considerable extent. Some of these miracles are more remarkable than any that existed among the Jews. I have witnessed these myself. Origen (c. 248)