Allister McGrath speaks of the charismatic gifts as “charism,” whereby believers are “enabled to perform tasks which would otherwise be impossible.” [1]

As a continuationist, I see no reason why believers in every age would not need the grace to do the impossible in the power of the Holy Spirit. Why would our present task be less impossible without God’s enabling grace than it was two thousand years ago for the first Christians?

This belief in the continuation of charismatic gifts is not affirmed in all Christian traditions and denominations. Continuationists are often confronted with various objections to their pneumatology and praxis. For instance:

  1. Those gifts were typically only present in the apostles.
  2. The way you’re doing it is not the same as it was being done in the Bible, so your expression is not biblical.
  3. Now that we have the closed canon of Scripture, we no longer need revelatory gifts. What are you trying to do, add to the Bible?
  4. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is more important that the gifts of the Spirit.
  5. Some of those manifestations look a lot like phenomena that occurs in occult religions too, so it’s better to just stay away from all of it.
  6. The charismatic gifts were really just meant to affirm the legitimacy of the apostles’ ministry after Jesus ascended, and now that they’re all dead, and we have the Bible, no more supernatural confirmation is needed for anything.

A separate blog post could be written to talk about each of these (and perhaps we can dig into them in the comments), but to all of these objections, continuationists may first respond with the question,

Where does it plainly say in the Bible that believers should expect these gifts to cease before Jesus’ return?

If the charismatic gifts were to be removed before the return of Jesus, there is no evidence that any followers of Jesus in the New Testament ever believed it or expected it.

Second, regardless of the fact that there are aberrations, imbalances, deceptions, and error with respect to charismatic gifts, continuationists are not ready to concede that the Bible leads anyone to believe that those gifts are temporary. Likewise, continuationists see no reason to swear off marriage, sex, and food just because some people have been divorced, committed adultery, and become gluttons. An aberration of something good (cf. James 1:17) is not a good reason to dismiss the good thing itself. Better to dismiss (or better yet, correct) the aberration and keep the good thing.

Third, pointing to errors and to history (e.g., times when the gifts seem less prevalent among Christians) seems to the continuationst to be an appeal to experience (or lack thereof), rather than Scripture, to affirm a theological position (which is often the accusation made toward continuationists). With respect to the cessation of the gifts when the apostles died and the canon was closed (implying that charismatic gifts were no longer necessary to the church’s work), I personally have yet to meet anyone who has ever said…

Look, I really want to believe in Jesus but I can’t find a Spirit-empowered and affirmed apostle anywhere to help me. How am I supposed to believe? Wait. I see that you have a completed Bible in your possession. Whew. Okay. I only need to look at it to ensure that it is in fact a completed Bible, and if it is, I’ll be ready to accept Jesus.

I make fun of this rationale a bit in order to point out that it may lead to the conclusion that only miracle-working (thus, message affirming) Apostles and believers with completed Bibles have what is necessary to further the message about Jesus.

Fourth, with reference to appeals to favor the pursuit of the fruit of the Holy Spirit and to minimize the gifts of the Holy Spirit as secondary, continuationists do not see any reason drive a wedge between these inseparable dimensions of the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of the believer and the Church. On a pastoral level, we may need to exhort spiritually gifted believers about a life of holiness and maturity without minimizing the relevance of spiritual gifts (cf. 1 Cor. 1:7, 1 Cor. 3:3). And we may also need to exhort believers who minimize spiritual gifts to earnestly desire them and not forbid them (cf. 1 Cor. 14;1, 14:39).

I embrace two basic convictions that are shaped by my commitment to and understanding of scripture, my history as an ordained minister and teaching pastor in a denomination with continuationist pneumatology and praxis, and what I have witnessed in my own life and the lives of others:

  1. The Holy Spirit has given gifts to the Church in every age for the accomplishment of her Kingdom responsibilities, and…
  2. The Holy Spirit necessarily transforms the believer’s life into a life of holiness and virtue as the primary evidence of His work in our lives.

An finally — a quote from Basil of Caesarea, who said:

Souls in which the Spirit dwells, illuminated by the Spirit, themselves become spiritual and send forth grace to others.

There is no reason why both the fruit of the Holy Spirit and the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit would not and should not fit under the imperative to “send forth grace to others.”


References and Notes

McGrath, A. (2011) Christian Theology: An Introduction (5th ed.). West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, p. 228.