Category Archives: sign gifts

Extraordinary Gifts

by Scott

Recently, I have seen some banter around the blogosphere which argues against the idea that the Spirit giftings of 1 Cor 12:8-10 should be considered any more special than other gifts mentioned elsewhere in Scripture, at least those found in places like Rom 12:6-8 or not too far along in the 1 Cor 12 passage, mainly some of those found in vs28-30. This argument normally flows from the cessationist sector, or those who believe these specific gifts are either not normal for today or have ceased all-together.

I actually understand the desire to keep all gifts on a kind of level ground, not making any of them more important than others. Quite like we want to steer clear of any two-tiered Christianity with the have’s on one side and have not’s on the other. This has unfortunately been created by some of our brothers and sisters in Pentecostal and charismatic circles. I know and it saddens my heart.

If anything, we are all one in Christ, as Paul argued adamantly in Gal 3:26-29.

But while I agree with this underlying focus and emphasis of non-continuationists on the importance of all gifts, I do want to clarify some things that come from the Pentecostal and charismatic circles of why we might emphasise the extraordinary nature of those gifts found in 1 Cor 12:8-10. Continue reading

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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.

The White Dove Inn

By Marv

Three theobros, friends, colleagues, agreeing on much, differing on some things, sitting around the studio in relaxed but intelligent banter–joined together with joy, but for a serious purpose. And the podcast is ours to enjoy, to learn, to be edified by. It’s great stuff. I keep thinking though–all it needs is Rod Rosenbladt periodically saying “That’s HUGE!!!”

(If you don’t have a clue what I am talking about check out this other worthy audio theofest.)

C. Michael Patton, dean or some such title of Credo House ministries is the indefatiguable superblogger of Parchment and Pen. I admit I came for Daniel Wallace, but I stayed for CMP. Within the last couple of years he has bared his soul more than a bit, particularly with regard to his contemplation of the subject of “spiritual gifts.” In a series of eight posts he explained “Why I am not  Charismatic.” Readers of To Be Continued will be familiar with it, as with our point by point response.

Back he comes, and not alone. For a new round the venerable Sam Storms partners with CMP to provide a balancing continuationist perspective. The whole shebang starts off with this podcast, featuring Michael, Sam, and a third voice Tim Kimberley. Three DTS-grad Okies. Now that’s balance, I must say (being an Oklahoma-born DTS grad myself).

Listen to the podcast, part of their Theology Unplugged series as a bit of an intro to the discussion. The meat will be the blog posts, however, and we already have the first two: an opening salvo by Patton “Why I am/not Charismatic: My Story,” not to be confused with Storms’ “Why I am/not Charismatic: My Story.”

First course: appetizers. We digest so you don’t have to.

First C. Michael Patton’s Story:

1. Raised in non- even anti-Charismatic soil (DTS-grad pastor) Michael experienced plenty to leave a foul taste in his mouth: a church split over “the gifts,” repulsive silliness and downright abuse, embarrassing excess at a pal’s church. Charismatics behaving badly: barking, flopping, issuing inane and insipid “words,” sealed the deal.

2. MacArthurism (“Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Charismatic party?”) loaded him with Bible-based proofs to match his mood.

3. So how did a guy like him end up at a place like UBSS, which he describes as a”Third Wave” Bible college? Open prophesying, unabashing tonguing, their name was Legion, for they were many. But with Grudem as the Systematic Theology? Harvard, Westminster, Cambridge, ETS pres, Calvinist–and Charismatic. Does not compute.

4. Since then voice after voice with theological and Biblical heft have articulated and explained a cogent, coherent Continuationist understanding: Fee, Mahaney, Piper, Moreland… (Time provented him from mentioning Scott & Marv apparently…)

5. Where is he now? Standing on the edge of the chasm–the Cessationist side, underwhelmed by the arguments that keep him there, but not able (willing) to make the leap to the greener grass on the other side.

6. It is a consummation devoutly to be wished, however. With loved ones who really, really needed healing–this one is personal.

And now for Sam Storms’ story:

1. Dallas Seminary and Believer’s Chapel: meat-lovers’ milieu both, and where folk not only think, but know the Charismatic wing is full of wingnuts. Now that’s a solid foundation for a future of Cessationism.

2. It was in Oklahoma where the wind came sweeping down the plain. While pastoring in Ardmore, he read D.A. Carson, and his Cessationist pseudo-foundation crumbled under his feet.

3. He came to the realization that the Bible taught Continuationism, but he remained embarrassed by the unsophisticated, overly emotional, underly intellectual crew he’d have to associate himself with if he went with the Bible instead of his background.

4. Yet he took the plunge. Preaching through Acts, and presenting a doctrinal study on the Spirit, he led his church not only in reading about the “stuff” but doing it. Somehow he managed the paradigm shift in his congregation without the whole thing blowing up in his face.

5. Catching up with Jack Deere, whom he had known at DTS, and who had made a similar journey, Sam was renewed in the gift of tongues he had known but came to disdain two decades earlier. He eventually found himself ministering at Kansas City Fellowship for seven years–more than a small step for a man from Believer’s Chapel.

6. After a brief stint teaching at Wheaton, he returned to KC and started Enjoying God Ministries. Today he is a pastor in OKC, where, like someone else, he spends his time proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

We are in for a remarkable discussion, with these two. Topics foreshadowed in the podcast include:

  • Terminology: Charismatic vs. Continuationist.
  • History: Through the centuries and three “waves” in the twentieth century.
  • Distinction from Faith Movement and Prosperity Theology.
  • What about the lingo: “sign gifts,” “normative”?
  • How serious should we take things: accepting? practicing? pursuing?

Whence Tongues?

By Marv

The vital and dynamic interconnection we believers share with the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit (since Pentecost) is patterned after that between the Father and the incarnate Son through the Holy Spirit (John 14:11,20). This is by divine design. The works we are empowered to do through this union, from loving our brothers and sisters to effectual prayer—and including “spiritual gifts” are likewise the same works as the Father did through the Son (John 14:12), now distributed through the Body (1 Cor. 12:12-13).

Is there not one exception? The gift of tongues evidently appears only after Jesus’ ascension, at the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. Though we cannot say with certainty that Jesus never spoke in tongues, the textual evidence appears to suggest that tongues is new with the pouring out of the Spirit. This difference between Jesus’ ministry and the church’s ministry correlates with another difference. Jesus was “sent only to the lost sheep of the tribe of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). The Church is sent to “all nations” (Matt. 28:19).

Now Christ’s overall ministry has always been for the nations as well as to the Nation of Israel.

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Is. 49:6)

There are foreshadowings of this ultimate purpose in the gospels. Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32) on the occasion of Greeks coming to see Him (vv. 20-21). Yet this phase of ministry does not engage in earnest until the baton is passed, as it were, to the Church as Christ’s Body, after Christ’s bodily departure from the earth.

That the form of this added charisma, tongues, should correspond so clearly to the expansion of Christ’s mission from the Nation to the nations is more than suggestive that in itself it carries a meaning. It is called a “sign” after all; it signifies something. That the impartation of human languages evokes the confusion of tongues at Babel is also hard to miss. I think this is perfectly deliberate, and I want to explain how I think this works.

If we compare Babel with Pentecost as to their relative places in the outworking of God’s plan of redemption, we find each one at a corresponding and in some ways inverse pivot point. The first eleven chapters of Genesis, far from being a mere string of Hebrew folktales, threaded like so many beads at the beginning of the Torah, lay the groundwork for the rest of the Bible. These chapters communicate two major elements, without which nothing in the remainder of the Scriptures would make much sense. The first is the introduction of the problem, sin, human rebellion to the Creator. The second is the first steps undertaken by the Creator to effect redemption.

We see in Genesis 1 God’s method of creating by dividing. The Babel account is not so much a “curse” as a hindrance to man’s collective ability, in order to restrain his descent into utter ungodliness. It is redemptive, or an element in the redemptive plan. It is a divide and conquer plan. By confusing the languages of men, He creates nations. Once He has divided mankind into nations, He proceeds to create a Nation for Himself. That Nation, in turn, will one day serve to bring redemption to the nations.

Beginning with the call of Abraham (Gen. 12) God builds a people, and with the exodus and the giving of the Law, He constitutes them a nation, His Nation. This is all ultimately for the nations (Gen. 18:18), but for a period of time the nations—the Gentiles—are segregated from the Nation by the Law. Understand that our word “Gentiles” is simply a rendering of the Hebrew word for “nations” (goyim).

It hardly needs pointing out that a major ongoing theme throughout the Old Testament is the separation of Israel from the Gentiles. This theme of separation begins with Abraham, just after the account of Babel and continues on through the Gospels up to the inauguration of the Church’s mission to the “all nations.” Then there is a shift, a radical change in orientation.

I picture this as a 90 degree shift. If the various nations are likened to parallel lines, such as in the grain of wood, then OT Israel operated on a national orientation, along the grain. The Church, by contrast, is like a line cutting across the grain, in trans-national orientation, “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9).

The book of Acts narrates the beginnings of this shift in orientation. It is one of the main themes of the book, which begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome. In chapter one Jesus sets the tone: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (v. 8). In chapter two, they do receive power, just as Jesus said they would, and they proceed, in fits and starts to fulfill Christ’s mandate to be a “light to the nations.”

It can be no mere coincidence that the moment of this shift is signaled by a phenomenon that features the praises of God being voiced in that languages of the nations (Acts 2:5-6). Babel produced the inability to speak in one tongue, Pentecost produced the ability to speak in many tongues. Babel was the starting point of the national orientation, in which God would plant His Nation. Pentecost was the end point of that orientation, and signaled the transition to a trans-national orientation, in which Israel was one nation among many (Eph. 2:11-17).

This phenomenon of Spirit-empowered utterance was new, in that it appeared in trans-linguistic form, but Spirit-empowered utterance was nothing new, as a perceptible evidence of the Spirit coming on a person for service had been seen in the past:

When he [Saul] turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day. When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. (1 Sam 10:9-10)

Were the disciples at Pentecost also among the prophets? Peter stood up on that day and directly declared this to be so (Acts 2:17-18). Though the phenomenon was “tongues” on this occasion, it was a manifestation of the prophetic promise of the New Covenant. Some two decades later (in Paul’s first letter to Corinth), we see that it was not a one-shot phenomenon, but remained and became part of the regular practice of the church (1 Cor. 14:26), attested to by Paul’s own use (v. 18), though it was not without controversy, apparently (v. 39).

Tongues functions in some sense as a “sign,” to unbelievers, Paul states (1 Cor. 14:22). I don’t think it is quite justified to specify as some do, to unbelieving Jews, but as we have seen, the form itself of the gift is a a declaration that the Spirit has been given also to the Gentiles (Acts 10:45-46), and would thus serve as part of what provokes Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11).

To say it is a “sign” is not to invoke the whole “temporary “sign-gift” construct. The sign-ness of tongues does not appear to express the totality of its usefulness. With it God is praised, with it the Church may be built up. We do not have much Scriptural narrative demonstrating an evangelistic use, but it would be surprising if this were not in the picture, and contemporary anecdotal evidence suggests it is. It is not just “an attestation to the validity of new revelation” or some such concept. At any rate, is a “sign for unbelievers” likely to be without use, as long as there are plenty of unbelievers to go around?

Final Response to Patton’s “Why I’m Not Charismatic” (Part 8)

by Scott

With this post, Marv and I conclude our series in which we have interacted with Michael Patton’s eight-part series entitled “Why I’m Not Charismatic”. You can also download Patton’s series in a 22-page PDF file.

If you want to read previous posts, they are here:

Michael Patton’s final section in his series, section 8, is his concluding explanation as to why he is a ‘de facto cessationist’, meaning, he is a cessationist because there is not enough compelling evidence in his personal life as to persuade him otherwise. He still maintains God’s sovereignty as to overstep the experiential boundaries of his life. But, in all, this is simply where Patton finds himself.

I do not despise one’s experience shaping their theology. Though some might disregard experience altogether, I believe it is part and parcel to our faith, as I have shared here. But what I would challenge any cessationist, de facto or whatever, is that we acknowledge and allow for experience to shape our theology right across the whole body of Christ (I am not saying Patton would not allow this).

It doesn’t mean we should not judge our experience by Scripture, as well as those we are connected to who are responsible members of the body of Christ. But our experience many times helps us understand God’s revelation in Scripture. That’s how it was in biblical times and that’s how it has always been right down unto today. All Christian, cessationist or continuationist, need to allow for such.

There are a few things Marv and I have already dealt with that come up in Patton’s final section of the series. And, so as not to repeat ourselves, I only bullet point them and point to other articles for consideration (or re-consideration).

  • On God’s sovereignty and our responsibility with the gifts of the Spirit – read part 6 (point #1)
  • On the terminology of normative and expectation – read part 1 (point #2) and part 6 (point #2)
  • On the gifts ceasing in church history – read part 5, as well as this other article on the charismata in church history

But let me pick up two more comments of Michael’s and then I shall finish with some closing thoughts.

1) Healings and miracles as gifts and via prayer

Just as there can be so much confusion over such terms as sign-gifts, normative and expectation, here is another case where confusion can easily come about – the means by which healings and miracles are outworked in our human world. So I want to break down some things practically as I see them from Scripture and I hope they are helpful in giving us a more holistic practical theology in regards to things like healings and miracles.

Specifically, many cessationists like to hold to what I would say is a more dualistic view with regards to healings and miracles. They would typically argue something like what Patton has stated in his article:

Most healings and miracles I have seen come through prayer, not through a divine conduit with this particular gift. (italics mine)

Do you see the two varying means put forth in this statement?

I believe such a person would further argue that the first apostles, and some of the other early church leaders, were able to see healings and miracles through both of these means: 1) commanding the healing and 2) prayer. But, following the exhaustion of their purpose in confirming the gospel message in the first century, a healing could take place through the channel of prayer and seeing someone get well, even get well rather quickly. But to walk up to someone and make an authoritative command such as, ‘In the name of Jesus, be well and receive healing from the Lord of heaven of earth,’ well, that really does not happen much any more.

You see the difference being pointed out? 1) Prayer and 2) Authoritative command because one has the gift.

Thus, I think we can easily fall into the trap of viewing prayer in somewhat of an unhelpful way, something like that set aside time, with our eyes closed, whether privately or publicly, to ask God to intervene on our behalf. Something like that. So, by praying to God in this kind of way for a healing or miracle, it becomes distinguished from the more instantaneous command that we might read about in places like Acts (or hear of others sharing such stories today). A case and example is here:

6But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. (Acts 3:6-7)

Now, I know that my above description of prayer is a very basic and naive concept, one that Patton and many cessationists would typically deny as their specific definition of prayer. But my challenge is that, some kind of dualistic thinking has developed amongst many Christians with regards to healings and miracles and how they are exhibited within our human world.

Of course, healing can come through prayer, as we read in these well-known words of James:

14Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (James 5:14-15)

And I suppose such statements below by Jesus will also cover the areas of healings and miracles:

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14)

But I believe we confuse the situation when we don’t recognise all things as flowing out of prayer with God, or the relational communication we have with Him. For didn’t James also remind us:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

Whether healing comes as a process (yes, it can be a process) or instantaneous, Jesus is still Lord of heaven and earth, and He is still the one we ask and rely on for healing. No matter if that is a set aside time of prayer with a gathered group or if it is out on the street as we interact with a broken (both physically and internally) world. We are in a place of desperate reliance upon God Himself.

Even if we want to divide healings and miracles into the two categories of instantaneous and non-instantaneous, both still ultimately come as a product of prayer communication and reliance upon God. And I suppose that anything we, then, command by the authority of Jesus would flow from the relationship we have with the Father as we listen to what He is saying (like Jesus in John 5:19).

I believe this prayerful focus and reliance upon God is going on ‘behind the scenes’ in places like this:

6But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. (Acts 3:6-7; the healing of the lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate)

And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31; this is not a healing but still quite miraculous)

But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. (Acts 9:40; prayer and instantaneous healing, and here is an example of Peter’s command for a miracle following his prayer)

9The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. (Acts 10:9-11; Peter went up to pray and had quite a miraculous vision and revelation)

5So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. 6Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. 7And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. (Acts 12:5-9; a miraculous deliverance in response to earnest prayer)

Shall I keep going?

My point is that I think it unhelpful to put some healings and miracles over in one category called prayer and the rest in another category called instantaneous via authoritative command. Whether such is instantaneous or not, whether it happens at the command of a human vehicle in Jesus’ name or not, it all comes via prayer communication in the name of the Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ.

While I understand the desire to designate healings and miracles in these two ways, these categories do get easily broken down at times, overlapping together, and all sorts of intertwining. And if we hold to these kinds of categories, as it seems Michael Patton and others do, I think we will 1) not be as prone to recognise the power of healings and miracles as God’s response to specific prayer times and 2) believe that healings and miracles no longer happen via an authoritative command in Jesus’ name.

The first instance is just as beautiful and powerful as the second, and the second instance still occurs today.

2) Relating to the closing of the canon

After hinting at this in part 7 of his series, Michael Patton revisits what he believes is a good analogy in explaining why he is a de facto cessationist. It has to do with how we, as evangelicals, believe in a de facto closed canon.

We believe the canon of Scripture is closed and should not be added to. This does not come about by really quoting any one particular verse or plethora of verses, but rather considering the theological ramifications with regards to the canon of Scripture (for evangelicals, the 66 books of the OT and NT) and its overall purpose. Christ is the full and final word of God’s redemptive and covenant revelation for humanity. Thus, our fathers long ago recognised that there is no need to add to such and, therefore, ‘closed’ the canon. To this, we would agree. Not to mention that this also allowed for greater protection against heresy.

Therefore, Patton believes this analogy is very helpful in considering the purpose of the ‘sign gifts’ (prophecy, tongues, healings, etc). Patton remarks:

I don’t think that one can make a solid case for the ceasing of the gifts from Scripture. However, I don’t think that one can make a solid case from Scripture for the closing of the canon. I believe that both of these issues are very similar. Could God add books to the Bible if it were his purpose? Of course. Could we cry “foul” and say “You cannot do that because our traditions and councils have said you cannot? No. We (Protestants) believe in the de facto closing of the canon. What does that mean? We believe in the closing of the canon because it, indeed, closed. It is a historical and experiential reality. God just quit adding books to the canon. Only after this does our theology step in and attempt to explain this by saying it closed because soteriological history was completed.

Yet, as you could imagine, I cannot agree with this kind of thinking with regards to the gifts of the Spirit (or one wants to call them ‘sign gifts’).

Though I am sure some will disagree, I think we can recognise that God’s revelation can be identified in varying categories. Interesting I say this, right? Because I just noted the insufficiency of the two categories many cessationists create with regards to the means by which healings and miracles are outworked in our human world. But I think identifying two categories or purposes of God’s revelation can be established.

I might identify God’s revelation in these categories: 1) redemptive and 2) non-redemptive. Or, those two categories might be too dubious for some, so maybe we should prefer these two classifications: 1) canonical and 2) non-canonical.

But what I am getting at is that every single bit of God’s revelation that has been given since the beginning of time has not always found its way into the canon of Scripture. It’s really that simple.

Now, we are assured of the God-breathed nature of the 66-book canon of Scripture. It comes to us as the word of God testifying to the Word of God, Jesus. But by no means does it contain all that God has revealed, communicated, spoken and done since the creation. If we think it does, we are simply misled.

God’s revelation has always continued on even outside the formation of the canon of Scripture, both when it was being written and since it was finished and closed. Not just in the ‘general revelation’ sense that we all agree with, like in physical creation or in the conscience of humanity (typically pointed out from Romans 1 and 2). But also in the specific sense of God’s purposes and what He is doing in the earth via His people. None of this would contradict the full summary of God’s revelation that we have in the Scripture. But, nevertheless, His revelation and deeds were not confined within the formation of our canon.

I will give you a couple of examples:

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

In his Gospel, John specifically took the time to record specific signs to help us believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in Him we may have life. But he also tells us there were many other things, significant things, Jesus did. Those many other things were not any less a revelation as to who Christ is and God’s purpose through the gospel. But John specifically gave testimony to certain acts of Jesus and left out others. Think about some of those other acts Jesus did, which John did not record, that brought people to believe He was who He said He was. But thankfully we have a continuing testimony of what Jesus did, in John’s Gospel, the other three Gospels, and the rest of the New Testament.

Now, some will say – That’s the point! We have in Scripture what was necessary and sufficient, but we need no more.

No, that’s not the point. The point is that the Scripture gives what is sufficient. But, by no means, does this rule out any less that God was actively revealing and doing things to attest to who Christ was. That’s what John said. And that is how it was prior to the arrival of the Messiah and that is how it has been with the sending out of His body. I can almost bank on it that plenty of people came to know who Jesus was via things He taught and did that were not recorded in the Gospels, but nevertheless were extremely important.

Another favourite example of mine is found in 1 Timothy 1:18-19:

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience…

These words, these prophecies, were never penned in any part of Scripture, that we know of. Yet Paul makes it clear that these prophecies could be utilised in waging good warfare, as well as holding to the faith and a good conscience. Must have been pretty powerful prophecies!

And I don’t even think all of the words came from Paul. In 1 Timothy 4:14, we read that a gift was imparted to Timothy through prophecy and that this was done by the ‘council of elders’. Paul was probably there as well (see 2 Timothy 1:6), but it was highly probable that a few different people spoke forth the prophecies (notice the plural in prophecies).

Again, these prophecies were never recorded in Scripture, but they were worth holding onto. Timothy could actually live out the faith with greater strength by remembering these words of revelation.

And, if we are honest, we will truly recognise that every revelatory word spoken by a prophet, apostle, or any man or woman of God, did not find its way into Scripture. I don’t believe God ever planned it that way. Well, actually, I’m certain He didn’t plan it that way, even if I only had the two examples above.

Not to mention the plethora of prophets in the Old Testament that never penned a word, but were still actively speaking on behalf of God. Nor would Acts have recorded every single thing that the church participated in during the first century, especially noting that it mainly followed the activity of three apostles – Peter, John and Paul – and a few handful of others.

So, how does this relate into Michael’s analogy?

A closed canon of Scripture, as our measuring stick for our faith, does not point to the ending of God’s revelatory words and deeds. This is because the greater purpose of God’s revelation was not a canon of Scripture, though that was extremely important. The purpose of God’s revelation is to reveal who He is, His character, His purposes, and His plan to see His rule and glory expand across planet earth.

God’s revelation and God’s miraculous activity was never confined to our canon. So the analogy does not quite hold up. Instead, God has not only been desirous, but has actually continued to unveil Himself in accordance with the pattern that He has always revealed Himself. This is our constant and consistent God.

Closing Thoughts

Both Marv and I are extremely grateful for Michael Patton. We constantly interact with his blog, Parchment & Pen, as well as on the theological discussion network, Theologica, that he began just over two years ago. We have a deep respect for Michael and none of our interaction with his series should be seen as ‘cheap-shots’, but rather as a desire to interact with and challenge a man we do respect.

I personally appreciate Michael’s openness to all the gifts of the Spirit. I believe his interaction with the wider body of Christ has allowed for such, and this will allow for continued healthy discussion on the topic. I can only hope that one day soon we shall also see Michael encouraging and exhorting the body of Christ about the continued activity of the Holy Spirit in all the gifts of the Spirit. Until then……