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Gifts of the Holy Spirit?

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I've realized that there are many Christians who don't believe that the gifts of the holy spirit (prophecy, healing, discernment, tongues) are active today. I've never understood that. The great comission talks about these gifts such as laying hands and casting out demons following those who believe (Mark16:14-18) And isn't the great comission directed at the entire body of Christ, until his return? So how can the gifts of the spirit cease?

What is your opinion?

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This a pretty heated and complicated topic, but I'll present the best case I can.

Before I address anything else, I must bring up your use of Mark 16:14-18. A large number of the earliest Biblical manuscripts omit this section (verses 9-20), and most Biblical scholars agree that this was added to Mark after its composition and is not original. Now, they could be wrong, and this could be a genuine section, but we should avoid using it in doctrinal disputes because of the ambiguity. However, even if this section is genuine, it does not contain an unequivocal promise that these signs will always be active. It simply mentions that they will happen without going into detail. So other evidence must be considered.

Next, does the Bible contain any explicit statements saying the signs will always be around or will cease at some point? Quite simply, no. There is no place where God explicitly tells us the answer, so we must make inferences from Biblical evidence. To me, a logical question to start with is: why did God provide signs in the first century church? Or, more simply, what are miraculous signs for?

In the Bible, it is clear that miracles were not common. While a large number are recorded, we know they were certainly never frequent events. Large spans of time have no record of any miracles. Examples include from the Fall to just before the Flood, from after the Flood to Abraham's call, from Jacob's death to Moses' birth, and from the finished conquest of Canaan to the beginning of the time of the Judges, just to name a few OT spans. There was also the 400 years of divine silence between the Old and New Testaments.

We see only a few time periods in which miracles are recorded. There was the Flood, which was judgment and only one miracle, though it is also possible God made the Flood through natural causes, so that is still uncertain. There was the time of the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob's 12 sons. Then there was the Exodus and the conquest of the Promised Land. After that, there were periodically miracles in the time of the Judges. After that, miracles were very rare until around the time of the Exile, when several prophets appeared with new revelation from God. Between the end of this time and the New Testament, no more miracles are recorded.

What do all of these times have in common? To boil it down simply, they are all periods of new revelation or new ministry. In each instance, God says He will do something, then He provides miraculous signs, and then He completes His task and the miracles cease. God called Abraham, performed signs at various times during the time of the Patriarchs, and ceased the signs after they all died. Then God called Moses to free Israel, performed signs to liberate Israel and get them through the desert, then did very little until the 40 years of wandering were up. Then God called Joshua, performed signs to conquer Canaan, and the signs ceased after the conquest. During the time of the Judges, God called each judge, performed signs so the judge could accomplish his task, and ceased the signs once the task was complete. Just before and during the Exile, God called prophets like Elijah, performed signs to witness to Israel, and ceased the signs once the prophets of the time died. In each of these periods, God used miraculous signs to authorize a specific piece of new revelation or a new ministry. Once the revelation or ministry was complete, the signs ceased.

If by any chance I was far off in this evaluation, the author of Hebrews vindicates at least some of the thought, for he says regarding the Gospel, "how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first spoken by the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. At the same time, God also testified by signs and wonders, various miracles, and distributions of gifts from the Holy Spirit according to His will" (Heb. 2:3-4). This brings me into the New Testament part of the argument. If, as the historical evidence suggests, miraculous signs were used to validate God's new workings, then this verse ties the NT signs directly in with this concept (the Old Testament revelation was discussed in parallel to the Gospel mere verses before). With this text and OT precedent, it seems most reasonable that the sign gifts existed to validate the new message of the Gospel and the new work of the Great Commission, establishing the church and sending the Truth to the ends of the earth. The signs existed to prove God's blessing on the Gospel and the apostolic church. Now, however, these things are complete. Like in the OT periods of revelation, the New Testament was finished and the church was fully established, thus the signs had no need to continue.

In confirmation, soon after the first century we find that signs are no longer mentioned as a significant part of the church according to various sources. As early as 95 AD, Clement of Rome wrote of church issues and never mentioned signs. Origen, though a heretic on some doctrine, records that the signs were temporary and ceased. Chrysostom mentioned while writing on 1 Corinthians that tongues had ceased as a sign. Then, still a bit a later, Augustine records that tongues had ceased and other signs operated on a much lower level than in the early church.

Am I to say that God cannot/will not perform miraculous signs today? Far be it from me! There are still instances in which they are very much warranted, such as the depths of the mission fields, where serious missionaries bring the Gospel to new and obscure lands. Records of miracles in far-flung regions and persecuted churches still come in. Tongues used to communicate with third-world tribes is a legitimate possibility. However, these are no longer the norm and are not meant to be. Signs are, more than anything else, for confirming new works/messages of God, and the only major need for them today is where the Gospel cannot possibly be communicated through Scripture.

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Great evalutation. I can agree that we probably don't see as many miracles today as in Biblical times, but they definitely haven't stopped. Like you said, they're for confirming God's messages but they can also be signs for unbelievers. I really want to do research on the early church now and their reportings of miracles. I really appreciate your reply!!

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I really want to do research on the early church now and their reportings of miracles. I really appreciate your reply!!

Lots can be found on the early church. It is a true eye opener to embark on such a mission.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church[10] and descriptions outlined by St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica,[11] the seven gifts are as follows:

  • Understanding: In understanding, we comprehend how we need to live as followers of Christ. A person with understanding is not confused by the conflicting messages in our culture about the right way to live. The gift of understanding perfects a person's speculative reason in the apprehension of truth. It is the gift whereby self-evident principles are known, Aquinas writes.[12]

  • Counsel (Right Judgment): With the gift of counsel/right judgment, we know the difference between right and wrong, and we choose to do what is right. A person with right judgment avoids sin and lives out the values taught by Jesus.

  • Fortitude (Courage): With the gift of fortitude/courage, we overcome our fear and are willing to take risks as a follower of Jesus Christ. A person with courage is willing to stand up for what is right in the sight of God, even if it means accepting rejection, verbal abuse, or physical harm. The gift of courage allows people the firmness of mind that is required both in doing good and in enduring evil.

  • Knowledge: With the gift of knowledge, we understand the meaning of God. The gift of knowledge is more than an accumulation of facts.

  • Piety (Reverence): With the gift of reverence, sometimes called piety, we have a deep sense of respect for God and the Church. A person with reverence recognizes our total reliance on God and comes before God with humility, trust, and love. Piety is the gift whereby, at the Holy Spirit's instigation, we pay worship and duty to God as our Father, Aquinas writes.

  • Fear of the Lord (Wonder and Awe): With the gift of fear of the Lord we are aware of the glory and majesty of God. A person with wonder and awe knows that God is the perfection of all we desire: perfect knowledge, perfect goodness, perfect power, and perfect love. This gift is described by Aquinas as a fear of separating oneself from God. He describes the gift as a "filial fear," like a child's fear of offending his father, rather than a "servile fear," that is, a fear of punishment. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 1:7) because it puts our mindset in correct location with respect to God: we are the finite, dependent creatures, and He is the infinite, all-powerful Creator.

  • Wisdom:It is the capacity to love spiritual things more than material ones

[h=2]Relation to the Virtues[/h] St. Thomas Aquinas says that four of these gifts (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel) direct the intellect, while the other three gifts (fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) direct the will toward God.

In some respects, the gifts are similar to the virtues, but a key distinction is that the virtues operate under the impetus of human reason (prompted by grace), whereas the gifts operate under the impetus of the Holy Spirit; the former can be used when one wishes, but the latter operate only when the Holy Spirit wishes. In the case of Fortitude, the gift has, in Latin and English, the same name as a virtue, which it is related to but from which it must be distinguished.

In Summa Theologica II.II, Thomas Aquinas asserts the following correspondences between the seven Capital Virtues and the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit:[11]

  • The gift of wisdom corresponds to the virtue of charity.
  • The gifts of understanding and knowledge correspond to the virtue of faith.
  • The gift of counsel (right judgment) corresponds to the virtue of prudence.
  • The gift of fortitude corresponds to the virtue of courage.
  • The gift of fear of the Lord corresponds to the virtue of hope.
  • The gift of Reverence corresponds to the virtue of justice.

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