There is a modern resurgence among evangelical, gospel-preaching, gospel-believing people about the gifts of the Spirit, particularly what have generally been called the “sign gifts” (for example, tongues, prophecy, knowledge, or healings).
There is a lot of misunderstanding and mischaracterization by both sides of the others. So I am going to take a few posts to outline some thoughts on this topic. As always, feel free to interact, correct, clarify, or question.
In this post, I will explain the key terms:
Spiritual Gifts – Spiritual gifts are talents or abilities, whether supernaturally or natural, that are used for the building of the body of Christ. There are four gift lists in the New Testament (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10; 1 Corinthians 12:28-30; Ephesians 4:11). They are sometimes divided into the categories of sign gifts and service gifts, or the categories of sign gifts, service gifts, and speaking gifts. The New Testament lists are almost certainly representative lists rather than comprehensive lists, since they differ from one another.
Cessationist – A cessationist is one believes that the sign gifts of the Spirit have ceased. These sign gifts served a unique role in the first century as a confirmation both of apostolic authority and of the apostolic message prior to the close of the canon. Since the Bible is complete, we no longer need a sign gift in order to know what the message of God is. We can simply read the Bible, which has God’s completed message. It is important to note that cessationists do not believe that spiritual gifts have ceased, as some have charged. Cessationism deals only with the sign gifts.
Continuationist – A continuationist is someone who believes that the sign gifts of the Spirit continue. The Spirit still works through gifts such as prophecy, knowledge, tongues, and healings in various ways. Bob Kauflin ,worship leader at Covenant Life Church and author of Worship Matters, defines his continuationism this way: “I believe that all the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament have continued to the present day and [I] don’t limit the Spirit’s work to specific gifts” (Worship Matters, p. 86).
Charismatic – From the Greek word for spiritual gifts, a “charismatic” is a continuationist. Some, such as Bob Kauflin, prefer the term “continuationist” because “the term charismatic has sometimes been associated with doctrinal error, unsubstantiated claims of healing, financial impropriety, outlandish and unfulfilled predictions, an overemphasis on the speech gifts, and some regrettable hairstyles” (Worship Matters, p. 86). This is probably the reason that Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, describes himself as a “charismatic with a seat belt.” He, Kauflin, and others like them desire to separate themselves from the likes of Benny Hinn, Paul and Jan Crouch, and the folks like them.
Open but Cautious – This is a growing group of people “who believe that sign gifts such as allows for the possibility of miraculous gifts continuing throughout the entire church age but remains skeptical of contemporary charismatic practice.” They typically believe that the sign gifts no longer function as they did during the NT era, but God can, as he desires, perform similar miracles.
Continuationists and charismatics are most commonly associated with Pentecostal denominations (and televangelists, probably), but there are continuationists in virtually every denomination and group.
What should be noted up front is that there is a difference between someone like Bob Kauflin and Benny Hinn. They are both “charismatic” or “continuationist” but they believe very different things about the issue.
The idea that there is no difference between charismatics is simply incorrect, and should be abandoned. They are not equally wrong, and they are not equally dangerous to the church.
Nathan Busenitz, “Now That’s the Spirit: Assessing and Addressing Evangelical Charismatics,” (unpublished paper from The Shepherds Conference, 2008), p. 3; see also accompanying audio presentation: http://www.shepherdsfellowship.org/media/details/?mediaID=303)