Dluxe's World

Thursday, September 21

Discontinuing cessationism: The Scriptures (3)

We've got a big swath of 1 Corinthians to cut at today. Upon reflection, perhaps I was a little ambitious in picking this big of a section for one, single post. Let's see how it goes, but this may get split up. I'd highly recommend that you catch up on the previous posts if you haven't been following along the whole time. At a minimum you should read the Scripture posts before going any further.

In the last post, I proposed that Paul's discourse on love in 1 Corinthians 13 was given to help show how spiritual gifts should be operating in the church. No matter how great the gift, it's value to the church is compromised (at best) if it is not used in love. In today's post, we'll hit the major cessationist proof text and also start looking at the scriptural operation of the gifts. We begin with the whole text (1 Corinthians 13:8-14:19):
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.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
And we dive right into the controversy with our first verse:
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
  • So, love is superior to the gift and will outlast them. Tongues, prophecy, and the like are only temporary.

    To a cessationist argument, this is obviously a key passage. We have here clear, scriptural confirmation that the gifts will end. But when will they end? Both verbs here ('will pass away' [2x] and 'will cease') clearly point to something in the future.

    For the moment, let's recognize that the Corinthians were meant to see that the things there were so desperately seeking after - miraculous signs - are only temporary/transient. Love is enduring and will carry on after the other have run their course.
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.
  • When will these gifts end? "When the perfect comes..." Once that which is complete and perfect is here, the partial and imperfect things we experience now will evaporate.

    Cue the obvious question: Just what is "the perfect" to which Paul is referring? If we know what it is, we might be able to get a better idea of when the gifts must end.

    If I asked that question in a Presbyterian seminary, hands all over the room would've shot up in the air and be frantically waving for attention... Cessationists almost uniformly contend that "the perfect" is the completed Canon of Scripture. They might support/expound that answer with a statemet like this (please feel free to help me sharpen the argument if you feel I haven't done it justice):
    Prior to the close of Scripture, each prophecy was only a part of the whole revelation that God intended for His people. Christ promised his disciples, who would become the Apostles, that the Holy Spirit would "guide them into all truth" (John 16). This perfect revelation, once collected together in Scripture, ended the need for ongoing, partial revelation from God. Therefore, "the perfect" (to teleion in the Greek) would be the perfect, complete revelation: Scripture.

    One could also reasonably translate to teleion as "the mature" or "the complete". We know that signs and wonders served to establish the church and confirm the authenticity of the Apostle's ministry following Pentecost. Once the church had been fully established, the confirmation of the gifts became unneeded. These arguments are effectively unified given that the Canon's closure (at least compositionally) coincides with the death of the last Apostle.
    I have no problem with the multi-faceted translation of 'to teleion'. All three meanings are reasonable given the context ('the mature' especially, given Paul's continuation). However, the rest of the argument is not compelling to me.

    Let me affirm that I believe the Bible is perfect. You'll find no compromising there from me! However, the implication that "the perfect" refers to the Bible seems to be largely philsophical - perhaps even prejudiced - rather than based in the text. To make this position stick at all, I think one must actively choose to ignore the context of our passages. You'll see why as we read on...
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 fairness to the cessationist argument, let's remember that Paul is writing to the Corinthians before the gifts would've ceased (at the close of Scripture). So, the 'now' that applies to the Corinthians need not be the 'now' in which we are living.

    That said, I wonder if we really see "face to face" and/or "know fully" now that Scripture has been closed. A cessationist would have to say "Yes": We effectively encounter Christ 'face to face' when we hear the Gospel and Scripture. Scripture provides us a full revelation of what God intended to disclose before Christ's return.

    I affirm completely that we do meet Christ through the Bible and proclamation of the Gospel. However, the term 'face to face' (in Greek, "prosopon pros prosopon") is not unique in the New Testament and always refers to personal encounters [verses here]. More impactful is that we will "know fully, even as I have been fully known" (epignosomai kathos kai epegnosthen). While I agree we have a perfectly sufficient revelation now, this verse promises that we will know God as perfectly as He has known us. In addition to being mind-blowing, I think this statement shatters the idea that "the perfect" is Scripture or the mature arrival of the church.

    Again, I am not diminishing that Christ appears to our hearts in His word, nor stating that the Bible is less than perfect. However, the statements here are so incredibly personal and 'intimate' that I can't help but believe they point to a future state that we have not yet realized.

    Well, logically we need to ask what actually is Paul speaking of in this passage! I think that there are two, closely linked possibilities. In one sense, I think that Paul is plainly pointing towards the glorious return of Christ. At that time, we will be in God's literal, physical presence and be able to see Him clearly. As we put on immortality, our minds will be freed from our motal limitations to understand God and we will finally know Him fully. Miracles like healing will not be needed... For one thing, no one will be sick. We won't need prophets, because we will all be in the presence of that to which all prophecy points.

    And that would be my second take: "The perfect" could be a time - the arrival of the Kingdom of God - or it could also be rightly thought of as a person: Jesus Christ, himself. When we see Him the need for all other ragged intermediates will be vaporized in the light of His glory. Christ is, Himself, the ultimate revelation of God to us.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
  • Paul repeats the supremecy of love and then essentially repeats his exhortation from 12:31. "Desire the fruit of the Spirit (that is, Love) a first and then seek that the Spirit would gift you for Ministry... Not that you would be gifted to feed your own egotism."
My primary purpose in these posts was to analyze the Scriptural for a classic cessationist viewpoint. Does the Bible plainly indicate that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased? I have tried to be fair in my analysis, even deliberately avoiding 'propaganda' that could prejudice me one way or the other.

As some of us have discussed prosopon pros prosopon ('face to face' - heh, Greek humor), it's almost impossible to come at such an issue without some sort of bias. Our history, experience, and the teaching we have encountered all impact the biases that we have. I know I bring an overwhelming displeasure with the charimaticism practiced in most places today. Though I have had some 'mystical experiences' that sway me one way, I have a bad taste in my mouth about a number of other charismatic trappings which draws me another direction.

So, I wanted to come at this and make a decision (for myself) from the Bible.

If you've read along with me, I hope that you'll agree that the Biblical case for a classic cessationism is weak. Certainly the gifts will cease... But there is little Biblical support for the idea that the cessation must've been coincidental with the end of either the Canon or the Apostolic age.

From my examination of 1 Corinthians 12-13 and other related passages (I only can type so much), I believe that Scripture teaches God is still 'able' [awkward, but I can't think of a better way to say it] to dispense any and all of the spiritual gifts, including those considered to be more miraculous. I also believe that God sovereignly gives the gifts according to His purpose and for His glory. Accordingly I believe that, though Paul uses a Body as the metaphor for the diversity of gifts, God need not dispense every gift for operation within any single believer or church family.

I openly admit that certain aspects of the sign gifts make me uncomfortable. No doubt this is thanks largely to what I believe is rampant misuse by certain ultra-charismatic groups... Regardless, neither my sin nor that of others should form the final verdict of how God should operate. If it did, the world would be a terrible place indeed.

*whew* Ok. There you have it. I'm a continuationist.

Well, where do we go from here? It strikes me that we must work to form a clear, Biblical understanding of the more miraculous, more misunderstood spiritual gifts. We also need to rightly construct a Biblical framework that will allow us to properly govern the operation of such gifts in the church. As if someone planned it that way, the continuation of 1 Corinthians 14 does just that.

We'll stop for now, let all this stuff stew, and then tackle the definitions/rules in the next post. I would ask that we all prayerfully consider the statements above. If I have erred, I fervently ask that you, my brothers and sisters, would reach out to me and correct/challenge me. My desire is to honor Christ, not malign God with false teaching.

If I am right, however, then we must all prayerfully seek to conform ourselves to the teaching of God's Word. Even if we don't like it... I don't like the idea that I'm a sinner. I don't like that God is angry with sin and must punish it. But truth is not founded on my opinion.

Above all, keep praying (on both sides of the aisle)!

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