CSC: WELS Topical Q&A: Religion: Other religions: Gifts of the Spirit
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Q:I had been, until about 4 years ago, a lifelong Lutheran (ELCA). My wife was a Catholic and became a Lutheran while we were dating. About 4 years ago we left the ELCA and started attending a non-denominational church that seemed (at the time) like an evangelical church with a charismatic belief. That is to say that they believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit that Lutherans (and most or at least many Protestants) believed ended during the early church period. Recently, it hit me like a ton of bricks that some of the things that the Pastor was preaching didn't match up with what I had been taught and what I believe.

I started a personal quest to search for my true beliefs. I started with the basic beliefs of the Protestant churches and then moved into the differences between Protestant denominations. In each case I reaffirmed my Lutheran beliefs (although I can't honestly say that I've reexamined every point). The one point that I am hung up on right now is the "gifts of the Spirit" that the charismatic movement has embraced.

I am in the middle of reading the book "The Word & Power Church: What Happens When a Church Experiences All God Has to Offer". At first it seemed like a great book. The author talked about the deep spiritual "success" (for lack of a better term) of the charismatic movement in the areas of prayer and worship and the great scriptural background of the evangelical churches. Unfortunately, it has turned into "fluff", that is to say that he has "wandered" into the "touchy feely" world without keeping his feet grounded in scripture. By this I'm simply stating that he doesn't really base his discussion on scripture but rather on the experience. This doesn't imply he is going against scripture (although he might be) but just that he hasn't justified his position within scripture.

In this book he talks about "cessation" and, if I remember correctly, the seven points of this doctrine. He states that he reviewed these points and found they didn't "hold water". Unfortunately, he left the reader to simply trust him and didn't discuss any of the points (ouch!). He does reference the book "They Speak With Other Tongues" by John Sherrill for a discussion of these points.

Could you explain these points of "cessation" and/or point me to a good book discussing the issue (preferably a balanced book that discusses the arguments made by the charismatics).

A:Your letter indicates that you are already on the right track here because you recognize that we must evaluate all teachings on the basis of Scripture not on the basis of feeling or experience.

Since I don't have the book you refer to, I cannot discuss his seven points point by point, but I will state our position on the cessation of special "gifts of the Spirit."

Our way of evaluating messengers who claim to speak in tongues or do miracles is quite simple: God tells us to look at their teaching. If it is not in agreement with the Bible, it must be rejected. Unbiblical teaching cannot be validated by claims of miracles or special gifts. See Deuteronomy 13:1-3.

We therefore do not make any dogmatic claim that the special gifts like tongues could not possibly be given today. Nevertheless, there is strong evidence these special gifts were signs of an apostle (2 Corinthians 12:12) that ceased to be given when there were no more the apostles.

In all of the examples which we have in Acts (Acts 8, 10, 19) the gifts were given when the apostles arrived in a new mission area even if the people had received faith earlier from another messenger of the gospel. See especially Acts 8:18.

All of the New Testament statements about signs and wonders in the last days are warnings against false signs not promises of true signs like those of the apostolic age.

1 Corinthians 14 indicates that sending the gospel in different tongues was a judgment against the unbelief of the Jews, which caused the gospel to be sent from them to peoples of other languages. This also happened on Pentecost when Jews of Jerusalem accused the apostles of being drunk when they spoke in tongues. Now that the gospel is established among the Gentiles this purpose no longer exists.

In much reading about charismatic gifts I have never been able to find a contemporary case of speaking in tongues which could be verified as real, unlearned human languages by independent researchers. All the research projects which I have seen that were independently done by analyzing recordings of tongues have reported that the unlearned tongues are not real languages. This is one strong evidence that the contemporary tongues are not the tongues of the Bible.

We cannot rule out the possibility of unlearned knowledge of real languages which comes from the devil to sow confusion in the church. Fraud is another possibility. Unexplained healing may be due to the power of prayer, but they may also be fraudulent, psychosomatic, or demonic. See 2 Thessalonians 2

Fortunately, we do not have to be able to sort these happenings out by our subjective judgment. All we have to do is submit the teaching of the healer or speaker to the light of Scripture. If the teaching does not agree with Scripture, it is not to be accepted. If it does agree with Scripture, it is not new. We already knew it. It adds nothing to God's Word (see Hebrews 1:1-3).

Though there is good evidence that the tongues of today are not the tongues of the New Testament which have ceased, we base the case against tongues on a biblical evaluation of the teaching of the speakers in tongues. God does not give signs to support false teaching. Where the teachings do not agree with Scripture on things like the sacraments, fellowship, and the way of salvation, we know the tongues are not signs from God, and we are to seek the truth elsewhere.

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