Have the Spiritual Gifts Ceased?

This is my first installment in the current debate on the spiritual gifts.  Specifically, whether or not some of the gifts have ceased.  Coramdeo is taking the Cessationist position while I’m taking the Continuationist position.

However, I want to say that I don’t associate with any particular label on this topic.  Frankly, I’m just not sure I have a concrete position on this issue yet.  I’m sure that there is an entire spectrum of cessationists and continuationists and neither Coramdeo or I would fit all models across the spectrum.

However, for the sake of clarity in this debate I will hold the mantle of “Continuationist” even though it may not accurately describe me. 

We Must Agree on Something First

The Word of God is the ultimate authority on everything that it talks about.  I know that Coramdeo would agree with this and I hope any other Christian following this debate, or just reading this article, would be on board as well.  If this isn’t our starting point, we have our feet firmly planted in thin air. 

My goal, in this debate, is to make sure that we hold tightly to our Ultimate Authority and to not go places it doesn’t.  This presupposition must be committed to even if it means we don’t get a systematic, concrete answer out of the question of spiritual gifts, if it means holding to an uncomfortable doctrine, or if it means letting go of a comfortable one.

Basically, the cessationist position, as described by Coramdeo, is one where certain spiritual gifts have ceased, specifically tongues and prophecy (although Coramdeo does bring healing in the mix a bit as well).  I will respond to his the main points he uses to defend this position.

One Thing Cessationists Can’t Have Both Ways

First, I’d like to comment on a perceived contradiction.  Coramdeo explains that:

Its not like we don’t believe in Miracles (1), we believe God is working Supernaturally, just that He no longer uses some of the Spiritual gifts He gave to the early church

and a paragraph later he says:

Cessationists now rely on scripture alone to hear from God, to prove His Gospel, and to be the catalyst that saves His people.

These two sentences are in direct contradiction to each other and I’m Coramdeo can clear it up for me.  Scripture alone does not drive salvation and confirm the Gospel.  This is the job of the Holy Spirit as much as it is the truth held in the pages of the Bible.  A supernatural change of mind and an indwelling of the Holy Spirit is needed for true conversion. 

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation–having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.  (Eph 1:13-14)

So which one is it?  Does the Holy Spirit supernaturally speak to God’s children, enter into to them to seal the pledge and confirm our salvation?  Or must those things come solely from the pages of Scripture?

I would assert that even a cessationist relies on this personal, subjective experience from the Holy Spirit to confirm the truth of Scripture.  Just as the Apostles relied on their personal experience of the Risen Christ to confirm what Christ said about Himself, so too does the modern Church rely on the personal experience of the Holy Spirit, however it manifests, to confirm the Word of God.

If a cessationist says they rely solely on Scripture for salvation, confirmation and affirmation, he is fooling himself and he is, ironically, going against what Scripture says about how the Holy Spirit interacts with the Church!

In defense of cessationism, Coramdeo quotes two main passages.  Let’s examine them.

1 Corinthians 13:8-13

8Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.   9For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.  12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.  13But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Coramdeo’s point is that “the perfect” refers to the New Testament Canon and since “the perfect” has come, therefore the gifts have ceased.  Let’s take Coramdeo’s position, and see if substituting “New Testament Canon” with “the perfect” makes sense of the passage. 

Firstly, let’s point out that if Paul is prophecying the coming of the Bible, something he could have no knowledge of apart from a revelation from God, it would be the only prophecy regarding the formation of the Canon. 

Secondly, are we prepared to say that the New Testament Canon is “perfect”?  The Canon is merely a compilation of ancient manuscripts (mss).  Compiled by men.  Several times there are passages (Acts 9, the end of Mark) that are in some mss but not in others.  So to call the New Testament Canon “perfect” we must say that the Council of Nicea got it “perfect”.  Did the Council get it right?  Surely.  Did they accurately preserve the Word of God to be passed down through the generations?  Of course.  But did they get it “perfect”?  Was every single mss copied by hand, passed down to us, copied “perfectly”?  If Paul means to call the future actions of human compilers “perfect”, it would be the first time the actions of humans are described this way.

Thirdly, Paul describes exactly what will happen when this “perfect” will come.  Presently, Pauls says, “I know in part” but when “the perfect” comes “I will fully know just as I also have been fully known.”  This side of the New Testament Canon, can we say that we “fully know” just as God fully knows us?  Of course not.  Surely, this side of the New Testament Canon we have access to God’s truth much more readily than then Corinthians did whom Paul was talking to.  But on the same level that God knows us??  We cannot conclude this. 

My fourth point deals with the same assertion by Paul.  Paul is including himself in the “knowing in part”.  Coramdeo’s position is that the Corinthians lacked the knowledge of the full Council of God as passed down by the Canon.  Paul is including himself in that lack of knowledge that the Canon would give him.  How can we say that Paul lacked in knowledge that the New Testament would give him when he wrote the majority of it, was taught by Jesus Himself for three years in the Arabian desert, and spent extensive time with almost every author of a New Testament book? 

My four points are summarized with, 1:  It would be the only instance the coming of the Bible being prophecied, 2:  Was the writing of the New Testament “perfect”?  Of course.  But does rationality and the evidence suggest that the compilation of the Canon in 325 CE, and every subsequent scribed translation before and after “perfect” as well?  Accurate?  Sure.  Perfect?  Come now.  3:  Even after the Canon was formed, do we “fully know” just as God fully knows us?  4:  We must believe that Paul lacked in knowledge that the coming New Testament could bring him when he wrote most of it, was taught by Jesus, and spoke with every author of the New Testament. 

On The Other Hand

However, let’s interpret the phrase “the perfect” to be understood as “the Second Coming of Christ”.  If Paul is prophecying about the return of Christ, then it would be another in a long line of prophecies regarding this event, many made by Paul himself.  Also, we will have no problem associating “the perfect” with Jesus Christ as He is the only person we can accurately describe as such. 

“The perfect” being understood to be the Second Coming also makes sense out of the Paul’s assertion that we will “fully know” just as God fully knows us.  When Jesus establishes His Millennial Kingdom, and we’re in our resurrection bodies, will we really lack in knowledge?  This also makes sense of Paul including himself in this “knowing in part”.  Surely, even the great Paul is a limited human being just as we are, a limitation what will cease at Christ’s Second Coming just as it would for the Corinthians.

You can try this exercise yourself.  Interpret the coming of “the perfect” to mean the immenent coming “of heaven” that every believer will experience.  If you go through the trouble spots that interpreting “the perfect” as the Canon brings up, you will see that “of heaven” smoothes them over just as well as “the Second Coming of Christ” does.

The ball is now in Coramdeo’s court.  I only replied to a portion of his article because this post is already long enough.  So if he would like to respond to this rebuttal, or have me move on to another portion, I will do either. 

Please, this debate is not meant for just two people, jump in at any point with any position and we’ll be glad to discuss with you.

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13 Comments on “Have the Spiritual Gifts Ceased?”

  1. coramdeo Says:

    thanks for the response, I’ll be going through it, and will post my replies on it, and link it here.


  2. […] coramdeo on Apr.16, 2009, under Religion This is a response to the article “Have the Spiritual Gifts Ceased” which is a response to my article Cessationism is it […]

  3. coramdeo Says:

    Oh if there are any area’s you want me to expand on, be sure to bring them up. I think there is some good material in there for future discussions, like baptism and communion.

  4. Eric Kemp Says:

    Good stuff, Coramdeo. I’m writing my response now, hopefully it will be up by Monday.

  5. DB Says:

    Eric,

    You said,

    “…Frankly, I’m just not sure I have a concrete position on this issue yet…”

    I have wanted to support your site by commenting, but I’m not sure on this issue either! A brother and I were just discussing this issue a few weeks back, and both of us, when it comes to speaking in tongues etc, aren’t sure what we believe.

    I have been around believers who spoke in tongues in groups and personally, but they didn’t follow Paul’s directives that they must also interpret or have someone else interpret what they were saying.

    I lean heavily towards continuation (although I was unaware of these terms), since, first, nowhere in the word of God does it set a time limit on these spiritual gifts (that I know of). And secondly, I believe that Christendom (the modern church) has negated much of the power of God in their man-made doctrines: in much the same way the pharisaic laws (the “oral tradition” 2000 +) had corrupted the Lord’s will and truth.

    I probably haven’t added much, but I shared what was on my heart and mind!

    Hope more take part!

    Dave

    PS
    I’m praying for the leading…, so please keep me posted!

  6. Eric Kemp Says:

    Dave

    Thanks for the prayer, and I definetly will keep you posted.

    Exactly, so far in what I’ve studied in Scripture in detail there is no concrete reason for why certain gifts have ceased completely. I agree that, to an extent we can’t possibly fathom, we’ve corrupted the power of the Holy Spirit in the church. That could be one reason the gifts are weak or invisible. But to say that certain gifts are completely gone, never to happen again under any circumstances . . . I would need solid Scriptural evidence that this is the case.

    So yea, my sentiments exactly. This debate is exciting because I am challenged to reason through both positions so that I can solidify my own. This will definetly be an edifying experience.

    Thanks for the comment.

  7. DB Says:

    “This debate is exciting because I am challenged to reason through both positions so that I can solidify my own. This will definetly be an edifying experience.”

    Amen!

  8. coramdeo Says:

    Good thoughts guys. Just wanted to say one thing, I never said God doesn’t heal today, just that He doesn’t do it like He did in the early church. I think to many people think we are saying God doesn’t work or something. I would recommend if you are truly interested in studying this please read my sources and not just what I wrote. If you still have questions then after reading them we can talk more. The issue really is a long existing battle about the purpose of the gifts and how God works in His church and people.


  9. Nice debate ya’ll. Eric,,,, Thanks for being so different than most who hold to the continuationist position. I did note your statement that your not firmly entrenched in any belief as of yet.

    I am considering joining in at some point if time permits. I hate to come along and just mess ya’lls world up. I know it is a big claim to make. But I think I have a Monkey Wrench/Achilles Heal for the continuationist position which I will state later. But I hardly think anyone will solidify their beliefs by debating what “that which is perfect” is. I have flipped flopped a couple of times on the exposition, interpretation and application of that verse. I now hold that it is indeed a cessationsit text. But I would never waste my time trying to prove this because I think it is quite unnecessary.

    SOME PERSPECTIVE
    A really brilliant pastor I know said something that disturbed me. He said he was a continuationist and not a cessationist . He said that it was based on the fact that he thinks gifts are still in operation in the church today. I agree,,,,, because he is talking about gifts like preaching, teaching, encouragement, helps ETC ETC. He does not believe in tounges, modern apostles, prophecy, or revelation (rhema) knowledge. So there was an issue of semantics and defining terms. Then he said that he never debates the issue because it centers around 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 and “that which is perfect”. I had to tell him that despite the fact that he knows so much more about the deep things of theology than me,,, he had obviously never studied and struggled with this issue. I have a bibliography with a 17 page list of books that have been written on the cessation/continuation debate. It is way bigger than what my pastor friend thinks and I think there are about 15-20 things in the bible that make debating 1 Corinthians 13 not essential.

    Some points I think are essential but not the absolute core of the issue.

    The irrelevance over the semantics of “perfect:” is exemplified in other issues. I think the important place to start it to ask WHY? WHY did we have tounges, prophets, apostles and miraculous signs in the first place? What purpose did they serve?

    But I would like to ask,, is it even necessary to debate this? I think not.

    I think it is a historical fact that tounges, prophecy/revelation knowledge, apostles, and gifts of healings and gifts of miracles have ceased. Yeh,,, I know Pentecostal/Charismatics have their list of so called proofs of the gifts in question being practiced in history. But they are like the Mormons taking select passages from a Pre-Nicaean church father to make it appear that Eastern Orthodox practices theosis in the same way that the Mormons do. The Mormons will take a select quote out of a paragraph, when the same paragraph later flat out denies their assertion and Mormons reject outright the rest of the church fathers teaching which contradict Mormonism.

    I have studied this aspect of the historicity of the gifts and it is a very deep subject. It can take a very long time to disprove the allegation of historical occurrences. BUT I think this is where ya’lls debate should be focusing. Did the gifts stop,, in history? I think so. I think it is an open and shut case.

    I submit to ya’ll two articles and a video for ya’ll to review. I hope ya’ll will look at these and see if the information contained within warrants a a redirection of ya’lls debate.

    Pentecostal History Proves Cessation of Spiritual Gifts VIDEO http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Azo7nWRXjYw

    An article more thorough than the video from the same ministry,,

    History of the Pentecostal Movement – Proves the cessation of the Spiritual gifts by examining the history of the Pentecostal movement. Their history reveals that their leaders not only began teaching the gifts as a new doctrine in the church, but that they acknowledged that the gifts had ceased and had not been part of the church since Acts chapter 2. http://www.guidedbytruth.com/pentecostalhistory.php

    The ministries counter response to their articles critics. Answering Questions Regarding Pentecostal History – Responding to objections about our History of the Pentecostal Movement video and article which emphasizes not only the accuracy of our current work, but the contradictions such objections raise. http://www.guidedbytruth.com/questionpenthistory.php

    I ask ya’ll to look at these. Remember the Pentecostal movement was started as the Pentecostal “RESTORATION” movement. BUT now continuist want to say that there have been accounts of the gifts in post apostolic church history. But when you get to looking at it. The Pentecostal movement is also termed neo/Montanianism. That is because the gifts where considered by church fathers to have ceased,, the Montanians where the first so called group that claimed to practice these gifts as a movement. Origen got into the movement but it still was short lived because it was broadly condemned as heresy. You should look into Montanianism. Wikipedia has a good article on them but BB Warfeild has a whole chapter in his classic cessationist text,, Counterfeit Miracles. Get a hold of it if you can.

    So I ask ya’ll to look at the video and article I posted and see if ya’ll should be trying to seek the truth about alleged historical accounts of the gifts being practiced. Do the list the continuist give actually prove that the gifts have been practiced in church history? I have looked and I say NO.

    The reason I think ya’ll should take this approach is that I have been in a couple of debates about the issue and they never got anywhere. Instead it detoured into semantics, different hermeneutic approaches and clashes of theological systems such as Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism.

    Pentecostals and charismatic fall under covenant theology. And most tend to be amillennial. Which from my dispensational eschatological position raises a big concern. If we Pre-mills are correct and there is indeed a man of sin/son of perdition/ Anti-Christ actually coming,,,, then Pentecostals/Charismatics will be easy targets and will be duped by the “Strong Delusion” that God is going to send into the world according to the dispensational position.

    I ask ya’ll to look into the historicity of the gifts.

    Another thing that I think is important. Why do highly intellectual charismatic men like Gordon Fee, Wayne Grudem and J. Lee Grady essentially concede the cesscationist position by admitting that ,,,(MY PARAPHRASE),,,”yeh the gifts are still in effect,,, but not in the same exact way as in the NT?

    Thanks,
    I look forward to watching ya’lls debate and perhaps getting involved.
    Damon Whitsell

  10. Eric Kemp Says:

    Hey Damon

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. I’ll definetly have to look at those articles and video you posted so that I can be a bit more educated as to what you are referring. I must admit that this is the first time I’m studying this issue so I’m definetly unaware of how deep it goes.

    Also, you are welcome to enter the debate at any point. The entire point of Coramdeo and I having this debate was so that others would see both sides and get involved if they wanted to. I look forward to where this goes!

    In Him


  11. Hi Eric, Thanks for taking the time to consider my material. Whe ya get through with it, let me know what you think. Thanks damon

  12. lorisev Says:

    As a Cessationist let me see if I can help clear up the supposed “contradiction.” There seems to be some confusion here as to what we believe.

    Cessationists do not believe the Holy Spirit himself has ceased, just that He no longer chooses to gift individuals with certain miracles to prove His message. Cessationists do NOT claim that the Holy Spirit has no role in our life today, but rather that He does not perform that role in the same manner that he did when the NT church was first founded specifically in regard to spiritual gifts. No cessationist would deny that the Spirit indwells us at salvation and empowers us in our daily life. What we deny is that his empowerment comes with some sort of outward physical evidence or experience that confirms he has done so.

    Therefore, it would be wrong to assert that cessationists RELY upon a personal, subjective experience to confirm the Word of God. On the contrary, it is by the Word of God that we confirm if and when we are being led by the Spirit because our experiences and emotions are not to be trusted.

    The Bible gives us NO indication that there is any outward physical EXPERIENCE that proves (or confirms) that we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In contrast it warns us to test all things and that even those who do miracles may not be legitimate believers.

    Matt 7:22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
    NIV

    So we are clearly not “going against what Scripture says about how the Holy Spirit interacts with the Church.” As this verse “confirms” doing miracles in the name of Jesus does NOT “confirm” we have the Holy Spirit anymore than a burning of the bosom proves Mormonism is true.


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