Continuationism is not a wholly satisfactory term. In some ways I prefer Non-cessationism. However, this latter is a term of negation rather than affirmation, and as such communicates reaction to another view, i.e. it denies cessationism. So it not only states what it is not rather than what it is, but it grants the initiative to the side it disagrees with, and to a degree lets that side establish the terms of the debate, which may not be helpful. Continuationism is not totally free from these criticisms, since “continue” is an opposing response to “cease.” Yet, at least it is a positive, affirmative term, as it should be.
Moreover, the term, both terms, imply a complement that may or may not be clearly understood. With cessationism, there is something that ceases. With continuationism, there is something that continues. The “something” may not necessarily be the same in both cases. It certainly does not have to be so for one side simply because the other side defines itself in particular terms. This is one reason I have objected to the term “sign gifts.” Some cessationists may hold that what they say has ceased is this category, “sign gifts.” However, when I use the term continuationist, I am not thereby asserting that “sign gifts” continue, since I find that term problematic.
What then is it that continues? This post is an attempt to provide an answer and to elaborate on that answer. The views are my own, though I welcome reaction and input from others. I see this as a starting place for establishing some definition. So this statement will surely require refinement and expansion.
Continuationism, then, is the belief that between Christ’s first and second advent He continues His work of glorifying His Father, building His Church, and advancing His Kingdom through the ongoing, vital and dynamic interconnection He maintains with those who are in Him, accomplished through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit through whom the individual members of His redeemed community are enabled to fulfill the good works prepared for them, such that in interrelation with all the others, the entire community, despite differences of time and place, constitute Christ’s bodily presence on earth during this age.
- This reality exists by the Father’s good pleasure, in the Son, and through the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God.
- Christ made it clear that the same works that He did in carrying out His mission on earth He expected to be performed through believers, empowered by the Holy Spirit as He had been, starting with Pentecost and continuing to the end of the age when He will return in glory.
- The completeness of Christ’s ongoing ministry is a function of the community of those who are in Him, who constitute His Body, while individually each member participates and contributes according to the part assigned to him or her, as the Holy Spirit directs and according to his or her measure of faith.
- Christ established a small group of people to establish and found this community, whom He designated His apostles, and each of these in himself seemed to function in completeness of ministry, while non-apostolic members are apportioned aspects of Christ’s ministry, characterized as “gifts.”
- Through the apostles and a few individuals closely related to them, the corpus of the New Testament was written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, forming the completion of Canonical revelation, which together with the Old Testament constitutes the only inerrant and infallible rule of faith and practice for humankind and the Church in particular.
- Canonical revelation, that which God chose to inscripturate and establish as the only inerrant and infallible rule of faith and practice, is to be distinguished carefully from God’s other acts of revelation which in His wisdom He has chosen to do throughout history. He has revealed Himself and continues to reveal Himself in ways both general and specific, whether in imagery, in proposition, perceptibly to the physical senses, or perceptible only to individual cognitive functions, such as memory, dream, or intuition. This is far from saying that any and all perception or cognition ought to be treated as God’s revelation, whenever it may happen to appear to be such to a particular person. The standard for evaluation of any purported revelation from God is, as for all other things, the Canonical revelation, the Scriptures, as stated above.
- All of God’s revelation and communication is wholly true and free from error. Human perception, reasoning, and interpretation is fallible, to put it mildly. Scripture is that which is specifically designated as inspired or God-breathed and so designated God’s very words and recognized by inference as inerrant. Non-inscripturated prophecy has never been given this guarantee and so requires discernment by those to whom it is spoken, since it entails one or more human act between the Spirit’s act of revelation and the report of that revelation by a person. In all cases an accurate and complete report of the revelation is expected and required, though never guaranteed as it is with Scripture. In the Old Testament, the theocratic role of the prophet was matched with severe consequences for inaccurate representation. The situation in the Church changes with the generalization (“democratization”) of revelation and prophecy inherent in the New Covenant. Reports of revelation, prophecies, are to be weighed and evaluated within the community.
- The Holy Spirit’s work in this age, in Christ’s body has many aspects which together make up a unified whole. Sanctification, illumination, and empowerment for ministry, along with others, are integral parts of the whole, according to the way God was well pleased to arrange the Body of Christ. The vital ongoing connection in terms of empowered ministry is variously described as abiding in Christ and bearing fruit, effectual prayer of faith, doing the works of Jesus, spiritual gifts, signs, wonders, and mighty works, and other terms. Some understanding of these matters may center on specific terms (“spiritual gifts” for example) or draw questionable distinctions (“sign gifts,” or between “gifts of healing(s)” and prayer for healing, for examples) which tend to obscure the holistic nature of the vital, dynamic interconnection with Christ.
- God has established this ongoing, vital and dynamic interconnection in His wisdom, in His good pleasure and for His purposes, including confirmation of the gospel message, though there are many others, including encouragement, comfort, conviction, and edification.
- The provision of this ongoing interconnection is God’s own intitiative and is wholly within His sovereign control. How He chooses to manifest it at different times and in different places is His choice to make. At the same time the recognition of and participation in it by the Church has also varied because of factors within man’s responsibility, such as awareness, understanding, and acceptance. However, none of this means that God has at any time Himself withdrawn His provision for it or no longer wishes it to continue. What indications there are in the Scriptures for its duration is that it is continuous from Pentecost through the Second Advent.