Sticking my oar in!

I couldn't resist! I have recently been browsing wider in the Christian blogsphere, and I came across a big debate on the gifts of the Spirit. Sadly the debate was not on "How do we best move in the spiritual gifts?" or "How should the gifts be administrated?", but the age-old "Are the gifts of the Spirit for today?" cessationist / charismatic argument.

There are still many of our brothers and sisters in the Lord who are in expressions of the church where the gifts of the Spirit do not operate, or if they do, they are ignored or suppressed. What is more, some of them actually seem to like it this way! They actually argue that the church is better off without the gifts of the Spirit, and that God never intended them to last beyond the "apostolic" age!

What I found most ironic was one site where many cessationists were patting themselves on the back for their doctrinal correctness, and bandying around the term Sola Scriptura. How sad! A term that was originally intended to restore biblical practice to the church, has now been distorted to the point where it means that God can only communicate through the scriptures! Surely, if these people want to claim "Sola Scriptura", they should base their doctrine on the gifts of the Spirit on what the scriptures actually say about the gifts, and not on their misguided notions of the implications of Sola Scriptura!

I guess the reason I stuck my oar in, and joined the debate is that I once used to attend congregations like these. I was never deliberately cessationist in my theology, but I had received no teaching on the gifts, and had no experience of their operation. I was concerned about the discrepancy between my experience and what I read in the letters and Acts, but I had no idea what to do about it. I knew people who allegedly spoke in tongues, but because in the circles I moved in at the time, it was frowned upon, they used to put their hands in front of their mouths, and all you could hear were slurping noises! The first time I properly heard someone speak in tongues, the words were coming out of my own mouth! No-one laid hands on me, no-one directed me. Just a young man earnestly praying alone in his room for God to fill him with his Spirit so he could effectively witness to his friends, who got what he asked for! I don't know if my comments have done any good, but even if they encourage one person to seek God and find out for themselves what he can do... it will have been worth it.

If you want to follow the debate, or flex your theological muscles and join in, the best place to start seems to be Adrian Warnock's blog.


John said...

You say, ‘they should base their doctrine on the gifts of the Spirit on what the scriptures actually say about the gifts.’ Naturally, as a cessationist who takes it that Biblical cessationism must be absolutely tied to what the Bible says about ceasing, I agree.

I am at a loss as to why it should be different for charismatics, though. You describe a spiritual experience that you continue to have. I am not going to dispute that it is of benefit to you but the only evidence you seem to have that it is a spiritual gift is that it came to you while you were praying!

I do want to dissociate myself from the self-congratulatory posturing (if that’s what is was)of my fellow cessationists about sola scriptura but, given the clear teaching of Scripture about cessation, wouldn't it be better to reckon on your ability being something other than what Paul was talking about?

In my experience, those who practice this ability — which is pretty widespread and not limited to Christians — they want to continue doing it even after they are convinced that it is not ‘the gift of tongues.’ Those friends of yours who slurped behind their hands were probably trying to obey 1 Corinthians 14 over something that isn’t in Paul’s line of fire at all.

Thank you for sticking your oar in, by the way, your slurping friends might well appear again in things that I’ll want to say later in this debate.

Chris HH said...

Thanks for dropping in and leaving a comment, John.

The clear biblical teaching on cessation is that it will occur when "We all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ." Something that has not happened yet.

In light of the many clear exhortations to eagerly desire and move in the gifts, that God chose to preserve for us in his eternal word, all of which is usefull for us. Should you not consider whether your lack of experience is dictating your doctrine, and how serious you are about Sola Scriptura?

John said...

I do appreciate that the passage in Ephesians is parallel to the one in 1 Corinthians. Thank you for bringing it into the discussion. We would or course, disagree about the continuance of apostles but I trust that there is agreement that the twelve apostles were different from all other apostles (cessationist addendum: except the apostle Paul,Ok, but that’s a different debate.)

If the ministry of the twelve (and Paul) was only with the church for a while we are surely right to say that that ministry has ceased. There is no problem with ministry though because the work of evangelists and of pastors and teachers continues and will continue to the perfection of the church.

I can see how one can persuade oneself that ‘prophetic’ utterence in the churches today is the same as the ‘prophecy’ which Paul prophesies will ‘pass away’ in 1 Corinthians 13:8 and it is obvious that the ability of the human brain to manufacture ‘language’ is going to be thought by many to be the same ‘tongues’ that Paul foresees ceasing.

What I cannot understand is how the eyewitness ‘knowledge’ of the apostles must be considered to be continuing to this day and that that will cease when we are all eyewitnesses. It’s the inclusion of knowledge in 1 Corinthians 13:8 that convinces me that the things people are experiencing today are not the gifts that Paul tells us have ceased.

You wonder if a lack of experience dictates my doctrine. It’s rather the other way round because I find my doctrine helps me be comfortable not only with my own experience but that of others also.

You (perhaps) have no idea how wonderful it is that the experience of this debate is able to take place at all. I think that the time for some ideas has finally come.

Roger Aubrey said...

Chris: as an ex-cessasionist, and glad to be so, the sooner Christians realise that an impotent church is no testimony to the fact of a risen and victorious Lord, then they will fall on their knees and cry out for all the power of heaven to be released.

I used to pontificate on the fact that tongues had ceased long ago; I was now more mature because I had the Bible. I had no idea what I was talking about. How could I make valid judgements on something so important that I had never experienced? When I was finally baptised in the Holy Spirit fourteen years after being born again my life changed dramatically. So now I have no interest in entering the debates with cessasionists; sorry, but I just don't have the time or the interest. When I see someone repent of their sins, put their faith in Jesus, get baptised in water, get baptised in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues and filled with power - in ten minutes - that's the gospel of Jesus Christ! When I see that same person laying hands on the sick, moving in gifts of the Spirit, worshipping Jesus with a passion and love that moves God; when I see that person leading their loved ones to Jesus and they experience the same thing, I kind of get the feeling we are missing something.

I love the Bible - those who know me will testify to that. It knows nothing of our modern situation; it doesn't even countenance a church without the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit - along with his gifts.

The world is not asking this question: it's looking for life - the life of God. And that life can be known only through the Holy Spirit.

Chris HH said...


anna said...

thats it Roger! u hit it spot on! a very thoughtful conclusion[i hope] to a very thoughtful debate.

Doug said...

John - I value your commitment to the Bible, and our mutual attempt to interpret it rightly. I do think think however that Roger has a point that experience must and always does play a role in interpretation - and of course there is biblical precedence for this. Was it not Peter's theology that was dramatically altered due to a roof-top vision?

Of course we must exercise caution here as this experiential approach should only operate within a wider context of hermeneutical boundaries,eg the wider context of Scripture, church tradition, the wider witness of the church etc. This is the real battle of Sola Scriptura - we don't have a pope to say what is and what isn't. Thus we must look at the Scriptures and when interpreting them look at the wider Scriptural texts (hasn't God always demonstrated a desire to act in power as well as word through his people), church tradition (any reading of church tradition sees multiple demonstrations of Holy Spirit power acts - it isn't a 20th century new thing) and experience (talk to one of the millions who has been prayed for and has been healed, or received a word of knowledge etc).

I do have an interest in discussing this with you, but it can only start on shared interpretive principles. By the way, we charismatics don't claim to get it right all the time! For example, the tide is now (rightly in my view) turning away from insisting that tongues is an essential sign of being filled/baptised in the Spirit. Perhaps here (valid) experience was over-empasised in interpreting some of the Acts narrative.

Chris HH said...

I agree with Roger that there is very little point in debating 1-on-1 with a die-hard cessationist. However, the wonder of the internet is that no discussion of this type is ever private.

Whilst I have little hope that the vocal cessationists will change their position, I believe there may be many "Ephesian" brothers (Ac 19:1-5) who are silently following the debate, who are only living without the gifts because they have never been told any better, and have never met anyone who is currently clearly moving in them. (That was the position I was in) and it is to them that I make my appeal — You don't have to accept a life without the power of the Spirit.

"Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call."

Matthew said...

I too believe that the gifts of the Spirit will cease after the apostolic age, which is why I earnestly desire to move more and more in them!

John said...

It is interesting that so many of you are able to sum up my lack of experience simply from what I’ve told you of my theology. It’s also interesting that my joy that this debate is taking place is met immediately by an affirmation of no interest in debating with cessationists and later by the qualification that it might be worthwhile talking to the likes of me because there might be some disciples of John the Baptist out there.

I think that Doug is right, that there is hope when the ability to speak in tongues is no longer put forward as necessary.

Incidentally, Doug, I was told ~30 years ago that while tongues would normally be expected to accompany a spiritual renewal or a deliverance that that wasn’t always the case and that that had something to do with the previous loyalties and experiences of those who were so renewed or delivered. I think the brother who told me this was speaking from experience :-) So it is not such a new phenomenon, perhaps.

What am I do about my supposed lack of experience, I wonder? Paul used irony in 2 Corinthians 11 but I don’t think that my experience (or lack of it, take your pick) is all that important. Just to say that I haven’t been where you’ve been and I haven’t seen what you’ve seen but I know whom I’ve believed.

I’m sorry that your early Christian lives were so miserable and I’m sorry that you feel the need to attribute the same misery to my later Christian life.

I think that I’ll leave here now.

anna said...

thnx chris! for this discussion. it helped me in building my faith and questioning my beliefs not to tear them down but to stand strong in them more than ever!!