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Cessation of Gifts in the Church?

Cessation of the Gifts of the Spirit in the Church:

Why this doctrine lacks biblical warrant

by Jefferis Kent Peterson, I

Critical Issues of the Scholar's Corner - a look at an issue which divides the Church

Index

Preface: The Manifestations of the Gifts Do Not Prove Our Christian Justification nor Do They Give Evidence of Our Holiness and Sanctification.

Understanding Arguments In Favor of Cessation and Biblical Passages Used to Bolster the Cause.

What are the Gifts? The Holy Spirit Doing His Works in the Congregation.

Counsel and Advice: How then Should the Gifts Be Used?

Conclusion

Definitions

Cessation: The Belief that the Gifts of the Spirit described in the NT have ceased to be part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Church Today.

Common Justification for this belief: Once the Scriptures were written and the Church started by the Apostles, there was no longer any need of miracles or confirming works of the Spirit.


Preface: The Manifestations of the Gifts Do Not Prove Our Christian Justification nor Do They Give Evidence of Our Holiness and Sanctification.

A false doctrine arose in Pentecostal circles claiming that unless one manifested a certain or particular gift of the Spirit [usually speaking in languages, commonly called "tongues"], he or she was not a full or true Christian. Pentecostalism began in 1906 with the renewing and powerful experience of the Presence of God during the Azusa Street Revival. The error in the movement's doctrine can be attributed in part to its focus on the experiential dimension of the faith: often the movement focused on "speaking in tongues" as the evidence for a second work of the Holy Spirit but neglected theology as a discipline. Born in the barns and the backyards, this movement did not originate in seminaries or in the high brow culture of established denominations. So some theological error is a natural and expected outcome of an experiential Christianity divorced from the Creeds, theology, and Church history. Pentecostalism, by and large, is a direct descendant of the Wesleyan-Holiness movement and its emphasis on sanctification as a second work of the Holy Spirit.

Like Fundamentalism, Pentecostalism accepts the literal interpretation of the Bible. Such literalism is carried one step farther in that, unlike Fundamentalists, Pentecostals also literally expect the same manifestations of the Spirit of God today as were evident in the New Testament Church. If miracles are indeed part and parcel of the evidences of God on the earth and are to be accepted as historical, then why should they also not be expected to occur today? Pentecostalism is simply insistent that the Scriptural record be consistent with present experience. After all God is the same "yesterday, today, and forever," and if he worked miracles in the past, and he is the same as yesterday, will he not do so today?

The doctrinal imbalance of Pentecostalism (the emphasis on "tongues") may be attributed to the rough and under educated origins of the movement itself. But before one criticizes the movement on this basis, it we would do well to remember that the most of the disciples were just fishermen, and of them all, only Paul went to the equivalent of a seminary. The simple fishermen that Jesus appointed were also the ones who walked in the power of God, doing signs and wonders, while all the theologians, bureaucrats, and politicians of the day sat around and criticized the disciples for being uncouth and uneducated.

Because the mainline denominations responded with ridicule and rejection to the outpouring of the Spirit, and the signs and wonders associated with Him, many Pentecostals responded with fervor and partisanship. If seminary education leads you to deny the power of God, then obviously, to the Pentecostal, there is something wrong with seminary. If intellectualism caused people to deny the power of God, the Pentecostals thought it better to become zealously anti-intellectual. That zeal for the bible, however, was not always consistent with the bible itself.

The movement went way off the mark when some leaders insisted that unless one had the experience of a "Second Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the accompanying sign of speaking in Tongues," one was not truly saved. Thankfully, Paul does not tell us we are justified in Christ by speaking in tongues. Rather he tells us we are justified through faith in and confession of Christ's resurrection:

"If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved." Romans 10:9,10, RSV.

Jesus also said that by faith and baptism we are saved:

"He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." Mark 16:16, RSV.

Therefore, whoever uses the manifestation of a particular gift of the Spirit as a litmus test for true conversion, let him be warned that he has added something contrary to the bible and has sown division in the Body of Christ unnecessarily.

Our status in Christ does not change based upon experiential manifestations of the Holy Spirit nor the lack thereof. Our righteousness is of Him, and our justification does not change. We are justified by His Blood, and through faith in His Blood, not by our experiences of God's presence. In fact, in many revivals, people will feel the presence of God and have manifestations without being truly converted.(1) Even Judas did miracles of healing along with the twelve [Mark 6:7-13], but in the end, he was not converted.

I will be the first to argue against making conformity to emotional experiences the standard of faith. Nevertheless, I am looking for the norm of the New Testament scripture as a pattern for the present day church. The question then is this: Did God intend, and did the apostolic authors of Scripture expect, that the Gifts of the Holy Spirit would be a continuing manifestation of the presence of God in the Church until the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and the end of the age? Or did God intend the Gifts to die out with the Apostolic Age?

The thesis of this paper is that God did so intend, and the writers expected, the Gifts to continue, and that the arguments for Cessation of the Gifts rest upon doctrines of men unsupported by the Scriptures.


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Understanding Arguments In Favor of Cessation and Biblical Passages Used to Bolster the Cause.

The largest theological support for the idea of Cessation has been from those who have been influenced either by Dispensationalism or by Benjamin Warfield, the Princeton theologian. Warfield taught that supernatural signs, wonders, and healings had ceased in the ministry of the Church with the end of the apostolic age and the close of the canon of Scripture.(2) Dispensational thought has provided a suitable foundation for those who wish to discount the present move of God in power on the earth. Not only do Dispensationalists hold that the miracles ceased with the close of the canon, but Dispensational thought also holds to a doctrine that the Last Days Church will be Laodicean - a weak, powerless, compromised, and deceived Body out of which a true remnant will be rescued by the rapture.(3) Hence, any sign of God's power in the Church in the present is not a sign of the Holy Spirit, but a sign of the anti-Christ. Neither of those doctrines are strictly outlined in the Bible, but are matters of human interpretation imposed upon the text.(4). With such doctrines it is easy to excuse the present ineffectual witness of the Church in the world, and we also give the modern scientific community reason to question the validity of the Bible as a whole. Since the miraculous element of the Word is not present, the scriptural texts that record these miracles can be dismissed as primitive superstition.

Argument 1: The Gifts Have Ceased Because the Canon Has Been Written Down.

"Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away." 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, RSV.

The traditional argument for the Cessation of the Gifts is that the Canon of Scripture is the "perfect" thing that has come. Once the perfect has come, there is no need for the gifts of the Spirit, miracles, healings, or tongues. The problem with this position is that if the "perfect" were the scriptures which has already come, there would also be no need of knowledge — no need of study of scriptures, no need of translations, no need of pastors or teachers, for:

"For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." 1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV.

Since the perfect has already come, according to this line of reasoning, then we also know fully as we are fully known. Obviously, the perfect cannot be the scripture or the Canon, since if it were, then knowledge would also have ceased, and we would know everything fully.

John MacArthur, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians,(5) recognizes that the "perfect" cannot be the Canon of Scripture:

"…that idea would have been meaningless to the Corinthians. Nowhere in this letter does he mention or allude to such a scriptural completion. The Corinthian believers would have taken Paul's meaning in the plainest and simplest way: as a reference to spiritual and moral perfection…By process of elimination, the only possibility for the perfect is the eternal heavenly state of believers." (6)

In spite of his recognition that the "perfect" is not the scriptures, MacArthur believes that some gifts [miracles, healings, and tongues] are no longer meant for today, and all manifestations of these particular gifts in the present are simply demonic counterfeits. The problem for MacArthur is that he is forced to inconsistency. He must find a division in the gifts themselves, seeing some as valid for today and others as already passed. Unfortunately for him, the text does not say that some gifts have ceased while some are still continuing, it says they will cease when the perfect comes... MacArthur tries to justify his stance by a turn of phrase, forcing one word of scripture to contain the evidence for an entire doctrine. He uses one word of Paul's in a poetic passage about love [1 Cor. 13: 8-9] to "prove" that tongues have already ceased. He makes an untenable argument that since tongues will eventually "cease" {Greek — pauo, future tense} by running out of steam while knowledge will be "done away with" {Greek - katargeo} by a force outside itself, therefore tongues have already served their purpose and have died out as an active gift. (7) There is a tremendous leap of logic here based upon what scripture does not say. Again, it does not say that the cessation has already taken place, but that it will eventually take place. In other words, he overlays the doctrine of Cessation onto the text to make the text fit a doctrine.

MacArthur should have looked at this passage as a poet as well as an exegete. We can see from the passage that Paul is using parallel, poetic construction:

Love never fails [fall away or trail off — Greek ekpipto]

as for prophecies, they will pass away [cause to cease ]

as for tongues, they will cease; [fail ]

as for knowledge, it will pass away. [cause to cease ]

…for when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.

The context of the passage strongly suggests that while Love never ends, all gifts, whether they be tongues, knowledge or prophecy, are imperfect in this life. They will cease but will end when and only when the perfect comes to remove imperfection! Tongues, like knowledge, are incomplete manifestations in fallen world of the Spirit. They are needed because of our distance from the presence of God while we dwell in the body [2 Cor. 5:8]. Therefore, the gifts will pass away when we are in the full presence of Christ and know him fully. Conversely, while we dwell in this body awaiting the glory of Christ and the eternal state of blessedness, these gifts remain and are necessary.

I repeat: it never says in scripture, anywhere, that any of the gifts of the Spirit have passed away. The burden of proof therefore rests upon those who wish to assert that the gifts have passed away, since the doctrine is not found in scripture.

It is bad exegetical practice to suck one phrase out of its context to force it to fit a preconceived doctrine. It is even a worse practice to make a questionable passage the justification for an entire doctrine! Using a single word from a poetic passage poses another difficulty: one runs the risk of over-emphasizing literal meanings in phrases which have artistic construction as well as theological import. The denotations and connotations of words bring nuance to the art of poetry. Even a moderately good writer will vary his word use so as not to become repetitive and boring. Paul was an excellent writer. To emphasize differences of words that have the same basic meaning but are varied in poetic context is to entertain some risk. Every word of scripture is important, but to build an entire doctrine on one single word used in a poetic construction is like building an entire house on top of a single, narrow pillar. The pillar may be strong enough to hold the house, but it is a question of balance.

In commenting on 1 Cor. 12: 8-11, MacArthur is forced into another awkward exegetical position.

"To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills." 1 Corinthians 12:8-11, RSV.

Here, in this passage, MacArthur arbitrarily decides that some gifts are for today and others are not.. While the passage says nothing about some gifts being temporary and some being permanent, he decides that anything that has to do with miracles, healings and tongues are temporary gifts:

"The temporary sign gifts were limited to the apostolic age and therefore ceased after that time. Those gifts included miracles, healing, languages, and the interpretation of languages. The purpose of temporary sign gifts was to authenticate the apostolic message as the Word of God, until the time when the Scriptures, His written Word were completed and became self-authenticating."(8)

First of all, MacArthur disagrees with himself in the very next chapter (1 Cor. 13, cited above), where he says that the "ceasing" of these gifts is not related to the Scriptures being completed and "perfect." He is inconsistent, but desperate to find some justification for his rejection of particular gifts, so he imposes his doctrine upon the biblical text. The doctrine, that the gifts are only to confirm the scriptures and the apostolic witness, is now used to interpret the passages.

But the scripture does not say or give indication that some of these gifts are temporary and some are long lasting. If one believes that these gifts are no longer genuine gifts to the Body of Christ, one must find the teaching in scripture itself, not in a doctrine about scripture, lest "for the sake of your tradition make void the word of God," [Matt. 15:6]. In addition, nowhere in scripture does it say that the sign gifts were merely given to confirm the apostolic witness. It is never written that the gifts of the Spirit are given simply to confirm the Canon of Scripture. This teaching is an extra-biblical doctrine, a tradition of man, imposed upon the scripture. Scripture itself does not teach it. In fact, Scripture teaches the gifts have particular purposes, and only one of them is to confirm the apostolic ministry.

 

While it is true that the miracles are part of the apostolic ministry, Paul says they are also given to the Body of Christ for the common good to make that Body whole and complete. All the gifts are included as part of the whole manifestation of God in the Church. The list above [1 Cor. 12:8-11] goes from wisdom, to healing, to prophesy, to tongues, without differentiation. Paul concludes:

"To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." 1 Corinthians 12:7, RSV.

"All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ." 1 Corinthians 12:11,12, NIV.

Paul ties the distribution of the gifts of the Spirit to making the Body of Christ complete on the earth. By implication, those gifts are necessary for that wholeness, for by those gifts we are built up in the common good:

"Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues." 1 Corinthians 12:27,28, RSV.

Notice that the workers of miracles are not the even ranked with the apostles, but lower than teachers. So the miracles are considered a more common gift among the people. The gifts function as part of the entire ministry of the Body, each person with a role to play. Note also that nowhere in this passage does it say that the gifts are to confirm the apostolic witness or to confirm the scriptures. The gifts are for the Body to build it up.

When MacArthur says, "The purpose of temporary sign gifts was to authenticate the apostolic message as the Word of God, until the time when the Scriptures, His written Word were completed and became self-authenticating," John is forced to ignore what the scripture itself says about the purpose of the gifts. When you ignore parts of scripture to justify a doctrine, you are on tendentious ground. MacArthur considers tongues primarily as a sign and a witness to confirm the Jews in their unbelief.(9) Surely tongues as a sign for unbelievers is one role, but Paul states that it is not its only role:

"For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, he who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than he who speaks in tongues, unless some one interprets, so that the church may be edified." 1 Corinthians 14:2-5, RSV.

Paul says that the gift of tongues is for communicating to God intimately and personally so that a person may be built up, or edify himself, in Christ. This purpose of tongues has absolutely nothing to do with confirming the apostolic witness. In fact, Paul discourages the use of tongues for confirming the Gospel!

"If, therefore, the whole church assembles and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?" 1 Corinthians 14:23, RSV.

Tongues, if coupled with interpretation, become public prophecy and a benefit to the whole church, but if there is no interpretation, a person is to use tongues as a means of personal and private prayer:

"What then, brethren? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silence in church and speak to himself and to God." 1 Corinthians 14:26-28, RSV.

So, Paul believes that "all should speak in tongues" (1 Cor. 14:5), but that it is not to be used to confirm the Gospel. It is to be used for private edification before God, and that need in humanity did not disappear with the consolidation of scripture.



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When John MacArthur classes the power gifts [miracles and healings] with tongues and thinks all have passed away, it makes me wonder if he has not unknowingly adopted a modernist bias against the miraculous elements of the text. MacArthur points to the absence of mention of miracles and tongues by the Apostolic Fathers. He points out that men like Origen, Chrysostom, and Augustine explained the lack of miracles and tongues in their days by reasoning that these things had ceased with the Apostolic age. MacArthur also points to the recurrences of the gifts in heretical sects, which claimed new revelations greater than or in addition to the scriptures,(10) implying that any modern recurrence would also be a mark of a heresy or counterfeit.

While Church history is important in reflecting on the role of the Spirit of God in the Church, and while the interpretations of the Fathers should be considered, if we were to take all their counsels as Gospel then we might also agree with them on the development of the role of bishops and popes as well. We then ought to return as one to the Roman Church or Eastern Orthodoxy, since bishops and Patriarchs have existed since those days when all the gifts are said to have disappeared. I doubt seriously that brother John would be so moved by an argument from history or experience to leave Protestantism. It is equally unconvincing to argue from the experience, of the lack of the gifts, that God intended them to have disappeared. It is also unconvincing to point to the heretical counterfeits and to reason that any recurrence of the gifts must likewise be demonic. Paul began his instruction on the gift of tongues with a warning that there are pagan, demonic tongues, which do not represent the true God or the genuine article. There are similarities between the real and the false, but the exercise of the counterfeit by pagans does not invalidate the true gift of God, administered in believers by the Holy Spirit.

"Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit." 1 Corinthians 12:1-3, NAS95.

Another problem with MacArthur's use of history. is that he is selective. He uses materials which support his view, but ignores those examples which contradict it. While it is true that Augustine originally considered miracles to have ceased, he changed his mind later in life under the influence of the North African revival.(11) Book 22, Chapter 8 of the City of God is devoted to the accounts of miracles he had seen or verified. The Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written in AD 731 is full of miraculous accounts interwoven with verifiable history. He quotes Gregory the Great, who remarks in a letter in 601 AD on the effectiveness of the miracles in producing conversion among the heathen. The miracles were apparently considered a norm of the missionary work of the Church:

This letter is one of the most precious records in all of the history of Christian literature. In it, Gregory does not marvel at miracles or revel in them. He accepts them as a fact of life(12)

If MacArthur is right about the miracles having ceased with the Apostles, then we have a problem: what of all these miracles that led to the conversion of tribes, tongues and nations after the apostolic age? Were they of God or the devil? Miracles occurred regularly as part of the witness of the Church long after the Canon had been closed. If one will do a diligent search, including the lives of the saints and martyrs, there have been consistent periods of miracles in the Church interrupted by times of apparent absence. What is more, there are untold numbers of reports from present day missionaries of the outpouring of the Spirit of God in foreign nations and among unreached peoples — many accompanied by miracles, signs and wonders. Casting out demons and confronting satanic powers have become part of the missionary lifestyle in many parts of the globe. While miracles themselves do not authenticate the message as genuine, the fruit of the miracles would tend to verify their authenticity: lives are changed, pagans are converted and become worshippers of Jesus Christ, idols are destroyed and fetishes are burned, and the Church is founded.

From Church history and present missionary experience, and even in the Church Fathers' writings, it is evident that the miracles did not cease with the end of the apostolic age or with the close of the Canon. The same God who worked yesterday is working today. What is more, the passages used to justify such a belief do not obviously or literally support such a doctrine, they have to be read into the text

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Argument 2: The Miracles Were Only Done by The Apostles and Were Done Only to Confirm Their Ministry and Message. After the Apostles, the Miracles Ceased.

This argument is similar to Argument 1, but with a slightly different emphasis. The argument is that the only legitimate workers of miracles were the apostles. Hence, since the apostles have all died, there can be no more legitimate miracles.

It is true that Paul says the miracles, signs and wonders are evidences of his apostolic authority and calling. He says, "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you in all patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works." 2 Corinthians 12:12, RSV. If we were to limit signs and wonders only to the Twelve, then we might have reason to believe that the signs would have died out with the apostles. However, signs and wonders were not done only by apostles in the NT; Jesus sent out the 70 to heal the sick [Luke 10: 1-9, 17]. The deacons, Philip and Steven, did miracles as well [Acts 6:8; 8:6]. As was noted in the scriptures above[1 Cor. 12:27-28], in Paul's list of ministry functions, the one who does miracles is way down the ladder from the Apostolic office. So Paul is not arguing that signs alone prove apostleship, only that the sign gifts accompany the ministry of the apostle.

Now the word "apostle" merely means "one who is sent," and in the Church, apostles went and preached the gospel in new territories and established the Church in foreign lands. While the ministry of The Twelve has certainly been fulfilled, the ministry of the apostle is still active in the Church: they are called missionaries. Missionaries go and preach the Gospel, establish churches and oversea them. Many missionaries today do indeed report signs and wonders that bring pagans to Christ. I know of a former missionary for the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Rick Sessoms, who told me that even though he didn't believe in miracles when he went overseas, signs and wonders happened anyway while he was there proclaiming the Gospel. If miracles are a sign of apostleship, it might be that the missionary is part of the continuing ministry of the apostle [small "a"].

What's more, Jesus promised that the miracles would not just follow the apostles, but believers who preached the gospel:

"And he said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. Amen." Mark 16:15-20, RSV.

The signs and wonders, the miracles and healings, are not just to confirm the message of the Apostles and establish the Scripture. No. God has a covenant with his Word, that he will confirm his Gospel with signs and wonders. This covenant with his Word is not just for the apostles, but for all believers! By these signs, the scripture says, the Lord confirms his message.

The need for God to confirm his message has not abated. Studies of Church history, missionary movements, and present day missions show that God has regularly used miracles to convert tribes and nations. So if the miracle gifts were indeed temporary, then not only would they have passed away, but then all those who have come to Christ through them have been led to the Lord through deceptions and counterfeits. Obviously, that conclusion makes no sense. Whole nations have turned to the Lord because of God's signs and wonders that accompanied the preaching of his Word.

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Argument 3: Dispensationalism: The Laodicean Age of the Church Means All Miracles are Signs of Deception and the Anti-Christ.

Dispensational theology is predicated upon a type of fatalism that assumes that most of the Church will commit apostasy, become exceedingly weak during the last days, and will be defeated by a world wide government headed by an anti-Christ. The Dispensationalist believes we are in the last days. Therefore, any sign of the Church's present strength or miraculous power in bringing testimony to Jesus is only part of a strong delusion sent to lead believers astray. {For an in depth look at the Scriptures and the views of Dispensationalism, there will be an article Dispensational Fatalism in the End Times section}

Dispensationalism combines various passages of apocalyptic scriptures {Daniel, Revelation, 2 Thessalonians} to justify the fatalistic scenario of a weak and powerless Church. One of the most questionable justifications for this view is the use of the Seven Churches of Revelation as a typological representation of the Church Ages. Although the Scriptures give no evidence of the Seven Churches of Revelation being seven ages of the Church, Dispensationalists have latched onto this interpretation of scripture as if it were the Gospel itself. While the present Church in the West may indeed be Laodicean [corrupted by money and spiritually compromised — Rev. 3:14], the Church in China, and in other countries where the Church is suffering persecution, is vital and alive. There, the people are willingly giving their lives away for the Gospel - enduring beatings and hardships, imprisonments and poverty. The Church in these places is more like the Church in Smyrna [Rev 2:8], where believers suffered and died for the faith. It is surely unjust to class them with the Laodicean church. What is true that during every age, the Seven Churches provide examples and warnings to the Body of Christ as types of faithfulness and failure.

Dispensationalists make much of a passage in Matthew:

"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved." Matthew 24:9-13, RSV.

There will be times of persecution that cause many to fall away, but the chronology of the passage here in Matthew is uncertain. It could be that Jesus is talking about a continuing state of affairs until the time of the end. Or he could be talking about the time of tribulation for the Christians in Jerusalem leading up to the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. {See article on the parallel passage in Mark} He could be talking about a final persecution, but in this passage Jesus is trying to give his disciples the "big picture." Remember, the disciples were expecting the immediate re-establishment of a Davidic Kingdom, the defeat of Rome and a time of great earthly peace and prosperity. They were not looking for a supernatural kingdom when they asked the question, "When?" They wanted to know what signs would speak of an immediate restoration of the nation of Israel with Jesus as its new King. "When will you be establishing your new Dynasty Lord? And how long will it take after Jerusalem is overthrown?" They still were not expecting Jesus to die and be resurrected. They didn't yet understand the scriptures that he must die [Mark 9:31-32].

The point is: even if heavy persecution is coming and even if many fall away, the scriptures do not say that the faithful Church will be ineffective or powerless in its witness. In fact, the opposite is true:

"And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." Matthew 24:14, KJV.

First the Church will complete its missionary task, the Great Commission, before the end. So rather than being a weak and defeated Church, the Church fulfills the Great Commission under the power and anointing of the Spirit of God, who enables us to complete God's work on the Earth.

2 Thessalonians does make it clear that there will be an end time Man of Lawlessness, there will be persecution of believers, and there will be a great deception upon unbelievers. The problem is assuming that the Church will not do any genuine miracles or have active gifts of the Spirit during this time. If we look at Jesus, it was the miracles that caused him to be persecuted by those in religious authority. It is not a weak and powerless Church that is persecuted, but a powerful and effective one whose witness causes those in power to be discomforted! In fact, the Church usually shines in times of persecution. Yes it is true that when hard times come, many who are believers of convenience fall away, but those who love the Lord shine with the glory of His presence, usually to the great dismay and anger of those who oppose Him.

Will the Church be powerless and will it lack gifts and miracles? Scripture militates against such a conclusion. In fact, the Church appears to go out with fire and with a bang, rather than as defeated and ashamed.

Two passages in Matthew shed light on one specific aspect of 2 Thessalonians: the "apostasy" does not take place until after the Great Commission is fulfilled.

"Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;" 2 Thessalonians 2:3, KJV.

The Greek idea of apostasy, "falling away," in this text includes the idea of willful rebellion and not merely a falling away from the truth. That interpretation makes sense in light of the later verse of the deception which falls not upon believers but upon those who "refuse" to love the truth [2:10]:

"The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false," 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11, RSV.

The Church has been given a Commission from our Lord - a job to do. And the Lord did not say we would fail in our task:

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20, NRSV).

Jesus promised he would be with the Church, with us, to help us and enable us to carry out the Commission. Note here that we are not charged merely to preach the word but to bring all nations into obedience to the name of Christ — to disciple them. What is more, Jesus said we will be successful in this task:

And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and THEN the end will come. -Mt 24:14

So even if the Church is to be weak and a failure in the end, it would only be at the very end, after the Gospel has been successfully preached to all nations.

2 Thessalonians indicates the great apostasy and rebellion takes place after the Great Commission is fulfilled! Since it is not the believers who are led astray, but those who refuse the gospel and refuse to love the truth, it must be that they have had the opportunity to hear it - or they can't willfully refuse it. Therefore the Gospel must be preached to them effectively so that they can hear it. Only then, after they hear it, can they refuse it and be accountable:

The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, BECAUSE THEY REFUSED TO LOVE THE TRUTH AND SO BE SAVED. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, SO THAT ALL WHO HAVE NOT BELIEVED THE TRUTH BUT TOOK PLEASURE IN UNRIGHTEOUSNESS WILL BE CONDEMNED. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, NRSV).

This scripture can only be fulfilled when all nations have had the opportunity to hear and believe the gospel! It can only take place after The Great Commission is fulfilled by the Church through a mighty, world wide outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Then those who have heard but still refuse God's grace are left with nothing but to be deceived by a false christ, because they have rejected the Lord as Savior.

It appears that the great deception falls not upon believers but upon unbelievers. Those who refuse to love the truth are the ones deceived, not the faithful Church. In any case, there is no solid evidence that the Church will lack power at the end of days, at least not until the Commission has been completed. The Anti-Christ does not come until we, the Church, have completed our task. He is not revealed until we have finished it! So to build a doctrine of Cessation on the presumption that we are in the last days would require at the very least that we had fulfilled the Great Commission, which we have not. There are still hundreds of tribes and tongues and nations that have not had the Gospel preached to them and who have not yet been discipled.


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What are the Gifts? The Holy Spirit Doing His Works in the Congregation.

"For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed." Malachi 3:6, RSV.

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever." Hebrews 13:8, RSV.

"To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." 1 Corinthians 12:7, RSV.

What are the gifts? Each gift is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit Himself in the midst of the people of God! [1 Cor 12:7] The word ‘manifestation' in Latin means ‘the dancing hand.' The idea is that of the Spirit touching down here and there as He wills in the Congregation, first showing himself in one person and then another. In the Greek, the word ‘manifestation' is phanerosis, which means to "make visible or reveal what is hidden: to show oneself." What Paul is saying is that the Holy Spirit is showing himself in and through the gifts when he displays his glory in the congregation. It is God the Spirit revealing himself in and among his people. For it says:

"I will put my dwelling-place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people." Leviticus 26:11,12, NIV.

"I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." Ezekiel 37:26,27, RSV.

The gifts are God, the Holy Spirit, manifesting himself in the congregation. The gifts are His expression of himself and his nature, giving to each as "He wills." The gifts don't belong to us and they are not our possession, they are a reflection of God among His people.

Since God does not change, [He is "the same yesterday, today, and forever"], for us to claim the gifts have ceased is to say that the Holy Spirit has ceased to manifest Himself in our Churches. And if that be the case, then woe unto us! For God has ceased to be present with his people!

"Do you not know that you all together are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" 1 Corinthians 3:16.

Paul says that when the people of God are joined together as the Body of Believers, they are the Temple of God. The word Paul uses is naos in Greek, which means the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies — the most sacred dwelling place of God in Israel. But when Jesus was crucified, the veil that separated the Holy of Holies was torn, top to bottom [Mark 15:38], and the dwelling place of God's special presence was no longer confined to the Holy of Holies. God could now dwell inside our hearts as his Temple:

"Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." John 7:39, RSV..

Now that the Holy Spirit dwells in human flesh through rebirth through faith in Christ, we have a new nature — God living within us. And corporate worship becomes the place where the Transcendent Glory of the Almighty is present. It is God's House where He dwells. If the people are willing and do not resist, God is free to do in His house, just as he pleases, and he will manifest himself through the Gifts of The Spirit.

Since God does not change from generation to generation, then why would be different today than when he founded the Church? Why did he not say, "After a little while, I will cease to manifest myself among you until the time of the end?" No, if God did miracles in the past, he will do them today. If he inspired people to speak in other languages as a means of prayer and to bring glory to Jesus Christ, then he will do so today. If He spoke prophetically in the midst of the congregation, he will do it today. If he healed in the past, he will continue to heal today. Why? Because "I the Lord do not change!" For any mere man to proclaim that the gifts have ceased is to say God has changed! Indeed, the entire Old Testament is a continuous record of God's marvelous acts in history — his signs and wonders. The New Testament is a record of the same, beginning with Jesus' birth and continuing through the Church and the life of the Apostles. God doesn't change. If he did them in the OT and he did the miracles in the Church in the NT, he acted the same as he always has done. Why would he be any different now?


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Counsel and Advice: How then Should the Gifts Be Used?

If the Scriptures are Indeed the Perfect, Shouldn't they be Obeyed?

To further attenuate the position that the closed Canon is ‘the Perfect,' lets just look at what the Perfect Scriptures actually say:

Paul, in this very same letter in which he talks about tongues eventually ‘ceasing,' he takes several pages to instruct the church on the proper use of prophecy and tongues in worship. If he expected tongues to disappear in a decade, would he have written so many pages on their use? I doubt it. Rather, he expected all the gifts to be a continuing part of worship in the Church until Christ returned, so he gave a lasting instructions on how the gifts should properly be used! He meant his instructions to teach the People of God how they should live and worship as they waited for Jesus. This focus, on the Coming Again, is always in the forefront of Paul's mind in his writings. It is Paul's constant eschatological hope. So it seems most natural to interpret these passages as part of his instruction on looking forward to the appearing of Christ who will cause us to fully know him, at which time the gifts will cease.

Now, on the basis of the doctrine , that the bible is the perfect, could we throw out Paul's teaching on the use of the gifts of the Spirit in worship? Can we safely disregard his instructions on the proper format for worship because we have determined that his words do not apply to us today? Why don't we just cut out that chapter from the bible, since it no longer applies to us? What other part of the NT should we just throw away?

Instead, if God inspired the scriptures and He said through Paul, that we should, "earnestly desire the spiritual gifts," [and Paul included tongues in this list of gifts, he didn't say desire all of them except tongues], who are we to say, "Forget it God, your NT word does not apply to us today?"

"So, my brethren, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues;" 1 Corinthians 14:39, RSV.

It appears that in God's Word, that those who oppose the gift of languages as "demonic" are actually disobeying God's Holy written Word. They are forbidding what God says not to forbid, and they are not seeking what God told them to seek! All because of their doctrine that the Holy Spirit has ceased to function in the Congregations of God.

If indeed, the Scriptures really are the perfect, then how much more should we apply them! For they tell us to desire the gift of prophecy, and of Paul's desire that we should all speak in tongues [1 Cor 14:5]. The Scriptures tell us how to use prophecy in worship and the proper order for the use of tongues and interpretation in worship. What's more he says healings and miracles and words of knowledge should be a regular part of the household of God:

"What then, brethren? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." 1 Corinthians 14:26, RSV.

[On a side note, why do you think Paul wrote so many pages instructing the church in the proper use of the gifts of the Spirit if he expected them to be completely gone in the next 30 years? Do you think that it was in his mind that when his writings and those of Peter and others were canonized as scripture, he would consider this to be the perfect condition on which basis prophecies and knowledge would cease? It is hard to imagine Paul equating his own writings with scripture. Although he knows he has authority of the Lord to speak and counsel, I doubt it was in his mind that he saw his letters as the perfection that would cause prophecies and knowledge to cease. Paul says, "collect all my letters in a book, and those of the other apostles, and when you are done, then prophecy and knowledge will cease from the earth." I don't think so. It was not in Paul's mind when he wrote the verse.]

"Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy." 1 Corinthians 14:1, RSV.

Jesus said, "seek and you will find," [Mt. 7:7]. We are commanded to "covet" the spiritual gifts. To Covet [earnestly desire: zelou, zealously desire] is a strong word in the Greek, which means to pursue with passion. By desiring the gifts of God, we are in fact earnestly desiring the Presence of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the congregation! The gifts are signs of His presence! We don't have them in the Church apart from the Holy Spirit; or else they are false or counterfeit. Paul says we should not forbid speaking in tongues [1 Cor 14:39] nor should we quench the Holy Spirit by despising prophecy [1 Thess 5:19-20]. Why? Because resisting the manifestations of the Holy Spirit is resisting the Holy Spirit himself! We are telling God what He can and cannot do. And yes, we can quench the Holy Spirit! WE can do that.

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How Should the Gifts Be Applied? - In Love!

But tongues are not something to be prideful about, nor to be used as if they were a mark of spiritual maturity and holiness. They are not. This self-aggrandizing over the minor gift of speaking in tongues was the cause of so much trouble in Corinth. They boasted as if they owned the gifts and were something special, when the gifts are God's and He is the only one who is special. So Paul says that the gifts are great, but if they aren't exercised with love and in love for others, for the benefit of the whole Body, then they are worthless [1 Cor. 13, ff] and pointless. Actually all this boasting about the gifts is a lot of prideful self-inflation. Acting in love and for the sake of love is what is truly important, otherwise, the worship is a waste of time, no matter how many gifts appear to be present.

The Corinthian error was that they were focusing on the manifestations as a mark of spiritual pride and one-upmanship over their fellows. Those who seek signs, and not the One who gives the signs, are prey to all sorts of errors and deceptions. But we must not create a false dichotomy between the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in our midst and the growth of maturity and fruit within us. They most naturally occur together, because we cannot progress to maturity without the Holy Spirit. Remember that even in the immature Corinthians, who still lived immorally, ["there is not one spiritual gift lacking among you," 1 Cor 1:7] the gifts were present. We must not make maturity the condition of the Holy Spirit's manifest presence. It is only His presence that will mature us.

Finally, by reasoning from the Word, if we are filled with the Holy Spirit and if He is active in the midst of the congregation, we have every right to expect the same manifestations of his presence and power today as they did in the early NT. Jesus said, "He who believes in me will do the works that I do and Greater works than these will he do...." That is not a time bound promise. It is a promise based only on one thing. It is based upon "he who believes" We have the right to ask for the Holy Spirit to be fully manifest in us and in our midst.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:13, RSV).

And if we ask the Father for the Holy Spirit, will he give us a stone or serpent instead?


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Conclusion

In our argument, we have shown that the main passages customarily used to support a belief in Cessation do not actually support the doctrine. The idea of Cessation is no where mentioned specifically in the passages as having already happened. At most, the passage [1 Cor. 13:8-9] says that the gifts will cease, when the perfect comes. The perfect in this case, we have shown, is not the scriptures, but appears to be either the Second Coming and the Kingdom of God or Eternal Life. The belief, therefore, "that the gifts have passed because the Canon is complete" is a doctrine that has to be assumed, but which can't be found in Scripture itself. As we have said, the interpretation of this passage is too questionable to become the main pillar for an entire doctrine of Cessation.

Since God is the same, "yesterday, today, and forever," we have a right to expect God to be the same in the Congregation today as he was in the founding of the Church. The Gifts are the manifestation of the Holy Spirit as he reveals himself in the Church. He wants to work within us, the Temple of His Dwelling Place. If we permit him and allow him, we are also to exercise the Gifts in love and for love in the building up of the Body of Christ, to bring Glory to Jesus, and not for self aggrandizement. We are to earnestly covet the gifts, especially to prophesy, but we are to do all things in love, for the sake of Christ.

2000 Jefferis Kent Peterson

The Scholar's Corner

 

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  1. A Treatise on Religious Affections, by Jonathan Edwards, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids 1982, Introduction and page 215.
  2. Power Evangelism, by John Wimber, with Kevin Springer, Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1986, pp. ix, 119-120. Citation: Benjamin Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1918, Carlisle, PA.
  3. from a note on Rev. 3: 14-22 in the Scofield Reference Bible, 1967 edition, Oxford, and note on 2 Timothy 3:1.[cf. http://www.hccentral.com/gkeys/darby.html ]
  4. Power,. p 120.
  5. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary 1 Corinthians, Moody Press, Chicago, 1984., pp. 364-367.
  6. Ibid., p. 364, 365.
  7. Ibid. 359.
  8. Ibid. pp., 297-8.
  9. Ibid. p. 360.
  10. Ibid. pp., 360-361.
  11. Augustine City of God, Book 22, Chapter 8 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102.toc.html
  12. Ibid. See also http://www.graciouscall.org/books/history/2_ch01.htm [text search on miracle]

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