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

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

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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.


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

Last time we talked about how perhaps one of the major reasons many Christian people who hold to Cessationism do not experience the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit is because they are neither open nor willing to God working through them supernaturally in this way. Today, we’re briefly going to talk about one scripture in particular which is used in favour of Cessationism.

I realise this is not the only scripture for Cessationists, nor is it the only biblical reason people give. But it is a good example.

1 Corinthians 13:8-12 says,

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul has given a discourse on the functions and activities of the Christian church, especially on the way in which the one body of the church is built up and strengthened in various ways, each according to the gifts and callings God has given to each individual person in the church. Each part plays an essential role in the building up of the body, and therefore it is not the case that one part is unneeded, nor can it be said that one part is ‘more important’ than another.

Of the gifts and callings, these include the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit such as wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation of tongues. Each of these is a distinct gift, and each operates in its own proper place for the common good.

The second half of this thought will give a very brief thought on this passage as used in favour of Cessationism.

For You Were Not Willing: Cessationism (Part 2)

The scripture says (Matthew 7:7-8): “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”

This is in the context of receiving gifts from and being provided for by God the Father.

Last time we said that one major reason Cessationist doctrine takes root in a person’s life is because the person looks at much of what is called Charismatic Christianity and sees disorderly madness. But we said that the misuse of something does not justify its abolition, but its reform to proper usage.

There seems, however, to be another major reason people become Cessationists: Many Christians simply do not experience the gifts of the Spirit at operation in their lives. How might we explain this?

The answer seems rather simple, but might have rather significant implications for believers. I believe the answer lies in the unwillingness of the person to seek their charismatic gifts in accordance with the commandment in 1 Corinthians 12:31.

Think about it. Let’s say a person takes on a doctrine of Cessationism. Almost automatically, that person will be closed off to the possibility that any of the charismatic ways the Spirit might move through him, and therefore he doesn’t seek the will of God concerning it. Why? Because he is committed to at least two ideas: (1) He committed to the actual cessation of the gifts. Then why seek them? (2) He is also committed to the sentiment that any manifestation of a so-called gift is actually a positive movement of evil spirits. Of course, then,  he finds charismatic gifts repulsive and will not seek them

Now God will not do with us what we are not willing to do. That theme I see again and again in scripture. So if we are not open, individually and corporately, to the proper, orderly, edifying use of the charismatic gifts, then God will not force us to be instruments of their operation.

I find this profoundly sad, to be honest. The charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit are powerful and wonderful ways God has chosen to build up the body of Christ. But the Cessationist doctrine is causing untold thousands of young Christians to be closed off to the will of God operating through them in this way.

So I suggest we need to be open. We need to ask, seek and knock after the charismatic gifts, and seek the will of God concerning their proper use.

In my own experience, only when I have been open to what God wants me to do in seeking his will to serve others, have I received a very strong and relevant word of knowledge or wisdom to share with another believer in need. I am always open to what God wants me to do, and I believe God honours my openness and willingness at the opportune time of his choosing.

For example, recently, at church, I sought the will of God on this and later that evening was talking with a young teenage brother in the Lord. I was just chatting with him, and then got a sense that the Lord wanted me to say something to him. So I just opened my mouth spontaneously mid-conversation and shared that I believe the Lord has a special vocation on his life, perhaps to go into the ministry, and that he should think on and pray about, reading certain recommended scriptures. He told me his heart burned with conviction at those words, for he had been honestly worried and seeking the Lord concerning if he had any special calling in his life.

His prayers and concerns to God had been heard, and God had responded to him directly through a word of wisdom and knowledge through me to him! Amazing!

So I think we need to be open and willing for the charismatic gifts of the Spirit to work through us; otherwise, they won’t.

Next time, we will briefly discuss one scripture commonly used to say the charismatic gifts of the Spirit have ceased: 1 Corinthians 13:8.

Throwing the Baby out with the Baptismal Bathwater: Cessationism (Part 1)

I believe that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit as taught about in 1 Corinthians 12 operate in and among the Christian people today, both for the purposes of evangelism and to edify the body. I believe there is no sufficiently explicit biblical precedent to reject this premise. Additionally, I believe godly individual and groups of people experience these gifts today, all to the glory of God. I am therefore a Continuationist, or, a Charismatic.

However, some people like John Macarthur actually teach that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased since the Apostles died. They no longer operate today. One main argument in favor of this notion is not scriptural but experiential: it just seems that in the case of these alleged gifts in church bodies, what is termed “the Spirit of God” is often an excuse for a disorderly madness. Yet one of the major signs of the Spirit of God is a spirit of order in the church (2 Timothy 1:7).

There is legitimacy to this argument to an extent. There just does seem to be many abuses. But as Michael Brown has pointed out, Charismatic leaders have historically been the first and foremost to point out such abuses, and address them in their own congregations.

Could Macarthur and people like him — the Cessationists — be throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Take another issue Macarthur argues against: Paedobaptism. Let’s grant for sake of argument that Paedobaptism is a useless church ritual that is ultimately harmful to faith and the body of Christ. (This is not my present opinion). Do we therefore throw out baptism altogether? Of course not. We become — as Macarthur is — Credobaptists. We institute an ordinance of baptism that is in keeping with the revelation of inspired scripture.

Take, then, the charismatic gifts. If we see the (alleged) gifts being used in such a way that is not in keeping with the institution and instruction of inspired scripture, do we therefore throw out gifts altogether? Not at all! Rather, we become godly, Bible-believing Charismatics who use the gifts in the right way — for evangelism and edification of the body, all in a godly order, and with care.

It seems to me that Macarthur and others who follow his Cessationist doctrine have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. But if they’re wrong, they’re depriving the Christian people of a powerful spiritual tool to use against Satan and for the Kingdom of Light.

All good things can be perverted and used for evil. But the right response is reform our thinking concerning that thing, and bring it back to the Bible, not getting rid of that thing altogether.

Next time, we shall talk about why so many Christians don’t experience the operation of the Charismatic gifts of the Spirit.