Dluxe's World

Thursday, September 14

Discontinuing cessationism: The Scriptures (1)

In case you're just joining us, this is part of a seriese of posts... You can read the background stuff by clicking on any/all of these links:

The next 4 posts will deal directly with the Biblical text from 1 Corinthians, chapters 12 through 14. It'd be worth reading the whole section by clicking HERE if you haven't done so already. In each post, we'll work our way down through the passage and pause wherever there valid point to be made or an error to address.

Enough dilly-dallying... Off we go. Starting with 1 Corinthians 12:1-26 (all emphasis in the Biblical texts are mine):
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians provides the responses of the Apostle Paul to some questions raised by the church at Corinth. The word "Now" transitions from the response from one question to another. It is very important to note that the Corinthians are operation from an 'uninformed' position. As we approach the text, we should expect to see Paul's corrections and admonitions to the Corinthians. We must be careful not to use the errant conduct of the Corinthian church as our model for right behavior.

No one, Paul says, who speaks of Christ as being accursed is speaking by the Spirit of God. Similarly, those who recognize and love Christ's Lordship must be operating with the enabling of the Holy Spirit. In his essay on the ministry of the Holy Spirit, Charles Hodge writes:
It is the special office of the Spirit to convince the world of sin; to reveal Christ, to regenerate the soul, to lead men to the exercise of faith and repentance; to dwell in those whom He thus renews, as a principle of a new and divine life. By this indwelling of the Spirit, believers are united to Christ, and to one another, so that they form one body. This is the foundation of the communion of saints, making them one in faith, one in love, one in their inward life, and one in their hopes and final destiny.

So the operation of the Holy Spirit must exalt Christ. Any conduct that is happening under the guise of 'the moving of the Spirit' which does not bring glory and honor to Christ is absolutely not from the Holy Spirit.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

Many notes working in harmony - all crafted, given, and conducted by God. Every believer is the recipient of some gift (or several gifts) of the Holy Spirit. And towards what end? All of the gifts are sovereignly given by God to glorify His name and edify the church. Each individual gift is part of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Paul expounds on this concept with a great analogy:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts ar
e treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Have you ever broken a toe or a finger? Or have you ever had an ear that plugged up and stopped hearing for a couple days? Remember that time that your nose was all plugged up for a solid week?

If you answered 'yes' to any of those questions, you know what Paul is getting at. Our bodies were 'fearfully and wonderfully made' out of a bunch of interdependent parts. While they all having varying degrees of prominence, size, and responsibility, our bodies don't function well without all of them. In the same way, Christ has woven His Church together from a wide array of people with diverse interests, talents, and giftings. By recognizing our dependence on one another, we are rightly humbled and free our gifts to be used to serve others.

We are gifted by God to accomplish His purpose by edifying His church. Both the source of the gift and the purpose must be clearly understood if the church is to operate properly. When we don't acknowledge that God is the on who gives us our gifts, we become filled with either pride ("Look at how gifted I am!") or jealousy ("Look how gifted he is!")... In either of those states, we are compromised in our ability to operate as edifying agents in the church. What results is a bunch of people fighting to be a 'feet' with no head or arms operating properly to complete the body.

We might think of our gift as 'modest', but the fact that it comes from God means that it's unbelievably valuable. God has ordained for you to manifest that particular gift, placing you right where you are needed. Does that mean that we must expect to see every gift in operation everywhere? No, I don't think so. The mingling of the gifts we have, operating in service to one another, makes us a body that can function well for God's glory.

Alright.... We've laid the groundwork. To be honest, I probably could've skipped this section of Corinthians in this series of posts. There's nothing particularly controversial here and probably both sides of the continuation/cessation argument would affirm the 'plain' readings of these verses. However, these passages are crucial for setting up the context which informs the really controversial stuff.

Most of which is coming in the next post. So, stay tuned.

Let me also apologize for this post's rambling nature... I wrote/rewrote it two or three times trying to find a format that I think works. I think I've gotten it, and will start with a different format next time. In the meantime, you're getting something that's a bit of a hodgepodge... Sorry!

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  • One of my readers emailed the following question to me... It's a fair point that deserves being posted:

    I think I'm going to challenge [that all gifts need not be operative within any church body]. By this analogy, operating without a certain gift would be like operating without a part of the body. With the physical body, we would call that person disabled, rather than a body that functions well.

    As I mentioned to him, I wrestled with the same implication while making the post (this was one section I kept re-writing). If we are a body, as Paul says, with every person being a critical part, then don't we need every part (gift) operating to be whole/healthy?

    I shot a quick reply last night, and then stayed up until early AM thinking about it in my head. Here's what I'd say.

    1) First, I could be convinced either way.

    2) I would submit that making a hard-and-fast rule from an analogy can be dangerous. Paul is using the illustration to clarify the importance of each believer's gifting, be it big or small. I'm not sure that the illustration should be taken as regulative towards the distribution of the gifts.

    3) The big issue is that I think we'd all agree that we don't even have a exhaustive list of all the spiritual gifts anyway. Without that, how could we really effectively measure which gifts are present and which aren't? If we must have all the gifts operating, it would sure be helpful to know what we're missing. Either way, this could be dangerous: With a list, we'd get awful legalistic and control-freakish over checking to make sure all the gifts are present and operating.

    4) The passage plainly states that the gifts are sovereignly given by the Holy Spirit to everyone to edify the church. While this could imply that all the gifts are 'needed' for full edification, I think we'd all agree that the 'mix' could vary. If that can be different from church to church, I think it's reasonable that the presence of specific gifts might vary without having to assume that one church is 'deficient'.

    But more on this all later when we tackle "desire the (greater) gifts".

    By Blogger HeavyDluxe, at 8:31 AM, September 19, 2006  

  • What about the Church universal vs the local congregation of believers....if the diversity of gifts exists in the Body as a whole, and we are truly a united Body, then we won't be disabled but rather a whole, complete, efficiently working unit: Christ's physical presence here on earth.

    Sorry if you addressed this already...I'm reading this and watching the kids simultaneously.

    By Blogger Eva, at 11:12 AM, September 19, 2006  

  • What about the Church universal vs the local congregation of believers....

    You are so hot when you talk theology!! ;-)

    I think it's a very good point. We certainly do extend the metaphor of Christ's Body ourside the local church.

    However, Paul is writing to a specific local church. And he is addressing the (errors in) handling of spiritual gifts at a specific church. The guidelines hold true universally, obviously. But I'm not the 'distribution clause' can be pulled across.

    I should state, by way of clarification, that I don't think we need to worry about this. If we're rightly making ourselves available to the Holy Spirit's promptings and if we're seeking after God's empowerment for our ministry, God will give us the gifts we need for His glory.

    He knows our need and is gracious to meet it.

    By Blogger HeavyDluxe, at 11:49 AM, September 19, 2006  

  • He's the Giver and Distributor.

    By Blogger Eva, at 12:15 PM, September 19, 2006  

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