Archive for the 'Cessationism' 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

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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

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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.

What Presbyterians can learn from Pentecostals!

Monday, August 20th, 2012

 

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(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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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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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

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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.

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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.