In our ongoing series on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the church, we have most recently been looking at the belief of some that miraculous gifts have passed. This theological train of thought and belief is known as Cessationism.
Last week we looked at 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 (NIV), which reads:
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
"Prophecy will cease...tongues will be stilled..." Over 1900 years have passed since the apostle Paul, in about A.D. 54, penned this prediction in his first letter to the church at Corinth. And many, if not most, cessationists have argued that the use of the future tense, "will cease," is no longer warranted. For them, the use of the past tense - "have ceased" - is now justifiable, or so the argument goes.
The Pentecostal and the cessationists both agree that the Charismata - Spiritual Gifts, as described by Luke and the apostle Paul, are temporary. The problem arises when one attempts to determine the factor responsible for the cessation of these manifestations of the Holy Spirit, along with when the factor (s) will occur or have occurred.
For the Pentecostal/Charismatics - and many others - Scripture, along with church history and personal experience, indicate that all of the Charismata - Spiritual Gifts - are to continue throughout the Church age, until Christ returns. But for the cessationist, the miraculous "sign gifts" ceased by the end of the first century, or, for some, by the time the written Word of God was completed. A few cessationist allow for their continuance into the second century, extending them through the life of the last of the charismatic disciples of the apostles.
In our first lesson on whether or not charismatic spiritual gifts and signs and wonders have ceased, I presented you with a list of a number of statements of belief by cessationists.
Here is a representative of those statements which we have addressed.
1. Charismatic gifts, such as speaking in tongues, predictive prophecy, and miraculous
healings died out when the last apostle passed away.
2. The necessity or purposes for these gifts ended with the completion of the New Testament.
3. The nine spiritual gifts of 1 Cor. 12 were only needed to help the early church get started.
4. Such gifts were only necessary to authenticate the apostle's message until the Word of God was completed.
5. The continued operation of these gifts are not based on Scripture, but on experience.
6. 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 says that prophecy and tongues will cease, and these are just representative of this entire list.
7. Church history proves that all evidence of miraculous gifts passed away after the first century.
I believe we have sufficiently addressed these statements. In addition, there are some on the list we have not yet answered:
1. Jesus warns us that in the end times false prophets will work miracles and deceive the elect. Therefore we should not seek miraculous gifts.
2. The New Testament epistles rarely speak of the miraculous gifts. This may indicate the passing away of these gifts toward the end of the first century.
3. The miracles worked by Jesus and the apostles were always successful, instantaneous.
4. If Jesus and the apostles were here today, they would empty the hospitals. This shows that what is called miracles today is not like those done by Jesus and his apostles.
While we have not addressed these while dealing with Cessationism, they will be answered as we continue into the use of these spiritual gifts.
There is yet one statement of cessationists which was on my earlier list which I have not yet mentioned this morning. It was the first item on the list I presented to you on April 26 - five weeks ago. The cessationist says "miraculous gifts were given and active only during three period of history when a new revelation was needed." And in each of the three periods, it lasted for only two generations. Those three periods, according to the cessationists, were:
o Moses and Joshua - during the giving of the Law
o Elijah and Elisha - giving us the prophet's writing
o Jesus & His apostles - during the formation of the New Testament
I want to address this issue in our lesson today.
I have a few Bible commentaries written prior to 20th century. But none cover the entire Bible - rather they are of individual Bible books. But I am told by theologians I respect, if you go to a standard commentary printed prior to 1900, you will search in vain for a clearly stated cessationist view.
That is especially true with regard to the idea that God dealt with the world with signs and miracles only during three periods in the earth's history. This view was formulated by a Princeton theologian of note. His name was B. B. Warfield - Principal of the Princeton Theological Seminary (1876-1921). He was a respected conservative theologian of his day, co-authoring a book on the inspiration of the Bible, a scholarly and forceful work on the inerrancy of the Bible.
While he was a conservative theologian, he was a critic of the revivalism in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. His book, Counterfeit Miracles, advocated Cessationism. And among his teaching was the thought that God miraculously worked in only 3 periods. There are a few who say there will be one more time of miracles, and it will happen during the future Great Tribulation.
After reading some Bible scholars that adhere to this belief, you would expect not to find any miracles outside the three periods they have defined. One fairly well-known radio evangelist and Bible teacher writes: "Outside these times, only a few 'isolated incidents' of supernatural events occurred." I am going to see what the rest of the Bible says - and you then be the judge.
Let's examine the biblical record, beginning at the beginning - Genesis 1.
Genesis 1 - God creates the world.
Genesis 2 - That is the story of creation of the world with man at the center.
Genesis 3 - The devil come to Adam and Eve and tempts them to sin. God personally talks to Adam and Eve - and Satan, expelling Adam & Eve from the garden.
Genesis 4 - First murder - God speak directly with Cain and proclaims a curse on him (4:11)
Genesis 5 - Genealogy - Enoch taken to heaven without dying.
Genesis 6-9 - God speak directly with Noah. God destroys the world with a flood - saving 8 people in an ark and animals.
Genesis 10 - Genealogy
Genesis 11 - God confusions the languages because of the Tower of Babel.
So, really, the first 11 chapters of Genesis don't actually fit their theory of only 3 periods of miracles. But for the sake of argument, let's dismiss the first 11 chapters because you would expect things like that at the very beginning.
At chapter 12, rather than looking at the human race as a whole, we move into a simple biography of primarily one man and his family. What happens beginning with chapter 12?
Genesis 12:1-3 - Supernatural calling of Abram to leave his country and family and go to a country God would show him.
Genesis 12:17 - God put a plague on Pharaoh's home because of Abram's wife, Sarai.
Genesis 15 - There was that supernatural smoking oven and flaming torch that passed between the parts of the sacrifice Abraham had laid out.
Genesis 16 - The angel of the Lord appears to Hagar (16:7).
Genesis 17 - The Lord has a direct lengthy conversation with Abraham and his future. God promises that Sarah will bear a child (17:19).
Genesis 18 - The Lord and angelic beings appear to Abraham and eat with he and his family.
Genesis 19 - Angels blind the men of Sodom (19:11). Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (19:24-26).
Genesis 20 - God speaks to Abimelech, king of Gerar, telling him Sarah was Abraham's wife (20:3).
Genesis 21 - Supernatural birth of Isaac. (21:2).
Genesis 22 - God supernaturally stops Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac (22:11).
Genesis 24 - Abraham's servant, Eliezer, supernaturally led to Rebekah to become Isaac's wife.
So, the life of Abraham doesn't really fit the theory that miracles or the supernatural only occurred at three different times in history. So, what about Isaac, Jacob and Joseph? Is there anything there that seems miraculous or supernatural?
Genesis 25 - Rebekah supernaturally conceives twins after Isaac pleads with the Lord (25:21-24).
Genesis 26 - The Lord appears to Isaac, telling him not to go down to Egypt (26:2). God supernaturally appears to Isaac once again (26:24).
Genesis 28 - Jacob has a prophetic Messianic vision of angels ascending and descending upon a ladder while he slept (28:11-15), with the Lord speaking and promising the increase of his descendants.
Genesis 29 - God saw that Leah was unloved, so He opened her womb to bear a son (29:31).
Genesis 31 - God speaks to Jacob to leave Padan-Aram and go back to Canaan.
Genesis 32 - The angel of the Lord meets with Jacob (32:1).
Genesis 32 - Jacob wrestles with the Lord at the Jabbok River. He calls the place Peniel, because he had met God face-to-face (32:30).
Genesis 35 - God supernaturally meets with Jacob and blesses him (35:9).
Genesis 37 - Joseph receives dreams from the Lord.
Genesis 38 - The Lord kills both Er and Onan, sons of Judah, because of their great wickedness.
Genesis 40 - Joseph interprets the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker.
Genesis 41 - Joseph interprets the dream of Pharaoh - his dream comes true.
So, by now it should be obvious that the book of Genesis doesn't corroborate the theory that miracles only occurred frequently during three periods of history.
Now we come to the book of Exodus, and we have already said that this theory holds that miracles were abundant in the lives of Moses and Joshua. So let's skip from Exodus through the book of Joshua. We then come to the book of Judges. Did God work miracles as recorded in this book?
Judges 2:1-5 - The angel of the Lord speaks to all Israel
Judges 2:16 - The Lord begins to choose Judges to deliver Israel from the hands of their enemies.
Judges 3:9-10 - The Lord empowered Othniel to deliver Israel, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him to judge Israel.
Judges 3:31 - God enables Shamgar to kill 600 Philistines with an ox goad to deliver Israel.
Judges 4:4 - Deborah prophesied to Barak
Judges 6:11 - The angel of the Lord appears to Gideon.
Judges 6:36-40 - The miracle of Gideon's fleece.
Judges 7 - God speaks to Joshua, telling him there are too many in his army.
Judges 7 - Gideon's 300 men used by God to supernaturally destroy 120,000 Midianites.
Judges 11 - The Spirit of the Lord comes upon Jephthah to deliver Israel from the Ammonites.
Judges 13:3 - God appears to Manoah and his wife, promising a child - and Samson is born.
Judges 14 - 16 - Many supernatural feat by God through Samson. So the book of Judges doesn't fit the theory of the Cessationists either.
1 Sam. 1:19 - Hannah supernaturally conceives Samuel
1 Samuel 3 - God calls to Samuel 3 times. And the Lord was with Samuel and lets none of Samuel's words fall to the ground. Samuel become of prophet of God.
1 Samuel 5 - God topples the Philistine idol of Dagon three times because of its close proximity to the Ark of the Covenant.
1 Samuel 5:6 - The Lord strikes the Philistines with tumors.
1 Samuel 9 & 10 - Many miracles in Samuel's prophetic ministry to Saul.
1 Sam. 10:20-25 - God speaks to Samuel to crown Saul as Israel's king.
1 Samuel 11:6 - The Spirit of God comes upon king Saul to deliver Israel.
1 Samuel 16 - God speaks to Samuel to go to Jesse's house to select the next king.
1 Samuel 16:13 - The Spirit of the Lord comes upon David, and the Spirit of the Lord departs from Saul.
1 Sam 17-22 - God provides many occurrences of supernatural prophecies.
1 Samuel 23 & on - The Lord repeatedly gives supernatural guidance to David.
Chapter after chapter, one is forced to concede that God abundantly worked miracles on behalf of Israel. Not only can one not defend the idea that God worked almost exclusively during three periods, the fact of the matter is the Bible actually contradicts it. Our miracle-working God does not fit into a man-made theory. His supernatural power explodes across all the pages of Scripture.
I have a list of miraculous happening in 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, excluding 1 Kings 17 through 2 Kings 13, as well as 2 Chronicles 17-24, because they relate the life and ministries of Elijah and Elisha. And the miraculous occurs in Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther and Job.
Let me finish our list by going to the book of Daniel.
Daniel 1 - God gives Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah favor with the chief of the eunuchs in King Nebuchadnezzar's court.
Daniel 2 - God gives Daniel the dream King Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed and its interpretation, and Daniel gives credit to God.
Daniel 3 - Daniel's 3 friends - Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego walk unharmed in the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar. When the came out, they were no longer bound and the smell of fire was not on them. And one like the Son of God joined them.
Daniel 4 - God enables Daniel to interpret the second dream of Nebuchadnezzar.
Daniel 4:28-33 - God afflicts Nebuchadnezzar with insanity.
Daniel 5:5 - God's hand writes a message on the wall for King Belshazzar.
Daniel 5:13-29 - God enables Daniel to interpret the writing on the wall
Daniel 6 - Daniel supernaturally preserved alive in the den of lions.
Daniel 7 - 12 - God gives Daniel a long series of prophetic revelations about the last days. Also, he had several visitations by angels.
The book of Daniel is devastating to the idea that during Old Testament times, the supernatural occurrences are basically confined to the periods of Moses & Joshua and Elijah and Elisha. And yet, proportionately Daniel's book contains more supernatural events than the books of Exodus through Joshua. The same is true when comparing Daniel to the chapters and books relating the ministry of Elijah and Elisha..
Every chapter in the Book of Daniel contains supernatural occurrences. In some chapters there are multiple occurrences. The fact of the matter is - you cannot find any period in Israel's history where supernatural events were not common among the people of God.
Over the past several lesson, we have examined the subject of the cessation of supernatural Spiritual Gifts and signs and wonders. And I personally see this belief is found wanting. With the risk of sounding too judgmental, let me make an even stronger statement. Cessationism as a doctrine gives the dead church an excuse for its lack of power. Our God is a supernatural God, and it is only by his supernatural power that we are enabled to fight against Satan and his demons. We cannot fight them in our own strength - but only with the supernatural power of God. He provides us with weapons of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6:10-18). It is by the Spirit of God that we disarm the enemy (Colossians 2:15).
If Paul were to address our congregation today, I believe his message would be unchanged. The instruction he gave in his letters would apply to us today.
First, he would pray for the church to be empowered:
Ephesians 3:14-21 NKJV
14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,
17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height,
19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,
21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Second, he would warn us not to grieve the Spirit by ignoring the prophetic word. The Spirit of God has sealed us until the Second Coming (Ephesians 4:30).
Ephesians 4:29-30 NKJV
29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
We are to speak that which edifies. And 1 Corinthians 14:4-5 says supernatural gifts like prophecy and tongues with interpretation have been given to EDIFY the body of Christ.
Third, Paul would make this appeal to us: "Do not quench the Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 5:19). But that passage, in the verses that follow, tell us, "Do not despise prophecies." (Verse 20). "Test all things, hold fast what is good." (Verse 21).
These appeals are simple. We are not to put out the fire. We are not to despise the prophetic word. Yes, Paul tells us it is important to test the gifts and the words. Yet he would not have them despised, quenched, or forbidden. Yes, I believe the apostle Paul would instruct us to operate in supernatural spiritual gifts to the glory of God and the edification of the body.
The testimony of Scripture and the experience of Christians over the last two millennia is that God is intimately involved with the world, with the Church, and with each follower. The whole point of Christ's coming as the Christmas baby ('Immanuel, God-with-us) was precisely that kind of closeness.
This is the Christ who told us of God's care for the sparrow, and even greater care for us. This is the Christ who said He would be with us to the end. This is the Christ for whom the Spirit was sent among us all to keep us until his physical return. Thankfully, God has not ceased working in the world we're in.
According to Acts chapter 2, what was given to the few leaders and prophets, in the O.T. is in the first century breaking out all over the place. Tongues were given to all the upper-room witnesses as both a sign and a characteristic of the beginning of the end of what was.
The new era's mark is that the sons, the daughters (including the deacon Philip's), and even bondservants are doing strange and powerful things due to the poured-out Spirit. God will do whatever it takes to build up the Body and further the Kingdom, and that includes even the spectacular, the unusual, and the powerful. God is among us, unseen, to help preserve our freedom not just our survival, but on occasion He does something visible as a reminder, something that acts like a glimpse of God's backside for us.
The apostles weren't the only miracle-workers. Paul's discussion of gifts in 1 Corinthians presupposes that the letter's readers have gifts, some of which are unusual, and that they can be given even greater gifts. The Corinth congregation was not made up of apostles. So Paul does not speak of gifts owned by apostles, but gifts given to and used by the whole Body and each part within it.
SPIRITUAL GIFTS IN THE EARLY CHURCH
I believe that church history clearly refutes any notion that the charismatic gifts faded away after the apostolic era. They did diminish somewhat during the middle ages, most probably because the common people had no direct access to the Scriptures. But history tells us that they never were completely absent from any age of the church.
The Encyclopedia Britannica - a non-theological source, "Spiritual gifts such as glossalalia (speaking in tongues) has occurred in Christian revivals of every age."
Late 1st century - The "DIDACHE" was an early church instruction manual. It dates from 90 AD to 140 AD. The author(s) of the didache give local congregations instructions for dealing with traveling prophets. From this, it is evident that Christians were still practicing the prophetic gifts of the Spirit.
End of 1st century - Ignatius, 3rd bishop of Antioch
Ignatius was known for his prophetic gifts. A letter of his to the church at Philadelphia recalled how he exercised the gifts of the spirit in settling a dispute in the congregation. I think this is very interesting, since he could have spoken from his authority as a bishop. But, rather, he chose to cite the authority of the prophetic word.
135 AD - Justin Martyr
He noted that Christian believers of his day possessed "gifts of the Spirit of God." He made this point in an argument with the Jewish community in which he claimed that charismatic gifts no longer appeared in Judaism because they had permanently passed to the church instead.
150 AD - The Shepherd of Hermas
He described how prophets in the Church of that day were filled with the Holy Spirit and then spoke forth the words of God.
2nd Century - Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons - a pupil of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the apostle John
He spoke explicitly about the reality of charismatic gifts in the Church of his day and spoke of people raised from the dead. Also, in his book, "Against Heresies," he writes: "In like manner do we also hear many brethren in the Church who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men and declare the mysteries of God,..."
202 AD - Martyrs named Perpetua and Felicitas
A document recording the martyrdom of these two Christian women, spoke of the revelations they received. The introduction of this document cites the prophet Joel as stating that prophecies, visions and dreams also apply to later generations.
2nd Century - Tertullian (160-225)
He was the foremost theologian of the 2nd century. He writes about charismatic gifts, instructing new Christians to come up out of the waters of baptism praying and expecting the gifts of the Spirit to come upon them.
3rd Century - Eusebius (260-340)
Eusebius is the father of church history. He spoke of how "the church enjoys the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including words of wisdom and knowledge, faith, healings and tongues." His histories contain numerous accounts of miracles and spiritual gifts in operation.
Late 4th Century - Athanasius (296 - 373)
He wrote, "We know Bishops who still work (miraculous) signs."
4th Century - Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers (315 - 367)
He speaks of gifts functioning at that time in the church specifying tongues, prophecy, healing, miracles and others from Paul's list in 1 Corinthians 12.
4th Century - Marin, Bishop of Tours
It is written about him, that he was busy working miracles similar to those attributed to the apostles in the Book of Acts.
4th Century - Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis (315 - 403)
He wrote: "the gift of prophecy is not inoperative in the church. Quite the opposite. The church of God welcomes the same …authenticated for the church by the Holy Spirit." In other writings, his acquaintances report that this bishop ministered in personal prophecy, and words of knowledge and wisdom.
4th Century - Bishop of Jerusalem (315-387)
He gives instructions that new Christians should expect to receive in Baptism the same miraculous gifts given to the first apostles.
5th Century - Augustine
He carefully documented records of miracles in his diocese, including a boy raised from the dead, healings of paralysis, breast cancer, hernias, blindness and demon possession. He also gives an fascinating and detailed account of two people being healed after they experienced what modern charismatics would call "being slain in the Spirit."