The Greatest of These is Love: Cessationism (Part 3B)

This post follow on from a previous post on 1 Corinthians 13:8-12.

* * *

Now, in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul seems to be concerned that, given his teaching about the privilege of the gifts, Christians may become arrogant, impatient, rude, obnoxious or self-righteous. But even if I should have prophetic gifts of wisdom and knowledge, prophetic powers, tongues, and miraculous abilities, yet if I do not have love, I am worthless. From this it seems to follow that the gifts should lead to greater humility and love, and their use otherwise is counterproductive to their purpose.

Furthermore, love is eternal. the gifts are only for a limited amount of time. That seems clear from our passage. In verse 8, “Love never ends,” implying this consequence of the Christian life will go one forever and ever. This makes sense if we believe the end goal of creation is a wedding supper with the Lamb and communion with him forever and ever.

Yet in that same verse, it quite explicitly says that the charismatic gifts “cease” or “pass away.” I affirm that the gifts will cease at some time. But the question is: When?  The answer seems to be: “when the perfect comes,” or, when the Church “became a man,” when we shall see “face to face” and “know fully.” That must have be in the past, or some time in the future.

What on earth does this mean?

The Cessationist seems to be committed to the view that the charismatic gifts have ceased already. Therefore, he is committed to the statements that:

– the perfect has come,
– the whole Church has matured as a boy into a man,
– sees face to face, and
– knows fully.

Now from the very description, it seems this is a very difficult position to maintain. Is the church seriously perfect and complete? Not at all! And we already read in 1 Corinthians 12 that the purpose of the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit were for the building up of the body. Incidentally, Paul’s talk about moving from being a boy into being a man is quite appropriate. When human beings develop, their bodies and minds change until they reach a peak point of maturity. But Paul is talking about the whole church as a corporate body, individual exercising their gifts within in, and some people are more mature than others.

Other than that, what does it mean to see “face to face” or to “know fully”? This is admittedly cryptic to me. Maybe it means to see Jesus at his return and experience God in his immediate glory. Well that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it just means to have the close canon of the scriptures. But that seems impersonal, and unlikely given that there simply was no such thing in Paul’s day, so how could he think about it? Besides, even we do not “know fully” that whole text, in that we have a perfect understanding of it all.

So I find the Cessationist inference to current cessation from this passage spurious. My intuition, which I shall go into some time later when I blog about this, is that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit shall cease probably at the very end of the world, after the last rebellion following the millennial reign of Christ on the earth, when there is no more hope of repentance for the lost. But more on that later.

Next time, we shall talk about the beauty of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including their divine purpose in 1 Corinthians 14.

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