"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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    Sola Scriptura & the Gifts of the Spirit by Pastor John Samson

    Question: Pastor John, How does the 'vocal' gifts of the Holy Spirit work with sola scriptura? Wouldn't the revelatory nature of those vocals gifts contradict this sola in any way? Or does it complement it?

    As the lone fellow on the contributing team who can be described as being an essentially reformed, credo-baptist and charismatic, I guess I knew this question would be asked of me at some stage, especially when I write something on the subject of sola scriptura.

    A whole book would need to be written to cover this question in a satisfactory way. One book that addresses this question from a similar perspective to my own would be Dr. Wayne Grudem's "The Gift of Prophecy." While pointing you to this resource, allow me to also give a very brief answer to your question by asking a further series of questions:

    Question 1: Were the vocal gifts taking place in the early church a violation of sola scriptura?

    I think we'd all agree that the answer would be a resounding "no." Paul would have put a stop to the use of the gifts had he viewed them as a violation of Scripture. Of course, the canon was not yet complete when Paul was writing 1 Corinthians 12-14, but certainly the functioning of the gifts did not violate Scripture - at least at that time - I am sure we'd all agree.

    There were certainly abuses of the gifts going on - very much so in fact. What is interesting though is that Paul, when writing to the Corinthians, knowing of the abuse of the gifts, did not stop the use of the gifts, but instead directed their use. 1 Corinthians 14:39-40 says, "Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner."

    Elsewhere he wrote: "Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil." - 1 Thess. 5:19-22

    Paul allowed for the functioning of the gifts of the Spirit while still cautioning that everything should be extensively tested. What passed the test was to be accepted, but all things that did not were to be shunned.

    Question 2: As quoted above, Paul wrote, "do not despise prophetic utterances." Why would there ever be a tendency to do this?

    I believe the answer is because New Testament prophecy taking place in the assembly of believers was on a much lower level than Old Testament prophecy. There is a difference between the prophecy of Scripture (2 Peter 1:20) and the "normal" gift of prophecy taking place in the assembly.

    One example of this concept is found in the instruction Paul gives in 1 Cor. 14:30, where he writes - "But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent."

    Commenting on this verse, Dr. Grudem writes: "After giving instructions that two or three prophets could speak, Paul guarantees that an orderly pattern will be followed: "If a revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent." (RSV) This verse pictures a situation something like the following: While one prophet is speaking, another suddenly has something "revealed" (apokalypto) to him (or her). This second prophet signals in some way, perhaps by standing, that he has something to say. Then the first prophet does not finish his prophecy but immediately sits down and is silent, allowing the second one to speak."

    Grudem continues: "The first thing we notice in this verse is that Paul seems to be totally unconcerned by the fact that the first prophecy might be lost forever and never heard by the church. This attitude on Paul's part seems to fit the picture of New Testament prophecy that we saw in 1 Corinthians 14:29. For if prophets had been thought to speak the very words of God, we would have expected Paul to show more concern for the preservation of these words and their proclamation. If God actually were speaking his words through a prophet to the church, it would be important for the church to hear those words!... If New Testament prophets had been thought to speak with absolute divine authority attaching to their words, this verse would be very hard to understand. How could Paul direct that God's words be lost? However, if the New Testament prophets were only thought to be speaking merely human words to report something that God had brought to mind, Paul's instructions would be quite reasonable..." Much more could be said, and is in fact said by Grudem on the matter.

    Question 3: I've heard many testimonies from elders in the Body of Christ that say something like this - "As I was shaking hands with folk after a service, when one particular person shook my hand, I had a very disturbing impression that I as a shepherd of the flock was to watch this person closely. I felt it was a warning from the Lord." Would my cessationist friends allow for the fact that God can and does (at times) communicate in this way to His shepherds in our day?

    I believe that there is a measure of discernment that God makes available today to His people, and in this case, His elders in our day. Of course, there is no verse in the Scripture that says, "Elder Tony, the 19th person you shake hands with in the second service on Sunday morning - you know, the guy wearing the brown suit and the yellow tie, with black pants... be on your guard, for he indeed is a wolf in sheep's clothing." Therefore, although this discernment is not drawn from a particular text of the Bible, it in no way violates what the Scripture teaches, in my opinion.

    Question 4: Is this discernment as authoritative as Scripture?

    In no way. This kind of discernment has to be tested, like anything else that is supposedly "revealed" to a person. In this case, the test would come probably by the passage of time, as this person is viewed by the elder/s - they will know through their observations of the person if the "warning" was of the Lord or not, by the fruit that they see in the person's life and doctrine.

    Question 5: Is this "discernment" a violation of sola scriptura?

    I don't believe so, no. It does not violate Scripture, nor does it add to Scripture in any way. In fact, all we "discern" needs to be safeguarded constantly by the test of conformity with the God breathed Scripture, which alone is the authoritative rule of faith.

    This is getting lengthy, so let me conclude here by quoting from a helpful article produced by Sovereign Grace Ministries at this point:

    "The insistence that gifts such as prophecy were limited to the apostolic age most commonly arises from entirely understandable concerns about the issue of revelation. Scripture is truly, and must remain, the only source of inspired, inerrant, authoritative revelation from God for the faith and life of the church. However, New Testament teaching regarding spiritual gifts in no way implies that the gifts necessarily endanger the role of Scripture in the church's life. Our experience with spiritual gifts confirms this. The best way to prevent the undermining of Scripture's authority is, quite simply, to maintain and teach a high view of Scripture. Scripture must be allowed to function in a way that demonstrates that it is indeed God's normative revelation for the faith and life of the church. This includes allowing Scripture to govern the use of spiritual gifts. We strongly believe that, when gifts such as prophecy and tongues are viewed in light of Scripture, and their use is tested and governed by Scripture, two things will happen: God's people will be edified by the proper functioning of the gifts in accord with God's purposes, and Scripture will be protected as the only "authoritative and normative rule and guide of all Christian life, practice, and doctrine."

    Posted by John Samson on February 13, 2006 06:27 PM


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    I would make my comment in the form of a question. Why would we begin our argument by going back two thousand years to a time before the completion of the Word of God which has now become the final test for all prophecy?

    I respect you as a brother in Christ, and I do not mean to question you personally, only your theology.

    Hi Joe,

    Thanks for your question and also the tone in which you wrote it. We increase the likelihood that people on one or even both sides of an issue can learn from a discussion when the communication takes place in a spirit of meekness, gentleness and respect. I greatly respect those who see this particular issue differently - though I may not agree with their conclusions.

    Obviously, everyone has assumptions. It is difficult for us to put those assumptions on the table and admit that they are assumptions. I found this to be the case when just five or so years ago, as an Arminian, I was confronted with the truths of the reformed faith. I've found that many people are not at all willing to allow their assumptions to be tested in this way. By God's grace, after putting my assumptions/traditions on the table and allowing them to be examined, I came to see the shaky foundation those assumptions were built on, and then embrace the truths of God's Sovereignty in election and the doctrines of grace. How thankful I am now that God has opened up my understanding in this area. I am truly amazed by God's Sovereign grace.

    I've always believed that if someone believes the truth, then what they believe can be subjected to scrutiny and the truth will still stand. The truth will always show itself to be the truth, no matter how much that truth is scrutinized.

    We need to start any discussion of these things by admitting our assumptions and allowing them to be exposed to the light of Scripture. We tend to believe that we personally have no traditions and no assumptions. Others may have assumptions... others may have traditions, but not us, we think.

    As I am sure you realize, my article was a response to a specific question, which basically assumed my position and asked me to explain how it could coincide with the doctrine of sola scriptura. I then responded with those assumptions as a foundation, and sought to show, albeit very briefly, how Paul in the New Testament (at a time when both cessationists and charismatics would agree that the gifts were functioning) directed the use of the gifts... and sought to show that my understanding (that the gifts have not ceased) if subjected to the same rigors and tests as in the time of the New Testament, do NOT necessarily negate the principles of sola scriptura. Whether or not I succeeded in doing so, is another question, but that at least was all I was seeking to do.

    In the article above, I really didn't make the case for the continued use of the gifts. I have read much literature from the cessationist side, but at least at this point, remain unconvinced by the arguments I've read. I realise people would either strongly agree with me, or strongly disagree... but I don't know of another place to go than the God breathed Scriptures to start any discussion along this line.

    Joe, would you be kind enough to let me know how you would answer question number 3 above? Would you allow for this kind of discernment in our day?

    I don't believe that godly discernment violates Sola Scriptura. I too have had cases where I know God revealed something important to me. In every case it had to do with leading me to understand something theological that I was attempting to grasp. These incidents were not new revelation that we would "add to scripture." Instead they helped clarify.

    I firmly believe God still speaks to His people. Jesus said that His sheep know His voice and follow Him. Most of this will come via scripture, but there are times when it comes via prayer. Doesn't the Holy Spirit pray with groanings with us as we pray because we don't know how to pray as we ought? Doesn't He guide us into prayer and lead us to pray according to God's will? James 1:5 tells us that God gives Wisdom freely to those who ask. Not all of that comes via scripture, but some will come via discernment as in your example above. None of these violates Sola Scriptura as far as I can see because this isn't speaking of doctrine.

    I think most Reformed folks would consider the supernatural gifts as signs of authority to speak for God, "Thus sayeth the Lord!" It was not signs for sign's sake, but to establish the prophet himself as a speaker for God, as we see in the case of Moses, Elijah, etc., and especially Christ. The NT Apostles likewise were the authorized and ordained messengers of the ascended Christ as they spoke and wrote, established by signs and miracles.

    One of these signs was to bestow spiritual gifts (tongues, etc.) by the laying on of their hands. Beyond and outside of the first Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit upon the church (first upon the Jews, then the Samaritans, then the Gentiles), the gifts were passed on through the Apostles. It is significant to note that the sin of Simon Magus was not offering to pay money to receive the power of tongues or some other sign, but to receive the power to bestow the gifts by his laying on of hands. He wanted to purchase Apostolic authority for himself.

    The bestowal of the spiritual gifts was a sign of Apostolic authority, and a sign of God's acceptance and approval of those from every nation, tribe and tongue being ingrafted into the church. The 1st century church itself, filled with the gifts of the Spirit, was the main sign and evidence of the truth and power of the Apostolic message. As the Apostles fell asleep, and those upon whom they had conferred the gifts also went to be with the Lord, so also did the signs diminish, such that over time the gifts to the church, at least as normative if not entirely, have been suspended. This is not to say that God does not heal, answer prayer, etc., sometimes in miraculous ways, but it is to say that he does not presently authorize new "prophets and Apostles" to speak for him beyond the Scriptures, nor to confer the gifts of the Holy Spirit by laying on of hands, etc.

    Hi Mike A.,

    Thanks for your comment. You write, "I think most Reformed folks would consider the supernatural gifts as signs of authority to speak for God, "Thus sayeth the Lord!" It was not signs for sign's sake, but to establish the prophet himself as a speaker for God, as we see in the case of Moses, Elijah, etc., and especially Christ."

    I too do not feel at all comfortable when I hear the phrase "Thus says the Lord" preface someone's message in our day. It is a claim that every word that follows is 100% accurate and authoritative, and failure to heed it will result in divine judgement. All of that and more is implied in the use of those words.

    But Mike, may I ask how you explain the example I gave regarding 1 Cor. 14:30? Can you see that (for the Apostle Paul) the gift of prophecy in the New Testament church was not on anything like the same level as that of the (theopneustos) God breathed Scriptures?

    I would agree that there are no apostles and prophets writing any Scripture today. There is also no one around today who has apostolic authority on anything like the level of the original 12 apostles. The 12 remain very much a distinct category in themselves. Of course, there are numerous people designated as "apostles" in the New Testament (outside of the 12), who as the title suggests, were "sent forth" by the Lord and by the church.

    There are people today who are sent to take the gospel and establish churches in new territory. Some groups call these people "apostles" (with a small "a"). Sovereign Grace Ministries, under the leadership of C. J. Mahaney would be one such group that allow for this designation. Whether or not this is a wise practice is open to debate simple because of the confusion this may bring and the ignorance around on the issue, but I've found that these modern day "apostles" are not in any way thought of as writing new scripture or having the same authority of the 12. The group teaches extensively on the subject to inform people of what is meant by the use of the title. This being the practice within that movement allows people like myself to feel a great deal more comfortable than what I frequently find elsewhere, when the use of the title comes from self professed ministers, with no accountability, who claim to have new revelation from the Lord. Isaiah 8:20 - To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.

    John Samson

    Interesting discussion. As a Catholic, I don't buy the idea of Sola Scriptura (for reasons which I won't go into here). However, I thought I'd offer a useful distinction...

    In Catholicism, a distinction is made between Public Revelation (given to the original Apostles) and Private Revelation (given to those in the post-apostolic age).

    To cite the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 67...

    67 Throughout the ages, there have been so-called "private" revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.

    Christian faith cannot accept "revelations" that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such "revelations".

    Just thought you might find that helpful.

    I thought to be reformed, one must be a cessationist. After listening to many theologians, as well as those in history, I am finding out this is not true. What we seem to be facing is not that spiritual gifts have ceased, but that they have been misunderstood and abused through lack of scriptural teaching. Maybe we can answer this dilemma soon as a church.

    Like me Gifts of the Spirit idea or concept new for a lot of people. We don't think like this, Normally we have no care our spirit and do a lot of that acts which effect our spirit very badly but we don't think about it which is not good. For happly life must know about the spirit and know the way to deal it.

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