What Continues?

by Marv

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.

  1. This reality exists by the Father’s good pleasure, in the Son, and through the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
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13 responses to “What Continues?

  1. Wow, very good. Add Scripture and it can easily become a statement of faith. 🙂

  2. Or, this could read like the fine print in a contract. 🙂

    Marv –

    Can you flesh this statement out a bit from #4: 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…?

  3. Yeah, I realized when I wrote that both (1) that it was stuff for you and I to chat about, since it relates to apostles, and (2) that even though I rewrote it a few times I still wasn’t quite satisfied with it. Also it’s not go to the wall stuff.

    Think of it like this. Using Paul’s body parts imagery, take each individual believer and when you paste them together, you get one whole body. So Christ is represented in his totality by the aggregate body, the individual minstry aspects by individual members. No SINGLE member is complete in all ministries.

    I’m suggesting MAYBE what makes the apostles or at least the 12 distinct is that EACH of them is individually a reflection of Christ. Another way of saying it is that apostles have all the gifts, the rest of us have one or more. But I am trying to avoid too much expression in terms of “gifts.”

    I suppose this would mean the signs of an apostle are the presence of every kind of gift.

    That may not hold up ultimately, but it’s the way I’ve thought about apostles for the last few years.

  4. I see these are some thoughts you are thinking through.

    I’m suggesting MAYBE what makes the apostles or at least the 12 distinct is that EACH of them is individually a reflection of Christ. Another way of saying it is that apostles have all the gifts, the rest of us have one or more. But I am trying to avoid too much expression in terms of “gifts.”

    I’m pretty sure I would Jesus was the only one who functioned in all gifts/ministries. I believe the 12 had a significant role, but not that significant. And then, you have to consider that apostles are wider than the 12, even significant ones like Paul, James, Barnabas, etc.

    As you don’t like the phrase ‘sign gifts’, I don’t like the phrase ‘the 12’. It’s a misnomer, I believer.

    Not only that, but just look at even someone like a Paul. I don’t think Paul was really a prophet. He spoke with great revelation, but not out of a prophetic ministry, but out of his apostolic ministry.

    Maybe you should come to visit Europe this summer and we can talk through some things about apostles. 🙂

  5. Man, the Europe thing, you got me droolin’.

    Sorry you don’t like “the 12” but I’m afraid you have Bible against you there: Jesus in John 6:70. Also Acts 6:2, 1 Cor 15:5.

    My point is that, yes, the apostles are different from non-apostles, but how? And you demonstrate why I don’t really like the description that apostles “have all the gifts.” The image “gifts” in the first place describes the situation of partialization and distribution. It doesn’t make sense to me to speak in partialization terms when you are trying to descibe a holistic situation.

    So that’s why I don’t really get your point: “I don’t think Paul was really a prophet. He spoke with great revelation, but not out of a prophetic ministry, but out of his apostolic ministry.”

    I mean you are actually making my point: Paul doesn’t prophecy because he has the gift of prophecy, but because he is an apostle. He doesn’t heal with the gift of healing, per se, but as an apostle.

    I’m suggesting apostles are holistic reflections, successors to Christ, generalists, if you will, and the rest of us are more like specialists (and that is misleading if it suggests greater expertise than apostles, not at all what I am getting at). More like the apostles build a whole car, while we work on the assembly line. Well, perhaps you can see what I’m getting at.

    This is not go-to-the-wall stuff, but I find it a helpful way to look at the question.

  6. Oh yes, the Bible speaks of ‘the 12’, but not only the 12. Or we have problems with Paul. 🙂

    Paul doesn’t prophesy because he has the gift of prophecy, but because he is an apostle. He doesn’t heal with the gift of healing, per se, but as an apostle.

    Paul can prophesy (in the specific sense of prophecy) because we are a prophethood by the Spirit for all believers. But was he a prophet? He speaks of himself as an apostle and teacher (and preacher) – somewhere in Timothy.

    Yeah, I know this isn’t developed stuff, but I find it hard, at this point, comprehending how the early apostles somehow were used in all giftings. That seems something only belong to The Man, Christ. And, remember, Paul wasn’t one of ‘the 12’. So can other apostles (if they exist today) function in all gifts?

  7. Well, Scott, what I said in the earlier comment was that the holistic concept I was suggesting would be applied perhaps to (1) apostles, as a group, or (2) perhaps only the twelve as a group.

    So my comment already assumes the point you are making that “the 12” is not the totality of the apostles. So is Paul or isn’t Paul is not really directly germaine.

    Jesus said in John 14:12 that those who believe in Him will do His works. So I can’t agree, if I believe Jesus, that a priori no one person could do every type of work that He did.

    And again, it is distorting the issue to say the apostles (or the 12) had all the “gifts.”

  8. Let’s put it another way, because even for non-apostolic believers, I think it is helpful to start with John 14-16 rather than with the concept of “gifts.”

    Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”

    He has established a situation whereby his disciples continue to do His works. This is an astounding statement, but it needs to be understood. Jesus himself did not do His works “at will.” Just above in v. 10 b He says: “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. ”

    So we have Jesus’ disciples doing His works under Christ’s authority by the power and leading of the Spirit. Now Christ’s disciples are not solitary but in community. And what is found about how the Spirit leads is that He coordinates the works in the community.

    As such “gifts” are not so much a statement about something you are or something you have, much less a power you can exercise at will. The “gifts” imagery is an expression about how the Holy Spirit is pleased to operate through the community of believers. Thus it is found that his leadings are complementary: A is led to perform function X, B to perform function Y, and C to perform function Z. I don’t know that these are always static. Actually, I think indications are that it is not. However, there do seem to be characteristic ways the the Spirit works through A, who may perform function X more often than either B or C.

    Now, apostles tend to function in different environment, “trans-local” it has been called. They are not without community, the circle of apostles, for example, but by the nature of their calling they are on the move, not necessarily attached to a single community. And so I suggest that we find them with more even distribution of functions X,Y, and Z than if they were localized within a particular community.

    This is what I mean by them representing Christ (perhaps) more holistically, whereas the wholeness and balance otherwise is a property of a church community and “ordinary” non-apostolic disciples find the Spirit leading in a more specifically focused way through them.

  9. Dear a,

    But we are not to put faith in community. We are not adopted by the community and cry abba Church. We are adopted by the Father as Jesus did the Father’s works we do not do the Church’s works but like Christdid the Fathers works we also do the Fathers works. Jesus did not say no one comes to the Church but through Him but that no one comes to the Father but through Him. Like the Roman Catholic Church worships Peter you are worshiping human believers instead of God. Your faith is in the Church as a cessationist. Continuationists have faith in God.

  10. Jim, I appreciate your visiting and reading these posts and also commenting on them. I hope you come back often.

    I can’t quite get what you are saying in your comment though. It’s as if you are responding to some very different post or comment, because frankly I can’t see how your comments relate to anything I said either in the post or the string of comments.

    If you see this I encourage you to reread what I wrote. It may be confusing because it identifies me with my screen name “asphaleia” but I am the same one who wrote the post. You seem to speak to me as if I was making a cessationist argument, which I don’t anywhere, since I am a continuationist as my blog posts make rather clear, to say the least.

  11. I was in error. I thought you were debating for cessationism as if you were saying that the miraculous gifts violate dependence upon the non-miraculous gifts somehow. As if the Church depended more upon human cooperation. I wish I could have deleted what I wrote after I wrote it. The miraculous gifts are for comunity and by community. In the past I have heard arguments for cessationism that it is historical orthodoxy and continuationism is unorthodox and therefore that continuationism is private interpretation and against community interpretation of orthodoxy. I thought that you were defending Orthodoxy’s comunity interpretation of prophecy against continuism. I was reactionary. I have a friend who follows Harold Camping and Family Radio if you know who that is. He says that continuism is antiChrist and that is violates comunity interpreation of relelation by bringing new privation revelation interprtation against Orthodox comunity. He is sometimes a very mean spirited brother. I apologize for my misguided comments. I will pray for this web page. God bless you and your blessed ministry!

  12. Jim, I appreciate what you say. It lets me know when I have been less than clear. If you want we can delete your comments and the one I wrote back to you, since it may just be confusing. And some of that was me chatting with Scott, which may be clearer between the two of us than for a third person.

  13. Pingback: Is That What History Really Teaches Us? (Response to CMP, part 5) « To Be Continued…

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