Archive for the 'Gifts of the Spirit' Category

Augustine’s last illness: A divine healing encounter

Friday, October 16th, 2015

(Augustine, image courtesy Wikiart)
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(Saint Possidius, image courtesy Province of St Augustine)

By Spencer D Gear

The ministry of St Augustine of Hippo demonstrates the failure of cessationism in relation to the gifts of the Spirit. The gift of healing was alive and well through Augustine’s ministry. He lived ca. AD 354-430 [1]

Bishop Possidius (fifth century, died ca. 437), Bishop of Calama (in the Roman province of Numidia),[2] was a friend of Augustine of Hippo and wrote in the first biography about Augustine, Life of Augustine (Possidius 1919, ch XXIX), about ‘Augustine’s last illness’:

And it chanced at one time while we were seated with him at the table and were conversing together that he said to us: “I would have you know that in this time of our misfortune I ask this of God: either that He may be pleased to free this city which is surrounded by the foe, or if something else seems good in His sight, that He make His servants brave for enduring His will, or at least that He may take me from this world unto Himself.” And when he had taught us these words, together with him we all joined in a like petition to God Most High, for ourselves and for all our fellow bishops and for the others who were in this city. And lo, in the third month of the siege he succumbed to fever and began to suffer in his last illness. In truth the Lord did not deprive His servant of the reward of his prayer. For what he asked with tears and prayers for himself and the city he obtained in due time. I know also that both while he was presbyter and bishop, when asked to pray for certain demoniacs, he entreated God in prayer with many tears and the demons departed from the men. In like manner when he was sick and confined to his bed there came a certain man with a sick relative and asked him to lay his hand upon him that he might be healed. But Augustine answered that if he had any power in such things he would surely have applied it to himself first of all; to which the stranger replied that he had had a vision and that in his dream these words had been addressed to him: “Go to the bishop Augustine that he may lay his hand upon him, and he shall be whole.” Now when Augustine heard this he did not delay to do it and immediately God caused the sick man to depart from him healed (emphasis added).

This demonstration of the gift of the Spirit of healing is a further acknowledgment that a gift of the Spirit – the gift of healing – had not ceased in the 4th-5th centuries. Augustine was a leader of the Christian church and not some occult practitioner. Augustine, philosopher and theologian, ‘is looked upon by Protestants as one who was a forerunner of the Reformation ideas’ [3].

In the above citation, Augustine’s belief in the continuing gift of healing is demonstrated. For another example of this emphasis in the life and ministry of Augustine, see my article: St. Augustine: The leading Church Father who dared to change his mind about divine healing. In this article, I have shown Augustine’s change of theology in relation to divine healing.

Notes


[1] Donald X Burt 1996. Reflections on Augustine’s spirituality: Saint Augustine – His Life and Times. Villanova University. Available at: http://www41.homepage.villanova.edu/donald.burt/augustine.htm (Accessed 16 October 2015).

[2] Midwest Augustinians 2015. Saint Possidius, May 16 (online). Available at: http://midwestaugustinians.org/st-possidius/ (Accessed 8 September 2015). This article states that ‘he died in exile around the year 437’.

[3] Earl E Cairns 1981. Christianity through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, p. 149.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 May 2016.

Spiritual gifts sign of Christian maturity

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

Image result for question marks public domain

By Spencer D Gear

Have you ever heard Christians say things like: (1) I’m not interested in those Pentecostal-charismatics because all I hear when I enter their meetings is that hokus pokus of raving on in that tongues nonsense. (2) Those Pentecostals are into gibberish and I want nothing to do with that subjective garbage. (3) I’ve moved beyond that immature stuff to grown-up Christianity.

As John MacArthur began his exposition of 1 Corinthians 14, he stated:

I was listening to a well-known charismatic preacher this week who was saying that to receive the Spirit of God, you must receive, you must receive tongues. And he was saying, “It isn’t like you’re seeking tongues. It’s that you’re seeking this fullness of the Spirit, and tongues comes with it.” And he said, “The way to illustrate this,” and it was interesting because he didn’t really use Scripture, but he said is, “When you go to a shoe store, and you look in the window, you don’t say, ‘I’d like to buy those tongues.’ You just want to buy those shoes, and the tongues come with them.” And so he was saying that, “What you really want is to buy or to purchase or to gain the power of the Spirit of God, your spiritual walking shoes, and tongues come along with them” (MacArthur 1977).

John MacArthur (public domain)

MacArthur then gets into what he thinks is an elevation of spiritual superiority among charismatics. He wrote (remember that this is back in 1977 when he preached on this):

‘Well, what happens in this thing is you divide the church into the spiritual haves and the spiritual have-nots.  And this is the tragedy of the thing; the haves cannot help but feel a sense of superiority over the have-nots.  It’s just kind of built in.  And even though they may resist it and fight it and some may succeed, the vast majority of folks cannot help but feel that everybody else is missing something that they’re not missing.  I guess I would have to say that I’m among the have-nots, and even once in a while, I get a little intimidated about that.  But I’ve wondered if the intimidation doesn’t even reach right into the charismatic ranks.  I’m afraid that maybe some of them are intimidated.  Some of them perhaps tempted to exaggerate or dramatize or fabricate miracles because of peer pressure or the desire to also belong in the group that’s sharing rather strange and bizarre things’ (MacArthur 1977).

Miracles, tongues and spiritual maturity

Image result for charismatic worship public domain

Rev Frank Hughes Jr (public domain)

I met some of MacArthur’s kind of sentiments on a Christian forum in 2015. I had been defending a continuation of gifts of the Spirit for today and stated that in church gatherings I have heard the genuine gift of tongues with the required accompanying gift of interpretation. I have been edified and to call it ‘mad raving babbling’ is insulting to those whom God uses to manifest the genuine gifts of tongues and interpretation.

The biblical mandate is: (1) ‘Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy’ (1 Cor 14:5 ESV). (2) ‘So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor 14:39-49 ESV).[1]

I asked another person, ‘So was Paul contradicting himself because he also said: ‘Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy’ (1 Cor 14:5 ESV)?’[2] His response was, ‘Not at all. He was speaking to the Corinthians. He said, “I want you all’.[3] Then he went on to say that ‘Not at all. He was speaking to the Corinthians. He said, “I want you all”’.[4]

After this kind of interaction I encountered the reaction regarding

The test of spiritual maturity

He wrote:

It was not my intention to say that miracles indicate poor spiritual maturity.  It is my intention to say that miracles or tongues are not a test of strong spiritual maturity.  My point is that there is nothing in the Scriptures that indicate these gifts have anything to do with maturity.  If anything, Paul says these gifts do not aid in the maturity or building up of others.  This is why he encouraged prophesy.  So again, I am not saying these gifts are a sign of immaturity (if they are legitimately taking place today), but I just don’t see any evidence that they have anything to do with maturity.  That is the claim many Charismatics often make and I find it to be entirely baseless.  This brings me to a couple thoughts about these gifts:[5]

My retort[6] was that I did not know why he placed this emphasis on maturity vs immaturity when God has clearly told us this about the spiritual gifts: ‘All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills’ (1 Cor 12:11 ESV). Are we open to the Holy Spirit giving us the full range of charismata that the Spirit gives? His general emphasis in his post indicates that he is not interested in the gift of tongues being manifest by the Spirit in his life. Have I gained a correct understanding of your view?

It’s not a matter of maturity vs immaturity. It’s based on a biblical, spiritual answer to this question: Am I open to the Holy Spirit apportioning to me whatever gifts he chooses, including tongues and interpretation? I’m not hearing that he is open to the latter. He continued:

There is no indication in the NT that miracles or tongues were gifts that were given for those who sought them passionately enough.  In fact, we see tongues simply falling on people without any coaching, expectation or desire for this gift.  To say that someone does not have the gift because they don’t seek it enough tor because they do not have enough faith (which is a constant theme in charismatic circles I am aware of) finds no validation in Scripture whatsoever.  Yes, Paul wished that they all spoke in tongues, but he preferred they all prophesy.  So why are we so focused on tongues as such a meaningful gift when Paul not only indicates that not all would have this gift, but that there are other gifts to be much preferred.  Again, Paul makes it clear that not all have the gift of tongues.  And we see from the issues in the Corinthian church, that tongues is certainly not a barometer for  one’s spiritual maturity.  If anything, it has nothing to do whatsoever with maturity or faith.  I find no basis in the argument that all Christians should have a “prayer language” or should seek to speak in tongues.[7]

This is not so.[8] First Corinthians 14:1 (ESV) makes it very clear that spiritual gifts (a range has been given in 1 Cor 12-14) must be desired: ‘Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophecy’.

I am not here to validate what he considers is ‘a constant theme in charismatic circles’. When does he visit charismatic churches? How many has he attended in the last 12 months?

I’m here to discuss what the Scriptures state and I’m hearing from him a denigration of the scriptural gifts, especially of tongues. Tongues fell on people on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) but we have a different manner of manifestation given in 1 Cor 12-14 where there ‘are varieties of gifts’ (1 Cor 12:4 ESV) manifest in the local church. Speaking of the range of the gifts of the Spirit (including tongues and interpretation), Paul stated, ‘All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills’ (1 Cor 12:11 ESV). Someone does not have the gift because God has not given it to that person. However, his opposition to these supernatural gifts is a fair indication that he is providing a block in his own life that prevents such manifestations coming through him. Paul’s command to us is: ‘Earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues‘ (1 Cor 14:39 ESV).

There is no such coaching for spiritual gifts but I tell you what is needed more and that is careful exegesis of the text and exposition of passages such as 1 Cor 12-14.

He says, ‘So why are we so focused on tongues as such a meaningful gift when Paul not only indicates that not all would have this gift, but that there are other gifts to be much preferred’. Simply put, ‘One who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God’, uttering ‘mysteries in the Spirit’ (1 Cor 14:2 ESV). Surely everyone should want to speak to God in the Spirit? Well, I do. I praise God using the gift of tongues when he gives it to me. Non-charismatic churches will not allow me to do that, so I do it in my prayer time at home. ‘The one who prophecies [another spiritual gift given by the Spirit] speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation’ (1 Cor 14:3 ESV). So the gift of prophecy is clearly a manifestation among the people of God for spiritual edification. This is surely not to call such people immature but is to ‘build up the church’ (1 Cor 14:4 ESV). What does the person do who speaks in tongues? He or she ‘builds up himself/herself’ (1 Cor 14:4), which is not an egotistical ministry but one that is perfectly legitimate according to Paul.

He states, ‘And we see from the issues in the Corinthian church, that tongues is certainly not a barometer for  one’s spiritual maturity.  If anything, it has nothing to do whatsoever with maturity or faith.’ That’s his perspective. It’s not what 1 Corinthians teaches. It teaches that what was happening in Corinth was disorder (which is also in some charismatic-Pentecostal churches in my region) and they needed to get back to this emphasis: ‘But all things should be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor 14:40 ESV). That emphasis is one that should be taught to many in the charismatic-Pentecostal ranks. But the problem is not with the nature of tongues and interpretation, but with how they are being exercised in the church. Extreme examples should not deter us from biblical emphases. I don’t allow the Mormon view of prophecy to interfere with a biblical understanding of prophecy.

He said of the gift of tongues: ‘If anything, it has nothing to do whatsoever with maturity or faith.  I find no basis in the argument that all Christians should have a “prayer language” or should seek to speak in tongues’. His is not a biblical emphasis. Speaking in tongues has everything to do with maturity or faith because when a person has the genuine gift of tongues, he or she ‘speaks not to men but to God’ (1 Cor 14:2 ESV). Is that what he wants to do – speak to God?

He could possibly respond, ‘But I can do that in English’. He can, but the Holy Spirit comes upon people with the gift of tongues so that they speak to God through ‘mysteries in the Spirit’ (1 Cor 14:2). I never knew anything about such an understanding when I was a cessationist Baptist who did not believe in the charismata, including tongues and interpretation. That changed drastically for me in the early 1970s when God came upon me through a genuine manifestation of the gift of tongues where I was able to speak to God in a way that brought edification that I previously did not know.

Why are tongues and miracles not in every church?

He continues:

You still did not answer the question about your view on tongues and miracles.  If these gifts exist for the purpose of building up the local body, as you assert, why do we not see them in every local body?  Does God not want most churches to be edified?  Isn’t it the Spirit who gives these gifts freely?  Why is it that only those congregations that are coached to expect and desire these manifestations have them when this is not what we see in the NT?  Again, I am not going to try to discount any supposed prophet and his miracles.  I don’t know the man and I am not in a position to claim you or this prophet are being false.  I just simply think that if these gifts are for the purpose of the body being built up and not functional (they have a very specific function and should not be expected as a regular part of the Christian experience) then we should see them in most churches…and not just hear about them in remote places as very unusual circumstances.[9]

I think he should now have some understanding of my view on tongues. However, why are these gifts not in every local body? Simply put, if tongues were to be manifest in the evangelical Presbyterian Church my wife and I currently attend, the person would be quickly ushered out of this cessationist church by the elders. It would cause such a ruckus that the person would be told never ever to engage in that kind of thing again. Frankly, it is NOT WANTED so it is never likely to happen in that church. I’m of the view that the Holy Spirit’s ministry is frustrated, even grieved or blasphemed, when something like this happens. So, people who are open to the full range of gifts of the Spirit go to charismatic-Pentecostal churches where they will have the opportunity for the Spirit’s manifestation through the gifts.

(public domain)

I think he is excessively harsh with his statement: ‘Why is it that only those congregations that are coached to expect and desire these manifestations have them when this is not what we see in the NT’? That might be what he has seen or heard about in his region, but I have never ever been part of a charismatic-Pentecostal church that has engaged in ‘coaching’ (I find that to be pejorative language). I have been part of churches that have pursued the biblical mandate, ‘Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts…. Do not forbid speaking in tongues’ (1 Cor 14:1, 40 ESV).

He will not see the gifts in churches that are denying that these supernatural charismata should be happening. I know from personal experience that cessationist churches would censor a person who wants the supernatural gifts to function. I attend a mid-week Bible study of another denomination and the pastor has come from a South African Pentecostal denomination. He has been told by the denominational leaders here in Australia that he MUST NOT ALLOW THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS – especially tongues – TO HAPPEN IN THAT CHURCH.

Tongues as ‘ecstatic utterances’

This forum poster wanted to place tongues with ‘ecstatic utterances’.

You also did not answer my question as to your Scriptural validation that tongues is merely an ecstatic utterance and not a miraculous speaking in another human language. If tongues does exist today, I am still not convinced that what is happening in most charismatic circles meets the NT definition of this gift.[10]

I’ll start with his last comment. What I have seen in some charismatic-Pentecostal churches (not all of them that I have attended) is not consistent with the biblical manifestation of tongues and interpretation. For example, if tongues are manifest (aloud so all can hear) in a congregation, there MUST BE the accompanying gift of interpretation. Otherwise, ‘I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me’ (1 Cor 14:11 ESV). The biblical emphasis with the gifts is to ‘strive to excel in building up the church’ (1 Cor 14:12 ESV). That means there must be intelligibility – English in Australia, Spanish in Spain, Arabic in Saudi Arabia, etc. ‘Building up the church’ is a ministry of edification. Surely that cannot be described as an immature ministry!!!

I would not use the language that tongues is ‘an ecstatic utterance’ because that is not a biblical emphasis. Tongues is a divine gift of the Spirit that needs the accompanying gift of interpretation.

Tongues may be a miraculous gift in another human language, but who am I to tell God what he should do when he gives the gift of tongues? He has told us what he does: The one speaking with the Spirit’s gift of tongues – given in love – ‘utters mysteries in the Spirit’. I would never ever be so brazen as to tell God that he MUST DO IT with human languages that are spoken on this earth? I would be foolish to tell the omnipotent Trinitarian God what he must do to satisfy my inability to understand all he does through ‘mysteries in the Spirit’.

For this I pray that it will happen in more and more churches: ‘When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up’ (I Cor 14:26 ESV). One of the great tragedies of the contemporary church is that the people of God are convinced that only a handful of people – pastors, elders, teachers, etc – have gifts and most of God’s people are not allowed to function when the church gathers.

‘Crazy dog’ behaviour

I can understand some of the objections to charismatic excesses. See an example of the ‘Crazy dog man’ behaviour of the Toronto Blessing on YouTube. This pandemonium is not only shameful, but in direct conflict with the exhortation of Scripture – in the context of teaching on the gifts: ‘But be sure that everything is done properly and in order’ (1 Cor 14:40 NLT).

Further assistance

designQuiltsmall You might be interested in my explanation of a bad experience I had in a charismatic house church. See: Charismatic chaos in a Brisbane house church.

designQuiltsmall Gift of tongues is gibberish?

designQuiltsmall Does the superiority of New Testament revelation exclude the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit? Is cessationism biblical?

designQuiltsmall Can cessationism be supported by Scripture and church history?

 

Works consulted

MacArthur, J 1977. Where does the Bible end? Part 1, February 13. Grace to You. Available at: http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/1364/where-does-the-bible-end-part-1 (Accessed 1 July 2015).

Notes


[1] OzSpen#9, Christianity Board, Christian Theology Forum, ‘The Administration of Tongues’, 19 June 2015. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/21597-the-administration-of-tongues/ (Accessed 1 July 2015).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#10.

[3] Ibid., Butch5#12

[4] Ibid., Butch5#13.

[5] Ibid., Wormwood#59.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#61.

[7] Ibid., Wormwood #59.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#61.

[9] Ibid., Wormwood#59.

[10] Ibid., Wormwood#59.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 8 June 2016.

Is the spiritual gift of tongues ‘gibberish’?

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

By Spencer D Gear

Stir up the Gift

(image courtesy ChristArt)

It is not unusual on public Christian forums on the Internet to be exposed to all kinds of strange or different teaching. I came across this one:

Speaking gibberish has no relation to the Holy Spirit. It is uttered by a person’s spirit. The Holy Spirit will not indulge in such cheap gimmicks and degrading behavior to make known the will of God when He can directly speak to people as evidenced in the entire book of Acts without a middle man designated as an interpreter![1]

Yet one of God’s special ministry gifts to the body of Christ, A W Tozer, wrote, after citing Rom. 12:5-6 and 1 Cor. 12:4-7, that

The Bible teaches us that the genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit are a necessity in the spiritual life and ministries of every Christian congregation serious about glorifying Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord…. It seems to me that Paul was trying to make it as plain as he could in his epistles that any segment of the Body of Christ, anywhere in the world, should recapitulate – gather up and sum up within itself – all of the offices and gifts and workings of the entire church of Christ (Tozer 1978:21, 22; emphasis added).

How is it that a person in the pews is so opposed to the gift of tongues to call it ‘gibberish’, yet one of God’s special gifts to the body of Christ, A W Tozer, should claim that the Bible’s teaching that genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit are needed in every congregation? And these gifts include ALL of the offices, gifts and workings of the entire church. Tozer was adamant: ‘A careful study of the Apostle’s teachings concerning Jesus Christ and His church should persuade us that any local assembly ought to demonstrate all of the functions of the whole body’ (1978:22). Tozer is inferring that if God gives the gift of tongues to any local assembly of Christian believers, that gift should be allowed to function. Of course, the gift of tongues requires the gift of interpretation to make tongues intelligible for the congregation.

Sneering language against God’s gifts

How does one reply to such pejorative language of the Holy Spirit’s gift of speaking in tongues being described as ‘gibberish’, ‘cheap gimmicks and degrading behavior’? My response was:[2]

So what are we told not to forbid in this verse: ‘Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues (1 Cor 14:39 NIV)? Does this verse apply to the 21st century church as much as it did to the Corinthians?

What I often find in these discussions is that a person avoids some of the specific content of what is said. When this happens, it is called a red herring logical fallacy. The Nizkor Project explains that ‘a Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to “win” an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic’.

That is what happened to me in this circumstance. The response I received was:

Paul was referring to people who had already practicing this emotional part of personal prayer. I have nothing to say about personal prayers done in private in whatever language they want. But as one grows in the knowledge of the Lord, one would prefer greater gifts as Paul advised. That happened actually. Speaking gibberish diappeared (sic) after sometime (sic).
Now deluded Christians backsliding to bring back the worst conditions of Corinthian church![3]

This person continues with derogatory language for the gift of tongues, ‘emotional part of personal prayer’, ‘gibberish’, and ‘deluded Christians backsliding’ in the Corinthian church. Also the gift of tongues is not included in the ‘greater gifts’.

Rejection of mocking language for the gift of tongues

How should one reply to such negative views and mocking language against the gift of tongues? I wrote that[4] this person referred to tongues as ‘this emotional part of personal prayer’ and ‘speaking gibberish’ and that it is associated with ‘the worst conditions of Corinthian church’. To refer to God’s gift as ‘gibberish’ is something that I find pejorative towards God the Holy Spirit and the gifts that he gives. I note that he provided no biblical exposition for his position.

God’s language for the gift of tongues

What do the Scriptures state about the nature of the gift of tongues (glossolalia)?
The gift of tongues is a gift that God continues to give by his Spirit as a spiritual gift. We know this from 1 Corinthians 14:1-5,

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 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. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up (ESV, emphasis added).

We are to earnestly desire all spiritual gifts, especially prophecy, but the genuine gift of tongues and interpretation continues. There is no place in the church gathering for any who speaks in tongues without interpretation. The exhortation from 1 Cor 14:13 is, ‘One who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret’. Why? It is in order that the gift is intelligible to the remainder of the congregation that does not understand the tongue.

However, these verses teach that there is a genuine gift of tongues where one ‘speaks not to men but to God … for he utters mysteries in the Spirit’ (14:2). Please note that the biblical language does not speak of glossolalia as ‘gibberish’ but as speaking ‘to God’ and people uttering ‘mysteries in the Spirit’. I find it offensive that this person calls a ministry of the Spirit ‘gibberish’.

While the apostle Paul gives a preference for prophecy as a gift in the church as it ‘builds up the church’, he still gives this important teaching about tongues:

clip_image002_thumb‘I want you all to speak in tongues’ (1 Cor 14:5).

So the gift of tongues was available to all NT believers. Notice the contrast:

clip_image0021_thumb‘The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up’ (1 Cor 14:5).

So the gift of prophecy approximately equals tongues with interpretation for the building up of the church.

Contemporary evangelical scholars and the gift of tongues

While a person who posts on an evangelical Christian forum regards the gift of tongues as ‘gibberish’ and a ‘cheap gimmick’, how do some evangelical scholars describe this gift?

These three evangelical, New Testament scholars from very different traditions provide their definitions of the gift of tongues.

cubed-redmatte Jack W MacGorman, distinguished professor emeritus of New Testament, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, does not consider the gift of tongues to be a demonstration of ‘gibberish’. He wrote of the glossolalia in 1 Corinthians as, ‘Holy Spirit inspired utterance that is unintelligible apart from interpretation, itself an attendant gift. It is a form of ecstatic utterance, a valid charismatic endowment’ (MacGorman 1994:390-391). MacGorman considers that this definition is supported by these verses from 1 Corinthians 14:

  1. 1 Corinthians 14:2, “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” (ESV). McGorman’s argument was that nobody understands the ‘tongues’; he speaks to God and he speaks mystery.
  2. 1 Corinthians 14:13-14, “Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful” (ESV). The one speaking with the gift of tongues is not understood but his spirit is praying and therefore the person needs to be interpret.
  3. 1 Corinthians 14:18, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” (ESV).
  4. 1 Corinthians 14:26, “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (NIV).

MacGorman’s view is that if these verses refer to tongues as real languages, then these verses become sheer nonsense.

cubed-redmatte D A Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity International University, is not of the view that it is nonsense, but Carson considers that the tongue is a real language that is not known to the tongues-speaker. Carson’s perspective is that

the evidence favors the view that Paul thought the gift of tongues was a gift of real languages, that is, languages that were cognitive, whether of men or of angels…. What bearing does the discipline of linguistics have on the assessment of modern tongues? To my knowledge there is universal agreement among linguists who have taped and analysed thousands of examples of modern tongues-speaking that the contemporary phenomenon is not any human language. The patterns and structures that all known human language requires are simply not there. Occasionally a recognizable word slips out; but that is statistically likely, given the sheer quantity of verbalization (Carson 1995:83).

cubed-redmatte Gordon D Fee, professor emeritus, Regent College, Vancouver BC, Canada, a card-carrying Assemblies of God minister, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians states of the nature of the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 12:10:

The following seem certain (a) It is Spirit-inspired utterance; that is made explicit in vv. 7 and 11 and in 14:2; (b) The regulations for its use in 14:27-28 make it clear that the speaker is not in “ecstasy” or “out of control.” Quite the opposite; the speakers must speak in turn, and they must remain silent if there is no one to interpret. (c) It is speech essentially unintelligible both to the speaker (14:14) and to other hearers (14:16). (d) It is speech directed basically toward God (14:2, 14-15, 28); one may assume, therefore, that what is “interpreted” is not speech directed toward others, but the “mysteries” spoken to God.

What is less certain is whether Paul also understood the phenomenon to be an actual language. In favour of such a view are (a) the term itself, (b) the need for “interpretation,” and (c) the evidence from Acts 2:5-11. In the final analysis, however, this question seems irrelevant. Paul’s whole argument is predicated on its unintelligibility to both speaker and hearer; he certainly does not envisage someone’s being present who would be able to understand it because it was also an earthly language. Moreover, his use of earthly languages as an analogy in 14:10-12 implies that it is not a known earthly language, since a thing is not usually identical with that to which it is analogous. Most likely, therefore, the key to Paul’s – and their – understanding lies in the term “the language of angels” in 13:1 (q.v.) [Fee 1987:598].

Yet, a lay person on a Christian forum wants to call the gift of tongues, ‘gibberish’ and the Holy Spirit does not engage in ‘cheap gimmicks’. Such is not consistent with an exegesis of the passage as MacGorman, Carson and Fee have demonstrated.

There have been excesses

My experience is that there is such poor teaching on the correct approach to the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit – especially tongues and interpretation. I have seen too much existential chaos allowed by church leaders at the local church level that is too much like Toronto ‘blessing’ and Brownsville Pensacola ‘revival’ excesses that I’ve seen online and on DVDs. I can understand, but not endorse, this Christian forum person’s use of the language of ‘gibberish’ to describe tongues. I also have witnessed much disorder with the gift of tongues in a church gathering when there is no gift of interpretation taking place.

However, I have been in church gatherings when the gifts of the Spirit of tongues and interpretation have been manifested and I have been built up in my faith.

Paul was correcting excesses at Corinth with language such as the following in 1 Corinthians:

  • ‘If with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said?’ (14:9);
  • ‘Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church’ (14:12);
  • ‘One who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret’ (14:13);
  • ‘I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue’ (14:18-19);
  • ‘Tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers’ (14:22);
  • ‘If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God’ (14:27-28).

God’s gifts functioning when the church gathers

However when the church gathers, this should be how the gifts of the Spirit are manifested by brothers and sisters in Christ: ‘When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up’ (1 Cor 14:26). Imagine if that were allowed in many churches today! The dominance of a few people in worship could be replaced by ‘each one’ being allowed to function in ministry. There is this biblical proviso, ‘All things should be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor 14:40).

So, the gift of tongues with the gift of interpretation should continue in the church gathering. These are gifts from the Holy Spirit of God and are meant for the ‘building up’ of the church. We have as much need for this building up in the 21st century as the 1st century.

The excesses should not cause us to reject the correct biblical teaching of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit that include tongues and interpretation. Faulty use of the gifts should not negate the gifts. It should mean correction of improper use of the gifts of the Spirit and promotion of the need for the Holy Spirit to be allowed to function with supernatural gifts when the church gathers.

It is important for us to remember that ‘God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose’ (1 Cor 12:18). Since he arranges the gifts of tongues and interpretation in the body, who are we to label one of them as ‘gibberish’? God did not arrange for ‘gibberish’ in the body of Christ. He arranged for His gifts by His Spirit and I dare not diminish them to a humanistic standard. However, there is always the need when the church gathers for believers to ‘weigh what is said’ (14:29) – weigh prophecy in this context.

What is the biblical exhortation about the gift of tongues? ‘Earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order’ (14:38-39).

The person who wrote negatively about the gift of tongues on this forum, also wrote:

I am going by the dictionary definition for speaking unknown tongues as gibberish just as Paul claimed himself as an apostle based on a similar understanding. There are only twelve apostles according to spiritual understanding, and in that Judas was replaced by Matthias.[5]

Which kind of dictionary was he using? Is it an English dictionary or a Greek dictionary (lexicon)? [6]

So what was he meaning when he said that ‘there are only twelve apostles according to spiritual understanding’? He did not explain how that relates to the gift of glossolalia (speaking in tongues).

I wrote: ‘The gift of tongues is a gift that God continues to give by his Spirit as a spiritual gift. I know that from 1 Corinthians 14:1-5, we are to earnestly desire all spiritual gifts, especially prophecy’. His response was:

Sorry, you are wrong here! Paul did not say to desire all spiritual gifts
1 Corinthians 14:1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.

I replied that he was correct. It was an error of mine to write, ‘to desire all spiritual gifts’. This we do know that Paul taught the Corinthians, ‘Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy’ (1 Cor 14:5). So Paul was urging all of the Corinthian believers to be open to speaking in tongues, but even more to prophesy. He wrote:

No way God wants an agent’s agent to speak on behalf of the Holy Spirit!
1 & 2 Corinthians were early letters of Paul. He was still growing in the knowledge of the Lord that he had missed out since he was not a part of the ministry of Jesus on earth.

So he was inferring that the theopneustos (God-breathed)[7] Scripture of 1 & 2 Corinthians is a lower level of knowledge since he said that Paul ‘was still growing in the knowledge of the Lord’. Was Paul writing the truth about spiritual gifts or not? Was Paul writing the truth in the Corinthian correspondence or was he writing a lower knowledge since he was still growing in the Lord’s knowledge (his words)? He wrote:

One need (sic) to read 2 Corinthians to understand the 1 Corinthians. 2 Corinithians (sic) is nothing but a boastful and confessing letter of him that puts him in the right perspective.

I haven’t read anything in 1 or 2 Corinthians to say that I have to read 2 Corinthians to help me to understand 1 Corinthians. The second letter is addressing mostly different matters to the first letter. This person wrote:

This piece-wise interpretation is misleading. Let us see the entire verse:
5 I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.
So do you accept that Paul is calling one gift is superior to another! That cannot happen when it comes to gifts of God! (emphasis in original)

The greater gifts are the intelligible ones. We know that from 1 Corinthians 14:9-12:

So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church (ESV, emphasis added).

The emphasis here is on gifts that are intelligible, understandable. The gift of tongues, as long as there is the gift of interpretation, is intelligible.

He asked an excellent question: ‘What do you mean by ‘approximately’? Do you have a yardstick to compare?’

This is what I wrote to which he was responding: ‘So the gift of prophecy approximately equals tongues with interpretation for the building up of the church’. I was referring to 1 Cor 14:5, ‘The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up’. Here, the use of the word, ‘unless’, shows that the gift of prophecy is like the gift of tongues PLUS interpretation. That’s what I mean by ‘approximately’.

He wrote: ‘One need (sic) to imitate Jesus Christ, not Paul, Apollos et al with their claims based on their personal traits!’

The biblical perspective is that ‘All Scripture is theopneustos [breathed out by God] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work’ (2 Tim 3:16-17 ESV, emphasis added).

Instruction for my Christian living to become competent and equipped for my Christian life and ministry, is from ALL Scripture and not just from Jesus Christ. That’s what the Bible teaches.

This person wrote:

No theory or behavior should be based on one verse, one author, one book, etc. Show me where else in the Bible you find the mention of this business of speaking unknown language supported by interpretation?

Since all Scripture is God-breathed, the book of 1 Corinthians comes with the authority of God. I dare not reject the gifts as articulated in 1 Corinthians when God has given them authoritatively for the edification of the church. Acts 2:1-11 does speak of ‘tongues’ but in a different context and understanding to the exposition in 1 Cor 12-14.

This person wrote that ‘from this it is obvious that what was happening and what is happening now in many churches is uncontrolled emotions elevated to spurioius (sic) spiritual status!’

I agree that there is excess happening in some churches regarding the gifts of the Spirit. The truth is that excesses and spurious teachings should be corrected, but excesses do not negate the truth of the spiritual gifts that are available for the 21st century.

This was the response from that person to what I wrote above:[8]

‘Since we are communicating in the known English language, any emotional blurting out by a person of an unknown language – when God has given one of the greatest gifts of speaking an intelligible language – can be branded as gibberish!’

My response was as follows:[9]

I find it offensive that he would call the Holy Spirit’s gift of tongues to be ’emotional blurting out’ and ‘gibberish’.

Why didn’t he answer what I wrote about going to the Greek language to obtain the meaning of the Greek lalein (to speak) in glwssia (tongues)? Even though we speak the English language, we need to go to the original NT language of koine Greek to obtain the meaning of glossolalia. Why did he ignore this input that I provided? Is it because he does not read and understand NT Greek?

Then this man wrote:

As I indicated earlier, the answer to this is found in 2 Corinthians when Paul admits the use of his craftiness to bring order there. Let us consider a situation wherein one person speaks an unknown tongue, and there is no interpreter. His sayings go as a waste. That can never happen if the Holy Spirit is prompting that.[10]

Paul’s craftiness has nothing whatsoever to do in context with an understanding of the gifts of tongues and interpretation in 1 Cor 12-14.As for there being nobody with the gift of interpretation in the church gathering, the person who spoke in tongues should be told by the elders that he/she is out of order and should not have spoken that gift.

First Corinthians 14:13 provides the answer to the question he raised: ‘Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret’ (ESV). I have seen this happen on many occasions where the person God gifts with the manifestation of tongues is also given the gift of interpretation. It is very rare that I have ever heard someone manifest the gift of tongues without the gift of interpretation. Does he have any experience in attending a Pentecostal/charismatic church or group where the gifts of tongues and interpretation have been happening? It seems that he is speaking from a lack of knowledge of the Bible (1 Cor 14:3) in this area, and non-exposure to these supernatural gifts of the Spirit in the local church.

How does one respond to his statement, ‘At the same time this unknown tongue is an act of person’s spirit. The Holy Spirit has nothing to do with that’?[11]

I do wish that he would read carefully what I Cor 12-14 states. Yes, the gift of tongues comes through the human spirit as 1 Cor 14:14 states, ‘For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful’. However, who or what is the origin of his gift? ‘For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God, for no one understand him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit‘ (1 Cor 14:3, emphasis added).

In context, 1 Cor 12:1 reads, ‘concerning spiritual gifts’, that person is ‘speaking in the Spirit of God … in the Holy Spirit’ (12:3). Then we are assured in 12:4, ‘There are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit‘ (12:4). As for the ‘varieties of gifts’ (12:4), ‘it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’ (12:12:6-7).

Conclusion

Therefore, all of these spiritual gifts that are manifest in the ekklesia, are through the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit, the same God. But he wanted to label one of these gifts as ’emotional blurting out’ and ‘gibberish’. I urged him not to impose his pejorative meaning on these supernatural gifts from God’s Spirit. Of course, there can be abuse and misuse, but I am exposed to such in preaching/teaching as well. Abuse and misuse are not the sole responsibility of the spiritual gifts. They can happen elsewhere in the church as well.

And have a guess what? Two of those manifestations of the Holy Spirit of God are ‘various kinds of tongues’ and ‘interpretation of tongues’ (1 Cor 12:10). That is why I find his labelling of the Holy Spirit’s gift of tongues as ’emotional blurting out’ and ‘gibberish’ to be contrary to what the Scriptures state and to be offensive to Christian exegesis of the text. Why is he using such derogatory language to label God’s gifts of tongues and interpretation?

This person is anti the gifts of the Spirit and has resorted to using language that is contrary to what the Scriptures state in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Therefore, this person erected a straw man logical fallacy. When one does that, one is building a non-existent case for a view that comes from somewhere else – perhaps from a person’s anti-charismatic presuppositions. It looks very much like imposing a worldview on the text. Thus, this becomes eisegesis – the meaning is not determined by what the text says but by what the interpreter believes and imposes on the text.

I urged this person not to use such offensive language for two of God’s Spirit’s gifts to the congregation that are designed ‘so that the church may be built up’ (1 Cor 14:5).

Works consulted

Carson, D A 1995.[12] Showing the Spirit: A theological exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press.

Fee, G D 1087. The new international commentary on the New Testament: The first epistle to the Corinthians, F F Bruce (gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

MacGorman, JW 1974. The gifts of the Spirit: An exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. Nashville: Broadman Press.

Tozer, A W 1978. Tragedy in the church: The missing gifts. Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications.

Notes:

 [1] Justtruly #26, Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Gift of Tongues – Book Research’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7755995-3/ (Accessed 24 July 2013).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #31.

[3] Ibid., justtruly #32.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen #33.

[5] Ibid., justtruly #34.

[6] My response is at ibid., OzSpen #35.

[7] Based on 2 Timothy 3:16 which states: ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God [theopneustos] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’ (ESV).

[8] Ibid., justtruly #49.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen #50.

[10] Ibid., justtruly #49.

[11] Ibid.

[12] This book was first published by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA in 1987.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 May 2016.

The fake and the genuine mixed in some churches: A dangerous concoction!

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Landmine Doctrine

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

I’ve been interacting with a missionary friend in a foreign country who wrote of a person from the Bethel Church who feeds 10,000 children, has established churches, and has a humble ministry of bringing healing to the black children of Africa. A film has been made about this person raising people from the dead. This person gains no money from the actions and aches as she sits in the dust with African children, preaching Christ. But she is part of the Bethel Church, Redding, CA, USA.

The question the missionary asked of me: ‘How can this person be misguided and as far from Christ as the church leaders of Bethel church’?

What does the Bethel Church teach?

Bethel Church, Redding CA

Courtesy Wikipedia

The Bethel Church, Redding, California has this teaching on YouTube where there is alleged gold dust falling. See: ‘Gold dust rains during worship at Bethel!

See also:

blue-satin-arrow-smallBethel testimonies’;

blue-satin-arrow-smallJeremy Riddle – Our Father PART 1/2 (Gold dust in the room)’;

blue-satin-arrow-smallGlory Cloud & Gold Dust at Bethel Church’;

blue-satin-arrow-smallBethel’s ‘signs and wonders’ include angel feathers, gold dust and diamonds’.

Critiques of the Bethel Church movement

Empty Words

(image courtesy ChristArt )

What are the issues with Bethel Church, Redding, California, and its teachings? There are many links to assessment of the heresy of Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Apostasy Watch:

blue-arrow-smallWarning – Bill Johnson and Bethel Church’;

blue-arrow-smallSound advice for Bethel Church Pastor Bill Johnson’;

blue-arrow-smallBob Dewaay: Bill Johnson, IHOP [IHOP], & Ancient Heresy Reborn’;

blue-arrow-smallThe dangers of the International House of Prayer’, CARM;

blue-arrow-smallBill Johnson and Bethel – Report from Redding Record Searchlight’;

blue-arrow-smallBill Johnson / Bethel Church, Redding, California’ (links to other criticisms built into the article);

blue-arrow-smallBirds of a Feather Flock Together: Strange Manifestations in ‘Christian’ Circles – from God or not? Feathers in Church? Bill Johnson of Bethel Church, Redding California’;

Let me say up front that we cannot discern a heart before God of any person, whether associated with a church teaching false doctrine or one teaching the truth. That discernment is in God’s hands. But the Scriptures give some strong indicators of what can happen.

What did Jesus say about the mixture of the fake with the genuine?

When I turn to Jesus, this is the truth that he proclaims:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt 7:21-23 NIV)

Only Jesus knows the truth of the human heart and the eternal destiny of people. It is evident from these Scriptures in Matthew 7 that Jesus did not regard good deeds and supernatural miracles to be guarantees that a person is a Christian who will enter the kingdom of heaven. It is evident that people can do many good works, perform miracles, and not do the will of the heavenly Father. It sounds strange to us, but God knows this is so. In fact, God calls these kinds of people, ‘evildoers’ (NIV) or ‘workers of lawlessness’ (ESV). So, these people are false prophets, even though they perform mighty works.

Evangelical commentator, William Hendriksen, wrote of this passage:

‘Does not all of this point to the possibility that also the demon expulsions and other mighty works of which the false prophets of Matt. 7:22 boast had been nothing but sham? Have not investigations proved again and again that among false prophets illusions, trickery, sleight of hand, etc., abound, and that what is presented as genuine is very often nothing but deception?’ (Hendriksen 1973:376).

Matthew 7:23 indicates a very high Christology. Jesus decides who will enter the Kingdom on the last day and he also decides who will be banished from his presence. That he never knew these people is because they falsely claimed him as Lord.

I find it interesting how the writer of The Didache, after the close of the New Testament, puts it this way, ‘But not everyone who speaks in a spirit is a prophet, except he have the behavior of the Lord. From his behavior, then, the false prophet and the true prophet shall be known’ (Didache 11.8). This is a good summary. One can use the word, ‘Lord’, of Jesus, allege to be a prophet and perform mighty works, and still be a fraud before Christ.

Therefore, the application to the Bethel Church is that a person can perform miracles, do other good works, but engage in false teaching and still not be a Christian who will enter the Kingdom. This does not mean that there are no genuine Christians associated with this church. That discernment is in Jesus’ control. However, ‘I never knew you’ are tragic words when they think that they are doing it for Jesus. Let’s understand that who enters the kingdom will be decided by Jesus. But here in Matt 7 there are strong indicators that good works and miracles can be associated with those who claim Jesus as Lord, but he is not their Lord. These are the penetrating words of Jesus.

I understand that we would like to think that there are those who perform wonderful deeds towards the needy, are used in supernatural miracles, but proclaim false doctrine, are misled but are truly Christian. But that’s not how Jesus sees it according to Matt. 7. I have to be true to Jesus and his teaching. It will sound harsh, but I have to answer at the end of my life to the Lord for my accuracy or otherwise with my biblical teaching. I hope people understand this. There is an attack on the truth of Scripture in the contemporary world.

Mark 9:39 states, ‘But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me’ (ESV). Those who proclaim false doctrine are speaking evil of the Lord as what they proclaim is not true.

I do not believe that miracles ceased with the original 12 apostles. See my article, ‘Can cessationism be supported by Scripture and church history?

Worm and Lace

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Which Jesus?

There is the problem we face in the twenty-first century that was also there in the first century: Which Jesus are they/we serving? Is He the one who mixes falsehood with truth, or is he the one who is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ ALWAYS?

Consider these sources of falsehood and truth. We have warnings and affirmations in Scripture:

matte-red-arrow-small ‘But test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil’ (1 Thess 5:21-22 ESV).

matte-red-arrow-small‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 John 4:1 ESV).

They were there in the first century. They are here n the twenty-first century. There will be the fake performed alongside the genuine. To the human eye they may look similar, but to Jesus he is the one who discerns those who knew him and those who didn’t. This we know from his teaching: Genuine good works, genuine miracles, and false teaching do not go together. They are often mixed and Christians are to be people of biblical and spiritual discernment. Too often we are not!

Therefore, the Lord calls all true believers to be people committed to the ministry of discernment:

matte-red-arrow-small ‘But test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil’ (1 Thess 5:21-22 ESV).

matte-red-arrow-small‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 John 4:1 ESV).

The challenge

Here is the challenge that you and I face, whether in an overseas country or here in my country of Australia. We are to be these kinds of Christians: ‘So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes’ (Eph 4:14 ESV). It is tempting to see those who are doing massive good deeds mixed with fake miracles, to be seen as genuine. But the false and the truth cannot be mixed and come out as genuine. That’s according to Jesus and the Scriptures.

Why don’t you take a read of this article about the teaching of Bill Johnson and the Bethel Church, ‘An Invasion of Error: A Review of Bill Johnson—When Heaven Invades Earth

Part of the problem we face in the contemporary church is that teaching the truth through sound doctrine from the pulpit and in small groups is on such a low level in many evangelical churches. Many are too interested in their contemporary worship, topical sermons, and Gospel light, to be pursuing the need to teach true doctrine and refute false doctrine.

My wife and I had an experience of that in the last 18 months when we moved to a new suburb in northern Brisbane and sought an evangelical church that proclaimed sound theology in both teaching and song. We visited 8 different churches before we found one that came close to sound teaching (expository preaching from books of the Bible) and solid lyrics in the songs they sang. Most were into rock ‘n roll Christianity in their music and songs, and light sermon content.

I emailed one pastor whom I had never met as he wasn’t there and preaching when my wife and I visited his church on one occasion. I had enquired about going to one of his cell groups locally. His response was that a cell group at his church would not be suitable for me as it was ‘more contemporary than the church service’. I had not mentioned a word to him about ‘contemporary’ anything. Obviously the one person we spoke to after the service conveyed to the pastor some of the comments we made about the service. As for solid teaching in the evangelical churches, we did not find it – except for one. But the problem with this one, which we currently attend, is that it is super-traditional in all that happens in the services. However, the pastor is a sound expositor of Scripture who is not afraid to exegete the Scriptures and provide careful interpretations of the meaning.

See my articles:

silver-arrow-smallFive ingredients of a healthy church: Colossians 4:7-18‘;

silver-arrow-smallDouble faults and no aces: Margaret Court’;

silver-arrow-smallAre the dead raised today?

silver-arrow-smallSeventh Day Adventist atonement doctrine’.

T

(image courtesy ChristArt)

References

Hendriksen, W 1973. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 April 2016.

What Presbyterians can learn from Pentecostals!

Monday, August 20th, 2012

 

clip_image002 clip_image004

(image Courtesy: Wikipedia)                     (image Courtesy: Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

When my wife and I moved to Brisbane from Hervey Bay, Qld., Australia, we left Fraser Coast Baptist Church where the senior pastor, Steve Sauvageot, was a solid biblical expositor of the Scriptures and the church sang only hymns during the services. And have a guess what? There were plenty of youth who came to the church who were part of a vibrant youth group.

When we moved to Brisbane in mid 2011 and settled in a Brisbane suburb, we set about finding a church with solid preaching and sound theology in the songs they sang. We were seeking out an evangelical church that believed the Bible, the Gospel, and preached from the Scriptures.

What did we find?

We went to seven local evangelical churches and for all of those, Baptist and Churches of Christ, the old hymns were out and contemporary, rock music was in. Loud rock music tended to dominate the music. At one church, the music introduction in one of the songs was led by the drummer. In fact, the musical interlude in this song was given by the drummer as the only means of music. Now that’s a hard way for me, a very average singer, to get a note to try to sing.

The lyrics of these songs were biblical-lite. There was nothing like, ‘A mighty fortress is our God!’, ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemers praise’, or ‘How great Thou art’. Since it was 12-months ago, I cannot remember one contemporary song that we sang in those churches.

In one church, there was not a Bible reading in the entire service. Most of the sermons were topical with no expository emphasis. The one exception was the ‘drummer’ church where an elder did give a very good expository sermon. However, we were hardly going to settle at that church as the music was superficially light and the people were not very friendly. Not a person spoke to us after the service.

We settled on a Presbyterian church

While I am not Calvinistic in my primary theological orientation, my wife and I found a Presbyterian church where there was solid expository preaching along with the singing of hymns, most of which we know. Singing is from words flashed onto a projector screen from a computer and digital camera.

But here there is another challenge. The people are friendly, the sermons are expository as the pastor preaches through the Bible, but the services, to use my language, are as dry as dust. It is traditional church order of: introduction from the psalms (generally), hymn, prayer (by pastor),  children’s talk, announcements, hymn, Bible reading, pastoral prayer (by pastor), hymn, sermon, hymn, and benediction. It is dominated by one-way communication. It is quite a contrast from some of the other Pentecostal and evangelical churches with which I have been associated down through the years.

I have been to some mid-week, evening Bible studies in the church and they are a fairly sterile environment with a Bible study gained from the Internet on 1 Corinthians, but there is no prayer and care for one another in the group. It’s a dry, academic study where interaction is allowed.

There was content that came in a sermon on 19 August 2012 on the raising of Lazarus (John 11:11-27) that caused me to think further about the nature of what is happening in this evangelical Presbyterian church. I take notes from all of the sermons I hear and this is one area of emphasis from this sermon (the pastor has been at this church for 9 years) – this is based on the notes that I took during the service:

  • (Australian) Presbyterians are a fearful people; we fear to give and we are an impotent bunch.
  • Pentecostals are more optimistic.
  • Baptists and Pentecostals are more evangelistic.

I have observed this kind of thinking among the Presbyterians in this church also.

How should I respond?

I took the time to send the pastor an email that included this content:

clip_image006 I’ve been contemplating some of the content of your sermon and the contrasts between Presbyterians and Pentecostals. Then there was a chain of people that the elder asked to be formed at the end of the service when we held hands and prayed. The elder had a personal issue that he shared.

clip_image006[1]Would you and the elders be prepared to engage with me in two areas of ministry that I believe will make a major difference at this Presbyterian Church? I’m convinced that this needs to happen at the local church level. There are two areas that I’d like to discuss with you and the elders, based on your sermon contents and the joining of hands of the people at the conclusion of the service.

What are those two areas?

clip_image007Firstly, this has to do with the pastor’s comment about the differences between Pentecostals and Presbyterians. One of the reasons many of the Pentecostals I know are so active in evangelism and vibrant in their understanding of Christian ministry is because of this emphasis: They have a biblical understanding of the need for all Christians to care for one another, weep with one another, hurt with one another, pray for one another and minister to one another. This is the biblical emphasis:

  • James 5:16: ‘Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working’ (ESV).
  • Ephesians 6:18: ‘Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints’ (ESV).
  • 1 Corinthians 12:26: ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together’ (ESV).

What happens when my wife and I go to the church’s Bible study? There is no confessing of sins one to another, praying for one another. It becomes an academic exercise without the involvement of the community of believers and the Community of the King (the language of Howard Snyder). We are the body of Christ and we need to be caring for one another when we meet. I asked for opportunity for me to discuss this with the pastor and/or elders. I believe it is an important aspect of ministry among the body of believers that seems to be neglected at this church (I await a reply from the pastor).

If the elder had not shared his personal struggles from the pulpit at the end of service, I would not have known of his personal struggles with a certain issue. This should not be so with a functioning body of believers. When we meet for Bible study, it should not be just a Bible study. It ought to be a gathering of the body of believers where all believers are able to minister to one another. If anyone is hurting, this is the opportunity to pray for one another and be healed by the power of God. I asked to be able to share further with pastor and elders.

clip_image007[1]Secondly, there is another area where Pentecostals could teach Presbyterians a great deal about biblical functioning. I’m somewhat reticent to broach this subject with the pastor as I know that he opposes this view. However, I asked him to consider allowing me to present some teaching at some elders’ meetings on the biblical understanding of the continuing ministry of the gifts of the Spirit. I was raised in a cessationist Baptist Church but when I exegeted the relevant Scriptures, I could no longer support that view.

What I observe happening at this Presbyterian Church is that it is very hierarchical and one-way communication is dominant when the church gathers. That is not what happened at Corinth and it should not be what happens with any church that believes the Bible in the twenty-first century. I’m speaking of the giftedness of the whole body of believers. We have this teaching stated clearly and overtly in Paul’s correction of the Corinthian Church. He did not condemn them for this practice but told them that this is what ought to happen when the church gathers. Here it is:

  • 1 Corinthians 14:26, ‘What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up’ (NIV).

This is what should be happening in each church gathering, but especially in small groups. I asked for permission to come to elders’ meetings and present teaching on the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit in the body of believers. I am convinced this would address some of the issues raised by the pastor in his sermon about the vibrancy of Pentecostalism when compared with Presbyterianism. I am not suggesting that we adopt a philosophy of pragmatism – doing what works. But I see a biblical need to get back to the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit among us when the church gathers. This is not happening in this Presbyterian Church. Why? It is because cessationism is being promoted. I asked for permission to engage with the pastor and elders on these teachings.

I said that it may sound brazen of me to raise these topics as I’ve only been in the church 12-months, but I consider they are two vital factors in a healthy church.

For some of the articles I’ve written on these topics, I refer you to:

Appendix A: An expose on what is happening to music in the church

I only recently have become aware of this book. My wife, a pianist and vocalist, has just finished reading it. I’m impressed by what I’ve heard so far, but my wife has passed it on to another musician in the church to read. Here is the book by T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal ( 2010. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing).

For reviews, see:

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 June 2016.

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Christianity in free fall: the Toronto blessing

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

(courtesy thepocketscroll.com)

By Spencer D Gear

I urge you to view what happens when the Scriptures are abandoned and chaos sets in. Take a read of My Experiences with the Toronto Vineyard (Rick Friedrich of Michigan)

Why wasn’t there pastoral leadership that stopped this lunacy and called it for what it was – an erroneous view of Christianity. Correcting false doctrine seems to be low on the agenda of many in the church today. What Toronto (and Pensacola) descended into was something abhorrent.

I pray for God’s leaders to become just that – men and women who are not afraid to correct and stop false doctrine. As a result, in some of these churches there is still a movement of existential nonsense when some churches gather. Sound doctrine goes out the window!

What is existentialism in religion?

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Rudolf Bultmann (courtesy Wikipedia)

I use the term ‘religion’ because it is a far cry from the self-denial and commitment of Jesus Christ. Existentialist religion happens when experience is given a prominent place. We saw an example with German liberal, Rudolf Bultmann (AD 1884-1976), when he de-mythologised the Bible in the 20th century. In his chapter on ‘modern biblical interpretation and existential philosophy’, he wrote:

Over and over again I hear the objection that de-mythologizing transforms Christian faith into philosophy. This objection arises from the fact that I call de-mythologizing an interpretation, an existentialist interpretation, and that I make use of conceptions developed especially by Martin Heidegger in existentialist philosophy (1958:45).

See, ‘Rudolf Bultmann: A critique’, for an assessment of Bultmann’s theology.

But what is existentialism?

(courtesy www.wrs.vcu. edu)

 

Wikipedia has a lay-level article on existentialism that tries to help our understanding of what is happening in philosophy, psychology and counselling, and in the Christian churches. This philosophy, which is alive and well in many evangelical and Pentecostal churches around the world, is defined thus:

Existentialism is generally considered to be the philosophical and cultural movement which holds that the starting point of philosophical thinking must be the individual and the experiences of the individual, that moral thinking and scientific thinking together do not suffice to understand human existence, and, therefore, that a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to understand human existence. (Authenticity, in the context of existentialism, is being true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.)…. Existentialists generally regard traditional systematic or academic philosophies, in both style and content, as too abstract and remote from concrete human experience.

When applied to the church, this means that your experience of Jesus is given primary importance. Where do biblical teaching and theology fit into existentialist Christianity? Existentialism is alive and well thanks to liberal Christianity and the Pentecostal-charismatic movement.

However, there is a supposed difference. Liberal Christianity denigrates the Scriptures and has a different view of God. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

1. One assessment of Bultmann’s view was, ‘One could not know much about God, only what God did for one. (When Macquarrie urged him to follow Tillich in using the philosophy of Being to reconstruct a purified theism, Bultmann could only confess: “I myself cannot conceive of an ontological basis.”) One could not do much for God, only gamble one’s life on his reality and on his power to uphold one. One could not say much to God, only give thanks and surrender’ (Edwards 1976). Bultmann himself wrote, ‘The invisibility of God excludes every myth which tries to make God and His action visible; God holds Himself from view and observation. We can believe in God only in spite of experience, just as we can accept justification [by faith] only in spite of conscience’ (Bultmann 1958:83-84). That description automatically excludes Jesus, the second person of the Trinity as God, and his visible actions in our world.

2. How about the Episcopalian, John Shelby Spong’s, view of God? He wrote, ‘I refer here to a deity who is “a being,” not even if we claim for God the status of the highest being. I speak rather of the God I experience as the Ground and Source of All Being and therefore the presence that calls me to step beyond every boundary…. I intend to demonstrate that probing this new God-possibility begins with a search for clues in our religious past…. The limits on the theistic definition of God have been present for centuries…. The theistic God of the past was created by us and in our own image? As I have suggested in a previous book, “If horses had gods would they not look like horses?’ (Spong 2001:60-61). See my analysis of this publication by Spong in, ‘Spong’s swan song – at last!

3. Listen to Paul Tillich! ‘If God is called the living, if he is the ground of the creative processes of life, if history has significance for him, if there is no negative principle in addition to him which could account for evil and sin, how can one avoid positing a dialectical negativity in God himself?… The anticipation of nothingness at death gives human existence its existential character (Tillich 1968:I 210).

The Pentecostal-charismatic movement, at least in theory, confirms the authority of Scripture and of the Lord God Almighty as revealed in the Bible. However, I have my questions after visiting the website of this leading Pentecostal church on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Kings Christian Church (Buderim) and the outreach church that is now known as Noosa Hillsong. A friend of mine who visited this Buderim church called it an ‘ex-church’. The Brisbane Courier-Mail (April 22, 2007) described Kings Christian Church as ‘a new brand of church’ in which this could happen on women’s day:

IN A new building in the Sunshine Coast hinterland a woman spoons froth off a cappuccino. On her left, a teenager has her nails buffed while a silver-haired grandmother deliberates between shades of pearl and puce.

“I’ll take the pearl polish this week,” says the elderly woman. “And I’d love another coffee.”

It’s ladies’ day at the Kings Christian Church, west of Maroochydore, and groups of women are seated around “pampering stations”.

As Pastor Steve Penny dons a headset and prepares to take the stage, the women receive free manicures and premium coffee in the church’s new $4.5 million Champions Centre.

In this article, Pastor Penny ‘says young people expect the latest equipment’. The Courier-Mail goes on to report,

Officials expect to turn heads at the Champions Centre official opening and six-car giveaway next Sunday. The cars, which have been advertised on TV, will be handed out before free pizza and ice cream.

There will be jumping castles, buggy rides and fireworks at the “Event Spectacular”.

Pastor Penny said the giveaways were a means of expressing the church’s interest in the community. He said money spent on cars was donated by members and would ultimately come back to the church.

That sounds awfully like the advertising I wrote in my former days as a radio/TV announcer and copywriter. It is worldly thinking. How would it stack up against the emphases of Jesus’ instructions on being a Christian disciple?

There is some further information about Kings Christian Church, Buderim. The Sunshine Coast Daily reported problems with this church in 2010: ‘Residents fed up with church noise’ (20 January 2010). Part of the article read:

A MAJOR youth conference at a Tanawha church designed to instil community values in the young has instead led to a community backlash over the “deafening” live music at the event.

Unresolved, long-standing issues over the regular live music that blares from the massive Kings Christian Church, which has a congregation of about 1500 and hosts numerous events, reached flashpoint on Monday when the inaugural four-day Queensland Youth Alive Conference opened.

Fed-up nearby residents said years of complaints to the church, Sunshine Coast council and police over the “pounding bass” emanating from the church had landed on deaf ears.

Up to 600 people are attending this week’s youth conference, although it is believed the church’s huge hall can accommodate 1000 people.

“The music started at nine this morning,” one resident said yesterday.

“I feel traumatised. I’m tired … very traumatised.”

Police have been called to the Crosby Hill Road address an astonishing 17 times since 2007 – mainly because of excessive noise and traffic complaints – but said its hands were tied because council had issued the venue with a permit to stage church meetings.

Therefore, the provisions of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act did not apply, a police spokeswoman said.

Police were last called to the church on Monday night, but once again residents were left frustrated.

“I would prefer a brothel over there,” another resident said.

“A legalised brothel that was quiet would be better than this. You don’t behave like this under normal Christianity.”

James Macpherson, who recently took over as the church’s senior pastor but is currently based in Townsville, plans to meet with residents when he arrives on the Coast soon.

Mr Macpherson said the church should be a “blessing to the community”.

“So I’m happy to sit down with people and talk things through,” he said.

Jesus gave this solemn warning about the cost of discipleship. This is not the cost of emotionalism and falling over at a meeting. It is more than Christianity in free fall. Discipleship involves a serious commitment:

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26 ESV).

Related image(courtesy watchman4wales)

So existentialism and materialism are alive and well in this kind of Pentecostal-charismatic church. But also could it be catching on at Lifepointe Baptist Church, North Buderim?

Both the liberals and many Pentecostals emphasise an experience of God, but the experiences are radically different. Both can degenerate into existential encounters, one like Paul Tillich’s view and the other like the Toronto Blessing or Kings Christian Church.

Liberal Christianity and existentialism

Existentialists, in contrast to determinism and set rules or boundaries, want radical human freedom. German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, called any sort of determinism, ‘inauthenticity’. So, when human beings act freely rather than conforming to any church, conventional opinion, or the Scriptures, there is an unquestioned commitment to experience.

Erickson (1997:92) considers that experience is a presupposition, an unquestioned starting point. Erickson gave the example of Jean-Paul Sartre’s atheism: ‘There cannot be a god, for if there were, he would be a major encroachment on my freedom. I know, however, that I am free. Therefore, there is no God’.

Liberal theologian, Paul Tillich (AD 1886-1965), has tried to synthesise Protestant Christian theology with existentialist philosophy. See his Systematic Theology (1968) in which he stated:

The personal encounter with God and the reunion with him are the heart of all genuine religion. It presupposes the presence of a transforming power and the turn toward the ultimate from all preliminary concerns. Yet, in its distorted form, “piety” becomes a tool with which to achieve a transformation within one’s self (1968:II 99).

But who is his God/god? He stated that ‘”God has become man” is not a paradoxical but a nonsensical statement. It is a combination of words which makes sense only if it is not meant to mean what the words say’ (1968:II 109). He explains further,

Ground of Being http://www.doxa.ws/Being/Ground_Being.html

What liberalism does to missions

Take a read of this assessment of liberalism and missionary activities:

The relativistic scientific world view which underlies mainline liberalism finds it hard to be completely comfortable with the exclusiveness of the evangelical claim. Because of its respect for other religions, it is at best ambivalent about evangelization of non-Christians. Its witness is necessarily unaggressive witness, and it is far more comfortable with social witness (Hutcheson 1981).

Now look at the impact on missions when theological liberals are compared with conservative, evangelical organisations (in Erickson 1997:13):[1]

Number of foreign missionaries under appointment 1972 1988
Group A: Liberal in theology

1. American Baptist Churches

2. Episcopal Church

3. United Church of Christ

4. United Methodist Church

5. United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

 

262

165

244

951

604

 

179

72

214

416

435

Group B: Conservative Christian organisations

1. Evangelical Foreign Missions Association

2. Interdenominational Foreign Missions Association

3. Wycliffe Bible Translators

4. Southern Baptist Convention

 

 

7,074

6,130

2,220

2,507

 

 

9,000+

8,000+

2,269

3,839

Where are the sound doctrine and discernment promoted by these church leaders?

I’m saddened to speak like this, but we are called upon to uphold sound doctrine which comes from Scripture itself and not some existential experience. It is certainly true that those who repent of their sins and turn in faith to Jesus Christ alone for salvation, experience new life in Christ. See, ‘The content of the Gospel’.

The promotion of sound doctrine means that false teaching and ungodly manifestations will be stopped by church leaders.

What happened in that video above (Toronto ‘Blessing’) and what is happening in liberal and Pentecostal churches causes me to be ashamed to identify with a Christianity that will allow that kind of manifestation.

Related image(courtesy www.liveleak.com)

 

Where are the people of discernment in these ‘churches’? This is biblical Christianity:

“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound [healthy] doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 ESV)

AND

“Teach what accords with sound [healthy] doctrine” (Titus 2:1 ESV).

In the midst of Paul’s teaching on the gifts of the Spirit, he stated:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2 ESV).

Then in 1 Corinthians we have this need when the gifts are manifested:

So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church (1 Cor. 14:12 ESV)

AND

Let the others weigh what is said (1 Cor 14:29 ESV)…. For God is not a God of confusion but peace (14:33)…. But all things should be done decently and in order (14:40).

When Toronto descended into what we saw on the video, we have the Word of God being violated because the people (especially the leaders) refused to implement what was taught in 1 Corinthians 14 and Romans 12.

Are we seeing here the fulfilment of 2 Timothy 4:3 and the movement away from sound or healthy teaching to accommodate people with itching ears? Could ‘itching ears’ include hair cuts, nail manicures, swimming pools and gyms?

I pray that Christian leaders will take the Scriptures seriously and stop this chaotic existentialism that happens in far too many churches. It is still going on around the world. I am a supporter of the continuing gifts of the Spirit, but I cannot promote this unbiblical chaos and movement away from sound teaching to existentialism and/or materialism – all in the name of the church.

Works consulted

Bultmann, R 1958. Jesus Christ and Mythology. London: SCM Press Ltd.

Edwards, D L 1976. Rudolf Bultmann: Scholar of faith (online). Christian Century, September 1-8, 728-730. Available at: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1827 (Accessed 13 June 2012).

Erickson, M J 1997. The evangelical left: Encountering postconservative evangelical theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Hutcheson Jr., R G 1981. Crisis in overseas mission: Shall we leave it to the independents? (online) Christian Century, March 18, 290-296. Available at: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1740 (Accessed 12 June 2012).

Spong, J S 2001. A new Christianity for a new world: Why traditional faith is dying and how a new faith is being born. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Tillich, P 1968. Systematic theology (combined volume of 3 vols). Digswell Place, Welwyn, Herts [UK]: James Nisbet & Co Ltd.

Notes:


[1] Erickson (1997:13, n. 1) gained this information from two mission handbooks: Missions Handbook: North American Protestant Ministries Overseas (1973) and Missions Handbook: USA/Canada Protestant Ministries Overseas (1989).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 November 2015.

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St. Augustine: The leading Church Father who dared to change his mind about divine healing

Monday, April 16th, 2012
Augustinus 1.jpg
St Augustine of Hippo (image courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD [1a]

She was “a woman of the highest social standing in her community,” but disaster had struck. She was dying from a disease that would not respond to any known medical treatment. Two choices were available to her: she could have surgery, or she could accept no treatment. Either way, death was inevitable.

On the advice of an eminent doctor who was a family friend, Innocentia chose to refuse treatment for her breast cancer. But that doctor didn’t realize this godly woman had access to resources he knew nothing of.

In a dream she was told by the Lord to “wait on the women’s side of the baptistry until the first of the newly baptized women would approach, and then ask her to make the sign of Christ on the affected breast.”  She was instantly healed.

The doctor was amazed. His previous examination showed clearly that the tumor was malignant. What special treatment had she received?  He was anxious to hear about the miracle medication.

When he heard her story, his lips and face expressed nothing but contempt, and she was afraid that he was going to begin blaspheming against Christ. The doctor controlled his anger, but sarcastically said, “I had hoped you might have told me something significant.”

Innocentia was shocked by the doctor’s attitude, but her reply was prompt and penetrating: “Well, for Christ to heal a cancer after He raised to life a man four days dead is not, I suppose, particularly significant.”

What makes this testimony of God’s healing power so remarkable is that Innocentia lived in the fifth century when medical science was in its infancy. Anesthetics had not been invented to give to patients before surgery.

Even more profound is the fact that the one who told this story was Augustine, the famous bishop of Hippo in northern Africa and he had believed miracles did not happen in the age in which he lived. This is one of the classic illustrations of the man who dared to change his mind about healing.

Augustine had a Madison Avenue flare. He was “positively angry” that such a great miracle had not been publicized across the city of Carthage. Innocentia had been so silent about the incident that even her closest friends “had heard nothing of the affair.”

Augustine made her tell her story in detail “while her friends, who were there, listened in immense amazement and, when she was done, glorified God.” [1b]  The important question is: What caused Augustine to change his mind about miracles?

A. The doubter becomes a believer

This famous bishop and theologian of the church was a man with a checkered career. Before his Christian conversion he was wild and reckless.  He  indulged  in  drinking, cheating, stealing, and all kinds of illicit sexual activities. To use his own words, he was “a slave to sex rather than a lover of marriage.” [2]

But he was a searcher for truth. At the age of 32 his life was dramatically transformed through an encounter with Jesus Christ.

Augustine became the most important  Christian  writer and preacher of his time. His teachings profoundly affected the church for about a thousand years. “Salvation by grace alone” was the foundation of his ministry, preparing the way for the Protestant reformers in the 1500s.

Like many people today, Augustine had a problem with the supernatural. He knew that the miracles of Jesus were real, but he had doubts about whether they could happen in the day in which he lived. He believed “miracles were not allowed to continue till our time, lest the mind should always seek visible things.” [3]

But about four years before his death he changed his mind: “What I said is not to be interpreted that no miracles are believed to be performed in the name of Christ at the present time. For when I wrote that book, I myself had recently learned that a blind man had been restored to sight in Milan . . . and I knew about some others, so numerous even in these times, that we cannot know about all of them nor enumerate those we know.” [4]

Augustine the doubter once questioned: “Why, you ask, do such miracles not occur now? Because they would not move people, unless they were miraculous; and if they were customary, they would not be miraculous.” [5]

Later he revised that statement: “I meant, however, that such great and numerous miracles no longer take place, not that no miracles occur in our times.” [6]

B.  Why the change?

At the close of one of his most influential writings, The City of God, Augustine tells of a man who was healed of gout; another was instantly cured of paralysis and hernia; evil spirits were driven out of others by prayer. [7] A youth whose eye had been dislocated from its socket and severely damaged, had his sight restored to perfect condition through the prayers of the believers. [8]

A child, dying after being crushed by an ox-drawn cart, was miraculously “returned to consciousness, but showed no sign of the crushing he had suffered.” [9]

The son of Augustine’s neighbor died, “The corpse was laid out; the funeral was arranged; everyone was grieving and sorrowing.” A friend of the family anointed the body with oil. “This was no sooner done than the boy came back to life.” [10]

In his latter years this prominent church leader was witness to, or heard about, demonstrations of God’s supernatural power that were reminiscent of the New Testament church. He had to admit: “If I kept merely to [telling of] miracles of healing and omitted all others. . . I should have to fill several volumes.” [11]

What caused the dramatic turn around in his beliefs? Augustine explains that it came about when “I realized how many miracles were occurring in our own day and which were so like the miracles of old, and how wrong it would be to allow the memory of these marvels of divine power to perish from among our people. It is only two years ago that the keeping of records was begun here in Hippo, and already, at this writing we have nearly seventy attested miracles.” [12]

In spite of initial skepticism, Augustine faced honestly what was happening in his parish. He had to admit that God was at work in the power of the Spirit because of what he saw. To other doubters he recommended: “At least, such people should investigate facts and, if they find them true, should accept them.” [13]

For Augustine, the transformation in his thinking was amazing. “It is a simple fact, then, that there is no lack of miracles even in our day. And the God who works the miracles we read of in the Scripture uses any means and manner He chooses.” [14]

But for Augustine, miracles were not sent primarily by God to relieve pain (although that was a benefit), or to create a spectacle that would attract crowds, or to provide stories that would make a national best-seller. “Miracles have no purpose but to help men believe that Christ is God.” [15] Miracles demonstrate that Jesus Christ is alive and well – they validate the resurrection. He said “the miracles were made known to help men’s faith.” [16]

The miracle that left the most lasting impression on Augustine and his congregation was one that took place in their church one Easter weekend. “It was no more remarkable than others . . . but it was so clear and obvious to everyone that no one who lives here could have failed to see it, or, at least, to hear about it, and certainly no one could ever forget it.”

A brother and sister who were both suffering from convulsive seizures came to town. “Throughout the city they were a spectacle for all to see.”

On Easter morning before the service, the young man was in the crowded church when he fell down as if in a trance. Fear swept across the congregation. But in a moment the fellow stood to his feet and faced the congregation, perfectly normal and well.

The believers erupted in a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord. Many reported the events to Augustine, and there was a striking similarity in all of their stories: the Lord had performed a miracle before their eyes.

Three days later Augustine stood before the congregation with the brother and sister (he was well; she was still trembling with convulsions), and read the young man’s statement of healing.

The sermon that followed was interrupted by loud cries from the woman who was praying in desperation about her condition. God answered her prayer at that moment. She had the same experience as her brother, fell to the floor as if in a trance, but rose to her feet healed.

Augustine described the scene that followed: “Praise to God was shouted so loud that my ears could scarcely stand the din. But, of course, the main point was that, in the hearts of all this clamoring crowd, there burned that faith in Christ for which the martyr Stephen shed his blood.” [17]

C.  Implications

Why is Augustine’s change of mind about healing so significant? First, there are many fine Christians today who believe the biblical-style miracles ceased with the death of the original  twelve apostles. Augustine’s writings clearly disagree with that position.

Second, this famous church leader gives a clear example of what Christian maturity involves. He was flexible enough to change his views when presented with evidence that could not be disputed. Like the apostle Thomas (John 20), his doubt was turned to belief by what he saw.

Third, miracles multiplied in Augustine’s ministry and parish when he was open to such supernatural possibilities. There was little to report about physical healings in his writings when he took the position that miracles were not for his time. God requires people to trust Him for the impossible if the miraculous is to occur.

Christians need to stand firm on biblical principles that never change. But there comes a time when one has to be big enough to admit that a personal interpretation was wrong. Near the end of his life, Augustine revised 93 of his writings and changed “anything that offends me or might offend others.” [18] He had the mettle to admit his mistakes in public and make necessary changes. He dared to change his mind about divine healing.

Notes

[1] This article was originally published as, “The man who dared to change his mind about divine healing,” in the Pentecostal Evangel, September 11, 1983, pp. 18-20.

[1a]  I completed my dissertation-only PhD in New Testament at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, when I was aged 69 in 2015.

[1b] Saint Augustine, The City of God, translated by Gerald G. Waigh and Daniel J. Honan, volume 24 in the series, The Fathers of the Church (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1954), pp. 437, 488.
[2] Mildred Tengborn, “The Saint and His Saintly Mother,” Eternity (January 1983), pp. 46-47.
[3] John A. Mourant, lntroduction to the Philosophy of Saint Augustine: Selected Readings and Commentaries, (University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1964), pp. 64-65. Quoting from Augustine’s “On the True Religion,” chapter 25:47.
[4] Saint Augustine, The Retractions, translated by Sister Mary Inez Bogan, volume 60 in the series, The Fathers of the  Church (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1968), p. 55.
[5] Saint Augustine, “The Advantage of Believing,” in Writings of Saint Augustine, translated by Luaime Meagher, volume 2 in the series, The Fathers of the Church (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1947), p. 438.
[6] Retractions, pp. 61, 62.
[7] City of God, p. 439.
[8] Ibid., p. 441.
[9] Ibid., p. 444.
[10] Ibid., p. 445.
[11] Ibid., p. 445.
[12] Ibid., p. 445.
[13] Ibid., p. 447.
[14] Ibid., p. 447.
[15] Ibid., p. 456.
[16] Saint Augustine, The City of God, an abridged version from the translation by Gerald G. Walsh, Demetrius B. Zema, Grace Monahan, and Daniel J. Honan- Edited, with an introduction, by Vernon J. Bourke (Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, 1958), p. 513.
[17] City of God (as in endnote 1), pp. 448-450.
[18] Retractions, p. xiii.

 

Copyright (c) 2007 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 9 December 2017.

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I Corinthians 14:29, “weigh carefully” [1]

Saturday, January 14th, 2012
scales by scott_kirkwood
(courtesy Scott Kirkwood, openclipart)

By Spencer D Gear

It seems that we run into problems with confusion and disorder in the church because we do not take seriously (in practice in the gathering of the ekklesia) some of what Paul exhorted in I Corinthians 14. Some of these issues are (NIV):

“Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church” (14:12);

a. “In the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (14:19);

b. “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said” (14:29);

c. “God is not a God of disorder but of peach” (14:33);

d. “Be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (14:39);

e. “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (14:30);

I have observed a number of concerns about the exercise of these spiritual gifts, but two need especial attention in the contemporary church:

1. When prophets prophesy, their messages need to be “weighed carefully.” I have yet to see this done (that doesn’t mean it is not done in some churches). Of this statement about weighing carefully, Gordon D. Fee (1987:693-694) notes that this verb is the same as for “distinguishing between spirits” in 1 Cor. 12:10.

“This is probably to be understood as a form of ‘testing the spirits,’ but not so much in the sense of whether ‘the prophet’ is speaking by a foreign spirit but whether the prophecy itself truly conforms to the Spirit of God, who is also indwelling the other believers. Other than in 12:3, no criterion is her given as to what goes into the ‘discerning’ process, although in Rom. 12:6, we are told that prophecies are to be ‘according to the analogy of faith,’ which probably means ‘that which is compatible with their believing in Christ.’ Nor is there any suggestion as to how it proceeds, but must always be the province of the corporate body, who in the Spirit were to determine the sense or perhaps viability of what had been said”.

I am convinced we are fostering disorder and confusion in the gatherings of believers when we don’t have a procedure for weighing carefully what is said, through the Spirit; and

2. Failing to prevent everything being “done in a fitting and orderly way” (14:39 NIV).

With respect, we are seeing chaos and unacceptable practices in our churches because we do not take these two points seriously.

My son, Paul, wrote an assignment, “The gift of tongues in I Corinthians,” for one of his courses at the Bible College of Queensland (Brisbane)[2] in which he included the following exposition. With his permission, here is a section of his paper, as it deals with some of the topic that we are discussing.

A. Gifts and Intelligibility (14.1-25)

In chapter 14, Paul’s argument takes on its most practical and concrete form. Here he focuses on the distinction between tongues and prophecy and their application to the Corinthian situation. His purpose is to apply the teaching about the goal (the common good) and foundation (love) of spiritual gifts to the practice of tongues in congregational worship at Corinth.

Firstly the apostle Paul deals with the reason tongues are a problem in this setting: intelligibility. He explains this by using a series of contrasts between the gifts of prophecy and tongues (14.2-4):

1. Tongues are directed to God, but prophecy is directed to men.

2. Tongues are not understood by anyone, but prophecy is.

3. The content of tongues is ‘mysteries in the Spirit’, whereas the content of prophecy is ‘upbuilding and encouragement and consolation’.

4. Tongues edify the speaker, but prophecy edifies the congregation.

Paul would rather people prophesy than speak in tongues; prophecy is greater than tongues in that it enables the church to be edified. However, interpreted tongues can function in the same way as prophecy. (14.5)

Paul goes on to explain his intelligibility concern with two examples: musical instruments, and battle horns. In both of them, there is no value if the results are not intelligible (14.6-8). The examples are then applied to the Corinthians: if they ‘in a tongue utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said?’ There will be no benefit to the hearers (14.9-11). Again, he appeals to the Corinthians that, since they are ‘eager for manifestations of the Spirit’, they should show their genuine spirituality by seeking the edification of the congregation (14.12).

The practical outcome of this argument is that anyone ‘who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret’ (14.13). For those who pray in tongues, prayer in an understandable language is also necessary, so that outsiders can understand (14.13-17). Paul notes that he speaks in tongues also (and is thankful for it), but he is far more concerned about intelligibility in the congregation than his own benefit (14.18-19).

Following this, Paul presents another reason for seeking intelligibility: unbelievers who may be present. In their uninterpreted form, tongues can only result in judgement on unbelievers (as they did in Isaiah). If unbelievers are to be benefited (hopefully to the extent of salvation), then it will be through intelligible discourse.

B. Gifts and Order (14.26-40)

In this passage Paul sums up the changes he wants the Corinthians to make in their practice of tongues and prophecy and offers some concluding statements.

Paul’s opening statements indicate his expectations of what should happen when the church comes together: there should be a variety of manifestations brought by various members of the congregation for the purpose of mutual edification (14.26). These manifestations must be conducted in an orderly fashion, regardless of their type or origin (14.27-32). In the text as it stands in most versions, injunctions of restraint on women come under the same category as these other instructions (14.34-35). This is God’s will for the exercise of the gifts because that is his nature (14.33a).

With these instructions, Paul becomes firmer. He criticises them for thinking that they can go their own way without heed to the practice of the other churches (14.33b) or Paul’s instruction to them as an apostle. His word is binding on the churches and the Corinthians can expect there to be consequences if they do not recognise this (14.37-38).

Paul’s final statement on the matter needs no summary: ‘[E]arnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; but all things should be done decently and in order.’

C. Synthesis

1. Spiritual Gifts

Much of Paul’s argument regarding tongues and prophecy is spent with building up an overall framework of spiritual gifts. Thus it is important to outline this framework before moving on to tongues specifically.

a. Spiritual Gifts Are Spiritual

For Paul, all spiritual gifts are spiritual (pneumatikos). While this may seem to be stating the obvious, Paul belaboured the point that the gifts come from the Spirit. The Spirit is mentioned as the source of the gifts eight times in 1 Corinthians 12.4-11. All spiritual gifts are seen as manifestations of the Spirit (12.7). There is no notion of ‘miraculous’ and ‘non-miraculous’ gifts in these chapters per se.

b. Spiritual Gifts Are One in Purpose and Nature

A clear unifying purpose for gifts emerges from the pages of 1 Corinthians, which is that gifts are given by God for the benefit of the Church. This is first introduced with what can be termed the ‘prime directive’ for spiritual gifts: ‘To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’ (12.7).

This purpose is further reinforced by setting the context for spiritual gifts in the community of Christ (12.1?3), by application of the body metaphor with its emphasis on the necessity of all the parts (12.21-24a), by emphasising love’s focus on the good of others (13.4?7), and by focussing on the benefits that tongues and prophecy can bring to others (14.5-6, 12, 16-17, 26b, 31).

In this respect it must be argued that those who maintain a pre-parousia cessation of spiritual gifts have missed a crucial emphasis in Paul’s argument. Chapter 14 cannot be viewed without the context of chapter 12. Seeing miraculous gifts as a means of authenticating Christ and the apostles and their message (which is surely correct) must not be allowed to outweigh the clearly stated purpose of gifts in the context of 1 Corinthians.

c. Spiritual Gifts Are Many and Varied

Scholars are generally agreed that none of the lists of gifts encountered in the New Testament are exhaustive (given that they are all different), and many would say that neither is the sum total of the lists.

Paul’s consistent emphasis on diversity in the body (12.14, 19, 29-30), and his use of “diaireseis” to qualify gifts (12.4-6) and “gene” to qualify tongues in particular (12.10, 28; cf. 14.10) shows that he expected diversity in the function of gifts.

d. God Is the Sovereign Giver of the Gifts

At various points in Paul’s argument, he reminds the Corinthians that God is the one who gives spiritual gifts, and that he is responsible for their distribution. This is evident in the sections which deal with the Spirit-inspired nature of the gifts (12.3-11), as well as those which portray God as the divine arranger of the body (12.18, 24b, 28).

For Paul, there was no apparent conflict between the notion of divine sovereignty in the distribution of gifts and the instruction for the Corinthians to ‘earnestly desire’ certain gifts (12.31a; 14.1, 12-13), or for him to wish that all of them could speak in tongues and prophesy (14.5, 18).

End of the section from my son, Paul Gear’s, paper.

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What Paul, the apostle, said to the Thessalonians has especial relevance for us in this discussion: “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” ( I Thess. 5:19-22).

I believe these Thessalonian verses provide keys to openness to the Holy Spirit’s ministry through the gifts today, but with order established and confusion eliminated by “testing everything.” This will cause us to retain what is good and edifying in the Spirit’s ministry among us and to eliminate confusion and evil among us.

I hope that this contributes to this discussion.

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D. Appendix I

The following is a discussion I had with Edda on Trinity Theological Seminary Forum to which I used to contribute when a student there for a brief time. I no longer have access to that forum. I wrote:

Edda,[3]

I was asking if any other students have attended churches where the “testing of everything” was taken seriously and any particular format was used in the gathering.

As a starter, let me suggest what I think would keep every preacher on his/her toes and be consistent with the biblical revelation:

At the conclusion of the message (preaching or other manifestations of gifts of the Spirit), ask the preacher or person giving the “message” to be open to the congregation and provide an opportunity for free-flowing “testing” according to the Word of God.

The Word is the standard. This will encourage both preacher and listener to be conversant with the Word of God. All feedback and interaction must be done with love, grace and mercy. However, if any “message” is contrary to the Word, it needs to be corrected there and then.

I have not met any preachers or those providing other manifestations of the Spirit, who have submitted to such in 40 years as a believer.

I consider this to be appropriate biblically according to I Thess. 5:19-21 and I Cor. 14:29-33. What do you and other students and preachers think? Is it a biblical requirement? If so, how can it become a practical reality?

If you are interested in viewing my son, Paul’s, paper, it is on his homepage as, “The Gift of Tongues in I Corinthians“.

Works consulted:

Fee, G D 1987. The first epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Notes:


[1] My son, Paul Gear, has helped with a major part of the content of this article. He has an earned MDiv.

[2] It is now known as Brisbane School of Theology.

[3] This message was from the T-DELTA Forum [http://go.CompuServe.com/Trinity], on CompuServe [http://www.CompuServe.com] CompuServe Forum Messaging is intended for private use only. © Copyright CompuServe Interactive Services, Inc., 2002 . The topic was, “Order or Confusion” msg #61498, 6 April 2002. I went under the name of OzSpen. However, it is not available to the general public, but only for Trinity students.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 October 2015.

The gift of prophecy as non-binding revelation

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

White Dove on Gold

(courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

It is not unusual to hear some cessationist, evangelical Christians who are opposed to continuing revelatory charismatic gifts for Christians today, making cessationist[1] comments that cannot be aligned with Scripture. They think that all such revelation ceased with the apostles and the completion of the New Testament Scriptures. I encountered two of these:

  1. Pastor Paul Cornford (2008) of North Pine Presbyterian Church (Petrie, Brisbane, Qld) supplied me with his article. He begins his exposition by raising the issue of ‘the meteoric rise of modern pentecostalism and its claim to ongoing revelation’. Rightly he points to the challenge that this view puts to traditional churches, especially those of the cessationist persuasion. His view is that God spoke through these means in the Old Testament, but not since the conclusion of the New Testament. See my online response to him in, “Does the superiority of New Testament revelation exclude the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit? Is cessationism biblical?
  2. On Christian Fellowship Forum, I encountered Chris whose view is that

in the matter of the nature of religious authority you have completely departed from the reformation and returned to the Catholic view here. That is, God still gives new doctrine or revelation of content by men today, just as He did in the past.[2]

My response was that this statement showed how he was committed to tradition before biblical revelation.[3]  I provided him with biblical evidence for the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit from I Cor. 14 and he had the audacity to state that I have departed from Reformation thinking and returned to a Catholic view.  That is an audacious and false representation.  I am committed to a biblical view of the continuation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and that includes the gift of “revelation” through the gift of prophecy. He stated:

Your only difference is to see which claim of this being so, that of the pope or tradition on one hand or the new prophets and apostles on the other, we should be listening to.  But in the end the river has been crossed and it really makes little difference which new revelations of content one desires to find valid, for the same ‘logic’ supports them all.[4]

This is a nonsense statement.  Since when has Chris been the arbiter of deciding what should be cut out of the Bible of NT Christianity?  I am affirming nothing more or less than what contemporary, evangelical, Reformed theologian, Wayne Grudem, states:

“Spiritual gifts are given to equip the church to carry out its ministry until Christ returns.  Paul tells the Corinthians, ‘you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 1:7).  Here he connects the possession of spiritual gifts and their situation in the history of redemption (waiting for Christ’s return), suggesting that gifts are given to the church for the period between Christ’s return and says, ‘When the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away’ (1 Cor. 13:10), indicating also that these ‘imperfect’ gifts (mentioned in vv. 8-9) will be in operation until Christ returns, when they will be superseded by something far greater. . .  Paul reminds believes that in their use of spiritual gifts they are to ‘strive to excel in building up the church’ (1 Cor. 14:12)”(Grudem 1994:1018-1019). [5]

Concerning the gift of “revelation”, Grudem explains that it is

“a spontaneous ‘revelation’ made prophecy different from other gifts. If prophecy does not contain God’s very words, then what is it? In what sense is it from God?

Paul indicates that God could bring something spontaneously to mind so that the person prophesying would report it in his or her own words. Paul calls this a ‘revelation’: ‘If a revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged’ (1 Cor.14:30-31). Here he uses the word revelation in a broader sense than the technical way theologians have used it to speak of the words of Scripture—but the New Testament elsewhere uses the terms reveal and revelation in this broader sense of communication from God that does not result in written Scripture or words equal to written Scripture in authority (see Phil. 3:15; Rom. 1:18; Eph. 1:17; Matt. 11:27).

Paul is simply referring to something that God may suddenly bring to mind, or something that God may impress on someone’s consciousness in such a way that the person has a sense that it is from God. . . .

Thus, if a stranger comes in and all prophesy, ‘the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you’ (1 Cor. 14:25). I heard of a report of this happening in a clearly non-charismatic Baptist church in America. A missionary speaker paused in the middle of his message and said something like: ‘I didn’t plan to say this, but it seems the Lord is indicating that someone in this church has just walked out on his wife and family. If that is so, let me tell you that God wants you to return to them and learn to follow God’s pattern of family life.’ The missionary did not know it, but in the unlit balcony sat a man who had entered the church moments before for the first time in his life. The description fitted him exactly, and he made himself known, acknowledged his sin, and began to seek after God.

In this way, prophesy serves as a ‘sign’ for believers (1 Cor. 14:22)—it is a clear demonstration that God is definitely at work in their midst, a ‘sign’ of God’s hand of blessing on the congregation. And since it will work for the conversion of unbelievers as well, Paul encourages this gift to be used when ‘unbelievers or outsiders enter’ (1 cor. 14:23)” (Grudem 1994:1056-1057)

It is Chris’s kind of Reformed tradition that is out of step with biblical Christianity and he has the audacity to want to relegate my support of the full-range of the gifts of the Spirit to a Catholic position. If it is, so be it, as it supports the Scriptures. It is Chris’s cessationist view that has convoluted biblical Christianity.

I’m the first to admit that some crazy things happen in Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity, but these Pentecostal extremes and the Reformed cessationist position both are aberrations of biblical Christianity in my understanding of the texts. See my article, “Double faults and not aces: Margaret Court“, for an expose of charismatic false teaching.

Chris had the audacity to state:

Your total surrender here of the protestant principle of authority to that of Rome vindicates a comment I made often before, that the charismatic movement is a return to the old religion of experiences and relics and ongoing mystical revelations and works earning heaven. Now you may not want to say this is the case, being somewhat still embedded in the contrary view, but in effect surrender of the principle of authority to the idea OF ONGOING revelation/tradition and man’s decision of what is revelation or not has placed your view squarely in the ‘counter-reformation’ perspective.[6]

This kind of cessationist comment cannot be supported biblically.

I highly recommend Wayne Grudem’s book, The Gift of Prophecy (1988, 2000).

References

Cornford, P 2008. The superiority of New Testament revelation. North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie (Brisbane), Qld., Australia. Available at: http://www.northpinepresbyterianchurch.org/downloads/articles/ntRevelation.pdf (Accessed 30 December 2011).

Grudem, W 1988. The Gift of Prophecy. Eastbourne: Kingsway Publications (also 2001. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books).

Grudem, W 1994, Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

White, R F 1992. Richard Gaffin and Wayne Grudem on 1 Cor 13:10: A comparison of cessationist and noncessationist argumentation. In the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June, 35/2, 173-181, available at: http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/35/35-2/JETS_35-2_173-181_White.pdf (Accessed 11 January 2012).

Notes:


[1] Cessationism is ‘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’ (The Scholars Corner, available at: http://scholarscorner.com/Critical/Cessation (Accessed 10 January 2012).

[2] Christian Fellowship Forum; Chris goes under the name of lrschrs. I’m ozspen. Chris’s post is in Contentious Brethren, Truth by what authority, #616, 21 December 2007, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?msg=116946.616&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship (Accessed 11 January 2012). I have corrected Chris’s typographical errors.

[3] My comments are as ozepen, #622, ibid.

[4] lrschrs, ibid., #616.

[5] For a discussion of the comparison between cessationist and continuationist views on the gifts of the Spirit, see White (1992).

[6] lrschrs, ibid., #616.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 October 2015.

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Whytehouse Graphics

Does the superiority of New Testament revelation exclude the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit? Is cessationism biblical?

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Spirit Filling

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

Rev. Paul Cornford, pastor of North Pine Presbyterian Church,[1] has written an excellent article presenting the theology of the cessation of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit in the contemporary church. The article is, ‘The Superiority of New Testament Revelation’ (Cornford 2008) and is available on that church’s website.

Cornford begins the article by raising the issue of ‘the meteoric rise of modern pentecostalism and its claim to ongoing revelation’. Rightly he points to the challenge that this view puts to traditional churches. He confronts the issues of whether there is a continuation of prophets, speaking in tongues, and miracles in the contemporary church, especially in light of church growth and the success of the Pentecostal churches that are growing while traditional churches are shrinking.

He advocates a position that has become known as cessationism. This is the view that ‘certain miraculous gifts ceased long ago, when the apostles died and Scripture was complete’ (Grudem 1994: 1031 n 22). My responses here will try to assess the merits and difficulties of Paul Cornford’s position as expounded in Cornford (2008).

1. The merits of this cessationist position

The major merit of Cornford’s position is described in the first few paragraphs of the article, in which he affirms that the emphases of Hebrews 1:1-3 (NKJV)[2] where the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old Testament is established because God has spoken through his Son and this is recorded in the New Testament. I am in agreement with the view that the writing of God’s written Word has ceased with the conclusion of the New Testament and that the evangelical church must remain firm in maintaining this position. This comes in the midst of the emphases by some denominations and scholars to include in the Bible, the Apocrypha (as with the Roman Catholic Church) and extra-canonical books such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of the Hebrews, etc. (as with scholars such as J. D. Crossan[3] and the Jesus Seminar[4]).

1.1 Emphases in Hebrews 1:1-3

Hebrews 1:1-3 reads:

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (NKJV).

1.1.1 Cornford (2008:1) expounds these emphases from Heb. 1:1-3:

a. In the OT revelation, God spoke ‘in various ways’ through various ‘prophets’ and he believes this began with Moses and was given in ‘piecemeal’ revelation over a period of about 1,000 years.

b. He states that this OT revelation came through visions, dreams, voices, a sheep’s fleece, the urim and thummim, etc. This revelation was from the time of Moses in about 1500 BC to Malachi in about 400 BC. I definitely agree that in the OT revelation in the earlier days, God spoke through powerful works of mercy and judgment. These are my observations: Some of God’s leaders in those days were advised in advance of God’s plans (see Jer. 23:18, 22; Amos 3:7). God spoke in the thunder to Moses (Ex. 19:19), but it was through a ‘low whisper’ to Elijah (1 Kings 19:12 ESV). According to Isa. 8:6ff, for those who would not take notice of the gently flowing waters of Shiloah, the Lord spoke through a flood. Throughout the OT, God’s agents were priest, prophet, wise person and singer, but all of God’s acts of mercy and judgment were not as complete as when Christ, the Son, came. God’s divine revelation was revealed progressively until it came to finality in the Son, ‘in these last days’ (Heb 1:2).[5] However, we need to examine the Scriptures to discern what God says about continuing ‘revelation’ of a different kind after the close of Scripture as 1 Cor. 14:6 speaks of ‘revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching’ (ESV).

c. The NT revelation of ‘these last days’ was spoken to us in the Son and ‘the writer has just answered all of our questions concerning New Testament revelation’ because ‘has spoken’ used the Greek aorist tense that is illustrated by a full stop[6]. It indicates completed action, happened only once and does not continue. ‘So the revelation of the New Testament is a single event, the speaking of God in Christ’ (Cornford 2008:1).

d. Therefore, the main difference between OT and NT revelation is that there was a plurality of prophets in the OT and a singularity of prophet in the NT and this one prophet, the Son, the second person of the Trinity, is described as ‘ the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person’ (Heb. 1:3).

e. Then Cornford quotes John 1:14; 14:8-9 to highlight the ‘uniqueness of the revelation of God in Christ’ (2008:2).He concludes that the Lord Jesus Christ is THE prophet of the New Testament church who has given us a vastly superior revelation to anything the ancient people of God ever received through the various prophets and various modes. Jesus has met all of the New Testament church’s prophetic needs and has rendered obsolete the dreams, visions and voices of the Old Testament mode (Cornford 2008:2).

I highly commend Paul Cornford for his conclusion that we have the entire Bible in written form and that the New Covenant in Jesus, the Son, is the superior revelation to the Old Covenant and that God’s written revelation in the Scriptures has been completed. Cornford has beautifully established the superiority of NT revelation over the OT revelation and that the final word of written revelation in Scripture has been spoken with the conclusion of the written New Testament.

BUT, these are some of …

2. The difficulties of this cessationist position

What are the difficulties with the position as stated above and as we examine his overall argument? His major difficulties are within the very document that he affirms with such authority – his interpretations of the NT, and verses which he fails to consider.

2.1 But what about this verse?

On page 2 of his document he quotes John 14:8-9 and John 14:25-26. The latter two verses are used to confirm the superiority and uniqueness of God’s revelation in the Son, Jesus Christ, and the mechanism God used is providing NT revelation. However, between these two sets of verses there is a verse in John 14 that he ignores that should challenge his cessationism at its core and it is a biblical emphasis that was established by Jesus. He omits John 14:12, which states:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father (ESV).

These are the words of the inerrant Scripture and they tell us what will happen among believers when Jesus is no longer on earth and returns to the Father. It does not place a limit on what will happen when the Scriptures close. These are the words of Jesus.

Here Jesus states that ‘whoever believes’ in Jesus will have access to something incredible. He does not say that ‘because my 12 disciples/apostles believe in me’, this will be the ministry for them and this ministry will cease when the NT Scriptures are completed. It’s important to emphasise some of the exegesis of this text:

a. The appeal in the context is for faith and in John 14:12 he states ho pisteuwn eis eme = the one believing in me = anyone having faith in me = whoever believes in me. The participle, pisteuwn, is present tense, active voice. Being present tense, it refers to continuous action, meaning that it refers to the one who continues to believe in Jesus. What will happen to any person who continues to believe in Jesus?

b. The works that Jesus is doing (present tense, indicating continuous action), that person who believes in him will do. But more than that, any believing person will do ‘greater works than these’ because Jesus is returning to the Father. What could these ‘greater works’ be?

c. The ‘works’ (Greek erga) that Jesus had been doing included humility (John 13:15), acts of love (John 13:34-35), proclamation of Jesus’ words (John 14:10). But throughout the Gospels, Jesus’ works included many miracles. What could these ‘greater works’ be?

D. A. Carson gives a perceptive analysis: ‘Jesus’ “works” may include more than his miracles; they never exclude them. But even so, greater works is not a transparent expression’ (Carson 1991:495). Carson adds that ‘greater works’ cannot mean ‘more works’ as there are excellent Greek words to mean ‘more’, but it would be trite to say ‘more works’ if it meant that the church throughout its history would do more works than Jesus would have done while on earth. That meaning would be ‘unbearably trite’. It could not refer to greater works meaning ‘more spectacular’ as what could be more spectacular or supernatural than raising Lazarus from the dead, the multiplication of the bread and turning water into wine (Carson 1991:495).

He perceptively notes that there are clues in the expression from 14:12 that (1) ‘I am going to the Father’ (ESV), and (2) Based on the parallel in John 5:20, the ‘greater works’ (same expression as 14:12) refers to what will happen to Jesus through his death and resurrection and ‘their works will become greater precisely because of the new order that has come about consequent on his going to the Father’ (Carson 1991:496). These greater works, the life-giving power of Jesus Christ that will be made available to every believer in Christ, will be based on the fact of Christ’s resurrection (and judgment) – see also John 5:17, 24-26.

The ‘greater works’ are made possible by the resurrected Christ and the Spirit and they point to the salvation realities of the risen Christ. However, miracles are not excluded from these ‘greater works’, and these are made available to everyone who believes, on the basis of John 14:12.

2.2 What about the Byzantine Textform of Mark 16:16-18?

In his exposition, Cornford (2008) has not dealt with the content of the Byzantine text of the NT in Mark 16:16-18. These verses state:

He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 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 (NKJV).’

I know that Paul Cornford supports the Byzantine[7] Majority Text of the NT, which is the foundation of the NKJV translation, as he has stated such and the NKJV is the only translation that is allowed for public reading in the church where he is pastor.[8] As indicated by the above quote from Mark 16:16-18, signs will follow those who believe (aorist tense, point action). Even though I have doubts about the authenticity of these verses for inclusion in Mark’s gospel, the verses do relate to the early teaching of the church and thus indicate one kind of tradition that was manifest in the early church. Grudem rightfully notes that Mark 16:17-18 ‘is included in several manuscripts of Tatian’s Diatessaron (A.D. 170) and is quoted by Irenaeus (d. A.D. 202) and Tertullian (d. A.D. 220)’ (Grudem 1994:365 n 22).

If one is to accept the authenticity of the Byzantine textform and the inclusion of Mark 16:16-18, it is self evident that the supernatural ‘signs’ need to be accepted among believers. These signs include casting out demons, speaking in new tongues, picking up serpents with the hands, drinking deadly poison without being hurt, and the sick recovering through the laying on of hands. There is not a word in this passage that comes close to stating that these ‘signs’ would cease when the NT canon is completed. These signs are to be available to all who believe.

Has Cornford’s doctrine of cessationism prevented his seeing the significance of these verses in Mark 16 or is it related to his next interpretation?

2.3 The meaning of ‘the perfect’ in 1 Corinthians 13:10

This verse states: ‘But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away’ (NKJV). The ESV translates as, ‘But when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away’. How does Cornford (2008) interpret this verse?

He quotes 1 Cor. 13:8b-13 (NKJV) and draws out these meanings:

a. Prophecies, tongues and the supernatural gift of knowledge will fail when the ‘perfect’ comes. What is the meaning of perfect? He acknowledges that some commentators (he does not mention them by name) ‘see it as the final return of the Lord Jesus Christ and verse 12 would seem to support that view’ (Cornford 2008:3). BUT…

b. The word translated ‘perfect’ could just as easily be translated as ‘complete’ and for him this seems to be the more reasonable interpretation based on 1 Cor. 13:11 where it speaks about the ‘partial’ and this is a ‘more likely’ translation to contrast with the ‘complete’ rather than ‘perfect’ (Cornford 2008:3).

c. My observations: Let’s check out the Greek dictionaries to find the meaning of ‘to teleion‘ in 13:10 that has traditionally been translated as ‘the perfect’. These major translations support ‘the perfect’ as the legitimate translation: KJV, NKJV, Douay-Rheims 1899, NAB, NJB[9], RSV (the NRSV translates as ‘when the complete comes’), NIV 1984 (NIV 2011 translates as ‘completeness’), ESV and NASB. The NLT translates as, ‘when full understanding comes’. Of these major translations, only the NRSV and the NIV 2011 translate to teleion as ‘complete’ or ‘completeness’. What is the meaning of this neuter adjective with the definite article, to teleion?

d. Teleion ( from teleios) is an adjective, based on the verb teleiow. Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives the root meaning of teleios in 1 Cor. 13:10 as ‘having attained the end or purpose, complete, perfect’ (1957:816). Therefore, the NRSV and NIV 2011 have legitimacy in translating teleion as ‘complete’, instead of ‘perfect’ and Cornford’s acceptance of the meaning of perfect = complete, is a legitimate translation from NT Greek. In Kittel & Friedrich’s, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, G Delling (1972:73, 75-76) states that ‘in Greek thought the usage teleios often means “totality”‘ and ‘in the Pauline corpus the meaning “whole” is suggested at 1 Cor. 13:10 by the antithesis to ek merous [“in part” in 13:10]’. He explains that the spiritual gifts of knowledge and prophecy are mentioned and that these ‘do not give full knowledge of God. This will be granted to the Christian only with the immediacy of face-to-face, v. 12’.

e. Paul Cornford and Gordon Fee both accept ‘complete’ as the meaning of teleios in 1 Cor. 13:10, but one (Cornford) is a cessationist and the other (Fee) is a Pentecostal and a leading, published Greek exegete.

What is the meaning, in context, of 1 Cor. 13:10, of teleios, whether one accepts the translation as ‘complete’ or ‘perfect’? Gordon Fee, a card-carrying Assemblies of God (Pentecostal) minister[10], and a Greek exegete with an international reputation, supports the ‘complete’ translation when he stated the adjective and the verbal forms of teleio?, mean to “bring to an end, to complete” something, although they also carry the further sense of “making” or “being perfect.” That is, the completing of something is the perfecting of it…. The meaning in the present case [1 Cor. 13;10] is determined by its being the final goal of what is ek merous, “partial.” Thus its root sense of “having attained the end or purpose” (BAGD)[11], hence “complete,” seems to be the nuance here (Fee 1987:644 n 22).

How can Fee, who agrees with the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit, agree with Cornford’s cessationist interpretation that ‘perfect’ means ‘complete’ in 1 Cor. 13:10? Both are coming from theological perspectives that are radically different in understanding of manifestations of the Spirit. Let’s examine Fee’s perspective to see how it is different in its understanding to Cornford’s ‘complete’ as referring to the completion of the canon of Scripture and the cessation of the gifts of the Spirit.

f. Fee explains his exegesis of teleios and its meaning in the context of 1 Cor. 13:10 (1987:644-646):

In 1 Cor. 13:9-10, Paul explains what he has asserted in 13:8, ‘Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away (NIV 1984). In v. 9, Paul uses language for ‘in part’ to describe the ‘for now only’ nature of spiritual gifts and he repeats the verb ‘pass away’ from v. 8 to indicate what will happen to them. He uses the language of perfect/complete, which can sometimes mean ‘mature’ (v. 10) to indicate the time when ‘in part’ will cease. Fee’s view is that

the language of childhood vs adulthood in this context is ‘ambiguous’ as an analogy because it has led some to contrast immaturity with maturity, but that is an inadequate explanation as the contrast has to deal with gifts and their being ‘partial’ and it is not referring to the believers themselves. In addition, to use the ambiguous analogy is compounded by ‘a whole and plain statement of v. 12b’[12] (Fee 1987:645)

Paul, the apostle’s, distinctions are between ‘now’ and ‘then’, the incomplete (which is ‘perfectly appropriate to the church’s present existence’) and the complete (‘when its final destiny in Christ has been reached and ‘we see face to face’ and ‘know as we are known’ (Fee 1987:645)

So,

“in part” refers to what is not complete, or at least not complete in itself. The phrase by itself does not carry the connotation of “temporary” or “relative”; that comes from the context and the language “now … then” in v. 12. But the implication is there. It is “partial” because it belongs only to this age, which is but the beginning, not the completion, of the End. These gifts have to do with the edification of the church as it “eagerly awaits our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (1:7). The nature of the eschatological language in v. 12 further implies that the term “the perfect” has to do with the Eschaton itself, not some form of “perfection” in the present age. It is not so much that the End itself is “the perfect,” language that does not make tolerably good sense; rather, it is what happens at the End, when the goal has been reached. At the coming of Christ the final purpose of God’s saving work in Christ will have been reached; at that point those gifts now necessary for the building up of the church in the present age will disappear, because “the complete” will have come. To cite Barth’s marvelous imagery: “Because the sun rises all lights are extinguished”[13]’ (Fee 1987: 654-646).

g. What is Cornford’s (2008) view of the ‘complete’ or ‘perfect’ in 1 Cor. 13:10?

When we consider the use of ‘partial’ in the previous verse, it is more likely that Paul will contrast it with the ‘complete’ and thus the completion of the NT canon of Scripture. The ‘partial’ refers to the OT mode of revelation. Therefore,

Paul’s reference to ‘partial’ in 13:9 refers to the supernatural gifts of tongues, prophecy and knowledge being partial. So, relying on Heb. 1:1-3, Cornford’s understanding is that the OT mode or prophets, various modes and various parts, continued until the completion of the NT canon when the ‘partial’ would no longer be necessary.

The childhood metaphor of 13:11 compares prophecy, tongues and knowledge to childhood and the ‘complete’ comes with adulthood. He draws a parallel with Gal. 3:23-4:7 where he compares the church of the OT being a child under the Mosaic law and the ‘fullness of time’ (Gal. 4:4) being when ‘God sent forth his Son’.

The mirror metaphor of 13:12 describes tongues, prophecy, and supernatural knowledge as ‘looking into a dim mirror’ while the ‘complete … is like a face to face encounter…. Is there any sense in which the completed canon of scripture gives us a face to face encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ?’. He concludes that ‘it is no overstatement to say’ that the full canon of Scripture of both OT and NT ‘taken together do indeed provide us with this type of “face to face” encounter with the divine character’ (Cornford 2008:3).

His conclusion affirms what he considers are the views of the writer to the Hebrews and the apostle Paul, that ‘the revelation of the completed canon of scripture, especially the Old and New Testaments taken together, is actually far superior to the partial mode of prophecies, tongues and miracles. It is a superior as adulthood is to childhood’ (Cornford 2008:4).

I find this to be an unusual interpretation because it goes against two issues in the text:

(1) Cornford’s interpretation requires an escape into typology, which in my view, is an escape into multiple meanings of the literal text, to get his cessationist understanding of ‘face to face’. The plain meaning of the text is rejected in favour of a typological interpretation that is not at all evident from a common reading of the text.

(2) It avoids a straightforward meaning of the text, which Fee has given, that it is a comparison of partial and complete, what is now vs then, the contemporary church vs the second coming of Christ (the Eschaton).

Overall, I found that Fee’s interpretation of the passage was demonstrated by exegesis of the text, rather than an imposition on the text by Cornford, which I understand is eisegesis. Although the cessationist view is advocated by many well-trained theologians and exegetes, it seems to be clouded by a denial of the immanence of God (see below) and failure to interpret 1 Cor. 13:10 in context.

h. D. A. Carson’s reasons for rejecting the ‘perfection’ understanding of cessationists

Carson (1987:68-69), in his exposition of 1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14, stated that there are ‘three groups of theories’ that have been promoted to understand when the perfection comes and to define what this perfection consists of. These are:

1. ‘Perfection’ refers to the maturity of the church or maturity of individual Christian believers;

2. ‘Perfection’ means that the canon of Scripture has been completed, and

3. The majority interpretation where ‘perfection’ refers to the parousia (Christ’s second coming) itself, or is related to the parousia, or death if it intervenes before the parousia.

Carson gives seven reasons for his support of the third position of the ‘perfection’ (1 Cor. 13;10) referring to the parousia, which he claims ‘has powerful evidence in its defense’ (1987:70). These reasons are (Carson 1987:70-72).

(a) It is difficult to believe that Paul was expecting the Corinthians to understand that he was alluding to ‘perfection’ as a reference to the cessation of the writing of Scripture.

(b) According to 1 Cor. 13:12b, perfection refers to a situation where knowledge has some kind of comparison with God’s present knowledge of us: ‘then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known [by God]’. This is not full omniscience but in the consummation, Paul expects to be freed from some of the misconceptions and inabilities to understand in the present age. ‘His knowledge will resemble God’s present knowledge of him because it will contain no false impressions and will not be limited to what is able to be perceived in this age’ (Grudem in Carson 1987:70).

(c) Now we see ‘but a poor reflection’ (1 Cor. 13:12a), a phrase that suggests ‘unclear or still indistinct divine revelation’ until perfection comes when ‘we shall see face to face’, which is almost certainly a reference to the parousia. Carson’s comment is that ‘however much we respect the New Testament canon, Paul can only be accused of the wildest exaggeration in verse 12 if that is what he was talking about’ (Turner in Carson 1987:71).

(d) The force of verse 12 rules out the idea expressed in Ephesians that ‘perfection’ refers to the joining together of Jews and Gentiles into a new and ‘perfect’ man and this theme is not relevant to 1 Cor. ‘Any preparousia maturity simply trivializes the language of verse 12′ (Carson 1987:71, emphasis in original).

(e) The sharp contrast between infant and adult in verse 1 Cor. 13:11, a common device of the ancient world, requires one to leap from infancy to manhood. To argue that the comparison of the spiritual experience of the pre-canonical church to the post-canonical church, is to compare infant’s talk with the understanding of an adult ‘is historical nonsense’ (Carson 1987:71).

(f) If it is true that ‘perfection’ refers nowhere else to the state of affairs brought on by the parousia, it is just as true that it almost never occurs as an adjective as it does in 13:10, being a neuter, articular substantive in the Greek, ‘probably created precisely to serve as a contrast to “the partial” or “the imperfect”‘ (Carson 1987:72).

The cessationist view of ‘perfection’ as ‘referring to the closing of the canon depends on understanding New Testament prophecy and related gifts as having the same revelatory and authoritative significance as inscripturated prophecy’ is a presupposition that needs to be challenged (Carson 1987:72).

Carson challenges this view in Carson (1987:77-106) in his chapter on ‘Prophecy and Tongues: Pursuing What is Better: (1 Cor. 14:1-19)’. Some of his emphases are:

(i) An OT prophet once tested and approved was expected to be obeyed by God’s people.

(ii) The oracles of NT prophets had to be carefully weighed (1 Cor. 14:29), which presupposes ‘that any one New Testament prophetic oracle is expected to be mixed in quality, and the wheat must be separated from the chaff’ (Turner in Carson 1987:95).

(iii) The NT prophets were not the solution to apostolic succession.

(iv) Although NT prophets addressed a variety of topics, ‘there is little evidence that they enjoyed the clout in the church that either the apostles demanded in the church or the writing prophets demanded in Israel and Judah’ (Carson 1987:96).

(v) In the Book of Acts there is evidence that there were prophecies that are considered as genuinely from God but having less status than OT prophecy (e.g. Acts 21:4, 10-11). In this latter prophecy by Agabus in Acts 21:10-11, he stated that the Jews at Jerusalem would bind the one who owned Paul’s girdle and hand over to the Gentiles. But what happened was that Paul was bound by the Romans and not the Jews and the Romans sought to kill Paul with mob violence and the Romans had to rescue him. Carson notes, ‘I can think of no reported Old Testament prophet whose prophecies are so wrong on the details’ (1987:98).

(vi) The constraints placed on prophecy in 1 Cor. 14:29, 30 and 36, indicate ‘that the gift of prophecy stands considerably tamed. Moreover, it is precisely because prophecy operates at this lower level of authority that Paul can encourage women to pray and prophesy in public under the constraints of 1 Corinthians 11 (whatever they mean)’ (Carson 1987:98).

Therefore the better understanding of ‘perfection’ or ‘complete’ in 1 Cor. 13:10 is not that or Cornford (2008) but of Fee (1987) and Carson (1987) – it refers to Christ’s second coming (the parousia). That’s when the gifts of the Spirit will cease for all Christian believers. They still operate in the 21st century and the cessationist view is an evangelical aberration that is not backed up by consistent interpretation of Scripture.

2.4 There’s an added problem of opposition to continuing revelation by cessationists

Cornford’s (2008:1) opposition to modern Pentecostalism is ‘its claim to ongoing revelation’. However, what does the Bible say about what should happen when the church gathers? We find this penetrating verse in 1 Corinthians 14:

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up (1 Cor. 14:26 ESV).

2.4.1 Men and women receive gifts of the Spirit

The ESV translates as, ‘brothers’, in 1 Cor. 14:26. What is the meaning of the Greek adelphoi (plural, from the singular, adelphos) that is here translated as the masculine, brothers. Arndt & Gingrich note that ‘the plural can also mean brothers and sisters’ and it is ‘used by Christians in their relations with each other’ (1957:15-16). So in this context of 1 Cor. 14:26, adelphoi should be translated as brothers and sisters. We know that on the Day of Pentecost it fulfilled Joel’s prophecy that in the last days, God declares that ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh’ (Acts 2:17) – so, men and women are included. We know from 1 Cor. 11:5 that the gifts of the Spirit included the ministry of women because it states, ‘…. Every wife who prays or prophesies’ (ESV).

Fee (1987:52 n 22) notes in his comment on 1 Cor. 1:7 that adelphoi means ‘brothers’ but it is clear from 1 Cor. 11:2-16 and Phil. 4:1-3 that women participated in the community of believers at worship and would have been included when ‘brothers’ were addressed.

2.4.2 What is the lesser gift of revelation?

Now we move to 1 Cor. 14:26 where we find that “when you (plural) come together”, is a phrase that continues the theme started in 14:23 when ‘the whole church comes together’. What should happen in that context, and by application, to every church when it gathers?

Each brother and sister in Christ has the opportunity to minister with ‘a hymn, a lesson [or teaching], a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation’ (14:26). Please note that one of the gifts or ministries of the Spirit when the church gathers is the gift of ‘revelation’. This is apokalupsis, which refers back to 14:6 where tongues would be of no ‘benefit unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge’. Arndt & Gingrich give the root meaning as ‘revelation, disclosure’ and in 1 Cor. 14:6, 26, it means that ‘the secret was made known to me by revelation’ (1957:91). Fee (1987:662-663) stated that ‘revelation’ can be used in a number of ways but the argument in 1 Cor. 14:6, 26 suggests ‘some kind of utterance given by the spirit for the benefit of the gathered community’ but how its content could differ from the gift of the word of knowledge or prophecy, ‘is not at all clear’ but Paul could be using ‘revelation’ to mean a broader term than prophecy or knowledge, but with ‘revelation’ including the gifts of prophecy and knowledge. He quotes Barrett (Fee 1987:663 n 16) who stated that ‘all these activities … shade too finely into one another for rigid distinctions’.

However 1 Cor. 14:6 and 26 confirm that the gift of revelation is a continuing gift of the Spirit, even though the revelation of Scripture has closed with the completion of the NT.

This should be good news for all Christians. When the church gathers, everyone should have the opportunity for these gifts of the Holy Spirit to be manifested in the congregation. Every-member ministry when the church gathers is what God intended. That is hardly possible in most churches in my country, where there is so much one-way communication, and no opportunity is given or possible for 1 Cor. 14:26 to be practised. The problems lie with: (1) the contemporary nature of worship in medium to large churches, and (2) where this type of ministry is permitted in Christian Brethren Assemblies, the ministry is limited to males and often this male ministry is quite commonplace in reading out a hymn to sing or some other statements that are far removed from the ministries of 1 Cor. 14:26.[14] (3) Growing evangelical churches with large numbers of people prevent such a dimension of worship. Even in small groups in churches, the teaching of 1 Cor. 14:26 is not practised.

There are considerable problems with application of 1 Cor. 14:26 in Australian churches. This is also a problem in traditionally Pentecostal-charismatic churches as they also have moved into large gatherings when the church gathers on Sunday and have moved away from the possibility of every-member ministry on Sunday when the church gathers.

This kind of every-member ministry expression through the gifts of the Spirit is made easier in house churches, which were probably the kinds of churches in the early years of Christianity. So many in contemporary local churches are missing out on active ministry through the expression of the gifts of the Spirit.

3. What about Eph. 4:11-12?

This is not the place to do a detailed exposition of the ministry gifts of Christ to the church in this passage. However a couple points need to be noted as they relate to the topic being discussed in this article – the continuation of the gifts vs. cessationism. These points are:

3.1 These ministry gifts were initiated at Christ’s ascension

In a sermon I heard Paul Cornford preach on 18 December 2011, he stated that the gifts of apostle and prophet (Eph. 4:11-12) have ceased and that visions are no longer necessary since we have a completed canon of Scripture. This is a standard cessationist view.

3.1.1 Has the gift of apostle ceased?

Charles Hodge, a cessationist, states that ‘modern prelates are not apostles’ and modern bishops are not apostles (1979:139). He stated that the gift of apostles only applied to a definite number of men, selected by Christ as his witnesses, to testify to Christ’s doctrines, and the facts of his life – including Christ’s death and resurrection. Qualifications for these apostles were:

(1) ‘They should have independent and plenary knowledge of the gospel’;

(2) ‘They should have been with Christ after his resurrection’;

(3) ‘They should be inspired, i.e. they should be individually and severally so guided by the Spirit as to be infallible in all their instructions’;

(4) ‘They should be authenticated as the messengers of Christ, by adherence to the true gospel, by success in preaching (Paul said to the Corinthians that they were the seal of his apostleship, 1 Cor. ix. 2); and by signs and wonders and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost’ (Hodge 1979:139).

Those who did not have these qualifications were ‘pronounced false apostles and messengers of Satan’, according to Hodge (1979:139).

Is this a biblical view? Were there any apostles in the NT and the early church after the completion of the NT, where it is not specifically stated that they met these 4 qualifications that Hodge has articulated for being a genuine apostle of Christ?

It was impossible for the apostle Paul to meet qualification (2) as he could not have been with Christ in person after Christ’s resurrection. Or would Hodge allow Paul’s encounter with the Lord on the road to Damascus, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?… I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do’ (Acts 9:4-6), to be the equivalent to what the 12 apostles encountered? That would not seem to be the same as Hodge’s claim that an apostle ‘should have been with Christ after his resurrection’. Was a visionary encounter the same as being ‘with Christ after his resurrection’? In fact, this encounter by Paul with the Lord through a light that flashed from heaven is further affirmation of the continuation of supernatural encounters after Christ’s ascension. But the cessationist will claim that the NT canon had not yet been finalised.

What about Agabus? He was a prophet according to Acts 21:10.

If we delete apostle and prophet from the list in Eph. 4:11, but accept evangelists, pastors and teachers, this involves selective exegesis and makes an imposition on the text.  We know that all of these gifts, including apostle and prophet, are ‘to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ’ (Eph. 4:12 ESV).  This is the work of the ministry until Jesus comes again and all 5 ministry gifts are needed.

For ‘apostle’, there are three primary meanings:

a.  As in John 13:16, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor a messenger [Gk: apostolos, apostle] greater than the one who sent him’ (ESV).  In this sense, all Christians are servants and apostles.  We know that the verbal form, apostell?, means “I send,” and all believers are sent as “messenger-apostles” into the world to be ambassadors and witnesses for Christ.

b.  Apostles of the churches as in 2 Cor. 8:23, ‘… and as for our brothers, they are messengers [apostles] of the churches, the glory of Christ’.   Phil. 2:25 speaks of Epaphroditus as brother, fellow worker, fellow soldier, messenger [apostle] and minister to Paul’s need.  These apostles could be those who are sent out from the church as missionaries or on other Christ-sent duties.  There is no reason to consider that these types of apostles no longer exist.  I Cor. 12:28-29 speaks of “God appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.  Are all apostles? [expecting the answer, No]  Are all prophets? [No!]  Are all teachers? [No!] . . .”

God continues to give these kinds of gifts, including apostles and prophets.

c.  The direct apostles of Christ (his disciples, incl. Paul).  There can be no repeat of these.

I endorse the teaching that the gift of apostles continues in the contemporary church. The use of priority in biblical terminology seems to suggest that pioneer, church planting messengers (apostles) or missionaries are closer to the biblical understanding of being an apostle: ‘God has appointed in the church first apostles . . .’ (ESV, I Cor. 12:28) and ‘he gave some as apostles [mentioned first]…’ (NASB, Eph. 4:11). However, the purpose of these five ministry gifts is ‘to equip the saints for the work of ministry’ (Eph. 4:12, ESV), is a strong indicator that these gifts should be functioning in association with every church. It could be that the apostle emanated from a local church and had a wider ministry of church planting, based in that local church.

This is only a brief dip into some of the issues surrounding the gift of apostleship. Also see my article, ‘Are there apostles today?’

3.2 The 5-fold ministry gifts continue until the second coming

Ephesians 4:7-8 states when these five ministry gifts were given:

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men” (ESV).

These gifts were given to people when Christ ascended and there is no indication in the context that they have ceased. These gifts are:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:11-13 ESV).

Common sense should tell us that all of these gifts are needed ‘for building up the body of Christ’ until the end of the age when Jesus returns, so that we will attain unity of the faith and maturity in Christ. Could it be that the cessationists, who promote an unbiblical view of the gifts, are actually the ones preventing ‘unity of the faith’ and are the ones encouraging division?

Scripture does give an example of the necessity of spiritual gifts in the body of Christ in 1 Cor. 12:27-31. This list contains a mixture of ministries and the charismata. It is not a hierarchy of gifts (except for the first three) or even teaching about gifts, but as the previous context indicates, it is to indicate that the body of Christ needs different parts/members with different functions. Yes, the first three are ranked, but not those thereafter:

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 miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles?[15] Are all prophets?[16] Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues?[17] Do all interpret?[18] But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way [love] (1 Cor. 12:27-31 ESV).

There is an important piece of Greek grammar associated with each of these questions in 12:29-30: ‘Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?’ The literal reading of these statements is: ‘Not all apostles, not all prophets, not all teachers, not all powers/miracles, not all have gifts of cures/healing, not all speak with tongues, not all interpret’. Each is accompanied by the Greek negative, m? (meaning no or not). So ‘the m? expects a negative answer with each group’ (Robertson 1931:174).[19] If one expects the answer, ‘Yes’, to a question, the negatives ou or ouchi would be used.

4. The doctrine of the immanence of God attacked

I consider that Paul Cornford’s view of cessationism (and the theology of others promoting the same perspective) attacks the doctrine of the immanence of God. God is remote, almost like a Deist version of God. The deistic view of God’s providence is that

God’s concern with the world is not universal, special and perpetual, but only of a general nature. At the time of creation He imparted to all His creatures certain inalienable properties, placed them under invariable laws, and left them to work out their destiny by their own inherent powers. Meanwhile He merely exercises a general oversight, not of the specific agents that appear on the scene, but of the general laws which He has established. The world is simply a machine which God has put in motion, and not at all a vessel which He pilots from day to day (Berkhof 1941:167).

Berkhof admitted that theism’s God was both transcendent and immanent and that ‘Deism moved God from the world and stressed His transcendence at the expense of His immanence’ (1941:24). Immanence is one of the attributes of God by which he is not a remote deity who is disinterested in his creation, but is involved in the creation and particularly with his people. ‘The Bible is the story of God’s involvement with his creation’ (Grudem 1994:267). This includes God’s ability to continue to perform supernatural miracles in the contemporary universe. This is affirmed in John 14:12 (see explanation above).

Regarding Deism, B. B. Warfield commented that ‘English Deism set the supernatural so far off from the world that French Atheism thought it an easy thing to dispense with it altogether. “Down with the infamy!” cried Voltaire, and actually thought the world had hearkened to his commandment’ (Warfield 1952:3). Deism is an assault on God’s imminence and ability to intervene in the world – even supernaturally.

I find this, along with incorrect exegesis, to be one of the major flaws in Cornford’s (2008) promotion of cessationism.

5. Why accept the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit?

I reject cessationism and accept the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit because:

(1) The primary reason is that it is based on a careful, consistent exegesis of the relevant NT passages of Scripture. Cessationism is an imposition on Scripture when the plain meaning of Scripture is that the gifts will continue and the ‘complete’ or the ‘perfect’ will have come when we see Jesus face-to-face at death or his second coming.

(2) It is a direct result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. The expectation is that under the New Covenant, the Spirit’s ministry will continue until Christ’s return. Acts 2:16-21 states that the Day of Pentecost is the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy in Joel 2:28-32: The Spirit would be poured out on all people, sons & daughters will prophesy, young men will see visions, old men will dream dreams, God’s servants – men and women – will prophesy, there will be wonders in the heavens and signs on the earth below, and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Nowhere in Acts 2 is there an indication that this outpouring will cease and the gifts of the Spirit mentioned will pass away with the completion of the NT Scriptures.

(3) Therefore, it should not be surprising that churches that deny the continuation of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit are stagnating and those promoting the charismata are growing. However, there is a need for the gift to ‘distinguish between spirits’ (ESV)[20] to continue among all Christians and especially among the charismatic-Pentecostals (see 1 Cor. 12:10; 14:29). Those who promote the charismata among believers in the contemporary church are encouraging consistent biblical Christianity.

However, there are aberrations and false teachings that have developed among some Pentecostal-charismatics. These must be addressed biblically. False manifestations should not negate the need for biblically-based manifestations. I would not write off all Toyota Camrys if my Camry developed a fault, even a severe problem. Even so, Pentecostal excesses should not deter from a biblical proclamation of the need for the gifts of the Spirit to be manifested within biblical order (as in 1 Cor. 12-14). I have written about some of these in:

6. Practical implications

What are the practical ramifications of the God who is not immanent and does not perform ‘signs’ in our contemporary society? Could this be a supernatural way that God is showing that churches which practise the gifts of the Spirit and believe in God’s immanence are the ones that are growing – Pentecostalism vs. traditional churches? However, it does need to be noted that in the National Church Life Survey of 2001 the Anglican church in Sydney, which is evangelical but not charismatic/Pentecostal, had ‘a significant increase in attendance in the Sydney diocese’ which is the largest Anglican diocese in Australia.[21] This does demonstrate that evangelical churches that take evangelism seriously are growing.

However, this should not deny the doctrine of the immanence of God and the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit.

6.1 What God is doing in the Muslim world!

This article on ‘Doors into Islam’ by Stan Guthrie (Christianity Today) demonstrates what God is doing in the world of Islam through the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit. The article contains sovereign ways that God is reaching Muslims through dreams and visions:

“We also [have] many reports from workers in Sudan of. … people coming to faith through evangelistic efforts and dreams and visions,” Noor says.

Noor credits increased prayer through the AD2000 and Beyond Movement for more spiritual receptivity and reports of dreams and visions in his own Egypt. “We can see this especially happening in Egypt,” Noor says. “Although it’s very hard to give numbers, it’s hard to miss the obvious increase in number of workers with Muslims and the number of Muslims being baptized”….

Khaled AbdelRahman grew up in Iraq, believing that one day he would be an imam (leader) of a mosque. After AbdelRahman became a serious student of Islam, he began arguing about religion with some young Christians. “I created many faith problems for them,” he says. They introduced him to their church’s priest, who expertly fielded his questions. The priest died a year later, but AbdelRahman, now a young man, found his view of Christianity changing, and he began to struggle with the contradictions he saw in Islam.

One night, as he slept, AbdelRahman saw a vision of a man with a beard.

“Son,” the man said, “why do you attack my sheep?”

AbdelRahman replied, “Who are you, Sir?”

“Jesus Christ.”

“I’m not attacking your sheep, Sir. I’m trying to bring your lost sheep back to the straight path.”

“You are the one who is lost. I’m the straight path.”

Confused, AbdelRahman stopped pursuing Islam and Christianity and began pursuing a life of pleasure. About that time, his father, a high-ranking officer in the Iraqi army, died in a car crash.

AbdelRahman’s mother, a journalist and native of another Arab country, assumed the death was a tragic accident. Later, AbdelRahman heard a commanding voice as he slept: “Run away from your country now!” He knew it was the voice of Jesus. A few hours later, he was on a flight to his mother’s home country (which he prefers to be left unnamed, for security reasons), feeling a little sheepish. From his grandfather’s house he called his mother. She said a police unit had assassinated his father and was now looking for him.

In shock, AbdelRahman passed out. When he woke up a few hours later, he began praying earnestly for God to show him the truth. Later, in a dream, Jesus told him, “I love you. Why don’t you love me likewise? Come to me, because I have a plan for you.”

AbdelRahman did so. A few months later, Iraq invaded Kuwait. After he got kicked out of his mother’s country because of his evangelism and “apostasy,” he evangelized Muslim refugees in the Netherlands while applying for religious refugee status, which he obtained. He now lives in the United States and works in the information technology sector. He also has an Internet-based apologetics ministry directed toward Muslims. His story can be found on www.answering-islam.org, a Christian ministry to Muslim seekers.

Woodberry says dreams and visions like this one constitute a major factor in the conversion stories of Muslims from around the world. He has collected more than 650 testimonies from Muslims who have received Christ. He says a third of these conversion accounts mention dreams as a factor.

Warren Larson has seen some of these accounts, and he is not surprised. For 23 years Larson planted churches and worked at a Bible correspondence school in Pakistan.

“God speaks to people, Muslims in particular, through dreams,” Larson says. “[He] draws them to himself, continues to work through dreams.”

Frontiers is also hearing reports of dreams and visions among Muslims. The agency has 600 missionaries—250 from outside the West—serving on about 100 church-planting teams in 35 countries with Muslim areas. But Blincoe, who launched the agency’s work in Iraq following the Gulf War, cautions that people are still needed.

“We can talk about miracles,” Blincoe says. “But there is no substitute for the apostolic method that Christ directed. That is, a person with his voice should tell the gospel message. In the end, people who have had dreams and miracles still need a human being”.[22].

In his sovereign way, God is using miracles and dreams to reach some in the Muslim world.

“Missionaries who are reaching Muslims with the gospel have some unusual help: the Muslims’ own dreams. As many as one-third of Muslim converts to Christianity, according to one missions scholar quoted in Stan Guthrie’s article, report having dreams of Christ and of angels. Why would God use dreams to convince Muslims of his truth? When does God speak through dreams? Certainly he did in the Bible, but what about in our time? In this study, we’ll explore New Testament dreams and visions since Pentecost”.[23]

Another website posts testimonies by Muslim converts to Christianity. A man who identified himself only as “a brother from Saudi Arabia” writes:

As a teenager I went to the mosque five times a day in obedience to my parents…. One night while was asleep I had this horrible dream of me being taken into hell. What I saw there brought me real fear and these dreams kept coming to me almost every night…. Suddenly one day Jesus appeared to me and said, “Son, I am the way, the truth, and the life. And if you would give your life to Me and follow Me, I would save you from the hell that you have seen.”…Christianity is totally banned in Saudi Arabia…. [After I converted] I was taken into custody and tortured. They told me I would be beheaded if I did not turn back to Islam…. I told the authorities I’m willing to die for Jesus and that I would never come back to Islam…. The appointed day came for my execution and I was waiting with much anticipation, yet very strong in my faith….One hour lapsed, two hours went by, then it became three hours and then the day passed by. No one turned up. Then two days later the authorities turned and opened the doors and told me, “You demon! Get out from this place!”.[24]

Iranian Muslims are embracing Christ in record numbers, some through dreams and miracles.[25]

“We hear stories of Jesus appearing to Muslims in dreams and visions…. But after the visions, after the miraculous (or quiet) conversions, how are new believers being nurtured, discipled and brought into Christian churches? In many cases, they aren’t”.[26]

6.2 What about the illiterate and those who don’t have a Bible?

The ministry of Wycliffe Bible Translators tells us that at the beginning of the 21st century,

Today about 340 million people do not have any Scripture in their language. Wycliffe’s vision is to see the Bible accessible to all people in the language they understand best. To make this vision a reality, Wycliffe also focuses on community development, literacy development and church partnerships.[27]

Compassionate Christians should not promote cessationism for three reasons: (1) The Bible does not teach it, and (2) There are 340 million people in the world who do not have a Bible in their own languages to read, and (3) There is a significant illiteracy rate around the world. Talking of the closing of the canon, has no relevance to those without the scriptures or those who cannot read.

But there is an additional problem! Even if the language of a certain people group does have a translated Bible, many in these cultures are illiterate. What is the problem with illiteracy?

The ‘World illiteracy map’ states that

World literacy statistics show that Africa has the largest number of countries with 60% of illiterate people…. Most of North America, Europe and Australia fall into the category of less than 5% adult illiteracy. Third world literacy figures show that in the developing countries, most of the population is illiterate. Highest illiteracy rates are observed in developing countries such as South Asian, Arab and Sub-Saharan countries. In developed countries the illiteracy rate is low. For instance, illiteracy in America cannot be compared with the  functional illiteracy  rates of the third world.  US illiteracy is a meager 2.8 million in a country of more than 300 million people.[28]

This dismal picture is a further practical impediment to the doctrine of cessationism. How many people in the world are illiterate and cannot read the canon of Scripture? The ‘World illiteracy map’ states, ‘World literacy rates as a whole presents a bleak picture’.[29] The 2011 census report in India from the Government of India, Ministry of Home affairs, revealed an average literacy rate of 74.04% (82.14% males; 65.46% females).[30] The United Nations’ assessment is:

The United Nations, which defines illiteracy as the inability to read and write a simple message in any language, has conducted a number of surveys on world illiteracy. In the first survey (1950, pub. 1957) at least 44% of the world’s population were found to be illiterate. A 1978 study showed the rate to have dropped to 32.5%, by 1990 illiteracy worldwide had dropped to about 27%, and by 1998 to 16%. However, a study by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) published in 1998 predicted that the world illiteracy rate would increase in the 21st cent. because only a quarter of the world’s children were in school by the end of the 20th cent. The highest illiteracy rates were found in the less developed nations of Africa, Asia, and South America; the lowest in Australia, Japan, North Korea, and the more technologically advanced nations of Europe and North America. Using the UN definition of illiteracy, the United States and Canada have an overall illiteracy rate of about 1%. In certain disadvantaged areas, however, such as the rural South in the United States, the illiteracy rate is much higher.[31]

The lack of Bibles accessible to many millions around the world and the continuing problem with illiteracy, are practical impediments for many people to access the Scriptures in written form.

This has practical ramifications for those who promote cessationism. However, the biggest issue for cessationists is their clash with consistent biblical interpretation.

7. Conclusion

I conclude with the flip side to the introduction to Paul Cornford’s article. His concern was with ‘the meteoric rise of modern pentecostalism and its claim to ongoing revelation’ (2008:1). My concern is with the lack of consistent biblical interpretation among cessationists. Therefore, the real concern should be to answer Paul Cornford’s question biblically: ‘we have to ask: why are the pentecostal churches growing and the traditional churches shrinking? Have we missed something? (Cornford 2008:1).

Yes, he and the cessationist movement have missed something BIG TIME! The gifts of the Spirit were meant to continue until Christian believers meet the Lord face-to-face at death or the parousia – Christ’s second coming. There is every biblical reason to expect that Pentecostal-charismatic churches should be growing and cessationists should be losing members or stagnating. One (Pentecostalism) practices a biblical doctrine of the Holy Spirit and the other (cessationists) deny this doctrine of continuing gifts of the Holy Spirit.

However, in affirming the charismatic dimension of the gifts of the Spirit, I am quick to state that there are a number of extremes in the Pentecostal-charismatic movement that must be addressed. Down through the years, I have addressed these Pentecostal theological aberrations in articles such as:

I am committed to “rightly handling the word of truth”

(2 Tim. 2:15)

8. Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Barth, K 1933. The resurrection of the dead. New York: Fleming H. Revell.

Berkhof, L 1941. Systematic theology. London: The Banner of Truth Trust.

Bruce, F F 1964. The epistle to the Hebrews (The New International Commentary on the New Testament, F F Bruce gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Carson, D A 1987. Showing the Spirit: A theological exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press.

Carson, D A 1991. The gospel according to John. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Cornford, P 2008. The superiority of New Testament revelation. North Pine Presbyterian Church. Available at: http://www.northpinepresbyterianchurch.org/downloads/articles/ntRevelation.pdf (Accessed 30 December 2011).

Crossan, J D 1991. The historical Jesus: The life of a Mediterranean Jewish peasant. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 1994. Jesus: A revolutionary biography. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 1998. The birth of Christianity: Discovering what happened in the years immediately after the execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco. Also available [e-book] at: HERE (Accessed 18 September 2010).

Dana, H E & Mantey, J R 1955. A manual grammar of the Greek New Testament. Toronto, Ontario: The Macmillan Company.

Delling, G 1972. teleios. In G Friedrich (ed), tr by G W Bromiley, Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 8, 67-87. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Fee, G D 1987. The first epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Hodge, C 1979 (reprint). Systematic theology, vol 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Marlowe, M D n.d. ‘What about the majority text?’, Bible Research, Textual Criticism, available at: http://www.bible-researcher.com/majority.html (Accessed 31 December 2011).

Robertson, A T 1931. Word pictures in the New Testament: The epistles of Paul, vol 4. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Warfield, B B 1952. Biblical and theological studies. Ed S G Craig. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company.

Notes:


[1] This is at Petrie (Brisbane) Qld., Australia.

[2] I know through personal contact with Rev. Cornford that he supports the Byzantine Majority Greek Text (or Byzantine Textform, Received Text of the Textus Receptus) that lies behind the NT translations of the King James Version (KJV) and the New King James Version (NKJV). I support the Alexandrian Text, the older Alexandrian Greek text of the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament that is behind NT translations such as the English Standard Version (ESV), New International Version (NIV), New Living Translation (NLT), Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). For a discussion of the differences between The Majority Text and the Received Text and which is preferred, see Marlowe (n d).

[3] See Crossan (1991; 1994; 1998).

[4] The Jesus Seminar is sponsored by the Westar Institute and does not promote orthodox Christianity. See: http://www.westarinstitute.org/index.html (Accessed 30 December 2011). For a critique of the Jesus Seminar see N T Wright, ‘Jesus seminar critically examined: Setting scholars straight about the Bible’, 5 March 2007, available at: http://jesusseminar.blogspot.com/2007/03/setting-scholars-straight-about-bible.html (Accessed 30 December 2011).

[5] Some of these OT illustrations were suggested by Bruce (1964:3).

[6] ‘Period’ is the USA word for ‘full stop’.

[7] I support the Alexandrian text that is older than the Byzantine text, and thus closer to the time of the NT writers. The Alexandrian text is evident in the contemporary translations of the ESV, NIV, NLT, RSV and NRSV.

[8] However, in some of his sermons, he does use quotations on the digital projector of the NIV 2011.

[9] The New Jerusalem Bible translates as, ‘once perfection comes’.

[10] Gordon Fee’s website states that he is Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies, Regent College (Vancouver, Canada) and ‘besides Dr. Fee’s ability as a biblical scholar, he is a noted teacher and conference speaker. An ordained minister with the Assemblies of God, Dr. Fee is well known for his manifest concern for the renewal of the church’, available at: http://www.gordonfeeonline.com/ (Accessed 31 December 2011).

[11] This is Arndt & Gingrich (1957).

[12] Fee is referring to the second half of 1 Cor. 13:12, the whole verse stating, ‘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’ (NIV 1984). Fee describes the cessationist views of B. B. Warfield, contemporary Reformed and Dispensationalist theologies, as advocating ‘an impossible view … since Paul himself could not have articulated it…. It is perhaps an indictment of Western Christianity that we should consider “mature” our totally cerebral and domesticated—but bland—brand of faith, with the concomitant absence of the Spirit in terms of his supernatural gifts! The Spirit, not Western rationalism, marks the turning of the ages, after all; and to deny the Spirit’s manifestations is to deny our present existence to be eschatological, as belonging to the beginning of the time of the End’ (Fee 1987, 645 n 23).

[13] This refers to Barth (1933:86).

[14] I have relatives who are in Brethren Assemblies.

[15] The expected answer in Greek is, ‘No’.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Dana & Mantey’s Greek grammar of the NT states that ‘in questions me (or meti) implies that the expected answer is “no”‘. They use the example of Judas’s memorable question in Matt. 26:25 and the difference in meaning between the two negatives, ou and me in Luke 6:39, ‘a blind man is not able to guide a blind man, is he? They will fall into a ditch, will they not?’ They demonstrate that the differences between ou and me in other sentences include, ‘the general distinction between ou and me is that ou is objective, dealing only with facts, while m? is subjective, involving will and thought…. Or, according to Dr. C. B. Williams … ou expresses a definite, emphatic negation; me an indefinite, doubtful negation’ (Dana & Mantey 1955:265-266).

[20] This is called ‘discerning of spirits’ in the KJV and NKJV. The literal Greek is diakriseis = discernings/distinguishings.

[21] Michael Gilchrist 2004, ‘National Church Life Survey: church-going declines further’, available at: http://www.ad2000.com.au/articles/2004/apr2004p3_1581.html (Accessed 30 December 2011).

[22] Available at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/010/1.34.html (Accessed 31 December 2011).

[23] Christian Bible Studies, ‘Muslims dream their way to Christ’. Available at: http://shop.store.yahoo.com/biblestudies/dreamourwayb.html (Accessed 31 December 2011).

[24] Wendy Murray Zoba, ‘How Muslims see Christianity’, Christianity Today, 1 March 2000, available at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/marchweb-only/31.0c.html (Accessed 31 December 2011).

[25] See: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2004/6/prweb133066.php (Accessed 31 December 2011).

[26] Available at: http://www.baptistpress.org/bpnews.asp?ID=4243 (Accessed 31 December 2011).

[27] Available at: http://www.wycliffe.org/ (Accessed 31 December 2011).

[28] Available at: http://www.mapsofworld.com/thematic-maps/world-illiteracy-map.htm (Accessed 31 December 2011).

[29] Ibid.

[30] Available at: http://www.censusindia.gov.in/2011-prov-results/indiaatglance.html (Accessed 31 December 2011). An average of the male and female literacy rates does not calculate to 74.04% but 73.8%.

[31] The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia 2007, 6th edition. Columbia University Press, available at: http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/society/A0858751.html (Accessed 31 December 2011).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 April 2016.