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When the subject of gifts, or the manifestations of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:7), or signs, or miracles comes up, conversations tend to polarize. Some insist that such things only happened in the early days of the church for the purpose of authenticating the foundational ministry of the apostles and those who gave us the Scriptures. On the other end of the spectrum are those who insist that all such things are for the church today and tend to argue for certain gifts (think, in particular, tongues) are for everyone and that if one is not exercising certain specific gifts or participating in a particular manifestation of the Spirit that one’s Christian life is sub-standard.

There does seem to be a growing group of followers of Jesus who are seeking to settle into theological ground somewhere between these two polarizing camps. Longing for the reality of the Spirit’s presence and power while not insisting on particular manifestations as the only proof. Anticipating that Jesus’ intention has always been for his followers to join him in his own ministry, regardless of how far (in time or geography) they might be separated from him.

Among those who resist the idea that gifts, and sign, and wonders, and the miraculous could or should or might be part of the heritage of the followers of Jesus in our day and age, a common argument raised is that these things only happen “at the hands of the apostles” (picking up the language of Acts 5:12). They seek to make the case that there is a whole category of manifestations of the Spirit–seen in the life of Jesus–that was intended only for the apostles. And, when the original twelve passed off the scene, so did such manifestations. In other words, such things did happen at one time, but they are not for everyone . . . for all who follow Jesus. But is that really what the Scriptures picture?

It is true that the apostles were personally commissioned by Jesus and had direct “marching orders” from him. But if we give attention to the Biblical evidence, it seems hard to come to the conclusion that the gifted ministry we are thinking about was restricted to the twelve alone.

The twelve were sent out to heal and cast out demons, backing up the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom with a demonstration, through the Spirit’s power, of the reality of that present kingdom (Mark 6:7-13). But then notice . . .

The seventy were sent out to heal and cast out demons, backing up the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom with similar manifestations of the Spirit’s presence and power (Luke 10:1-17). Stephen and Philip–who apparently were not part of either the seventy or the twelve–carried out ministry that included healing the sick and casting our demons, backing up the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom with similar manifestations of the Spirit’s presence and power (Acts 6:8; 8:5-8). Paul, along with Barnabas, neither of whom were counted among the twelve or the seventy, participated in ministry that included things like healing and deliverance, backing up the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom with signs and wonders (Acts 13:46-14:3).

It seems clear from what Paul wrote to them that within the community of faith in Corinth there were experiences similar to the manifestations of the Spirit seen in the apostles–healing and signs and miracles and prophecy (1 Corinthians 12-14). Paul acknowledges the presence of miracles among the churches in Galatia (Galatians 3:5). Neither the community in Corinth nor the churches of Galatia were made up solely of those who would have been numbered among the apostles (or the seventy).

It would seem that the kinds of the things that were seen in Jesus’ own ministry were replicated, by the Spirit, in the life of the believing community. Not every individually doing all the same things, but the same kinds of things happening in and through the lives of those who were part of the community of faith. Healing and deliverance, signs and wonders, manifestations of the Spirit similar to Jesus’ own ministry, were evident in an indiscriminate way in the lives of the believing–not just at the hands of the apostles.

Jesus’ own words clarify what we see as we survey the life of the believing community pictured in the New Testament. He told his followers that “signs would follow” those who believe (Mark 16:15-18). And Mark tells us that Jesus was good to his word, noting that “the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed” (16:20).

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One Comment

  1. “And lo, I am with you, even unto the end of the age”………….for what purpose is He with us, except to confirm His Word just as He said He would…………………Could we be missing something in the modern church ? I think so..


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