Continuationists believe God still speaks today, not only through the word of God in Scripture, but even through specific words or what we might term ‘revelations’. These revelations can come in various manners – prophecy, words of knowledge, words of wisdom, visions, dreams, etc. – but God is still communicating and speaking today. He actually never desired anything less.
However, what can get easily leveled against continuationists, from the more cessationist camp, is the idea that such revelation would no longer be needed knowing we now have the completed revelation of God in Jesus Christ, which is, of course, summarized in the full canon of Scripture that now includes the New Testament. This revelation is the final word and no other such revelation is needed.
And I understand the concern, especially noting such doctrines coming out of the Reformation such as the sufficiency of Scripture. However, I think there is a very balanced approach that allows for Scripture to maintain its very needed place as the God-breathed and authoritative written revelation of God while maintaining that God still speaks, reveals and communicates today.
Here is what I believe we need to recognize.
I most definitely believe there is no more needed revelation from God with respect to his redemptive purposes in Christ. No more! The work of Christ and the revelation concerning this work – summed up in his life, ministry, death and resurrection – are the final word on God’s redemptive revelation and purposes. And I believe the New Testament makes this quite clear.
Yet, I do believe that it is not outside the parameter of God to continue to communicate in what I might term as a non-redemptive measure. This is where continuationists part from cessationists.
Again, I think it would be quite detrimental to say there is still more for God to reveal concerning the redemption of humanity through Christ and the gospel of the kingdom. Christ remains the final word on such.
But, to believe God is still continuing to reveal today, giving non-redemptive revelation, should not be seen as harmful to a faith that looks to be grounded in Christ, the gospel and the testimony of the canon of Scripture. Matter of fact, I would argue that to not allow for God to still directly speak and reveal today, in all his various manners, this would cut us off from something very dear to the heart of God.
In all, I want to give two pointers as to why I believe in continuing, non-redemptive revelation:
1) Even while the canon of Scripture was being formed, God was always speaking para-Scripture, meaning he was speaking alongside what would be included in the canon of Scripture.
A couple examples would be found in places such as 1 Sam 10:10-13 and 1 Tim 1:18-19.
In the first instance, we find Saul, empowered by the Spirit, prophesying amongst a group of prophets. In the second example, we read of Paul reminding Timothy of the prophetic words that were made about him and that ‘by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience’.
In both situations, we find Spirit-inspired prophecy. But in neither case do we find those prophetic, and revelatory, words recorded in Scripture. The events are mentioned, but not the specific words. Even more, in the case of Timothy, these words enabled him to stay the course. They must have been some pretty edifying and strengthening words! Of course they were, since we find this to be a major purpose of prophecy (see 1 Cor 14:3).
Remember, the Scripture does not record every word and act of God. That’s an easy one to recognize (remember John 21:25?). But knowing that God was always speaking, acting, revealing himself, even alongside the writing of what became Scripture, this encourages us that he would not only do so para-canonical but even post-canonical.
2) Not every revelation in Scripture would fall under the greater category of redemptive revelation.
We can see plenty of these examples within the Gospels and Acts. For example, Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). Here is the Living Word, and so we recognize the redemptive purposes of God being outworked through Christ, even in this particular occasion. But what is interesting to note is one specific vehicle of revelation that Jesus utilized in John 4, mainly the word of knowledge about the women’s love life.
Now, the details are no doubt extremely important in the interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman – she is a Samaritan, a woman, the words about living water, the shift towards worship of our Father in spirit and truth rather than at a centralized building, and every other detail. I believe John recorded exactly what was pertinent to record about this encounter in helping us better understand his main thrust about Jesus Christ (i.e. John 20:30-31).
But that specific word of knowledge (about her love life) was but one detail alongside the ultimate redemptive revelation as found in Jesus Christ, even in that situation. Jesus could have revealed a dream that she had the previous night. He could have laid forth another bit of knowledge about her life. It was a revelatory vehicle accompanying the message of Christ.
Yet, if these words had not been spoken, if they had not even been recorded (like with the example of Timothy above), or if some other revelation had been spoken forth in the place of this particular word of knowledge, it would not have brought any change to God’s redemptive revelation in Christ.
And, so, to claim that God speaks today, reveals today, that prophecy still comes forth today, this does not hoist any threat upon God’s redemptive revelation summed up in his Messiah, Jesus, as testified to in the canon of Scripture. Remember, that revelation is finished in Christ.
Even more, this is where the biblical canon, the very useful measuring stick for our faith, becomes important. We have such a great tool in helping asses present-day revelations, prophecies, visions, etc.
Of course, there are plenty of other examples of this kind of revelation from God in places like the book of Acts.
- Peter’s word of knowledge in Acts 5 of Ananias and Sapphira’s lying.
- Peter’s word of wisdom in Acts 6 of the need to appoint a team to look after the tables, rather than seeing the apostles pulled into such.
- Agabus’ prophecy at the end of Acts 11 that there would be a severe famine.
Of course, for the cessationist, many of these, if not all, were given as “sign gifts,” ultimately attesting to the message of the apostles. They were unique in connection to the apostles and their associates. Therefore, since there are no more apostles today, we no longer need such attesting signs. The Scripture now takes that place.
But to argue this, I think we fail to note a few things about these particular gifts:
- They were not only done by apostles. Note this helpful list of Christians utilized in these gifts: the 120 at Pentecost in Acts 2:4; Stephen in Acts 6:8; Philip in Acts 8:4-7; Ananias in Acts 9:17-18; Cornelius & household in Acts 10:46; Agabus in Acts 11:27-28 & 21:10-11; the Ephesians disciples in Acts 19:6; Philip’s daughters in Acts 21:8-9; the Galatian believers in Gal 3:5; the Corinthians believers in 1 Cor 12-14; the Thessalonian believers in 1 Thess 5:23; the elders in Ephesus in 1 Tim 4:14. Quite the list!
- These gifts were not only used as “signs,” but also in the role of edification and strengthening. This comes out very strongly in 1 Cor 12-14.
- Scripture actually does not teach us that Scripture will one day take the place of “sign gifts”. To argue such, from places like 1 Cor 13:8-12, is a misunderstanding of the context. I share more here.
But all of these instances in my points 1 and 2 just above note actual revelations given by God. And while some of the details of these instances found their way into Scripture, some of the details are left unknown. The content of the Corinthian prophecies, the Thessalonian prophecies, the prophecies of Philip’s daughters, etc, was not recorded in Scripture.
In all, this is why I believe it is worth distinguishing between a) redemptive and b) non-redemptive revelation. Of course, even non-redemptive revelation comes from our great redemptive God. But the redemptive revelation in Christ is finalized. We need not add anything. Yet, I would add we are to believe our God still reveals today.
So let us be encouraged that our God speaks today (as it is true to his nature) and that we are called, as the body together, to seek him, to listen to him (through Scripture and the present-day work of the Spirit), and to even seek prophecy (1 Cor 14:1). And thankfully, as we stay connected to Scripture, the church historic and the church present, we will have such great tools available to us in helping us stay the track, being faithful to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
An excellent point:
“Scripture actually does not teach us that Scripture will one day take the place of “sign gifts”. To argue such, from places like 1 Cor 13:8-12, is a misunderstanding of the context.”
This is one of the best articles I have read on the subject of cessationism/continuationism. Thank you for posting this!