Category Archives: body of Christ

On Balance

By Marv

Once the Babylonians were finished with Jerusalem, no temple remained to perform the sacrifices prescribed in the Law. But the elders of the people, taking the Scriptures wherever they went, continued to teach the Word, and this tradition continued for centuries, well after a rebuilt temple allowed resumption of sacrifices. The restored priest class, the sacrifice-makers, hugged close to the places of power, even during times of foreign hegemony–which was most of the time. Their circle, named for one Zadok (or Tsadok), became known as the Tsedukim, Greco-Latino-Anglicized as “Sadducees.” Such, in large measure, were the priests

By contrast, the teachers continued in parallel, with concentrated attention to the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. Less prone to cozy up to the Syrians, Egyptians, Romans–whatever invader happened to be in charge at the moment–many of these stressed the set-apart-ness that the Law demanded. These Separatists, Perushim, we call the “Pharisees.”

The society in which Jesus was born was rife with factions, of which the above were only two. Each side was imbalanced: the Sadducees had the cultus, but were weak on the Word, accepting only the Penteteuch, and rejecting doctrines such as the existence of angels and the resurrection. The Pharisees, by contrast, offered solidity of doctrine, but were for the most part outsiders to the functions of the Temple.

Yet, I think each group can be said to have found itself with a particular calling, the Sadducees to maintaining the worship system, sacrifices and Temple; and the Pharisees to rigorous study of and adherence to the Scriptures. That each side did so imperfectly–very imperfectly–is evident from the gospels, in which Jesus Christ–their long awaited Messiah–met with pretty much equal resistance from the two factions. But imperfect–failing though they were–Jesus affirmed their ongoing places of responsibility under God:

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. (Matt. 23:2)

“See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” (Mark 1:44)

In the final analysis each of these is to be evaluated, not by how balanced each is, but by how faithful each is to its calling, to the particular gift given as God wills. A balance there was, however, in the form of a bipartisan chamber, the Council, known to us by its Greek name for “seated-together” synedrion, the Sanhedrin. Together in this body, the differing emphases of the priests and the teachers found equilibrium, balance.

  • Calling, gifting calls for zeal and faithfulness.
  • Body is for balance, for completeness, for interaction.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Cor. 12:12)

Note Paul says “Christ.” But he is talking about the Church. Who can doubt that Jesus Christ represents perfect balance in roles: Prophet, Priest, King? And in His works: Teacher, Prophet, Healer, Giver, Comforter.

We now have inherited His name, as a body, “Christ” as the apostle calls us. And we have inherited his roles:

And God has appointed in the church first apostles*, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues**. (1 Cor. 12:28)

(**Apostles, I take to be generalists. **Tongues, I take it came in with Pentecost.)

Now we can count on the Spirit of God to keep the Body of Christ well-balanced since He  “apportions to each one individually as he wills” (v. 11). It’s when we scoop a bit out of this well-blended mixture and place it in a particular time and a particular place–a local church–that unequal distribution may occur. I don’t think the various gifts land in one-to-one correspondence with people, due to the way Paul encourages us to pursue prophecy or pray for interpretation of tongues. But it is apparent that excelling in use causes people to fall into characteristic roles: “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers…” (Acts 13:1)

Human nature leads us to value these gifts or roles unequally. Otherwise Paul would not have to admonish us: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’ (1 Cor. 12:21). We can’t, but we do.  Strength in gifting tends to have a magnetic effect; for example, a strong teacher attracts many who appreciate strong teaching.

The result is little body-lets with distorted features: one little local body of Christ has whopping great feet perhaps, and puny hands. Another Dumbo ears but tiny mouth. Imbalanced bodies; history is rife with these, maybe more the rule than the exception, and this disequalibrium is one souce of sectarian division.

Something along these lines happened, I suggest, about the turn of the twentieth century. Two different callings arose–distinct but not incompatible. Those responding to the call acted with zeal and with faithfulness–albeit imperfectly. What was lacking was balance, since, while there was some overlap, the two callings attracted followings that each tended to undervalue the other, discount the other’s legitimacy and–being disunited–fell into imbalance. In short, each said to the other “I have no need of you.”

Taking a cue from Acts 13:1, I’m going to call these two camps “Teachers” and “Prophets.” For those inclined to quibble, note I do put quotes around them. I don’t mean these terms in any absolute sense.

The “Teachers” responded to the call to contend for the Bible and the essential doctrines it teaches against a growing threat from Higher Criticism and theological liberalism.

The “Prophets” saw that a major truth of apostolic Christianity lay neglected after centuries of Church history, the power ministry through the Holy Spirit, and “spiritual gifts.”

In parallel courses, the “Teachers” produced The Fundamentals–giving rise to the label Fundamentalist. The “Prophets” saw the development of a Pentecostal movement. Again, these streams are not without admixture. For example, Pentecostals might well affirm the declarations of The Fundamentals.

Interestingly also, each one, about midcentury, fired off a kind of second stage: Charismatics and Evangelicals. Once again, I don’t wish to draw too sharp a distinction. Many Charismatics would be well cast as Evangelicals. But still two distinct lines of heritage are clearly discernable, and in many ways each of the streams tended to distance itself from the other.

My own heritage has been on the “Teacher” side, and I think I can speak with greater freedom in regard to the activities on this side of the divide. Take B.B. Warfield for example: his book The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible is a diligent and faithful defense of the Scriptures. On the other hand, his Counterfeit Miracles, laying a foundation for Cessationism, may have been intended also as support of a strong Bibliology, but uses–I suggest–a dubious Biblical argument to do it.

But the main point I want to make is this: it has become common for the “Teacher” side to characterize the “Prophet” side as imbalanced. And indeed much evidence may be given that this is the case. This charge by “my side” is regrettable for at least two reasons: first, I submit that the “Teacher” camp is also imbalanced, though perhaps in a less noisy way. Second, and more important, due to the way the Spirit has arranged the Body, my calling an opposing camp “unbalanced” may revert the responsibility back to me.

Consider two children playing on a see-saw. When one goes up, the other goes down. When that one goes up, the first goes down. It is a study in balance. Now say kid A decides to jump off, leaving kid B to fall to the ground with a thud. How meaningful is it for kid A to accuse kid B of being “imbalanced.”

If the Pentecostal/Charismatic wing of the 20th Century Church can fairly be called imbalanced–and it can–whose fault is this? Let me submit–quite irenically–from the “Teacher” stream of heritage, a main cause for it has been the “Teacher”-side invention of Cessationism–and the consequent absence of much of the Body’s stong teacher gifting from that “other” side.

I don’t mean to suggest that the “Prophets” have been teacher-less. Not at all, but all the energy that has gone into building and maintaining the (in my opinion) unbiblical position of Cessationism, could have been better spent in helping guide the stream of Pentecostalism/Charismaticism into more Biblically and theologically appropriate directions.

This is why what we see occuring toward the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first is so encouraging. Individuals began to arise with heritage in both streams–or coming from one learned to embrace the other. Figures such as John Wimber have been key in this regard. What was once considered an oddity, Calvinist Contintuationists such as Sam Storms, C.J. Mahaney or John Piper, are now becoming more and more common.

It is not completely clear what labels to use, if we must use labels. Some have, I think mis-characterized this union of streams as a hybridization, and it may be tempting to imagine clever terms, such as “evangematic.” But I think it is better to see some in the Church now re-reading our Bibles, welcoming the whole counsel of God, not reacting to our brothers and sisters’ failings, and taking seriously our call to pursue our giftings with zeal and faithfulness, in a way that takes seriously “our” need of “them” and “their” need of “us,” trusting God’s Spirit and God’s word to bring us into balance.

Defining “Charismatic”

By Marv

The conversation continues over at Parchment and Pen, between Cessationist C. Michael Patton and Continuationist Sam Storms. The current round aims at definition of terms, particularly asking the question: “What Does it Mean to Be Charismatic?” Each one has proposed a theory and definition, first Patton, then Storms.

Patton proposes a spectrum (graphically a wedge), in which the main players fall into the following range:

1. Hard Cessationists: These establish a category of “sign gifts” with which to box and then toss certain gifts described in the Bible. They employ Biblical and Theological arguments to demonstrate that these were always temporary, their limit being perhaps the close of the Canon or the death of the apostles.

2. Soft Cessationists: These are similar to (1) but do not object to reports of Acts-like activity from the mission field. This is what I call “long ago or far away.”

3. Continuationists: These see in Scripture (a) no indication that any gift is temporary, and (b) affirmative indications that they are ongoing. They are understood to be multi-purpose, not narrowly confined whether as a Canon stop-gap, a gospel frontier tool, or the particular property of the apostles.

4. Charismatics: These are exactly as (3) but whereas, apparently Continuationists approve passively, Charismatics pursue actively.

Evaluation:

This scale has merit, and reflects an accurate observation of the realities on the ground. The labels are problematic, however. It may be true that a theoretical, but non-practicing approver of the ongoing activity would self-identify as a Continuationist, as he/she affirms “continuation”–but would reject the label Charismatic. On the other hand, many who passionately pursue these gifts would self-identify as Continuationists, and might or might not identify with Charismatic. This is because Continuationist is a broader, more generic term. It would include Pentecostals, Charismatics, Third-wavers, and some who fall in none of these camps. Calling Patton’s category number (3) by the name of the entire set in which his (4) also falls entails a semantic error. Better to balance each side with two kinds of Cessationists on one side and two kinds of Continuationists on the other. Hard and soft? Perhaps. Passive and active? Hmm. Probably not. What this difference is does need to be further defined.

Storms picks up on the concept of pursuit, à la Paul’s exhortation of earnestly desiring the gifts (1 Cor. 14: 1, 12, 26, 39), as a key distinguishing criterion. Accordingly he sees six categories:

1. Those who don’t know what to think of the whole issue, Biblically, theologically, historically. Under this circumstance, these cannot be reasonably expected to pursue the said gifts.

2. These believe that the Sciptures positively affirm the continuation of the gifts in question. Paul’s injunction then is binding on the conscience.

3. These believe the Scriptures positively affirm the cessation of the gifts in question. Paul’s injunction is thereby obsolete, moot, and null and void for today.

4. These do not believe the Scriptures positively affirm the cessation of the gifts in question, but hold the opinion that they have ceased on other-than-Scriptural grounds or at least within a penumbra of Scriptural teaching. This puts them in the position of disregarding an explicit Scriptural injunction on the basis of rather less than explicit Biblical warrant to do so.

5. These for whatever reason hold the opinion that certain gifts mentioned in the Bible have continued while others have not. The corresponding response then would be to pursue those that have continued and not those that have not.

6. These hold either that the gifts in question possibly continue or definitely continue, and yet they do not pursue them actively. Storms points to this postion as a sin of omission.

If I understand him correctly, Dr. Storms would apply the terms Continuationist and Charismatic interchangeably to category (2), which is where he places himself.

Having distinguished the terms, he further characterizes what it entails to be Charismatic/Continuationist, as power in Christian experience and ministry and divine immanence and relational imminancy.

Evaluation:

I am not sure whether his classification system focuses on what each class actually do or what they should do. But this may simply be my reading of his meaning. In general, his basing his schema on pursuit is a helpful one, as it does seem to be–in both his and Patton’s treatments–a sine qua non of what it means to be a Charismatic. Of course, we here at To Be Continued… place ourselves in category (2) along with Dr. Storms, and so we are more likely to align with his understanding.

I would like, in summarizing, to underscore and develop briefly the important point that Sam Storms makes at the end of his post. I do not know whether he would specifically agree with me on this, but one of the reasons I prefer the term Continuationist to Charismatic is that etymologically Charismatic has to do with the concept of “spiritual gifts.” My contention is that while “gifts” is certainly a Pauline term for the particular way empowered ministry is distributed in the Body, a better center of focus for this aspect of Pneumatology is Christ’s own teaching that the Church would continue His Spirit-empowered minsitry in the same way He did it, between Pentecost and the Parousia. Talking about this gift or that gift tends, in my perception, to marginalize the topic, almost as if it were an optional add-on to the basic package, which some take and others leave.

Quite the contrary, may I suggest that Pentecost brought the church a specific connectedness, a plugged-in and turned-on direct line of communication with the Father and Son through the Spirit. That we are meant in all things, to function on-line, with constant input and output of information and power, seeing and hearing what the fallen world is blind and deaf to, acting as agents under authority–is integral equally to sanctification, communion, worship, evangelism, prayer, and the overt manifestation of divine power seen in the various “gifts.” Divine imminance, relational intimacy, ongoing revelation, miraculous ministry, efficacious prayer, passionate devotion to our Lord are descriptions of what ought to be pursued by a disciple of Jesus Christ, because they are descriptions of the manner of life and ministry of Jesus Himself.

Seeing, Eating, Working like Jesus

By Marv

Jesus’ prophetic conversation with the “woman at the well” (John 4) served as the proximate means, or at least the occasion, of the unveiling of the eyes of her heart (2 Cor. 3:15). The late John Wimber made frequent use of this account in calling Christians to understand and practice “power evangelism.” During my seminary days—pre-Continuationist, to be sure—such usage of the text was heavily criticized as misuse.

Down the hallway, at the same time John 4:35 was extolled as an important missions verse:

Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.

At the time I didn’t make the connection, that Christ Himself is here calling us to what Wimber called “Power Evangelism”—otherwise known as the ordinary procedure of God working through the Body of Christ to effect His works.

Jesus’ words here show us clearly that Wimber’s use of the passage was entirely correct, since He is calling us to see as He saw, eat as He ate, and work, as He worked, the works the Father had given Him to accomplish.

When Jesus told his nonplussed disciples: “lift up your eyes,” he was hardly telling them to pay more attention to their physical surroundings, lest they miss an opportunity to witness. Jesus was calling them to follow His example in how He operated. Now the second Person of the Godhead has omniscience in Himself. But Jesus was not asking His disciples to exercise their own omniscience. He constantly operated according to resources available (or that would become available) to his disciples, and to us his disciples, since He was anointed with the Holy Spirit.

His intention, the Father’s Plan, was for the church to carry on Jesus’ operating ministry after His departure from the earth. This is crystal clear from John 14:12:

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.

Why this is true is because of Christ’s sending the Holy Spirit to anoint His Body as He Himself was anointed. The Holy Spirit has a speaking, communicational function from Christ, and ultimately the Father, toward us:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)

Jesus, anointed as He was, perceived information through the Holy Spirit, so as to possess and employ knowledge beyond what his physical senses could tell Him:

And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; (Isaiah 11:2-4)

He saw what the disciples could not, that the woman bringing her jar to the well was elect of God and that her moment of conversion had come, that Jesus would be the messenger, and that the method would be prophetic exposure of her sinful life.

This is not alien to the expected experience of the church. Far from it. The apostle Paul urged the Corinthians to prophesy, with expectation of similar results:

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all,the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Cor. 14:24-25)

It was lunch time and the disciples brought back food from the village, but Jesus enigmatically said to them: “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (v. 32). They didn’t get it, of course.  He explained: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (v. 34).

He had been down this road before:

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Not just every word of Scripture (since when Jesus quoted that verse, He was constrained by a direct instruction through the Holy Spirit and not by a written Bible verse), but every word communicated by the Father to His anointed worker. Just as He is calling His disciples to see as He saw, He called them to hear as He heard—and so do the work of the Father.

And this is how we work as he worked. “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” (John 14:12). It calls for us to be in that ongoing state of open communication with Christ and the Father through the Holy Spirit by which He works through us those “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

 

The Great Non-Charismatic Trump Card

by Scott

Those who know me know I am a charismatic-continuationist. For me, at least with where I am heading in this article, this boils down to mainly two things: 1) I am committed to the reality that all gifts of the Spirit are still available to the church today and 2) I also come from a church perspective and heritage that has traditionally emphasised the importance of the times when the church gathers together in its varying ways.

But, I am also a teacher-theologian at heart. Not the most esteemed by any means. But the ministry gift of teacher seems to be the greatest measure of gifting in my calling in God.

Knowing this fact, I am continually thinking through the in’s and out’s of charismatic-continuationist perspectives and experiences. Sometimes the analysation can kick into overload.

Yet, the odd thing is that I have also experienced some very ecstatic things in my life (not always personally, though sometimes, but also with regards to others in various gatherings). I’ve reached a point in my life where nothing really shocks me. I think there are definitely some general guidelines we must take to heart as we gather together, and as a shepherd within a local church context I do consider my role of protection quite important and sobering. But, at least for me, I believe 1 Cor 14:33 has turned into the great non-charismatic trump card for many – For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

Or other versions might say God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

What can possibly happen for some of us is that anything outside of the more normal, structured order of service can easily be seen as disorderly. And this disorder, and confusion, are definitely out of bounds. Structure and regulation carry great import, and we find that 1 Cor 14:33 provides both the grounds for our stance and the subsequent comfort in guarding against anything out of order (or weird).

Of course, in some extreme cases, this verse has been used as a manipulative tool of control. Yet, this is probably few and far between. But even as this verse provides the grounds for comfort to our structure, at times it can still cause a little too much limitation.

You see, I’m always amazed at the Corinthian situation. I mean this church was nuts. ABSOLUTELY NUTS!

There was incest, people suing one another, gluttony and drunkenness at the Lord’s table and, of course, extreme abuse of the gifts of the Spirit. Though I have encountered some difficult personal situations in my younger life as a church leader, I have not come close to the Corinthian mess with which Paul had to deal.

So one can expect a heavy hand into their situation. For goodness sake, Paul desired that people would no longer fall asleep (die) because of their disrespect for the unity of the body of Christ at the Lord’s table (1 Cor 11:30). So, when we come to things like the gathering of the Corinthian ekklesia, Paul laid out some really harsh guidelines, though, interestingly enough, he did not ever shut things down for good.

With gifts of the Spirit, we see some restrictive guidelines laid out:

If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. (1 Cor 14:27-32)

By no means do I believe that Paul was laying out some command for all-time in that, if you have 4 prophecies come forth in your church’s gathering, then you are grieving the Spirit and disobeying God. Of course, if one doesn’t believe prophecy or tongues are still given and/or needed today, then we don’t have to worry about these instructions. But I do not believe Paul is limiting us to 2 or 3 prophecies or messages in tongues for all-time sake.

Then, following these instructive words to the Corinthians, Paul comes in with that great trump card: For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

As long as nothing comes out of order, out of place, out of the listed structure in the bulletin (we have a bulletin, but you might have it somewhere else), we can feel safe and truly comfortable. Yet, it is interesting that one of the names of the Spirit is that of Comforter (even if we want to translate parakletos differently from Comforter, the Spirit is still a Comforter). And so I suppose we should expect to be uncomfortable at times to know the comforting work of the Comforter. Possibly even feeling a little uncomfortable as we assemble together.

But we are told we serve a God who is a God of order, of peace.

Of course he is.

But sometimes I am very aware that the order and peace of God comes in different ways than what we would expect, or command. I suppose I can remind us of a few biblical examples:

  • Isaiah walked around naked for 3 years as a prophetic action pointing out what would happen to the Egyptians (Isa 20:1-4)
  • Hannah prayed so fervently for a son that Eli thought she was drunk (1 Sam 1:9-16)
  • When Nehemiah and Ezra read the Law to the Jews, they mourned and wept (Neh 8:9)
  • Jesus had a spitting ministry, or he healed people by use of saliva, sometimes mixed with mud (Mark 7:33; 8:23; John 9:6-7)
  • Following the outpouring of the Spirit, the onlookers declared that those speaking in tongues must have been drunk (Acts 2:1-13). As a side note, the behaviour identified with drunkness was probably not the activity of tongues, since the people understood what was being said in their own language, and no one speaks in another language by getting drunk. Rather, other behaviour must have exhibited other forms of strangeness.
  • Not to mention the varied reactions during exorcisms (i.e. Mark 1:23-28; Luke 4:33-35)

You see, when we examine the spectrum of the biblical text, we see tensions right across it. That’s because differing people were writing to differing groups in differing areas at differing times. And they definitely weren’t thinking about all the details of a 21st century global world.

So when it comes to our church gatherings, we cannot easily run to 1 Cor 14:33 and state it as a stamp of approval on how we are to see the order of God come into our midst. I think it would miss both the dynamic of God and the dynamic of the Scripture text.

Of course, the biblical text tells us that God is not a God of disorder, rather he is a God of peace. But the text, that same God-breathed text, also makes clear that our God is a God of ‘disorder’ at times. Shall we survey Genesis to Revelation? Or let’s just consider the bullet points above. I think Isaiah would have made a few of us blush. I suppose spitting on someone would not be considered the most well-mannered of actions.

So when the church gathers, there is no doubt in my mind there are things that the shepherds, the elders, must consider. Again, I am involved in such week in and week out. And I have had to deal with those awkward moments. Not a lot. But I have some. But I would never give up allowing people to pray spontaneously, prophesy, burst forth in a psalm, hymn or spiritual song, share a message in tongues, weep in repentance, or shout with joy exuberant all to make sure we never ever felt uncomfortable. I believe such would be a great grievance to God’s Spirit. And we would miss out on these instructions of Paul within the same Corinthian context:

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. (1 Cor 14:26)

Did we catch that? – each of you has…..

Not just pastors and assistant pastors and worship leaders.

Of course everything must be done to build up. But we have to make space for such so that we can be built up.

In the end, there is no doubt that leaders are called to lead, protect, guard and wisely administrate (not in a secretarial way, but more in a leading way, as I believe the Greek word intends in 1 Cor 12:28). And sometimes we will need to bring an end to something that is causing disorder, we will have to correct, all with wisdom and grace.

But we will also, at times, need to allow for something a little ‘disorderly’ to happen that the Spirit might do the work that he and he alone can do. To stop that out of tune song, to stop the sobbing of repentance, to clamp down on prophecies, well, this could be just as disorderly than to allow for them.

I hope we can agree that there is no straight and hard line to this. But I also hope that, from now on, 1 Cor 14:33 is not simply seen as the fall back or trump card to protect us from what God might stir amongst his people in a somewhat spontaneous and unexpected way. Even if the spontaneity causes a little discomfort.

He is with us. He will lead us. He will give us discernment and wisdom. Let’s make some space for the body to be the body in our gatherings.

He Has Spoken Through His Son

by Marv

The coming of the Son of God in the flesh is the turning point in redemptive history, that is in the outworking of God’s plan for rescuing His fallen world.  It marks a decisive divide between all that came before and all that God does from that crucial point onward.

Jesus indicated His own place in redemptive history in the parable of the tenants.  In this parable, God is likened to the owner of a vineyard who sends a series of bondservants to collect his due,  only to have them rebuffed, abused, even killed by the uncooperative tenants.  The next step is an escalation in the status of the messenger: “Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’” (Matt. 21:37).  The voice of the son, we understand, bears a superiority not just in degree, but in kind.

The magnificent opening of the epistle to the Hebrews encapsulates this same truth, and then goes on for thirteen chapters to develop this theme of Christ as superior to everything in previous phases of God’s plan, to urge against retrograde motion on the part of his readers.  He begins:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Heb. 1:1-2)

Continuationism is the understanding that according to the Scriptures, and Jesus Himself, during this era between Pentecost and the Parousia, God has established in the Church a vital and dynamic interconnection with Christ and the Father through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, through which Christ continues to glorify the Father, build His Church, and advance His kingdom.

To express this understanding in the imagery of the parable of the tenants, after the son is killed, when the vineyard owner comes to “let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons,” (v. 4) the son is in fact restored to life.   He then continues actively to run the operations of the vineyard for his father, though off site.  As he is delegated the management by his father, he in turn delegates the on-site operation to the new tenants.  In this arrangement he remains in two-way communication with the tenants and supplies the resources necessary to the success of the operation.

Some others would modify this scenario by removing the idea of “two-way communication.”  The son, in this case, commits to written form everything he wishes to say or will ever wish to say to the tenants.  Thus he leaves them an operation manual, and determines that while he expects communication from the tenants to him, he will not communicate directly back to them, since the manual already contains everything he wishes them to know.

The former of these conceptions, according to proponents of the latter, is inaccurate in that it is incompatible with Hebrews 1:2, cited above.  The idea of ongoing two-way communication with God—that is that God to man communication (still) occurs by means other than the Bible—is denied, these assert, by the statement that now God “has spoken to us by his Son” (v. 2).  God’s speaking through prophets, inferior delegates, the “servants” of the parable, is relegated to “long ago.”

The use of Heb. 1:1-2 in support of Cessationism does have a noble pedigree.  It appears with the Westminster Confession of Faith as “proof text” number six, underlying what is generally taken to be a clause expressing cessation of ongoing revelation: “those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.” (WCF I.1)

However, there are two distinct propositions involved, taken to be stated or implied by Heb. 1:1-2:

1.  God, having delegated His Son to speak for Him, no longer employs the lower-level messengers He previously had sent.

2.  God having delegated His Son to speak for Him, the Son no longer is speaking.

Proposition 1 is non-objectionable, since it represents the author’s explicit point, and he goes on to elaborate on this point in the rest of the epistle.

It is far less clear, however, that the author intends Proposition 2 as part of his meaning, as a Cessationist application would suggest.  Also, if the author of Hebrews is saying that the Son has said all He has to say, when exactly are we to understand that the Son in fact ceased speaking?

What can we determine from the text?  First, the verb translated “has spoken,” elalēsen, “is aorist, in the past from the point of view of the writer.  The specific time frame is further specified: “in these last days.”

The author then contrasts two types of events, the ministry of the prophets in the more distant past, and the ministry of Christ in the recent past.  Can we legitimately infer from the author’s statement affirming Christ spoke in the past, a denial that He is therefore not speaking in the present and will not speak in the future?  Not on the basis of any valid understanding of either Greek grammar or logic.

At any rate, when exactly does the author mean to tell us that God’s revelation ceases?

If in fact we go by the tense of elalēsen, the past, we are left with the paradox, or rather the antinomy of an inspired writer, stating in his present that revelation had previously ceased in the past.  The very verse containing this word, not to mention the thirteen chapters yet to come contradicts the notion that God’s special revelation had already ceased at that point.

The author would have to mean some other time than that strictly indicated by the tense of the verb, if indeed he intends us to understand that communication through the Son comes to a point of completion and then ceases.  When would that be, exactly?

The ascension, the ending point of Christ’s bodily presence on earth?  Hardly, the entirety of the New Testament was written after this.

Besides, the author himself states in 2:4 that after Christ’s ascension God continued to testify through human messengers other than Christ: “God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”

Is it then the completion of the Canon?  It may or may not be factual to state that with the close of the Canon, the Son no longer speaks to us, and the Father no longer speaks through any other means.  But how is such an understanding to be drawn from the words of Hebrews 1:1-2, which was written, perhaps decades before the last NT book was written?

What do the author’s statements about the Son tell us about the work of the Holy Spirit?  Jesus’ own teaching predicts a future in which the Spirit’s work will include acts of speaking:

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26)“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8)“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:12-15)

We find here, in fact, that the speaking ministry of the Spirit is a continuation of God speaking through the Son.  The Father delegates to the Son and the Son to the Spirit.

He delegates, not only to the Spirit, but to His Church. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)

So if the speaking of the Spirit is a continuation of the speaking of the Son, how long do we expect the Son to continue to speak through the Spirit?  Do we take Jesus’ words in John 16 then to be referring to the New Testament and nothing else?

If so, He said this to all eleven, but only commissioned three to write scripture:  Matthew, John, and Peter.  Did he exclude eight of those present and include others not present such as Paul, Luke, and James?

At any rate, the Son did in fact speak through the Holy Spirit in ways other than the writing of the New Testament:

“And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” (Acts 16:6-7)

This is still, however, during the period of the open Canon. Of course, the Spirit continues to speak during this time.  Where are we ever told God will ever speak through the Spirit once the Scriptures, God’s sufficient written Word has been completed?

In Mark’s account of the Olivet discourse, Jesus gives instructions regarding what His disciples may expect in the days prior to His return, when the gospel is being proclaimed to all nations:

“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.  And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.  And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 13: 9-11)

Hebrews 1:1-2 in fact says nothing about the Son ceasing to speak.  The New Testament knows nothing of a time when once the Son has become incarnate, He ceases actively to glorify the Father to the world, to be God’s ongoing self-revelation.  What we can see are three distinct phases of His revelation activity (presented out of order).

The first.  His first advent, when He reveals the Father in His sinless life, He proclaims the gospel of the Kingdom, and dies sacrificially and rises again.

The third.  His glorious second appearing, when faith becomes sight we will know as we are known.

The second.  In between these times His Body, the Church, continues what in the first phase Jesus “began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1).

“In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (John 14:20)

Yes, “in these last days, [God] has spoken to us by his Son.”  Just so, in these days too, God speaks through His Son, who speaks through the Holy Spirit, who speaks through the Church, the Body of Christ.