1 Corinthians 13:8-12 (that which is perfect), Part 2 (miracles)

spiritual giftsWhen Alexander Campbell wrote and preached in the early 1800s, he struggled against teachings of the Society of Friends (Quakers) and similar denominations that taught that the Spirit presently inspired believers at the same level as scripture. As a result, he tended to minimize the present work of the Spirit.

In the 1970s, the Churches of Christ were rocked by Pentecostalism. Our homegrown hero, Pat Boone, had been a popular singer in the early 60s and a movie star — competing with Elvis himself. His book Between You, Me and the Gatepost was studied in youth groups across the Churches of Christ.

Then he published A New Song, detailing his experiences with faith healing and speaking in tongues. He was disfellowshipped by his home church. David Lipscomb College refused to sing its alma mater, composed by Boone. And the Gospel Advocate and other church publications poured out articles denying the indwelling of the Spirit.

Until this point, the Churches had had a friendly, internal disagreement as to whether the Spirit dwelled within a Christian solely representatively, through the word, or whether the Spirit had a personal indwelling. But the charismatic movement became a major, international movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some Churches of Christ adopted or approved charismatic practices, especially speaking in tongues. And the editors pushed in the opposite direction — hard — insisting that the age of miracles was over and that the Spirit indwells only through the word — a truly humanistic, even Deistic teaching.

Predictably enough, many in the Churches found this word-only teaching so contrary to scripture and experience that they abandoned the Churches altogether. A number of congregations left the Churches to become outright denominational — which is why some Pentecostal churches practice believer baptism by immersion for remission of sins. There was a mixing of blood, as it were.

Indeed, the controversy over the Spirit was so intense — and came at the same time new translations such as the NIV and NASB made personal Bible study much more productive — that it helped create what is sometimes now called the progressive movement within the Churches of Christ. It forced countless elders and ministers to restudy the issues, to rethink the controversies, and to read the commentaries from our sister denominations. And we found that much of what we believed was reactionary — built more on being against a particular teaching than seeking to understand the scriptures.

During these years, it became popular to teach that 1 Cor 13 taught that tongues and prophecies would end when the New Testament was completed, sometime around 100 AD. The theory is that “that which is perfect” (KJV: 1 Cor 13:10) is the New Testament — and it wasn’t just the Churches of Christ that taught this.

But this theory has long been rejected by mainstream, conservative, evangelical scholarship. The Greek and logic of the text simply don’t support it. Moreover, it’s a theory testable by history. If it’s true, then church history should reflect the end of miracles when the last apostle died or thereabouts — and there is no such history. In fact, Christian history reveals that miracles continued for centuries afterwards. Augustine, in the Fifth Century, wrote that miracles had ended, and as soon as he’d done so, he was overwhelmed with accounts of miracles — more than he could write down. He sent men to investigate, saw many for himself, and recanted his position.

So we have to deal with the text and our history as it is. Denial and rationalization do no one any favors. On the other hand, we also live in an age when charlatans make all sorts of false claims about faith healing and take advantage of thousands of good people. We should not encourage gullibility.

Where does that leave us? Well, first,

(1Jo 4:1 ESV) Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

(Jer 29:8-9 ESV) 8 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream,  9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD.

On the other hand, neither John nor Jeremiah would have denied that there are legitimate prophets (such as themselves!). They would only insist that we be leery and test their claims.

Hence, I am skeptical of many claims, but unwilling to deny that God can and does do miracles today. Who am I to limit the work of God? No matter how many false claims there may be, a million false claims do not prove that all claims are false. After all, there were hundreds of false messiahs, but Jesus is the Messiah. All the charlatans and con artists in the world do not change that fact, and I must not allow myself to become so cynical that I cannot see the work of God when it happens before me. That would be, quite possibly, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. I will not credit Satan with the work of God.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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9 Responses to 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 (that which is perfect), Part 2 (miracles)

  1. I find it helpful to differentiate between men working miracles and God working miracles. There are some in the church that deny both, but they are a tiny minority. There are many more that are quite comfortable with God doing miracles when and how he so chooses, but are uncomfortable with men today having the authority to decided when and how miracles will be done.

    I won’t deny the possibility of the latter, but as I commented yesterday, I note that God only gave men that right during certain, limited times in the Bible. I wouldn’t be surprised if that continued. God gave such power to Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, and the early disciples, but he didn’t seem to give it to Abraham or Deborah or David. Even as he worked miracles during the lives of those people, as he does today, he didn’t give them the power to personally do the miracles.

  2. Gary says:

    Two men who continued to teach a personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit even through the heyday of the “Word only” doctrine were Gus Nichols and Hugo McCord.

  3. Ray Downen says:

    I figure that the New Testament canon was not put in place as apostles died, so the need for prophets in the Lord’s church lasted at LEAST until the canon was declared and available to the church at large. So I don’t place the end of miracles at the time of the death of the last apostle. Or even at the death of the last person upon whom an apostle had “laid hands.” And friends of mine now living who have carried the gospel into new territory speak of miracles THEY have seen in contemporary times.

    But I’m of the opinion that congregations of Christians have better things to do than to “speak in tongues” or “lay hands on” someone to supposedly give them spiritual powers and claim they’ve done a virtuous thing. The commission is for us to carry the gospel throughout the world rather than to perform miracles throughout the world. Current miracles I’ve heard of have been to contest with spiritists who were speaking in opposition to the gospel. Witch doctors still exist. Pseudo “miracles” happen. And God is able to outperform false religion however it is expressed.

  4. Dwight says:

    Gary, I have live long enough to see a shift from the word only to the indewelling of the HS in coC, but there are some who still teach the word only concept and/or limit the HS to the actions of the word. The scriptures indicate that the word does have to be planted, but also that the HS does come into the heart to power the word. Some hearts are harder than others and will not recieve either the word or the HS.

  5. Price Futrell says:

    It’s sad to me when the best we can do is admit that God can still be God.. Well hooray for that acknowledgement… How about encouraging the churches to teach on Paul’s admonition to “earnestly desire” the higher gifts ? How many churches are you familiar with in the CoC faith heritage, including those that might self-identify as “progressive” that teach on how to ask for, recognize and use various spiritual gifts? one in ten thousand ?

    It seems to me that the use of gifts was clearly to exhort, edify and encourage.. How someone might suggest that we as an assembly have better things to do than this is beyond understanding… Perhaps if we allowed God to BE God and to willingly allow Him to use us in this capacity, rather than just finally admit that He might be God and can do what He wills, we might find ourselves growing and prospering in our communities rather than slowly fading away. It seems ridiculous that we would refuse to put anything in our spiritual toolbox except a hammer and expect to build anything worthwhile… Just a thought.

    Got to hand it to Augustine.. At least he considered the acts of God worthwhile to follow up on.

  6. Dwight says:

    Price, According to I Cor.12 “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.” then he starts talking about “love”. Most of the churches I know to teach on desiring the “higher gift”…love.

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