Alan Cross blogs at Downshore Drift and is a fantastic nomination speech-giver!
I believe that God continues to work through His Spirit in the church via miraculous gifts and through His power. This belief is called “continuationism.” Cessationism is the belief that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit ceased with the completion of the canon of Scripture in the New Testament, or at the end of the first century when the last of the original apostles died.
This is a big argument and I will not be able to cover it all here. A discussion arose last week on SBCVoices.com that made a case both for Continuationismand for Cessationism. I will add a few thoughts here, but this will not be comprehensive. For a fuller treatment, you can read my four part series on the Holy Spirit that I wrote years ago. (at the bottom of the page linked – other posts on this issue are also included).
I am going to make a relatively simple argument in the hope that through simplicity, we can cut through the “War of the Verses” that often arises when Christians debate theology. In other words, each side of an argument can level a hundred Scripture passages at the other side and perhaps overwhelm the argument with the sheer number of verses that they use to buttress their view. It is not always a bad approach and I have done it many times myself. But, for this argument, with verses aplenty for both side, I hope to step back a bit and look at the bigger picture. And, being the good Biblicist that I am, I will, of course use verses as well.
1 Corinthians 1:4-8 says,
“ I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— 6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This passage tells us that grace (charis) is given us in Christ Jesus. Jesus is the source of grace and it is not from anything that we do, but it is the gift of God. In Christ, we are enriched in every way. We are built up and strengthened in Christ for His glory. This is what grace does. We are enriched in speaking and in knowledge. It is interesting that both of these things (speaking/utterances/word/logos as well as knowledge/gnosis) are mentioned later on in 1 Corinthians 12-14 in the section on spiritual gifts – so speaking and knowledge are part of what it means to be enriched in Christ. This enrichment/strengthening in all speaking and knowledge is part of what confirms Paul’s testimony about Christ in them. It is essential.
Because of this, they do not lack any spiritual gifts (charism) or grace gifts. These gifts are manifestations of grace given in Christ Jesus. They are not separate from Christ, but flow from knowing Jesus and speaking of Him (witness). They attend those who believe the gospel and who are indwelt by the Spirit of Christ. This is confirmed by the statement that the Corinthian believers do not lack any spiritual gifts as they eagerly wait for Jesus Christ to be revealed. In other words, while they are waiting for Jesus to return and as they know Him now, they are enriched by grace that comes from Jesus and by manifestations of that grace that are exhibited in spiritual gifts – every spiritual gift. In verse 8, we see that Jesus will keep them strong to the end so that they will be blameless when Christ returns.
This passage connects all of the spiritual gifts (one can only think that Paul’s treatment of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14 are what is in view here) with the grace of Christ and His strengthening of the church until the end of the age. The gifts have a purpose, which is to manifest the grace that we experience when we come to know Christ. Since there is no passage that says that the gifts will cease before Christ, the perfect, comes, then we can judge from this that Jesus gives us His gifts by grace so that we will be strong and holy as we wait in hope for Him to return (1 Corinthians 12:4-7 for example – given for the strengthening of the church. See also 1 Corinthians 14:26).
But, to go further, let’s look at the very nature of the Christian life itself. In a passage familiar to Evangelical Chrisitans, Acts 1:4-8 says,
4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
They will be baptized with the Holy Spirit and will receive power to be witnesses to Jesus all over the world. This is how the Kingdom (reign and rule of God) will come in part during the church age. Peter says that this promise was for all that the Lord would call in every generation (Acts 2:39) and he tied the manifestation of the Spirit through dreams and visions and the outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh to the beginning of the Last Days that were ushered in through the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:17-21). The entire message on Pentecost was a response to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Observers have made the speaking in tongues on the day of Pentecost into the focus, when the focus should really be on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with accompanying signs of power and the preaching of the gospel leading to faith and repentance. My point here is to say that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh – all that the Lord God may call is such that the power of the Holy Spirit has come upon believers to be witnesses to Jesus all over the world.
I think that we can tie 1 Corinthians 1:4-8 back to Acts 1:4-8 and Peter’s message in Acts 2 as a response to Pentecost. The gifts of the Holy Spirit that we are given are grace gifts that are given in Jesus and are intended for the strengthening of the church in grace so that the Gospel of the Kingdom will go to the ends of the earth until the time of Jesus’ return. The miraculous gifts were not given to just authenticate the canon of Scripture as it was being written, but to authenticate the message of the gospel wherever it goes to the ends of the earth (still has not happened yet) and to strengthen the church until Jesus’ return (still has not happened yet). Jesus has ascended into Heaven, but He has left us the Comforter who takes from what belongs to Jesus and makes it known to us (John 16:5-16). The Bible speaks of miracles and healings and words of instruction and prophecy and direction and other manifestations of God’s power. This is what Jesus did in His earthly ministry and He said that we would do greater things than He has done because we are in Him and the Holy Spirit has come (John 14:5-27). The Church is the Body of Christ that lives in relationship with Jesus and represents Him to a lost world. He is still working.
Now, I do not believe that we will see constant intensity of the gifts of the Spirit at all times during the Church Age. God works as He wills. We do not see all people saved or all evil eradicated or perfect obedience to the Lord, even among His own children. We know and see in part. The Kingdom is now, but not yet. We are to walk by faith and this means that not all prayers are answered the way that we like, nor are we able to use gifts according to our own will or desire. The gifts are used for the strengthening of the church and God’s power is granted so that we can witness to the world about Jesus. Sometimes, our strengthening is found in perseverance and suffering without seeing or experiencing a direct manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the way that we would like. Sometimes our greatest witness is in suffering with faith and experiencing God at work in ways that make no sense to those clamoring for signs and wonders. But, the fact that God works in different ways in different times and places is not an argument that the manifestations of grace through the gifts of the Spirit have been entirely withdrawn after the death of the Apostles during the Church Age. It just means that God is the giver of the gifts and that we are only humble recipients.
Yes, I used verses to make my argument, as anyone making a theological case should. But, what I hope to show is that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not some kind of strange add on to the Christian life as an optional doctrine, but are actually part and parcel of knowing Christ, experiencing His grace, and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit and being a witness for Christ to the ends of the earth until His return. The gifts of the Spirit are in part, at least, how Jesus strengthens His church and empowers us for witness. We do not understand them all, nor can we control them, but to eliminate them from view is to go too far and to actually shut out a way that Jesus wants to pour out His grace upon His people. Perhaps one of the reasons that we struggle so much in church health and evangelism is because we have neglected or pushed to the fringes of the Christian life the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and the manifestations of grace given by Jesus through spiritual gifts?