Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., recently spoke on the gift of tongues as described in the New Testament as part of his "Acts: Empowered for Jesus' Mission" sermon series. The conservative Reformed, or New Calvinist, Christian minister laid out his arguments as to why he believes the gift of speaking in tongues did not end with Jesus' apostles in the first century.
Cessationists, such as influential pastor and traditional Calvinist John MacArthur, believe that 1 Corinthians 13:8 and other Biblical passages indicate that the divine ability to speak in other languages or an unknown tongue (glossolalia) ended with the apostles' deaths, as did prophetic revelations and faith-healings through individuals. Some Christians, however, believe that these Holy Spirit-inspired gifts will continue until Christ's return.
In the sermon excerpt shared online this week by Mars Hill Church, Pastor Driscoll tackles three "common questions about the gift of tongues," listed as: "Can every Christian have the gift of tongues? Does Mars Hill Church believe that the gift of tongues is for today? And what happens when the private use of tongues goes public?"
Before diving into his responses, Driscoll insisted that the only way to know who may be "right" or "wrong" about speaking in tongues was by studying the Scriptures — and "not by taking our experience and making it normative."
Although the key text for the full sermon, titled "Empowered by the Spirit to Follow Jesus," was the account of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-13, the megachurch pastor and bestselling author looked to 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 to help frame his responses.
Driscoll relayed a part of the passage: "'For to one is given through the Spirit . . . various kinds of tongues' — or languages, heavenly or earthly — 'to another, the interpretation of tongues' — the ability to articulate in the other language what has been said in the foreign language. 'All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.'"
In regard to whether Mars Hill Church believes that the gift of tongues is an ongoing occurrence, Driscoll stated his agreement with cessationism, while also asking the congregation to consider life in heaven.
"When we get to heaven, the gift of evangelism is not going to be as needed as it is now. You're like, 'I'm going to go out and find the lost people.' There aren't any. This is the kingdom of God. Everybody here already loves Jesus. ... So, evangelism comes to an end," he said, according to the sermon transcript.
He noted 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, which reads: "Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known."
"So, we agree with the Cessationists that yes, certain gifts, at least, they're going to cease. They're going to cease," added Driscoll. "Where we disagree with the Cessationists and we agree with the Continuationists is when they cease. We believe that all of the gifts continue until one very important transitionary moment in the history of the world."
He continued, "So, when do these gifts cease? When? When Jesus comes back, when we see him face to face. So the Cessationists are right: certain gifts will come to an end. But the Cessationists are wrong: the end has not yet come. And the Continuationists are right: all the gifts continue until we see him face to face, until Jesus comes again."
The full sermon, third so far in Driscoll's 10-part series, "Acts: Empowered for Jesus' Mission," is available on Mars Hill Church's website. Driscoll, 42, preached "Empowered by the Spirit to Follow Jesus" on June 9, 2013, at the megachurch's Bellevue, Wash., location.
Watch Pastor Mark Driscoll answers common questions about the gift of tongues:
Some Cessationists, such as Pastor John MacArthur, whose The Master's Seminary shares the same campus as his Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., agree with Driscoll's suggestion that the "perfect" referenced in 1 Corinthians 13:10 speaks of a future eternal state, a period precipitated by Christ's earthly return. However, the evangelical Christian minister points to other passages he believes serve as strong evidence that "tongues ceased in the apostolic age." Cessationists also argue that the completion of the New Testament writings made the continuation of charismatic spiritual gifts unnecessary. Christians in general, though, believe that the Bible teaches that other spiritual gifts, such as teaching, exhortation, discernment and others, are always present to believers.
"Miracle gifts like tongues and healing are mentioned only in 1 Corinthians, an early epistle. Two later epistles, Ephesians and Romans, both discuss gifts of the Spirit at length — but no mention is made of the miraculous gifts," explains an adaptation of MacArthur's 1992 book Charismatic Chaos, published on the theologian's Grace to You (GTY) ministry website. "By that time miracles were already looked on as something in the past (Heb. 2:3-4). Apostolic authority and the apostolic message needed no further confirmation. Before the first century ended, the entire New Testament had been written and was circulating through the churches."
He adds, "The revelatory gifts had ceased to serve any purpose. And when the apostolic age ended with the death of the Apostle John, the signs that identified the apostles had already become moot (cf. 2 Cor. 12:12)."
Listing further Biblical evidence, the GTY.org writing suggests that "tongues were intended as a sign to unbelieving Israel (1 Cor. 14:21-22; cf. Is. 28:11-12). They signified that God had begun a new work that encompassed the Gentiles. The Lord would now speak to all nations in all languages. The barriers were down. And so the gift of languages symbolized not only the curse of God on a disobedient nation, but also the blessing of God on the whole world."
The final Scriptural support given identifies the gift of tongues as "inferior to other gifts" and something that was "given primarily as a sign (1 Cor. 14:22) and was also easily misused to edify self (1 Cor. 14:4)."
"The church meets for the edification of the body, not self-gratification or personal experience-seeking. Therefore, tongues had limited usefulness in the church, and so it was never intended to be a permanent gift," concludes the GTY.org resource titled "The Gift of Tongues." MacArthur, who will tackle the issue in his upcoming Strange Fire conference, reiterates that view in a recent excerpt of his commentary on 1 Corinthians, in which he calls the gift of tongues "(t)he most controversial spiritual gift in our day."