Generally this has never been in question for much of orthodox Church history, but sadly it has been made to seem like an area of great mystery and confusion today. As the Charismatic movement seems to keep changing, and getting even stranger, how should we view sign gifts, miracles and wonders?
We should never base a theology on our experience (Jeremiah 17:9), but equally we should not base it on an overreaction to the abuses of the gifts. We need to base everything on the Word of God. I pray that the discerning reader will follow the Scriptures, regardless of any of the shortcomings seen at times in explaining this theological position.
What was the purpose of the extraordinary gifts of the spirit? We can talk about how the book of Acts is filled with examples of the supernatural all we want, but until we understand what they are, or were, we have no business even discussing the issue.
The extraordinary gifts were there to authenticate the channels of divine truth (the messenger) and their message. This message is the revelation which was spoken, or written as we have preserved for us in the Scriptures today.
“Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know”
“And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.”
“Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.”
-2 Corinthians 12:12
“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?”
The extraordinary gifts of the Spirit have ceased since the closing of the canon of scripture. Otherwise revelation is still ongoing, and what we have written is not completely sufficient for the life of the Church.
“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…” -Hebrews 1:1-2
Now, in these last days, Christ Jesus has spoken. Jesus Christ is the Word of God (John 1:14). Prior to these last days commencing, God spoke to men “in divers manners [ways] … by the prophets.”
Scripture, God’s final written revelation to man, is sufficient:
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” -2 Timothy 3:16-17
We have the complete and perfect Word of God, and we lack nothing in that more sure word of prophecy (2 Peter 1:19).
“The gift of tongues was one new product of the spirit of prophecy and given for a particular reason, that, the Jewish pale being take down, all nations might be brought into the church. These and other gifts of prophecy, being a sign, have long since ceased and been laid aside, and we have no encouragement to expect the revival of them; but, on the contrary, are directed to call the Scriptures the more sure word of prophecy, more sure than voices from heaven; and to them we are directed to take heed, to search them, and to hold them fast, 2 Peter 1:19.”
–Matthew Henry (Quoted in Walter J. Chantry, Signs of the Apostles, Pg. 141, 142)
“The supernatural or extraordinary gifts were temporary, and intended to disappear when the Church should be founded and the inspired canon of Scripture closed; for they were an external proof of an internal inspiration.”
-George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, Pg. 56
Long before the charismatic and pentecostal movements broke out, Christians realised that as the canon was closed, so also the time of extraordinary gifts had ceased.
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758): “Of the extraordinary gifts, they were given in order to the founding and establishing of the church in the world. But since the canon of Scripture has been completed, and the Christian church fully founded and established, these extraordinary gifts have ceased”
-Charity and Its Fruits, p. 29.
John Owen wrote in 1679: “Gifts which in their own nature exceed the whole power of all our faculties, that dispensation of the Spirit is long since ceased and where it is now pretended unto by any, it may justly be suspected as an enthusiastic delusion.”
–Quoted by Walter J. Chantry, Signs of the Apostles, Pg. 141.