Fallible apostles exist and are gifted men of God. Many church planters, for example, may have the gifts of an apostle but they do not have authority over others even while they may have much influence. This is because whereas the gift of the apostle continues the office does not.
Sometimes cessationists make the argument that all continuationists believe that at least the gift of the apostle has ceased. I disagree with that caricature; I believe the office of Apostle has ceased. There were other apostles in the New Testament, apparently, they were gifted, and that type of apostle is still around. Obviously, no one else fits the requirement of an Apostle and thus no one should hold the office of an Apostle but that does not, therefore, mean that there are none with the grace gift of an apostle.
As we saw above, MacArthur has tried to show that the rule of apostle has ceased and so then that means that the gifts have ceased. MacArthur does not, however, succeed at what he set out to accomplish. After all, Stephan, for example, was not an Apostle and yet he performed great signs and wonders (Acts 6:8 and perhaps Timothy cf. 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6; 1 Thess 5:19-23; cf. Acts 8:6–7; 9:17–19; 10:44–46; 11:27-30; 19:6–7; 21:9-11). So even if there are no more Apostles that does not mean that there are not still miraculous gifts. However, I do believe there are still apostles (I am not referring to the capital “A” Apostles here, I do believe they have ceased. No one today can meet their qualifications).
But, the role of apostle still continues. Ephesians tells us that Jesus “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:11-13). We have these five types of leaders (i.e. apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers) for how long? Paul says, essentially, until perfection (this sounds similar to 1 Cor 13:10), until “the fullness of Christ.” Further, there is no reason to think that we get to keep three of the five types of leaders and lose two (i.e. the apostles and prophets).
When we take these verses into consideration, there is no reason to think that just because the Apostles were the foundation of the church (Eph 2:20) that that means that there are no longer those today that can at times, according to the will of God, perform miraculous signs. Regarding Ephesians 4, Markus Barth rightly points out that it “does not contain the faintest hint that the charismatic character of all church ministries was restricted to a certain history and was later to die out.” In fact, he says, “Ephesians distinctly presupposes that living apostles and prophets are essential to the church’s life.”
The ministry of a prophet does not contradict or add to Scripture but if truly from God is infallible. This is very controversial but it seems to be the correct conclusion when we unbiasedly consider the biblical evidence. It is helpful here to consider what Sam Storms has said, “If noncanonical revelation was not a threat to the ultimate authority of Scripture in its emerging from, neither should it pose a threat to Scripture in its final form.” Many, however, do not buy that.
For example, John MacArthur says, “extrabiblical revelation always leads to error!” Then he proceeds to look at cults and mentions the Book of Mormon as an example. It is true that there are many false claims to revelation but that in itself does not mean that there is not still revelation. If we truly believe in solo Scriptura we need to show where the Bible says there is no longer revelation.
Schreiner, in his helpful book Spiritual Gifts, argues that prophecy no longer continues because the prophecy in the New Testament was infallible and what is happening now is not infallible. He never demonstrates, however, that all of what is called “prophecy” today is not at least in some cases from God and thus infallible. Further, this is not an argument grounded in Scripture. Instead, Schreiner is simply making an assertion about all modern claims to prophecy. That, we should see, is a big sweeping claim.
I believe Schreiner actually helps the case for the continuance of prophecy because he makes a strong argument that not all prophecy is inscripturated. That is a big part of what I believe regarding prophecy. I believe infallible prophecy continues today but just like in the Old and New Testaments, not all infallible prophecy is included within the canon.
Schreiner shows that New Testament prophecy does not differ from Old Testament prophecy. He says,
New Testament prophets spoke authoritatively and with complete truth to the situations in their churches. The fact that most prophecies weren’t written down and preserved is completely irrelevant as far as the truth of the prophecies is concerned. It is a category mistake to think that if prophecies are without error, then they must be written down and included in the Scriptures. And it doesn’t logically follow that prophecies must contain errors if they aren’t preserved and written down. God spoke authoritatively and truly through the prophets, even if their prophecies weren’t recorded and preserved. They spoke the infallible word of God to their contemporaries, who needed to hear these true and authoritative words of God.
Further, in chapter 7, Schreiner makes a convincing case for infallible prophecy. He argues that “the idea that New Testament prophecies are mixed with error is mistaken.”
I believe that what the prophets of today share is similar to what Agabus shared. Of course, some claim that Agabus’ prophecy in Acts 11 was wrong. They, however, are mistaken. Ferguson concludes, “Paul’s testimony assumes its accuracy. We have no reason to believe that Agabus’ prophecy failed. Luke gives no indication that Paul thought it had done so.”
Prophecy is never produced by human will; instead, the person with the prophecy speaks what God gives them to say by the Spirit (2 Pet 1:20-21). Thus, prophecy is infallible because prophecy gives the words of God and God always speaks the truth (Titus. 1:2; John 17:3,17; Heb 6:18; Prov 30:5). Of course, we can misunderstand or disobey but God’s words are always without error.
So we see prophecy in the New Testament was both accurate and highly significant for the actions of the church but it was not on par with Scripture in the sense that it was not to be inscripturated. It is not the type of revelation to be inscripturated. It is not didactic revelatory teaching but pertains to the local body or a local situation. As in disclosing someone’s heart (as in the Spurgeon’s real-life example) and that encourages the local body because they see the Lord at work. It is not something that would add to the canon.
The Gifts Must Function in Accordance with Scripture
When the gifts of the Spirit are carried out and employed within the parameters of Scripture then a lot of the concerns that cessationists have should be able to be set aside. So, first, let us consider some of the parameters that Scripture puts in place for us. The gifts must function in a way that serves others (1 Pet 4:10-11), edifies (1 Cor 14:3, 12), is clear and ordered, not confusing or chaotic (14:23, 29, 33, 40), is loving (1 Cor. 13), and exalts Christ (Eph 3:21; 1 Cor 12:3).
Scripture further says that tongues must be interpreted if they are shared in the gathering (1 Cor 14:27-28), prophecy must be weighed (v. 29 cf. 1 John 4:1; John 7:24), only two or at most three prophecies or tongues can be shared at a public gathering (1 Cor 14:27-29), and all things should be carried out in an orderly way (vv. 30-33, 40) for the express and emphatic purpose of building up the body of Christ (e.g. v. 12). Paul says, “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation” (v. 26). Why? “For building up” (v. 26). Thus, Paul tells us to “earnestly desire” (12:31; 14:1, 39) the Spirit-empowered gifts and “strive to excel in building up the church” (14:12).
Second, let’s ensure we have a biblical understanding regarding the more controversial issues related to the gifts of the Spirit. I created an acronym to help us consider this subject more effectively. The acronym is G.I.F.T.S. Here is a summary of the acronym:
- God continues to give gifts to build up the church.
- Individuals with the gift of prophecy do not contradict or add to Scripture but if what they share is truly from God then it is infallible.
- Fallible apostles still exist and are gifted men of God but the office of Apostle does not continue.
- Tongues are used in two overlapping ways in Scripture and should be pursued and practiced as outlined in the Bible.
- Scripture is to always be obeyed as the final authority.
We will now look at each of those bullet points in order.