The Charismatic Gifts Debate

The Charismatic Gifts Debate

Speaking in Tongues / Faith Healers


Charismatic gifts have been a controversial subject for many years, but have risen in prominence since movement of Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement.  The charismatic gifts that we will be discussing are found in Corinthians.  1 Corinthians 12:8-10 states, “For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.”[1]  The largest issue with these gifts is whether or not they ceased when the Bible was completed.  The teaching of spiritual gifts is not uncommon in a lot of churches, but some of these gifts are believed to have ceased.    Elwell defines Spiritual Gifts as, “Gifts of God enabling the Christian to perform his or her (sometimes specialized) service. There are several words in the New Testament used for spiritual gifts. Dorea and domata are so used but rare (Acts 11:17; Eph. 4:8). Pneumatikas and charismata are frequently found, with charismata being most common.”[2] Spiritual gifts center around a spiritual ability given by the Holy Spirit to fulfill a purpose in serving God.  John Walvoord states, “Spiritual gifts are divinely given capacities to perform useful functions for God, especially in the area of spiritual service.”[3]  The charismatic gifts and prophecy have been seen as controversial because the amount of abuse that has surrounded them, causing a big cloud of doubt and suspicion over those who openly practice them.  The Holy Spirit is believed to work in us and through us by most all evangelicals.  In most cases you can go into any church and find that they teach an indwelling of the Holy Spirit of some kind.  In addition, most all churches teach that all believers have at least one spiritual gift.  1 Peter 4:10 states, “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”[4] We also see this as well in Romans 12:6, “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you.”[5]  Paul emphasizes this for clarity as well in 1 Corinthians 12:11, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”[6]  It is not the purpose of this paper to conclude that all the charismatic gifts (prophecy, faith healing, speaking in tongues, etc.) have ceased or are still for the church today.  In this paper we will examine the main historical movements that have risen in the twentieth century (1901 to 2000) and the two main viewpoints that divide this controversy.  It will be the purpose of this paper to conclude that neither viewpoint is entirely correct (that each hold some good points) and that speaking in tongues in order to be saved is not a biblically accurate doctrine that is taught by Oneness Pentecostalism.

Pentecostalism & the Movements

Since the rise of Pentecostal denominations, the charismatic gifts have seen an increase of both popularity and scrutiny.  Towns states, “The recent growth of Pentecostal denominations and widespread influence of the neo Pentecostal (charismatic) movement has popularized a view of some gifts that differ from the position of traditional conservative Christianity.”[7]  This is where most of the controversy finds its base of confliction.  Many Christians who have subscribed to the traditional conservative teachings find the practice of such charismatic gifts uncomfortable and too much of a grey area.  In other words, they have not grown up in a church that exercised charismatic gifts and therefore feel conflicted when they do not understand what is going on.  The natural state of any person is skeptic to things they do not understand and are contrary to their traditional understanding.  Some Christians feel the practice of charismatic gifts falls into a grey area that has not established a firm enough biblical doctrine for them to be comfortable practicing it or being around it.  . In the early twentieth century Pentecostalism was a movement that taught according to Britannica, “The belief that all Christians should seek a postconversion religious experience called baptism with the Holy Spirit. Recalling the Holy Spirit’s descent upon the first Christians in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, or Shabuoth (Acts of the Apostles 2-4).”[8]  Pentecostalism gave rise to evangelist such as Charles Fox Parham, Derek Prince, Mary B. Woodworth-Etter, Oral Roberts, Charles Price, Aimee Semple McPherson, Benny Hinn, Kathryn Kuhlman, T.D. Jakes, and William Seymour.  Most of these names you may not be familiar with.  Probably for our generation; the most recognizable is Oral Roberts, Benny Hinn, Derek Prince, and T.D. Jakes.  Televangelism has brought the issues of some spiritual gifts such as faith healing and Speaking in Tongues into a larger social debate.  After the establishment of Pentecostalism the charismatic movement began a change in many historical churches.  Boyd states, “Beginning in the early 1960s, some mainstream churches began to incorporate elements of Pentecostal thought and practice into their services and this became known as the charismatic movement.”[9]  The charismatic movement launched and effect whereby almost every historic church has been affected.  These churches are still dealing with the effects of this movement and in many cases have had a lot of their sister churches adapt charismatic practices in their services.  Elwell states, “The growth of the movement has grown to mainline churches: first, Protestant churches as Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian (early 1960s); second, the Roman Catholic (beginning in 1967); and third, the Greek Orthodox (about 1971).”[10]  Another movement launched called the “Third Wave,” (Pentecostalism being the first wave and the charismatic movement being the second wave) in the 1980s by a man named John Wimber, when he was giving a lecture on, “Signs, Wonders and Church Growth,” at Fuller Theological Seminary.  Millard Erickson states, “The movement began in the 1980s, which refers to itself as the ‘Third Wave’ and places more emphasis on the gifts of healing and spiritual discernment. It also insists on the evidential value of the miracles. This is referred to as ‘power evangelism’.”[11] Wimber had been a pastor at a Calvary Chapel until the Calvary Chapel leadership had differences with his practice of spiritual gifts and teaching of Kingdom theology.  As a result Wimber joined the Vineyard Christian Fellowships small group of churches started by Kenn Gulliksen.  It was here at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship that “Third Wave” movement took institutional form in what some also refer to as the “international Vineyard Movement.” This movement rejected classical Pentecostalism and believes their roots are in traditional evangelicalism. Boyd states, “The Pentecostal, charismatic, and third wave Christians believe that charismatic gifts are for today and thus should be pursued and practiced.”[12]  Now that we have a better understanding of how these movements came about, we can now examine the major viewpoints of charismatic gifts.

Continuationism vs. Cessationism

There are two main viewpoints that are at the center of this controversy of charismatic gifts: Continuationism and Cessationism.  According to Boyd, “Continuationist believes charismatic gifts are for today and thus should be pursued and practiced. Cessationists believe that the charismatic gifts ceased as soon as the New Testament was completed and disseminated to all the churches.”[13]  Beyond these two viewpoints are the Christians who fall between the two main views.  A lot of Christians do not have a theological position on them and therefore exercise caution in either case because they lack a true biblical discernment as to the interpretation of scripture  These viewpoints have good points in each of them, but neither is entirely correct, which will remain debatable until Jesus comes again. No matter which side of this debate you concede to, one thing is for certain; charismatic gifts are not an issue of salvation.  This is why it is my contention to point out Oneness Pentecostalism as specifically different from contemporary Continuationist for requiring speaking in tongues as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit in order to be saved.  For this reason, we will discuss speaking in tongues as a specific charismatic gift to examine further.

Glossolalia – “Speaking in Tongues”

Speaking in Tongues is also referred to as glossolalia.  Britannica states, “Glossolalia is (from Greek glōssa, ‘tongue,’ and lalia, ‘talking’), utterances approximating words and speech, usually produced during states of intense religious experience.”[14]  Glossolalia is not a new teaching and the Pentecostal movement was not where it was first taught.  We can trace several prominent figures of the church history of spoke favorably of it: Irenaeus, Tertullian, the Montanist group (who followed Montanus of Phrygus), Martin Luther, John Calvin, the Jansenists (a group of Catholic Priest in the 1730s), John Wesley, and the Irvingites (in the 1830s).  When Charles Parham led a small a Bible study at Bethany Bible College in Topeka, Kansas, in 1901; it was not the first time glossolalia had been taught or practiced.  What Parham did decide with the ministers and students was that glossolalia must always be accompanied by Spirit baptism.

Oneness Pentecostalism

In 1916 schism within the Assemblies of God had come to a crossroads within the Fourth General Council.  At issue was to doctrine of the Trinity, of which Oneness advocates had been rejecting.  Prior to this council, R.E. McAlister had begun to teaching that the Acts of the Apostles formula for baptism was done in the name of Jesus Christ and this led to the apostolic movement (or as some call it the “Jesus Only” movement).  What is interesting to point out is that the Assemblies of God organization was only in their infancy when this doctrinal divide occurred, because they had only just formed in 1914.  Many pastors had picked up this teaching of ant-Trinitarian doctrine and claimed to have baptized others in the name of Jesus Christ only.  One of these men was even Charles Parham.  So in 1916 the Fourth General Council of the Assemblies of God met and voted a resolution be passed that reaffirmed the doctrine of the trinity.  The council which was primarily of Trinitarian leadership, believed this Oneness teaching was heretical and they needed to issue a doctrinal statement of faith of their belief in the trinity.  According to Reed, “There was an aggressive battle fought by J. Roswell Flower, one of the young leaders within the fellowship. He had become convinced that the New Issue was nothing less than a recurrence of the ancient heresy of Sabellianism. By 1916 a Trinitarian majority secured its doctrine with an elaborate restatement of Nicene theology embedded in the well-crafted ‘Statement of Fundamental Truths’.”[15]  After which, the Oneness Pentecostals formed together an association of their own and in 1917 formed the General Assembly of the Apostolic Assemblies.  It is clear to see that it was the Trinitarian doctrine that was the major doctrinal issue for this denomination and not glossolalia as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit in order to be saved.  Slick asserts, “There is within the Oneness movement an attempt to represent themselves in a modest and holy manner.  This is to be commended.  However, sometimes it tends to become legalistic in that women are required to abstain from wearing makeup and pants.”[16]  As it relates to the charismatic gifts this paper is based upon, it is the teaching in Oneness theology of baptismal regeneration that is incorrect and biblically wrong.  There are four major verses of scripture in which Oneness theology asserts their claim to baptismal regeneration.  Theses versus of scripture are: John 3:5; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; and 1 Peter 3:21.  When looking at these verses you could assume baptismal regeneration, as well as the apostolic teaching of only baptizing in Jesus Christ name only.  However, as we know from the canon that the Bible does not contradict itself and therefore how does an Oneness theologian explain justification by faith?  If we are to assume baptismal regeneration is correct, then why do we not see the rest of scripture assert that we are justified by faith and baptism?  Slick states, “If baptism were necessary for salvation, then these verses (Rom. 4:3; 4:5; 5:1; Gal. 3:8; Eph. 2:8; John 5:24; Gal. 2:16; 3:11-14; and Phil. 3:9) would state that we are justified by faith and baptism.  But they don’t.  In fact, that is not what Paul says that the gospel is, and it is the gospel that saves us.”[17]  Matthew 3:11 it states, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but the One who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove His sandals. He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”[18]  The Continuationist maintains that this point in scripture supports the doctrine of baptism in the Holy Spirit.  Cessationists believe this looks ahead toward Pentecost in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit would be sent by Jesus in the form of tongues of fire.  Ronald Beers makes an interesting point of what John the Baptist is stating here, “Everyone will one day be baptized – either now by God’s Holy Spirit, or later by the fire of his judgment.”[19]  While this does not concede to either interpretation being correct, it does bring to light a focus on Pentecost.   There are a lot of Christians and non-Christians who misinterpret the Bible, taking specific text out of context and in doing so contradict other verses.  Disagreeing about the interpretation of scripture is different when a viewpoint presented opens the Word of God to contradiction or error.  Now that we have examined this specific movement within Pentecostalism, we can now move forward to the biblical evidence presented in the case of Charismatic gifts.

The Biblical Evidence

When we look at these passages of scripture, we will identify the positions each viewpoint ascribes to.   By doing so we will avoid dividing the viewpoints and presenting the same scripture separately, only to surmise that they just simply do not agree with each other.  The charismatic gifts center around 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, but the issue of them ceasing or not centers on 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.  You can slice a pie many ways, but in the end it is still a pie.  The difference is that it is a slice of pie and not a whole.  So what does this mean?   It means that each viewpoint picks verses around each other in an effort to solidify their argument?  For example: Continuationist cite these versus in an effort to claim biblical support for the list of gifts given to the church: 1 Corinthians 12:8-10; 12:28-30; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:1; and 1 Peter 4:10-11. They do this as means of pointing out that they believe this reveals God intended the gifts to continue and that omitting a category of the gifts would be unbiblical.  Cessationist cites these verses in an effort to claim biblical support for charismatic gifts only being for the early church: Ephesians 2:13; 18-22; Hebrews 2:2-4; 2 Corinthians 12:12; and 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.  It would appear that each viewpoint dances around the Bible from scripture to scripture in an effort to make their point more valid while avoiding the other.  Each viewpoint looks at to whom the gifts were meant for.  Cessationists make a very valid point that the charismatic gifts were not meant for everyone, they look to Hebrews 2:2-4.  However, I would also maintain this point from 1 Corinthians 12:7-11; 28-31. Slick states it best, “So, the gifts of the Spirit are varied and they are for the edification of the body of Christ.”[20]  However, this does not conclude that the gifts ceased at the conclusion of the New Testament either.  Boyd ask a very important question, “Where is it stated that God did not intend for these gifts to continue throughout history?”[21]


So then we are brought to the very center of these two viewpoints as I pointed out earlier, 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”[22]  These verses introduce the conundrum of whether or not these gifts ceased or not.  Elewell states, “Some scholars are leery of utilizing 13:9-10 against glossolalia, since the verb itself simply means ‘cease’ in the middle voice and since ‘perfect’ (KJV) as ‘canon’ is doubtful in this context.”[23]  It is ironic how much study scholars put into glossolalia considering there is only one type of babble.  When it comes to charismatic gifts I look specifically at glossolalia as it is referred to in 1 Corinthians 14:39, “Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.”[24]  There is no place that specifies that all these verses ceased in the New Testament as Cessationist attempt to claim.  It is for this reason that my position would be “seek not, forbid not.”  I do maintain that I may never see it done properly within my lifetime, but I cannot forbid it.  It is for this reason that I do not believe either viewpoint is correct in their entirety, but that each does have sold biblical points.  However, I am very weary of anyone practicing them today.  Boyd points out, “Many who supposedly experience charismatic gifts do so in environments that are emotionally charged and in which there is a social pressure to manifest such gifts.”[25]  If you ever want me to believe a faith healer is legitimate, then introduce me to the one who is going through the a children’s cancer facility healing them and not a televangelist asking me for money.  It should be noted that the theological and exegetical study of all these verses sometimes leaves out the intangible factor that God can do anything.  The extent of our ability to understand the depths of Gods ability is beyond the reach of everyone who has lived with the only exception of Jesus Christ.


[1]. Life Application Study Bible, New American Standard Bible - Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000).

[2]. Ibid.

[3]. John F. Walvoord, Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1971), 232.

[4]. C.I. Scofield, ed., The Scofield Study Bible, King James Version (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1909, 1917, 1937, 1945, 1996).

[5]. Holy Bible, the New Living Translation (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996).

[6]. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001).

[7]. Elmer Towns, Theology for Today (Mason,OH: Cenage Learning, 2008).

[8]. Encyclopedia Britannica Online, Pentecostalism, (accessed August 7, 2013).

[9]. Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009).

[10]. Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001).

[11]. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology: Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1998).

[12]. Boyd and Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Second Edition.

[13]. Ibid.

[14]. Encyclopedia Britannica Online, Glossolalia, (accessed August 7, 2013).

[15]. David A. Reed, “Oneness Pentecostalism: Problems and Possibilities for Pentecostal Theology,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 5, no. 11 (October 1997): 74.

[16]. Matt Slick, What is Oneness Pentecostal theology?, (accessed August 10, 2013).

[17]. Matt Slick, Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?, (accessed August 10, 2013).

[18]. Ted Cabel et al., eds., The Apologetics Study Bible, Holman Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003).

[19]. Beers, Life Application Study Bible, New American Standard Bible – Updated Edition.

[20]. Matt Slick, What is speaking in tongues?, (accessed August 11, 2013).

[21]. Boyd and Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Second Edition.

[22]. Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version (Grand Rapids , MI: Zondervan, 2005).

[23]. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition.

[24]. Scofield, The Scofield Study Bible, King James Version.

[25]. Boyd and Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Second Edition.

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