The Ceasing of Spiritual Gifts: A Debate (Response #2)

Coramdeo responded to my first entry on the topic over on his blog. 

Semantics, Both Irrelevant and Important

In reading Coramdeo’s response, it has become quite clear that him and I are mincing words to some degree.  In some places these semantics are irrelevant but in other places they are very important.  Coramdeo previously claimed:

God still works supernaturally,[but] we rely upon Scripture alone to hear from God, to prove His gospel, and be the catalyst that saves His people

I still see a contradiction here becuase of the word alone, but I understand what Coramdeo is saying.    He explains himself well later on:

Does the Holy Spirit still work today? Yes. Does He still perform miracles? Yes. Does He speak to people or use power to verify people’s messages, spoken outside the scope of Scripture? No.

See, this I can get behind.  The key phrase here is “outside the scope of Scripture”.  Of course the Holy Spirit has self-limited to the guidelines set down by Scripture.

Personal Experience

For the record, I am not with A.H. Ackley when he says, “You ask me how I know he lives?  He lives within my heart.”  That’s not a very good apologetic.  What I mean is this:

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).

Is not recieving the Holy Spirit as a “seal” and “pledge” personally experienced?  What validates this personal experience is the Word of God, and without this Scriptural backing any personal experience is, at best, meaningless if not heretical.  However, this is a personal experience nonetheless. 

 “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16).

Here Paul is specifically telling us that a subjective, personal experience verifies to us that we are children of God.  What could be more subjective and personal than the Spirit of God testifying to our spirit?

In fact, the context of Romans 8: 4-16 is that Paul is describing how the Spirit will guide us because “all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.”  The Spirits’ leading in our minds and lives is subjective, real, and valid. 

Gal 5:16-25  is another time Paul is elaborating on subjective traits that will change with the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the book of Acts, there are numerous references to the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 16:6-7, Luke tells us that Paul on his second missionary journey was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” and then that “they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them“.  Of course, no written law from the Old Testament (the Scripture of the day) told them that they couldn’t preach in Asia or Bithynia.  It seems that the Holy Spirit must have directed them in a specific way, whether through audible words, or an unmistakeable sense in the mind, or some other subjective impression of a lack of the Spirit’s blessing on the attempted endeavor (Grudem’s Systematic Theology, pg. 643). 

In another instance, Paul says, “I am going to Jerusalem bound by the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me” (Acts 20:22-23).  Paul’s personal impression of what the Holy Spirit wants for him, and has in store for him, is so powerful and specific that he is “bound” by what he must do and knows what will happen to him when he does it. 

These verses are in direct contradiction to something Coramdeo said:

You see the point is the subjective really doesn’t matter, what matters is objective truth.

Scripture is saying that the subjective does matter.  In fact, the personal and subjective leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit is a standard theological doctrine and characteristic of the acts of the Holy Spirit. 

Look, I understand where this sentiment comes from.  We are living in a time when the scientific community has told us that only “objective, provable” truth matters.  Our western thinking is that if it can’t be proved with evidence, then it isn’t valid.  And then, many cults and religious crazies came around and showed the world how dangerous and silly “because I feel it” can be, which only furthered the paradigm.  Unfortunately, this is just not what Scripture teaches. 

What I’m saying is that there is a ditch on both sides of the road.  On one side is “because I feel it” and on the other side is “the subjective doesn’t matter.”  Let’s follow Scripture and not swerve so far away from one side that we fall into the ditch on other.

“The Perfect”

It seems we’re still at an impasse here.  I still feel that the problems with interpreting “the perfect” to be the Canon have not been answered.  First, I’ll respond to the argument Coramdeo posted by Dave Stevens.

Paul compares what will happen when “the perfect” comes with two metaphors.  1.  Knowledge of a child vs. knowledge of a man and 2.  seeing through a dim mirror vs. seeing face to face.  Mr. Stevens’ main point is that if we take “the perfect” to mean the Second Coming of Christ, then we will be “mixing metaphors”.  Interpreting the first three as metaphors and the last one (face to face) as being literally face to face with Christ is inconsistent.

The problem with this argument is two fold.  Firstly, “face to face” is not exactly lacking any metaphorical language.  When I meet someone face to face, as we say, I’m not actually putting my face to his face am I?  So face to face is a metaphor for meeting someone and seeing their face. 

Secondly, so we’re mixing metaphors…and?  Paul uses a metaphor three times and then a less metaphorical example the fourth.  What’s the problem with this?  Mr. Stevens claims this is a problem in interpreting “the perfect” as the Second Coming, but doesn’t explain why this is a problem.  In fact, all he does is claim that mixing metaphors is a problem because, “Paul would never mix a metaphor with reality”. 

So now he’s using a non-Biblical definition of what Paul would and wouldn’t do to interpret Scripture.  That is not solid hermeneutics.  It ignores that “face to face” is a metaphor and ignores his own limitations it knowing, with any accuracy, what literary devices Paul would and wouldn’t use and where.  That Paul wouldn’t mix metaphors here is pure assumption.

Stevens also says that if “the perfect” is interpreted as The Second Coming of Christ it would the only time Jesus was described in the neuter.  Good point, and that’s why this passage has garnered wide debate.  However, Stevens ignores two counter-points.  1.  If “the perfect” is referring to the Canon then it would be the only prophecy of it’s kind in all of Scripture (equally problematic to the sole instance of a neuter tense to describe Christ) and 2. the option of interpreting “the perfect” to mean our glorified state in heaven solves both the problem of the neuter tense and the unique prophecy problem.

Two Unanswered Questions

What both Stevens and Coramdeo did not address is that, in their position on “the perfect”, Paul is including himself the lack of knowledge the Corinthians have (dim mirror, understanding like a child) and that the canon will give them full knowledge.  I objected, stating that I don’t think we should be ready to claim that the author of two-thirds of that same canon, an author that was taught by Jesus Himself for three years, an author that fellowshipped with probably every author of the remaining one third of the canon, is lacking knowledge that the canon would provide him with. 

In an attempt to answer this objection, Coramdeo stated:

Of course Paul is including himself in this because the church has not been built yet, nor has the canon, since others like John were writing it.

This does not answer the objection because it is begging the question.  The question isn’t about whether or not the canon is complete or the church is built.  The question is whether or not Paul is lacking in knowledge that the canon would give him.

So, I will ask again.  Coramdeo, are you claiming that the Apostle Paul, with all the characteristics described above, is lacking in knowledge, just like the Corinthians are, that the canon will give him when it comes?

My other objection was centered around another part of the passage that has gone unmentioned.  When describing the knowing what will occur when “the perfect” has come, Paul says that we will “know in full, just as we are fully known”.  Taking Coramdeo’s position, this would mean that since the canon has come, we know God’s truth as equally and fully as God knows us.  Are we really ready to say this?

The Point Is This

I have no problem with Coramdeo not being able answer these objections right away (although I, of course, welcome any response on the topic).  Nor am I saying that since these objections exist, therefore 1 Cor 13:8-13 cannot be referring to the canon.  My point is that since this is, at the very least, a vague and hotly debated passage, it is irrational to base the doctrine of cessationism, even in part, upon it.  If Coramdeo agrees, then we put this aside as “inconclusive” and move onto the other questions Coramdeo has asked of continuationism and the other evidences for cessationism.

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7 Comments on “The Ceasing of Spiritual Gifts: A Debate (Response #2)”

  1. coramdeo Says:

    Very nice Eric. I do believe that both sides have a hazy position and if Jesus said I must pick a side to be saved, well I would really worry, lucky for us He hasn’t and this doctrine isn’t a primary one.

    I believe that your responses are very helpful for anyone thinking about this important question. I think for both a lot of the belief is based on other beliefs that we bring into these passages. That means that other people who believe along the same way you do, will agree with you for the most part and will have a hard time trying to understand where I am coming from, and those who believe along the same was I do, will think you are being too subjective and are looking for a little more from the Holy Spirit than the Bible teaches us to look for. I think both sides have valid reasons.

    Your side (I only say this since you have agreed to argue for that side, although I think we both hold slightly modified views than the mainline of either side) rightly is fearful that my side is throwing out the work of the Holy Spirit or putting Him in a box.

    My side rightly is fearful that your side is looking for other experiences than found in scriptures for their comfort and Godly living.

    We both, like you say, can fall into a ditch on either side. I think we can agree that we want Christians (and ourselves of course) to neither put God in a box with our own beliefs, and to neither over reach our beliefs outside the realm of expressed Scripture. Our goal must always to be true to Scripture.

    R.C Sproul says the best way to really learn the Bible is not to study what you know and understand, but to go through the Bible and mark all the passages that you do not like. Then go back and study them and find out why you do not like them, because the reason you do not like you either lies in the fact that you have a flawed view of scripture and God, or else Scripture has a flawed view. And if we hold to the infallibility of Scripture, well then the flaw lies in us.

    There is no need to write a lengthy response, I will just give a short response to this in my next comment, and I think we can move on to another topic from there, your choice 🙂 – cormadeo

  2. coramdeo Says:

    Instead of directly going through all your responses, I have chosen to just ask some questions in order to cause us to think and perhaps dig deeper into Scripture and our understanding there-of.

    First on the issue of Faith and God working. How does it work out, that the “gifts” were being used in Corinth, and yet people in the church were having orgies, getting drunk, committing adultery and other horrible things? Many people claim that we do not see more gifts in America because we are corrupt, or do not have enough faith. Are we worse than Corinth? If God still manifests gifts in Corinth, why can’t He here? Does it really depend on your faith? How do you reconcile the position “God is not working anymore in America in this way because we lack Faith” with Eph 2:8 which says God gives us the faith as a gift. Or Daniel 4:34-35 where God is said to do “as He pleases” and no one can say to Him: “What have you done?”. Or Psalm 115:3, 135:6, Lam 3:37-38, James 4:13-15, Ex 4:11, John 1:12-13, Prov 16:9, ect.

    So God does as He pleases in all the earth, does this not mean He is sovereign over the gifts too? So does your faith dictate God, or does God dictate your faith? This of course brings up freewill questions which we can gladly discuss in greater detail later, I just want us to think about some of this stuff.

    Paul calls the Corinthians Christians because they Believed the Gospel, even though they were doing all these bad things, but he doubts the Galatians salvation not because they were doing evil, but because they were believing in another Gospel. Interesting, this flies in the face of many of our contemporary beliefs does it not? We are taught that our actions dictate our salvation, yet Paul seems to disagree on this point.

    As to gifts – why doesn’t Paul send Timothy to Peter to get healed? Instead he tells him to take some wine. Why didn’t God have someone heal Paul? Was it because Paul didn’t have enough faith? Because it was God’s will that Paul have his thorn in the flesh. So sometimes gifts are not manifested because God doesn’t want them to be, not because someone didn’t have enough faith? So could this be true for our day in age? Not that we do not have enough faith but that God in his sovereignty has chosen to forgo certain gifts in light of having given us Scripture and an established church and tradition?

    As to leading of the Spirit – Paul sometimes says the Spirit led him somewhere, but other times he just made decisions and never referred to the spirit. Read this article on spiritual discernment http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5204

    The Perfect – the misunderstanding here is the Perfect as I am using it, isn’t just the scriptures, but also the Church, and are you saying that Paul never learned more as he grew, did he know everything right after being taught by Jesus? Did Paul not have any room to grow, or to learn more from the other disciples? Was Paul perfect at this point? Did he know everything he could about Jesus, and was his faith perfect? Read Rom 7. Or can you not see it as it clearly says, that Paul is including himself in that even he does not see clearly yet or understand it all? That seems to be what it is saying, that Paul isn’t perfect yet in his own knowledge. Was Moses who also talked directly with God, perfect in his knowledge? Did he not ever learn anything more after Mount Sinai?

    Subjective – Is there no difference between subjective experiences? Does Paul’s experiences hold more weight than ours? If I told you I saw Jesus in the desert and he told me stuff contrary to Paul, who would you believe? How do you decide between subjective experiences in others and yourself? I constantly have conflicting subjective experiences in my own life, which do I believe if any? Personally I rely on objective truth to define my subjective experiences, like the Bible is one guideline for me. But if we must have a “tie breaker” so to speak in subjective experiences, wouldn’t that make the “tie breaker” more important than the experiences? Can you understand why I say the Bible is primary over your experiences, even if you think its the Holy Spirit, that experience needs to be defined and guarded by scripture? What does the Bible really say how the Spirit leads? Are we to expect and wait for subjective experiences or are we to base our decisions on Scripture, and if the “promptings” we feel conflict there, then should not Scripture win? There are many people who are sincere, and sure they are right in their beliefs, but they are sincerely, surely wrong.

    As you can see these issues are not easy ones, nor quickly addressed, and perhaps from my questions here you can understand why I said our beliefs are a little more deep than just do you believe if the gifts are for today or not, but encompass many different thoughts.

    Our goal here has been to get us to think more about Scripture and God in order to challenge ourselves to make sure what we believe is based on Scripture (and I say alone, in that Scripture trumps any experience or subjective thing that happens in your life, if it goes contrary to Scripture, and thus since Scripture is our guide, it is alone primary), for God’s glory and our edification. This topic is one I am still working through and not even one I really like to talk about since I believe there are more profound, and pertinent things to talk about like, Sovereignty, Freewill, Communion, Baptism, Election, Gospel, and others. Until next time!

    Sola Deo Gloria! Remember coramdeo

  3. Eric Kemp Says:

    Hey man, thanks for the comments.

    I wish I had checked my blog earlier today because I would have been able to get back to you sooner! Those are some great questions, and it helps me to understand, as you say, your underlying beliefs that support your cessationism. I think I will write a new post responding to your questions here and also expanding upon some other issues with cessationism and, if I have space, actually explain my position. Good stuff!

  4. Eric Kemp Says:

    Coramdeo

    I’m writing my post, but I’m not going to be able to get to many of the questions you explained in the comment, so I thought I would do so here.

    About gifts you ask: So sometimes gifts are not manifested because God doesn’t want them to be, not because someone didn’t have enough faith? So could this be true for our day in age? Not that we do not have enough faith but that God in his sovereignty has chosen to forgo certain gifts in light of having given us Scripture and an established church and tradition?

    That could absolutely be true, and that would make sense. Unfortunately, it could also not be true. This seems to be a “what if” proposition that could go either way. An established church does not automatically equal certain gifts being ceased altogether. An established church and an active gift of tongues are not mutually exclusive.

    Regarding “the perfect” you said: Read Rom 7. Or can you not see it as it clearly says, that Paul is including himself in that even he does not see clearly yet or understand it all?

    I must point out the strawman informal logical fallacy you employed in your rebuttal to my “the perfect” argument. I never once said that Paul knew everything. Neither did I say that he saw all things and understood all things. Obviously, as you have pointed out, that is not true. You have taken things that I didn’t say and are arguing against them. What I’m saying is this: if “the perfect” means the canon, then Paul is saying that he lacks knowledge that the completed canon will give him. I’m just not ready to say that Paul is lacking knowledge about a collection of books that he wrote two-thirds of, and being a man that Jesus taught personally in the desert for three years. Honestly, I just find it more improbable that the canon would give Paul knowledge he was lacking than interpeting “the perfect” to mean our glorified bodies in heaven. If you don’t, then at least you understand what other beliefs must logically follow from interpreting “the perfect” to be the canon and are being rational.

    Regarding the subjective you said: If I told you I saw Jesus in the desert and he told me stuff contrary to Paul, who would you believe? How do you decide between subjective experiences in others and yourself? Personally I rely on objective truth to define my subjective experiences, like the Bible is one guideline for me.

    This is another instance of a strawman. I never said that we should take subjective experiences as equal to or greater than Scripture or that we should compare our subjective experiences. In fact, I said specifically that without Scriptural backing, our subjective experiences are distractions at best and heresy at worst. My section on the subjective was, as I explained, in direct response to something you said, which is that “the subjective doesn’t matter“. My only point was that the subjective does matter. Let me ask you: What is the point of objective Scriptural truth to me personally if it doesn’t affect a subjective, personal change and experience? Christ’s death and Resurrection isn’t just something that historically and objectively took place, it is something that I, as a Christian, experience on a personal level (Romans 6).

    Anyway, those are some more specific responses that don’t belong in a blog post and I hope it helped to clear up some of my positions. I hope to have my post done in the next two days.

    In Him


  5. Good exchange here fellas!!!!!

  6. Eric Kemp Says:

    Good stuff guys, I’m working on a response to both of you and hopefully I’ll be done tomorrow night.


  7. Hi Eric, It looks like with myself, Coram Deo and Lorisev that it has become you debating against the three of us. ***So take your time brother.***

    BTW, JFI, I cannot submit comments on Coram’s site for some reason.

    I am working on an article which I will submit as a secondary peripheral debate. I think I can prove that cessationism is a historical fact in at least 5 ways, possibly 6. Once I get my study/presentation done in 2 or 3 days, I will submit it to my blog and ya’ll can comment, submit a counter post, reprove, refute or just take it into consideration,, if ya’ll wish.

    But we will keep the two lines of debate separate because it can get deep on both sides anyway. And for me to include my line of reasoning, which is focusing mostly on extra biblical proofs, would make the scope of the whole thing way to broad for several people to participate in without it becoming a big mess.

    I’d like to thank you guys again for this debate. I have been forced to study the subject again and write about “Why I am not a Charismatic.”

    This stimuli is right on time for me.

    May Jesus bless us all
    damon


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