The Reformers placed tremendous stress on the gifts of the Spirit to the whole body of Christ. John Calvin himself has rightly been described as “the theologian of the Holy Spirit” (B.B. Warfield). Yet Reformed Christians always have been given a “bad press” for their views on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Our conviction is that God purposefully gave some gifts (specifically the ability to work miracles, the gift of revelatory prophecy, and speaking in tongues) only for a limited period. We have solid biblical reasons for believing this:
1. A temporary manifestation of these gifts is characteristic of God’s pattern of working. Contrary to popular opinion, such gifts as these were given spasmodically in biblical history. Their occurrence is generally contained within a handful of time periods lasting around a generation each.
2. The function of these gifts, namely to convey and to confirm revelation (now ceased until Christ’s return), is underlined in the New Testament itself (Acts 2:22; 14:3; cf. 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3–4).
3. The history of the New Testament suggests that by the close of the apostolic age the role of these gifts was being superseded by the completion of the New Testament. Thus, there is no reference to their presence—or, more significantly, their future regulation—in the Pastoral Letters.
More could be said here in terms of biblical Christology, for the outpouring of the gifts of tongues, prophecy, and miracles at Pentecost was specifically intended to mark the coronation of Christ. It was, therefore, inherently intended to be a non-permanent feature of the life of the church. But in this context, it probably is more important to emphasize another, often-ignored facet of Reformed teaching. It is well-expressed in some words of the great Puritan John Owen:
Although all these gifts and operations ceased in some respect, some of them absolutely, and some of them as to the immediate manner of communication and degree of excellency; yet so far as the edification of the church was concerned in them, something that is analogous unto them was and is continued. (Works, Vol. IV, p. 475)
What does this mean? Simply this: It is the same Spirit who gives both temporary and continuing gifts to the church. We should not be surprised, therefore, to discover common threads in both.
Perhaps the most important common thread is the Spirit’s ministry in illumination—He enlightens our minds to enable us to know, see, grasp, and apply the will and purposes of God. There was an immediacy to illumination in the temporary gifts. The Spirit taught the apostles “all things” (John 14:26) and led them into “all truth” (John 16:13). Now, however, He continues this work in us through the Scriptures He enabled the apostles to write for us. Indeed, during the Farewell Discourse (John 14–16), our Lord made it clear to the apostles that this would be one of the central ministries of the Spirit in their lives: He would remind them of what Jesus had said (the Gospels), lead them into the truth (the epistles), and show them the things to come (e.g. Revelation).