A reader of my previous post objected to some of what I wrote. Which of course is fine. I remain grateful that we have the freedom to do that. I’m also grateful for the opportunity it provides me to interact with some of his thoughts and critiques. So, here’s my response…
First, he said he didn’t know what “canceled Christians” means. It is a reference to the “popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures… after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming” (dictionary.com). Christians are being shut down from sharing their biblically informed views (especially moral issues on sexuality) on social media and often in general conversation as well.
He said that “we are to invest much energy into this world.” I, of course, agree with that. The Bible is replete with examples calling us to do just that. One of the reasons it calls us to invest in this world is actually because of the coming of the next. Our eschatology (study of last things) is a goad to our ethics (e.g. Matt. 24:36ff; 25:13; Col. 3:1ff; 1 Thess. 5:1-2).
He also said that this world is not a “stinky tent. It’s God’s handiwork.” This world is not literally a stinky tent. The Bible doesn’t say that exactly. The Bible does, however, say that “in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling… For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened… we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:2, 4, 8). It says, “the creation was subjected to futility… the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption… For we know that the whole creation has been groaning…” (Rom. 8:20, 21, 22 see also 2 Cor. 4:16-18). It thus seems to me that the world is a metaphorical “stinky tent.” It is not our final home. We should have a certain amount of longing for our “lasting city” (Heb. 13:14 cf. 2 Cor. 5:1; Jn. 14:2-3).
God’s creation does show His handiwork and it is an “expression of His creativity.” The first chapter of Genesis says six times that God’s creation is “good” and in the seventh and final announcement God says it’s “very good” (Gen. 1:31). That, however, is not the end of the story. It’s the beginning. Something sinister happens. The Fall (Gen. 3). And because of sin all manner of curse and chaos.
We live in a post-Genesis-3 world. So, while creation still attests to the goodness and creativity of God, it is also riddled with ruin because of sin. Jesus as promised in Genesis 3:15 is the one who finally remakes it. And He is the hope of the world.
I really appreciate that he says, “we are called to imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.” That is very true. I am not sure why but it seems like he was led to believe that I would disagree with that truth. I am not sure why, however. No writing of any length can say everything, but especially a blog. Yes, we are to “imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.”
I actually believe it’s true that unless Christians live as the campers and exiles they are, they won’t participate, they won’t invest, and they won’t forgive as God would have them. It’s being focused on the Kingdom that makes us effective in whatever kingdom we find ourselves in. It’s the person who realizes the value of the treasure (i.e. all the goodness of the new creation) that will sacrifice all to gain it (Matt. 13:44); even if it means loving those who are sometimes unlovely.
That is why we must “set [our] hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13). That, as Peter explains, will help us “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (v. 22). It will help us “imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.” It will help us with creation care and the Golden Rule.
As C.S. Lewis said,
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.
We can be so earthy minded that we’re no earthly good. And we won’t rightly love our neighbor if we only love ourselves. As we look to Christ and the heaven He’s purchased us we will more and more be drawn to live like Christ, to love and sacrifice ourselves for others (See e.g. 2 Cor. 3:18; 5:14-15; 2 Pet. 3:11-14).
Regarding his comment that “most [my] assertions are not contextualized or elaborated” and that what I wrote is “gobbledegook,” I would say that the assertions in his response are also not “contextualized or elaborated.” And had they been his response would have been much longer. I would not say though that as a result what he wrote was “gobbledygook.” I looked up the definition of “gobbledygook” and apparently it means “language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of abstruse technical terms.” I’m not sure where my post earned the term “gobbledygook” but that is not a noun I want associated with anything I write. I actually wanted my post to be simple and thought provoking. Ironically, it seems to me that writings that are most contextualized and elaborated are the very writings that have the most likelihood of being gobbledygook.
I want to be clear, instructive, and helpful. And this gentleman’s comments are a spur to encourage me in that pursuit. For that I am thankful.
 Of course, I don’t expect the gentlemen’s brief response to be perfectly nuanced either. Covering every facet is not possible in a brief comment, blog post, or even a book-length treatment. We are both fallible and temporal. Scripture itself, if the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) is not rightly considered, can seem lopsided. Matthew and Luke, James and Paul, however, are not at odds even if they are emphasizing different things and coming at issues from a different perspective.
“And God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:1-3).
For the next couple of weeks, we’re going to be looking at rules, the Ten Commandments. Yeah! Just what everyone wants to look at! Rules! I’m sure you’re giddy with delight.
Rules often have a bad reputation. They have for me in the past. Let me ask you though, have you heard of Thomas the Train? Thomas was a train. A blue train to be exact, and a happy train most of the time. But Thomas wanted to be free. He wanted to be free from the restrictions of the train track. He was unhappy because wanted to roam in the open countryside.
One day he got fed up. He made a break for it. He was going to go off the restrictive tracks once and for all! He was going to know freedom.
So, he did. He went of the tracks. He was finally free from the railroad tracks!
What do you think Thomas’ “freedom” was like?…
It was crushing. Literally, crushing. He couldn’t move. He was stuck.
He was somewhere where he wasn’t meant to be.
We often have…
Concern about Rules
We don’t like rules. But rules are good. Have you ever played the card game Mao? It’s a game with unspoken rules. It’s really hard to play because you don’t know the rules but get penalized when you break them. Rules are good because they keep things the way they’re supposed to be kept. They keep Thomas on the tracks so that he is free to come and go, free to be what he is supposed to be. It’s also good to know the rules so you’re not “penalized” for something you didn’t know.
The ministry of a prophet does not contradict or add to Scripture but if truly from God is infallible. This is very controversial but it seems to be the correct conclusion when we unbiasedly consider the biblical evidence. It is helpful here to consider what Sam Storms has said, “If noncanonical revelation was not a threat to the ultimate authority of Scripture in its emerging from, neither should it pose a threat to Scripture in its final form.” Many, however, do not buy that.
For example, John MacArthur says, “extrabiblical revelation always leads to error!” Then he proceeds to look at cults and mentions the Book of Mormon as an example. It is true that there are many false claims to revelation but that in itself does not mean that there is not still revelation. If we truly believe in solo Scriptura we need to show where the Bible says there is no longer revelation.
Schreiner, in his helpful book Spiritual Gifts, argues that prophecy no longer continues because the prophecy in the New Testament was infallible and what is happening now is not infallible. He never demonstrates, however, that all of what is called “prophecy” today is not at least in some cases from God and thus infallible. Further, this is not an argument grounded in Scripture. Instead, Schreiner is simply making an assertion about all modern claims to prophecy. That, we should see, is a big sweeping claim.
I believe Schreiner actually helps the case for the continuance of prophecy because he makes a strong argument that not all prophecy is inscripturated. That is a big part of what I believe regarding prophecy. I believe infallible prophecy continues today but just like in the Old and New Testaments, not all infallible prophecy is included within the canon.
Schreiner shows that New Testament prophecy does not differ from Old Testament prophecy. He says,
New Testament prophets spoke authoritatively and with complete truth to the situations in their churches. The fact that most prophecies weren’t written down and preserved is completely irrelevant as far as the truth of the prophecies is concerned. It is a category mistake to think that if prophecies are without error, then they must be written down and included in the Scriptures. And it doesn’t logically follow that prophecies must contain errors if they aren’t preserved and written down. God spoke authoritatively and truly through the prophets, even if their prophecies weren’t recorded and preserved. They spoke the infallible word of God to their contemporaries, who needed to hear these true and authoritative words of God.
Further, in chapter 7, Schreiner makes a convincing case for infallible prophecy. He argues that “the idea that New Testament prophecies are mixed with error is mistaken.”
I believe that what the prophets of today share is similar to what Agabus shared. Of course, some claim that Agabus’ prophecy in Acts 11 was wrong. They, however, are mistaken. Ferguson concludes, “Paul’s testimony assumes its accuracy. We have no reason to believe that Agabus’ prophecy failed. Luke gives no indication that Paul thought it had done so.”
Prophecy is never produced by human will; instead, the person with the prophecy speaks what God gives them to say by the Spirit (2 Pet 1:20-21). Thus, prophecy is infallible because prophecy gives the words of God and God always speaks the truth (Titus. 1:2; John 17:3,17; Heb 6:18; Prov 30:5). Of course, we can misunderstand or disobey but God’s words are always without error.
So we see prophecy in the New Testament was both accurate and highly significant for the actions of the church but it was not on par with Scripture in the sense that it was not to be inscripturated. It is not the type of revelation to be inscripturated. It is not didactic revelatory teaching but pertains to the local body or a local situation. As in disclosing someone’s heart (as in the Spurgeon’s real-life example) and that encourages the local body because they see the Lord at work. It is not something that would add to the canon.
The Gifts Must Function in Accordance with Scripture
When the gifts of the Spirit are carried out and employed within the parameters of Scripture then a lot of the concerns that cessationists have should be able to be set aside. So, first, let us consider some of the parameters that Scripture puts in place for us. The gifts must function in a way that serves others (1 Pet 4:10-11), edifies (1 Cor 14:3, 12), is clear and ordered, not confusing or chaotic (14:23, 29, 33, 40), is loving (1 Cor. 13), and exalts Christ (Eph 3:21; 1 Cor 12:3).
Scripture further says that tongues must be interpreted if they are shared in the gathering (1 Cor 14:27-28), prophecy must be weighed (v. 29 cf. 1 John 4:1; John 7:24), only two or at most three prophecies or tongues can be shared at a public gathering (1 Cor 14:27-29), and all things should be carried out in an orderly way (vv. 30-33, 40) for the express and emphatic purpose of building up the body of Christ (e.g. v. 12). Paul says, “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation” (v. 26). Why? “For building up” (v. 26). Thus, Paul tells us to “earnestly desire” (12:31; 14:1, 39) the Spirit-empowered gifts and “strive to excel in building up the church” (14:12).
Second, let’s ensure we have a biblical understanding regarding the more controversial issues related to the gifts of the Spirit. I created an acronym to help us consider this subject more effectively. The acronym is G.I.F.T.S. Here is a summary of the acronym:
- God continues to give gifts to build up the church.
- Individuals with the gift of prophecy do not contradict or add to Scripture but if what they share is truly from God then it is infallible.
- Fallible apostles still exist and are gifted men of God but the office of Apostle does not continue.
- Tongues are used in two overlapping ways in Scripture and should be pursued and practiced as outlined in the Bible.
- Scripture is to always be obeyed as the final authority.
We will now look at each of those bullet points in order.
You can see the previous post in the series here.
There is no exegetical reason for believing the gifts have ceased. Ninth, despite what many believe, there is no convincing exegetical argument for the cessation of the grace gifts. 1 Corinthians 13:10 plays a prominent role in many cessationists’ arguments. It did for me when I was taught as a kid. There is another hermeneutical issue, however. Thomas R. Schreiner says,
To see ‘the perfect’ as referring to the New Testament canon is an example of anachronism…
Instead of referring to spiritual maturity or to the canon of the New Testament, ‘the perfect’ most likely refers to the second coming of Christ, the end of the age. The perfect is equivalent with seeing God face to face (1 Cor. 13:12).
John MacArthur says although many “scholars [e.g. B.B. Warfield, Richard Gaffin, Robert Thomas, Thomas Edgar, Simon J. Kistemaker] disagree on the identification of the ‘perfect,’ they all reach the same conclusion—namely, that the miraculous and revelatory gifts have ceased.” He goes on to say that “we must look elsewhere than 1 Corinthians 13:10, to passages like Ephesians 2:20, where Paul indicated that both the apostolic and prophetic offices were only for the foundational age of the church.”
Many, such as John MacArthur, Richard B. Gaffin, along with Schreiner, end up making the argument that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased because they claim, otherwise, the canon of Scripture would be in jeopardy. That, however, is rather a different issue than if the gifts of the Spirit continue or not. For one, the canon of Scripture, as well as the very existence of the Church, has been in jeopardy since the outset. The way to defend Scripture, as well as the church, is a more robust understanding of what Scripture teaches, not fear.
You can see the previous post in this series here.
Gifts of the Spirit confirm the gospel. Fourth, the gifts of the Spirit serve to authenticate the gospel message (e.g. Rom 15:18-19) and that is still necessary especially in certain contexts but that is not the exclusive reason that God gave the gifts of the Spirit. D.A. Carson correctly points out that just “because miraculous signs have a distinctively attesting role in some instances, it does not follow that this is the only role they play.” Although some assert that the gifts of the Spirit ceased with the closing of the canon they make that claim without biblical warrant. As Carson says, “There is no exegetical warrant for thinking certain classes of the Spirit’s manifestations cease once the crucial points of redemptive history have passed.”
Gifts of the Spirit are poured out in the last days. Fifth, the gifts of the Spirit are part of what it means to be in the last days and we are in the last days.
Cessationists who claim that the healings of Jesus and the apostles where merely authenticating signs of their status as bearers of canonical revelation misunderstand Jesus’ own explanation of them. For Jesus, they are rather expressions of the liberating reign of God, bursting into history, and it is as such that they attest the message of the kingdom.
The gifts of the Spirit are to be expected because they indicate the presence of the Kingdom in the last days. The presence of the Holy Spirit is a sign of the new covenant.
You can see the previous post here.
There is no indication that the gifts would cease before Christ’s second coming. The Bible never indicates the cessation of the grace gifts until the return of Jesus, this is the second reason I believe in their continuance. There is no indication in the New Testament that the gifts would cease before the coming of Christ. Of course, it is possible that they could just fade out but we would not expect that to be the case from reading the Bible. Jack Deere contends that “If you were to lock a brand-new Christian in a room with a Bible and tell him to study what the Scriptures have to say about healing and miracles, he would never come out of the room a cessationist.”
In 1 Corinthians 1, it seems to indicate the expectation that the gifts will continue until the coming of Christ. If you read the letter as the first recipients would have there is nothing at all that would make you think otherwise. In 1 Corinthians 1:7, Paul says, “…you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice it says “any gift” and it seems as if the gifts will continue until the revealing of the Lord Jesus Christ. That seems to clearly indicate that the gifts of the Spirit will continue until Jesus returns.
Paul, thus, seems to believe that all of the gifts will not be lacking until “the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:7). Paul expects that those who are witnesses of Christ will have the spiritual gifts available to them until “the perfect comes” (cf. 13:8-12), that is “the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:7). It is also important to note that in the context of 1 Corinthians, “spiritual gifts” (χαρίσματι cf. HCSB, NLT, NIV, Rom 1:11) cannot be limited to encouragement and the like but must also include what is considered the “charismatic gifts.”
In the last post, we looked at “God the Spirit and the Filling of the Spirit.” In this post, we will be looking at…
Next, we need to understand that God the Spirit gives “grace gifts.” God’s abundant grace that we see demonstrated all throughout redemptive history issues in grace gifts. God expresses His grace concretely in the rich number of grace gifts He bestows upon the Church for its upbuilding. Schreiner observes this and says, “I would define spiritual gifts as gifts of grace granted by the Holy Spirit which are designed for the edification of the church.”
The Spirit was vital at the beginning of the church and He continues to be on through to the consummation. He brought the birth of the Church, He hovered over the Church like He hovered over the water at the beginning. The Spirit does not bring charismatic chaos but the creation of order. That was the Spirit’s work at the beginning and it is the Spirit’s work today. There is no biblical warrant for believing in some big discontinuity between the work of the Spirit then and the work of the Spirit now in the last days. Actually, Scripture says, “in the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17). We are in those latter days today and we still need the empowering presence of the Spirit.
The hodgepodge, unlearned, and often unimpressive group of Jesus followers did not see the messianic movement die. Instead, the people of the way (Acts 9:2) actually exploded in growth, this group of people that followed a crucified and cursed man who claimed to be God, this group of people who had no leader on earth. How did this group survive let alone thrive?
Because Jesus did not leave His disciples without what they needed. Jesus sent the Helper.
Jesus said, that it was better that He go. That seems shocking. As it should. And as it did for the first disciples. We are left asking, how could it be better that Jesus’ bodily presence not be with us?
Thankfully Jesus answers that question. He tells us that He will not leave us as orphans. He gives us the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to be with us (See John 14).
The Grace Gifts Continue Today
“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be My witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Will we? Will we receive power?
God the Spirit and the Filling of the Spirit
God the Spirit. Since we are considering the work of the Spirit within the church, it is important that we consider God the Spirit, who He is and what He does. First, without going into any detail, the Holy Spirit is the third person of Trinity. The Spirit is fully God. The Holy Spirit also has personhood; He is not an impersonal force. That is who the Spirit is.
Second, it is important that we briefly consider what it is that the Spirit does. The Old Testament teaches us various things about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit molds creation into shape and gives life to created beings (Gen 1:2; 2:7; Ps 33:6; Job 26:13; 33:4). The Spirit controls the course of nature and history (Ps 104:29-30; Isa 34:16). The Spirit teaches and reveals God’s truth and will to His messengers. The Spirit elicits personal response to God. The Spirit equips individuals for leadership. We also see that the Spirit equips individuals with skill and strength (Exod 31:1-11; 1 Kgs 7:14; Hag 2:5; Zech 4:6).
The Spirit is given as our Helper (John 14:24). He takes what belongs to the Son and shares it with those who believe (John 16:14), beginning with the new birth (John 3:6), teaching and guiding (John 16:14), and transforming (2 Cor 3:5-18) in ways that surpass human capacity (1 Cor 2:10-14). He empowers believers to be Jesus’ witnesses to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8) and to the end of the age (Matt 28:20). By indwelling believers (Rom 8:9; 1 John 2:27), the Spirit washes and renews (Titus 3:5), pours out divine love in our hearts (Rom 5:5), reproduces the divine virtues (Gal 5:22-23; Rom 14:17), enables us to resist sin (Rom 8:13) and pursue holiness (2 Thess 2:13), and build unity among the church (Eph 2:22; 4:3, 13; Phil 2:1-2). The Spirit hears, speaks, witnesses, convinces, shows, leads, guides, teaches, commands, forbids, desires, gives speeches, helps, and intercedes with groans. It is vital that we not leave out the most miraculous work that the Spirit works within people; He makes them new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17; 3:3, 6, 18; Titus 3:5-6; Ezek 36:25-28; Rom 2:28-29).
Who is Jesus? That is the all-important question. That is the hinge on which history hangs.
That question has been a question for centuries. John the baptizer even said, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:3). Islam says Jesus is a prophet. Jehovah’s Witnesses say Jesus is a mighty being, even a god. But not God. They do not believe in the Trinity.
So, who is Jesus?
For us to answer that question, it’s important that we consider what Jesus Himself said. So, who did Jesus Himself say He was? Jesus is asked about His identity in the Gospel of John. People asked Jesus, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” (John 8:48).