Thus far at To Be Continued, Marv has interacted with part 1. In that post, Marv clarified that the usual (or ‘normative’?) words put forth in describing the continuationist-cessationist debate are not always helpful. Thus, Marv looked to challenge some of Patton’s definitions when discussing such a topic – words like charismatic, normative, ordinary, extraordinary, supernatural, and sign gifts.
I now proceed to interact with Patton’s part 2.
I will first begin by saying that part 2 is somewhat of an easier section to deal with, being that Michael Patton presents what he believes are five strong points for the continuationist case. Even if, in the end, Patton would not identify himself as a continuationist with regards to all the gifts of the Spirit, his willingness to identify positive points from the ‘other side’ shows his own integrity. We can very easily fall into the trap of speaking antagonistically or misrepresenting the other side. Yet it is obvious that is not Patton’s desire in his articles.
So let’s look at the five specific points Michael lists as the stronger arguments for continuationism.
1. Acts chapter 2 seems to suggest that the gifts of the Spirit (particularly prophecy) would be normative for the church.
In points 1 and 2, Patton begins with the book of Acts. From a New Testament perspective, I would have begun with the Gospels, looking at the teachings and works of Christ Himself as well as what He promised to His subsequent followers. Well, in reality, we could start with Genesis. And, in one sense, Patton does recognise this in point number 3. But let me explain a little more of why we need to centre this discussion in Christ (if we are not already aware of why).
In all, if we have anything, we have a Christ-centred faith. Every aspect of our faith – belief and practise – must be centred in Christ. And so we turn to centre our practise of the gifts in Jesus Christ Himself.
With regards to this practical part of our life, I am a firm believe that, whatever work Jesus took up in His life and ministry on earth, He would expect His church to continue that work. That is simply how the story is to unfold. Hence why we see a continuation of the works of Jesus in the book of Acts:
1In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. (Acts 1:1-2)
Jesus said He was going away, but He would send another like Him that would continue the same exact work (i.e. John 14:16-17, 26; 16:7; etc). And the Holy Spirit would specifically continue that work through the body of Christ.
The Spirit of Christ was sent by Christ to empower the body of Christ to continue the work of Christ. Did we catch that? Read it again.
So this all centres in Christ. If Christ was prophet, then the Spirit is prophetic and has been sent to empower the whole body of Christ to be prophetic (more on that here). If Christ was teacher, the Spirit also is a teacher and has been sent to empower the whole body to carry a didactic dimension in their ministry (even if we each are not specifically teachers).
So, while we need to look at Acts, for it presents a very positive outlook for the continuation of all of God’s gifts, we as new covenant believers must centre all of our theology in Christ Himself.
As for my own personal thoughts on Acts 2, after the Spirit had fallen on the 120, Peter has a revelation: This is the fulfilment of Joel’s words spoken so long ago. Joel said that, in the last days, God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh. This was happening right in front of eyes and ears as the tongues of fire descended and new tongues were spoken.
The last days had just been initiated right then and there. This was not to be some few final years before the parousia (presence/coming of Christ). The last days began some 1977 years ago at that great Pentecost.
What was the fruit of this outpouring?
As I hinted at above, God’s people would become of prophetic community. Oh sure, God would continue to have those specifically gifted as prophets (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11; etc). But from now on, during the last days of the Messianic age when Messiah would reign over all heaven and earth, God’s Spirit would allow all of God’s people to be utlitised in the prophetic. Moses had longed for it (Numbers 11:24-30), but this was the beginning of the prophethood of all believers, as I’ve written about before.
This work of the Spirit would break all gender barriers and age barriers: sons and daughters; young men and old men; male servants and female servants.
Because the last days are the entire age from Pentecost onwards (or we might technically say first advent of Christ to second advent), we must expect God’s people to always function as a prophetic community. This includes revelations, prophecies, visions, dreams, words of knowledge, words of wisdom, etc. None of this has to be leather bound and added to the New Testament, and thankfully Scripture stands as a measuring stick of whether such prophetic words and actions are truly of God today. But there is no doubt that the last days are to be a continuing work of Jesus by the prophetic Spirit amongst His prophetic church in the world.
2. The entire book of Acts seems to show that the supernatural gifts are common within the Church.
There are two problematic words or phrases that come forth in Patton’s words under this point:
- It is very difficult to build too much theology from narrative
I’ll refer you back to Marv’s thoughts on this enigmatic word normative, for he does a fine job in the first installment of this series, as I quote from below:
Does it mean “something everyone should expect in his or her Christian life?” I guess that would mean pastoring a church is not “normative.” Does it mean when you see it happening, you don’t have to automatically assume it’s fake? Well, I guess not, because you seem to believe in divine healing, and yet wouldn’t exactly call it “normative.” Does it mean something God intended for the Church to be engaged in throughout the Church age? Well, I think we’re getting somewhere with this one, but there certainly seem to have been ebbs and flows in history, for whatever reason.
No doubt we might say that, whether good or bad, there is somewhat more of an expectation of all gifts of the Spirit within continuationist circles. For all practical purposes, if one is not sure if certain gifts of the Spirit exist or, even more, believe certain gifts no longer exist, there would not be much expectation in either of these groups. You might even find that those who make a profession that they are open to such gifts will still find a lack of expectation due to the uncertainty (I share more here about only being open to the gifts).
But, from my perspective, let me define this word, normative.
Even within the book of Acts, we easily forget that it was written over some 30 (+/-) years. Though it records quite a few prophecies, healings, miracles, and other varying acts of the Spirit, it doesn’t necessarily present a case that we should expect such gifts every single moment of every single day. But, to be honest, to argue that something must happen ‘every single moment of every single day’ is a very modern way of thinking. I don’t believe the ancient Hebrews and Jews thought in such detailed, 24-hour time periods. But moving on…
Though the above paragraph possibly gives more leverage to the cessationist, let’s think this through some more. One thing to recognise is that not every single healing, miracle, prophecy, etc, would have been recorded across the book of Acts (just as every preaching instance would not have been laid out in Acts). The Spirit was quite alive and well across the varying cities, towns and churches. We get glimpses of this in places like Galatians 3:5 and 1 Corinthians 12-14. So there was definitely more Spirit-activity going on than what we find recorded in Acts.
Secondly, the book of Acts contains a church that, though it was growing rapidly, was still a very small group by comparison. Maybe by the end of Acts (early 60’s AD) there was a church of 100,000. Maybe more, maybe less. But that is a healthy educated guess.
But today, in 2010, estimates are that there might be some 2 billion believers across the planet. That is a lot of followers of Christ! Not to mention that there are some 500 million within Pentecostal, charismatic and neo-charismatic church circles. So, though each person might not be utilised every single day in healings or miracles or prophecies or words of knowledge, we would expect the whole body of Christ being utilised in all gifts of the Spirit on a very regular basis. Remember, the Spirit is at work amongst a lot of Christians. Though, even as Marv recognised, there are ebbs and flows at times within history. That is ok.
The phrase one can normally here from the cessationist (or non-continuationist) is one which Michael gives: It is very difficult to build too much theology from narrative. I understand the argument somewhat, but I really think this kind of statement fails to be faithful to Scripture.
If this statement is true, then we have to be careful not to build ‘too much theology’ from major portions of the Bible, including most of the Pentateuch, the historical books of the Old Testament and the Gospels. But, of course, such a notion is silly.
What we need to realise is that we can learn from narrative, especially the didactic narrative of Scripture (see Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11). A story in and of itself might not be written to teach. But I am pretty certain Luke wrote to teach us something. Right?
As one author states:
‘If for Paul the historical narratives of the Old Testament had didactic lessons for New Testament Christians, then it would be most surprising if Luke, who modelled his historiography after the Old Testament historiography, did not invest his own history of the origin and spread of Christianity with a didactic significance.’ (Roger Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke, p7)
We have got to stop arguing that we cannot build theology from Acts. Such an argument fails and fails pretty bad. Rather, Luke will provide us with a great richness to our pneumatology, ecclesiology, Christology, and so much more, if we allow for Acts to be a didactic narrative. Not to mention that there is a verse that goes something like this: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching…
3. All of Scripture supports the idea that it is God’s nature to work in supernatural ways.
I won’t spend a lot of time here, since I have shared much on points 1 and 2 already. But, interestingly enough, Patton even quotes from Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Power of the Spirit to support this point.
And, lo and behold, Deere also takes time in the same book to show how the supernatural activity of God starts in Genesis and goes right through the whole of the biblical text. This is very consistent with the nature and character of the God whom we serve. If He had been doing such for thousands upon thousands of years (rather than in just a few cycles around the times of Moses, Elijah & Elisha, and Christ & the first apostles), then we must expect that same God to continue to act in such ways consistent with who He is, what He says and what He does.
4. The New Testament never explicitly states that the supernatural
sign gifts would cease.
This is true, very true. Though many passages have been used to teach that the gifts would cease – four well-known being 1 Corinthians 13:8-12; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 1:1-2; and Hebrews 2:3-4 – these passages do not actually teach cessationism. I share more in this article, and Marv specifically looks at Hebrews 2:3-4 in this article.
Patton even takes time to look at 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 himself, giving his thoughts on why that verse does not support cessationism.
The thing is that, most present-day studied cessationists don’t simply quote a few verses and say, ‘You see, these gifts were meant to cease.’ And the same stands true for the reverse with continuationism. More than quoting a few Scriptures, it comes to dealing with a theological framework. And, for the cessationist, as Patton recognises, it comes down to 1) recognising certain gifts had a revelatory and confirmatory purpose and 2) that revelation and confirmation was connected to the message of the gospel before it was completed in the first apostolic witness now recorded in the Scriptures.
Therefore, now that we have the completed Scriptures as God’s revelation and confirmation of the gospel message, these gifts are no longer needed, or they are at least not normative. But, even now, the modern-day cessationist will probably say, ‘Oh these things can happen, but not normally.’ And they would probably argue that these are not normally needed any longer because we have access to the finished product of the canon of Scripture.
Well, see my thoughts above on normative. But suffice it to say: Christ walked in all of these things, He sent the Spirit to continue that same exact work, and that same work was to be continued via the body of Christ (though He can do things apart from us, for He is sovereign), since we are called to be Christ in the world today. There would have been solid expectation that Christ’s body would function just as Christ did Himself.
But, let me say this: If we as theologians, who centre our theology in the Scripture, cannot ultimately argue for the cessation of the gifts from the biblical standpoint, then we are ultimately building our own theological boxes that cannot hold together. To say it another way, we can espouse great theological treatises. But if we are not able to solidly back up that theological framework from Scripture, then we have a bit of a problem. And Patton has already recognised that the Bible does not explicitly say these gifts will cease. What are we to believe, then?
5. Personal Experience
For many a Christians, to announce that experience has been a reason why they believe anything, especially as one determining factor for their pneumatology, this would be deemed unhealthy. But, what we must be willing to recognise is that experience shapes our theology (I share more here). We cannot get away from it, both cessationist and continuationist. Hence, the reason why Michael Patton ultimately says he is a de facto cessationist – he believes he has never truly experienced certain gifts of the Spirit like prophecy and miracles, at least in the way he understands Scripture to teach about them.
Matter of fact, I think just about every continuationist I know would say that one of the reasons they believe in the continuation of all gifts of the Spirit is because they have personally experienced them. And, even wider than that, most people who say they believe in Jesus would refer to some kind of experience(s) with the living God as to why they believe and want to follow Jesus. This is part and parcel to life and our faith, and God is quite ok with that.
So, knowing Michael’s own presentation of the positive case for continuationism, I’m not sure why he would still want to lean towards being a de facto cessationist. But, in the end, I do understand that experiencing something is important for our theology. Very important.
Thus, there are two things I can recommend to Michael: 1) Please re-consider some of your definitions with terms like normative, sign gifts, revelatory and confirmatory gifts, etc. I think wrong definitions and expectations will be a hindrance towards moving into a biblical view of the the gifts of the Spirit. 2) Don’t read more theology on the topic, as you are already quite aware of many of the continuationist arguments. Rather, build relationships with solid continuationist believers. That is one of the greatest ways to see our faith stirred in this area. At least that is my testimony.