Pirate Christian Media’s Chris Rosebrough has produced a seminar teaching on what he calls sign gifts.
In it he asserts that sign gifts authenticated the major writers of scripture. He qualifies these writers as ‘big block’ writers; in other words, writers who wrote large portions of scripture. Apparently the small bock writers didn’t have to be authenticated. Rosebrough doesn’t qualify at which point a block becomes small or big.
According to Rosebrough, signs and wonders were given by God to those who were used to author large portions of scripture. He sets out a number of theories to press home this point.
What, then, are ‘sign gifts’ according to the cessationist polemicists? JD Hall defines them as apostolic gifts. By this, he means gifts that demonstrate that a person is called to be an Apostle, and that there would be accompanying signs and wonders.
Hall, and Rosebrough in similar fashion, confuses the issue by including gifts of healings, prophecy and tongues in the gifts given to Apostles alone, which doesn’t actually compute with scripture, because the manifestations of the Spirit were not confined to Apostles alone, but to any member of the Church as determined by the Holy Spirit for the edification, comfort, and encouragement of the whole.
Others besides the Apostles appointed to signs
Also, signs accompanied other disciples, not just the Apostles of Christ. For instance, Jesus sent out an additional seventy, after He had sent out the Twelve, who likewise had the power to heal the sick. This is surely what the cessationists refer to as ‘sign gifts’, and they are clearly not exclusive to Apostles, or writers of ‘big blocks’ of scripture.
Luke 10:1-9 After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go.
Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you.
“And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
The additional seventy were appointed and sent out as evangelists with a message and with signs following the message. The sign gifts were not to authenticate the messenger so much as the message. We do not know the names of the seventy. They are not recorded. Neither are they exhibited in scripture as being authors of scripture. They were sent out as messengers of the gospel of Christ. Healing accompanied the preached Word. He gave the same instructions to disciples, meaning all believers.
Mark 16:15-20 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.
Confirming the Word through accompanying signs. So there you have it. The signs accompany the Word as it is preached by believers. He doesn’t mention Apostles only, but believers. “These signs shall follow those who believe.” The question is, then, do you believe?
Then, of course, there is the Evangelist Philip, a deacon in the church at Jerusalem until the church was scattered by persecution, who saw mighty miracles under his ministry, but was never recognised as an Apostle, or as an author of scripture, but as a messenger of the gospel with signs following, confirming what Jesus said in Mark 16.
Acts 8:4-8 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city.
This recorded by Luke, who was not an Apostle, nor are there any signs attributed to him in scripture, yet he is clearly a writer of scripture. What Luke records is Philip’s extraordinary ministry which touched multitudes with the gospel and sign gifts following the preached Word.
Right or wrong doctrine?
Rosebrough, however, has a different view of sign gifts and their meaning. As you read through the following four theories (for they could not be considered theology), you will grasp that Rosebrough is employing the same thesis to his understanding of what he calls sign gifts as that of JD Hall, mentioned above. Like Hall, he says sign gifts confirm the work of the Apostles only, but takes it even further, by saying sign gifts confirmed the authenticity of the writers of scripture only.
Why is this doctrinally important? Because if sign gifts only confirmed the authenticity of the writers of scripture, then they cannot be said to work or operate through anyone else but the writers of scripture.
He starts off by proposing the function of sign miracles, and who were they for. His assertion is that they were for Apostles and Prophets, and that the sign gifts verified or authenticated those who wrote the Testaments. The authoring Apostles, he claims, are of the New Testament, and the authoring Prophets of the Old.
He also, along the way, downplays miracles. Thus, he’s already missed the point of the gifts of the Spirit, which actually include, as one of the nine manifestations of the Spirit, the gift of working of miracles, which is not, as I’ve said, only for prophets or apostles, but for believers as the Spirit wills.
So the manifestations of the Spirit were never exclusively to authenticate the Apostles. There is the mention of the signs of the Apostle, but this is not referring to the gifts and manifestations of 1 Corinthians 12. These manifestations were to demonstrate the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. They accompany the message, not just the messenger.
Rosebrough claims that Moses is the first signs and wonders person in Old Testament, and that the only signs gifts in the New Testament were by Jesus and the acts of the Apostles. He sets these up as the authors of scripture, with the signs authenticating their call as authors. But this could not apply to the gifts of the Spirit, for reasons already pointed out.
A simple reading of scripture tells you immediately that this is incorrect. The Holy Spirit’s manifestations are given to each one for the profit of all.
1 Corinthians 12:4-11 There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.
The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all. He is the same God who works all in all. This is clearly not merely addressing Apostles. This is referring to every member of the Body of Christ as the Spirit wills in a certain situation. They are not our gifts or manifestations, but His to distribute at His own pleasure.
Are there sign gifts?
Could these be called sign gifts? Of course, although the actual terminology doesn’t occur in scripture, we can safely assume that they are gifts and that they are signs. The word for signs is semeion, which is basically an indication or a showing forth, either ceremonially or supernaturally. It can also be considered a miracle, or a token, or a wonder, or a sign.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:1 that he would not have us ignorant of spirituals, or what Vines calls ‘spiritualities’, being, in Greek, pneumatikos, meaning spiritual things, or supernatural things, and then goes on to point out what these ‘spirituals’ are.
The ‘spiritualities’ mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 are actually called manifestations, the Greek being phanerosis, meaning an expression, or a bestowment, from phaneroō, which means to make manifest, or appear, or to show one’s self. This makes the manifestations of the Spirit a demonstration of His presence and power in the Church. He reveals Himself through the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit.
There is no indication that this has ended for either the Holy Spirit or the Church.
However, in addressing the sign gifts and presenting his case, Rosebrough promotes four theories in which he claims that the sign gifts were for a specific time and purpose to authenticate the writers of scripture. I say theories because they could not be considered theology. A theory is defined as ‘a supposition or system of ideas intended to explain something.’
Theory 1: In an attempt to demonstrate his hypothesis that the sign gifts authenticated the writers of the Old and New Testaments, Rosebrough claims of Old Testament Prophets and New Testament Apostles that there were ‘big block’ authors of scripture. Here’s what he says:
In each of these groups you have big block authors of scriptures.
His point? That miracles accompany the coming of scripture, but only, apparently, for ‘big block’ writers. This is a theory, not a theology.
What, then, constitutes a ‘big block’ of scripture, and at what point does a small block become a big block? Is Isaiah big block or small block? His ‘block’ would seem to be somewhat larger than, say, Peter’s block. Is Rosebrough saying that the scripture in the minor prophets writings are less significant than in Moses? Is scripture now categorised in levels of significance?
Scripture is scripture. It is its own authentication. It needs no miraculous verification. In fact, scripture declares the miracle working God, but the miracles are not evidence of the writer’s authenticity, rather that God performs supernatural acts and often works through His people.
Theory 2: Continuing on the theme, Rosebrough says:
God affirms the writers of scripture with signs and wonders.
He then talks about prophets like Elijah and Elisha. But, again, God doesn’t affirm Elijah or Elisha as writers of scripture through miracles, but rather uses them as vessels to demonstrate His miracle working power.
They are the instruments through whom he manifests Himself, having called them as prophets under the Old Testament. There was and is no reason to confirm a writer’s authenticity through miraculous works. Their call is authentication enough.
The evidence of their call as prophets was the accuracy of their pronouncements and the signs that accompanied their call. It was nothing to do with anything they wrote. They were spokespersons fro God in an era when He only filled particular people with His Spirit as His messengers.
God affirms His Word with signs and wonders, not His messengers of the Word. We have already seen from Scripture that the Holy Spirit confirms the Word preached with signs following.
Theory 3: Introducing a notion that is not born out in scripture, but is a fanciful idea:
How do we know that the majority of the New Testament was from Paul? He performed wonders. He performed signs.
Well, Peter performed signs and wonders, but only wrote two small epistles. He was certainly not a ‘big block’ writer. If that were the criteria for writing scripture, we would have evidence that Luke was an Apostle and that there were signs and wonders following his ministry. However, there is no proof of this anywhere in scripture. Luke wrote both a gospel and the Book of Acts. He recorded events as he heard and saw them.
He wrote scripture, but, again, the scripture is its own authentication. There was no need to authenticate Luke in person. The scripture has its own weight of authenticity. As with Paul’s writings. The weight of scripture is sufficient. There was not reason to prove the weight of scripture by a demonstration of signs and wonders in the writer.
Theory 4: Taking the previous theories to a false conclusion Rosebrough adds:
Is it necessary that we have signs and wonders in evangelism? The answer’s yes and no. Not that I perform them, but that I point people to the living, active Word of God, where the signs that support the doctrine in scripture are recorded for us, and for the sake of those who are investigating these things. We don’t need signs and wonders today. We have them already in scripture. And it’s consistent throughout that major blocks of authors of scripture had signs and wonders – the sign gifts – for the purpose of confirming that they were sent by God.
So do we need them today? No. What we have is sufficient.
The ultimate sign, then, is the pinnacle miracle of all scripture; one that nobody, nobody, I mean, nobody could mimic by using trickery and magic, and that’s the resurrection of Christ.
Well, no. If the resurrection of Christ were the only sufficiency there would have been no need of signs or gifts or manifestations in the lifetime of the Apostles either, since the resurrection prefaced the writing of scripture.
In fact, the resurrection is evidenced by the continued work of Christ through His disciples. The evidence that He is risen is that the Father sent the Holy Spirit to be with, in and upon those who believe, continuing His works through the Spirit. Jesus promised that One just like Him, being the Holy Spirit, would indwell and work alongside those who believe. The Holy Spirit with us is evidence of the risen Christ.
Scripture points us to the cross and resurrection, and leads us to redemption, but there are also endowments in Scripture that apply to the Church, including the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, who is at work with the Church to bring about change and equip and empower the Body of Christ for the work of the ministry.
Ephesians 2:10 We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
The resurrection is, indeed, a supernatural event. But it is not the end of miracles, or signs, or wonders. We know this because the Book or Revelation is filled with wonders yet to take place, and the Book of Acts, which postscript the resurrection, is filled with evidence of the continued work of Christ through, not just the Apostles, but also through disciples such as the previously mentioned Philip.
Scripture speaks of signs in the Church post resurrection
In Rosebrough’s world, the only signs and wonders he needs to present before his congregation are those displayed in scripture. Why would that have not also been the case for the writers of the New Testament, when they had the evidence of the supernatural works of God in the Old? No. The New Testament is a better covenant based on better promises. Jesus said the same signs would follow believers because He would send the same Holy Spirit to all believers.
Scripture doesn’t only give testament to God’s miracle working power in the past, it also speaks of it in the present and future. It doesn’t end when the canon is complete. The canon testifies of its continuation.
Saying that the scriptural accounts stand as evidence of miracles and that they have ended for anyone outside of the age of the original Apostles is a cop-out. It is an excuse for denying the continued power of God to authenticate His own presence by the sign gifts of 1 Corinthians 12. There is no reason to remove the manifestations of the Spirit from the Body of Christ.
Yes, we have scripture, and the canon is complete, and the Word is sufficient. But when we look at the sufficiency of scripture, we have to include those passages that speak out loud of the current work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. This has not ended. There is nothing in scripture that terminates the nature, character, power and grace of the Holy Spirit.
The gifts are His, therefore they remain as long as He remains in the Church.