Tag Archives: Church

Another Reason Why the Historical Absence of the Spiritual Gifts Does Not Mean They Have Ceased

This is a guest post by Jesse Wisnewski, blogger at Reformed and Reforming and MDiv student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Back in February of this year I wrote a piece on why the apparent “absence” or “disparity” of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (i.e. revelatory and miraculous) is not a valid reason to contend for their absence today. Today I’m not going to rehash what I already said, but rather I’m going point to another reason why this position is invalid.

While reading through Garrett DeWeese and J.P. Moreland’s Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult, I discovered that this particular historical argument for the cessation of the gifts of the Spirit is considered an argument from ignorance (argumentum ad ignorantium), which is an informal fallacy of reasoning.

What is an Argument from Ignorance?

As defined by the authors, an argument from ignorance is:

This fallacy involves citing the absence of evidence for a proposition as evidence against it.  But of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence (pg. 20).

In other words, just because we don’t know something doesn’t mean there isn’t anything.

For instance, if I were to learn something new today that happened in world history, this doesn’t mean that this fact wasn’t true until I learned it.  It has always been true, I just didn’t know that it was until I first read about it.

How Does this Disprove the Cessationist Postion on History?

Even though many cessationists point to the supposed lack of historical evidence for disproving the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit today, the supposed lack of evidence is not evidence of their absence.

To claim that the supposed lack of historical evidence supports cessationism fails on two fronts:

First, it goes against history since there is a plethora of historical records (also see The Charismata in Church History).

Second, it goes against reason to say that the absence of evidence is the evidence of absence.

Although miraculous activity may have surrounded certain times in Biblical history (Moses, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and the Apostles) this doesn’t mean that the Spirit of God was not working at any other time in between or after those clustered periods.

In the End

When I first became exposed to the [reformed] Doctrines of Grace, I tried to force myself to believe in the cessation of the gifts of the Spirit.  It wasn’t because I thought it was Biblical, I had some bad experiences and didn’t like what I was seeing around town, on T.V., and hearing on the radio.

After considering the typical reasons given in support of the cessation of the gifts of the Spirit, I just couldn’t go there.  The case for the apparent “absence” or “disparity” in the quality of the gifts of the Spirit in history and today is one of them.

I believe that this position fails to take into account the relationship of the sovereignty of God in relationship to the gifts, the historical evidence for their continuation, and the logical fallacy of pointing to the absence of evidence for the evidence of absence.

This is another reason why I am open to the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit today.

The Spirit of Jesus and the Works of Jesus

by Scott

I believe that one of the most essential things to grasp in regards to our understanding of the Holy Spirit is that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

What do I mean?

Well, for many, especially specific groups that might be identified as sects or cults, they only recognise the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the Father. And, because of this, they de-personalise Him simply recognising that He is a kind of extension of God the Father, His power-force at work in the earth.

Such theology might remain in tact if we only had the Old Testament on which to build our theology. But one important pneumatological aspect the New Testament shows us is that the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. I believe this has bearings on two major theological areas: 1) the personal nature of the Holy Spirit and 2) the divine nature of Jesus.

The Spirit is no longer simply identified as the Spirit of the the Father, but also of Christ. And I believe this comes against the notion that He is simply a force (though there are points to consider with regards to the Spirit’s personality). And this also indicates what kind of nature Christ has, the divine nature just like the Father, since the Holy Spirit is His Spirit as well.

But where does Scripture identify the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Jesus?

And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. (Acts 16:7)

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6)

For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. (Philippians 1:19)

And it is important to also look at Jesus’ discourse on the Spirit in the whole of John 14-16. Though the Father would be sending the Spirit (i.e. John 14:26) we also see that Jesus taught that He would, likewise, be the sender of the Spirit from the Father:

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)

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

There is a differentiation from the Father, though not a complete disconnect, and a distinct connection of the Spirit with the Son. This is crucial within the Trinitarian framework.

But why such an emphasis on Jesus’ sending of the Spirit and the Spirit being identified as the Spirit of Jesus? Because the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, would continue the exact same work that Jesus initiated upon His arrival. This is why Jesus could say: I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you (John 14:18). And Luke could start out his second volume, Acts, with these words: In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.

The Spirit Himself, who was both the Spirit of the Father and Son, would be sent to continue the work that Jesus was sent to originally do. But whereas the work of the Son was limited in His incarnation, the Spirit would now indwell and empower the entire company of God’s people to accomplish the same ministry and works of Jesus. Going back to John:

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)

Now, I am aware of what I might term as the ‘selective group’ argument and the ‘time limit’ argument. What do I mean by these two terms?

Well, the ‘selective group’ argument states that these words of John 14:12 were only expected of the original twelve. But I’m not sure that is a very defendable position and we could simply start by pointing out that the verse utilises these words: whoever believes in me. But, maybe for some, it’s not as simple as that. So let’s move on.

Here is where the fallacy lies for some with regards to John 14:12. When we think of the ‘works of Jesus’ from this passage, at least for many, they jump to think specifically of healings and miracles. Of course, this passage does teach that those who believe will do greater works. But I don’t believe this is a qualitative statement, but rather a quantitative statement, since you can’t get much greater than the Son of God Himself in all His varied works.

Thus, some make that ‘jump’ that identifies the ‘works of Jesus’, at least in the context of John, as healings and miracles. Now, the works of Jesus do include healings and miracles, but they also include proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom, mercy on the poor in spirit, compassion for the hurting, washing feet of our sisters and brothers, loving our enemies, words of knowledge, lovingly touching the outcasts, and so much more.

So, here is the point. There really is no ‘selective group’ in regards to the varied works of Jesus. We have got to stop identifying this statement as only referring to the ‘sign gifts’ or whatever we want to term them. This statement is much broader than that. It goes across the board with the works of Jesus.

But, if we want to reduce this statement to such specific acts of healings, miracles, signs, wonders, etc, then we have to recognise that quite a few others were used in just these such things beyond the twelve. Such examples are:

  • The 120 believers at Pentecost (Acts 2:4)
  • Stephen (Acts 6:8)
  • Philip (Acts 8:4-7)
  • Ananias (Acts 9:17-18)
  • Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:46)
  • Agabus (Acts 11:37-38; 21:10-11)
  • The Ephesian disciples (Acts 19:6)
  • The Corinthians believers (1 Corinthians 12:8-10; ch.14)
  • The Galatian beleivers (Galatians 3:5)

And by no means is that a complete list, nor if we listed every single biblical instance of these following Christ’s ascension does that mean that we have then identified every such act. Even Jesus did a lot more than was recorded in Scripture (John 20:30-31). I expect the same was true of His followers.

But one final note connecting back to the original passage quoted from John 14:12. Read the rest of John 14-16, since that is the fuller context. For those who want to argue that Jesus was only speaking to the twelve, notice how many times the language is much larger than the twelve, referring to the whole company of believers to come. Do we not see even these words below as relevant to us today?

13 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. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:13-17)

Now I am quite fine to identify that Jesus was initially speaking to the twelve. But did Jesus expect all of these words to stop there? Can we really invest in the belief that this was for twelve and the twelve alone?

Ah, but what about the ‘time limit’ argument. Many will easily recognise that others in the ‘New Testament times’ were being used in such gifts of the Spirit. But sometime at the turn of the second century, possibly following John, the apostle’s, death, some of these Spirit-gifts came to an end. They had exhausted their purpose, at least their purpose for being normative in the life of the church.

But again, this thinking is very reductionistic. Why would we expect some portion of Jesus’ ministry to continue, say two-thirds or three-fourths or even 95%, but not all of it? Oh, I know the many arguments from varying passages and theological perspectives. And I guess I cannot address every twist and turn of the cessationist perspective here in this short post. But do we really expect any part of Jesus’ ministry to have ended? Or do we really expect any part of Jesus’ ministry to have become ‘non-normative’? Mercy and teaching and gentleness are for the regular life of the body. Prophecy and healings and words of wisdom are not. Huh?

Remember, Luke started off his volume two by saying his volume one recorded all that Jesus began to do (Acts 1:1). So Acts kicks off with an expectation for things to continue and you have a church launching out into the works, all the works, of Jesus. They stepped out with mercy, compassion, serving, prayer, praise, teaching, evangelism, prophecy, healings, miracles, and even something Jesus probably never participated in, tongues and interpretation.

Remember, the Spirit who is activating these very works, again, all of these works, is the very Spirit of Jesus. You could expect nothing less, absolutely nothing less than the exact things Jesus walked in. Why? Because this is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. It’s really as simple as that.

Jesus comes doing the things of the Father (John 5:19). He even announces that if you’ve seen Him, you’ve seen the Father (John 14:9). And so the Spirit comes initiating in Christ’s people the exact same things that Jesus started out with. And so the church, empowered by the Spirit, should be able to state, ‘We only do the things that Jesus did. If you have seen us, you have seen Jesus.’ If only that were our testimony more regularly.

And this is across the board. Not just with the fruits of the Spirit, but also with gifts of the Spirit. Not just with ‘signs and wonders’, but also with serving and washing feet.

The Father and Son sent the Spirit for a purpose. To help empower the entire body of Christ to accomplish the entire work of Christ across the entire planet. At times, it will involve laying our hands on the sick and seeing them restored. I remember a friend of mine who laid his hands on another young man’s hands that were filled with warts. He asked in Jesus’ name for the hands to be cleared, and when he removed his hands following the prayer, there was not a trace of warts. It softened that young man’s heart. But at times, it will involve serving a bowl of hot soup to a hurting and homeless refugee with a word of kindness. Both communicate the heart of Jesus. Both are wrapped up in the works of Jesus.

So let us look to see the Spirit of Jesus Christ Himself empower us to serve with the works of Jesus, however that may look today and tomorrow. We have a mission to accomplish and we will not complete it effectively apart from the Spirit’s work. We will not walk in the works of Jesus, in all their varied aspects, without the Spirit of Jesus Himself.

The Prophetic Body of Christ

by Scott

The gift of prophecy is not some arbitrary gift given to the church so that we can sound super-spiritual and have goose-bump experiences. The gift of prophecy is given for a reason, for a purpose.

There is one major practical reason that prophecy is given to the church, which is stated this way by Paul:

On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. (1 Corinthians 14:3)

Prophecy will bear fruit when it is spoken – fruit that will bring edification, encouragement-exhortation, and comfort. It might also challenge, but that challenge, if heeded as God’s word, will still stir these three characteristics in the life of the believer. It can cause a fog to clear, despair turn to hope, deep worry resolve to peace, and much more.

But, while this is a major outcome of Spirit-directed prophecies, there is still yet a greater reason as to why prophecy is still given to the church today. This might sound over simplified, but it breaks down into these 3 points:

  • As the very Word of God, Jesus was and is the great prophet of human history.
  • The Holy Spirit was sent in His stead to continue the work of Jesus, including His prophetic work.
  • The Holy Spirit is given to the church so that they may be all of Christ in the world today, even the prophetic Christ.

In a simplified manner, that is how it plays out. Jesus >> Holy Spirit >> Body of Christ.

Jesus is the proto-type of every ministry within the body of Christ, from prophecy to mercy to teaching to shepherding to giving to healings to whatever ministry might come forth. Though it might sound somewhat cheesy, we really are called to start with Jesus as to the great example of every ministry made possible to God’s people.

And this is the key to making sure His ministry would continue: Jesus promised to send another Parakletos in His name, even the Spirit of God. That was the plan way back when.

I have always loved these words of Jesus:

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

It was to our advantage that Jesus went back to the Father? Huh?

Yes, for in doing so He could send the Spirit that could now indwell and empower the whole body of Christ, not just a few select individuals. This was the cry of Moses centuries before Christ stepped onto the scene and promised His Spirit:

Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them! (Numbers 11:29)

And, so, when the Spirit was poured out on all flesh – male and female, young and old – this was what the ‘special’ prophets had been longing for and what THE prophet had promised. Peter has a revelation himself at Pentecost that what they were viewing and hearing was a fulfilment of the words of the great prophet, Joel:

17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18; from Joel 2:28-29)

The very Word-of-God-become-flesh promised to the give the very Spirit of God to His people. What a fantastic idea! For how could the body of Christ actually be Christ without His Spirit? How could we be Christ to one another and a hurting world if we did not have His indwelling and empowering Spirit? Well, we simply could not.

And, if the very Spirit of God was given by Christ to His church, would He expect anything less than for us to continue in all the varying ministries He Himself walked in? I cannot imagine such. The very Spirit of God who empowered the incarnate, fully human Son was also given to empower the current incarnate Christ in His fully human body, if you will. The hundreds of millions that make up Christ’s body today are Christ incarnate today. That’s exactly how He meant it. And Jesus knew that the best way to help us be Him in the world is to give us the same Spirit that empowered Him as a human man.

It truly is a marvellous plan.

So, in a much bigger sense, the gift of prophecy, while it is a blessing to us and we are strengthened by it, is given that we might continue the full work of Christ. And, again, every single ministry gift given has been given so that we might continue in the full work of Christ.

Thus, we find in this one of the main purposes of the Spirit of God being given to His church. It would not just be fine and dandy for Christ to charge us to continue His work without supplying and equipping us with His Spirit. We would have failed pretty miserably (though sometimes we do in the midst of such a provision). So, as the Father sent the Son, the Son now sends the Spirit. Quite a team.

This was to our advantage because, as a human-incarnate man, Jesus was only able to do so much by Himself. He touched many lives, but it was still limited as a human. But He knew that, as the exalted Christ, He could send His Spirit to empower literally billions down through the centuries to finish what He started.

This stirs me even now to complete His work, to catch the prophetic heart of Christ as I gather with the saints, have conversation with friends, and meet with the varying peoples that God brings into contact in my life. To have an ear attuned to what He might say, to speak it forth, and see it come as a kind of two-edge sword into the lives of people. This is a privilege.

But more than that one moment, we start to the get the sense that we are participating in something far larger than our tiny selves. We are walking out the very ministry of the Lord of heaven and earth. And, in doing so, we can be certain that we will see and taste the fruit of edification, encouragement, exhortation and comfort in the midst of prophecy. And that fruit will taste very sweet.

So, let us keep in mind that Christ has and always will desire that His body be a prophetic people. No gender barriers, no age barriers allowed, a true reality of the age of the Spirit. And we can, by the Spirit of God, speak forth the words of God that call people to be drawn in to the bigger purposes of God, the redemptive purposes of the kingdom of God. This stirs me deeply.

The Singular Role of the Third Person (Part 3)

by Marv

In parts one and two of this series, we have been considering how the Church is empowered by the Holy Spirit, following the model of how Christ Himself, in the wisdom of the Father’s plan, ministered on earth through the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus it is the role of the Holy Spirit to empower the Church to serve as the Body of Christ.

So what does this look like? The Scriptures make it clear that the works of Christ on earth continue, but with various functions spread out through the different individuals who make up the Church. Each individual does a part of this ministry, contributing to the whole, the community, the Body. It is the Body that does the work as a whole, and to the various individuals are distributed the various works.

One image that the Bible uses to describe these apportioned functions is “gifts.” These gifts the Spirit distributes as He wills throughout the Body:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Cor. 12:4-7)

Accordingly we see the individual church members doing these works as Christ did them. Let us see what this looks like:

1. Prophecy

Jesus gives a personal prophecy to Peter in John 21:18-19:

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)

In context this prophecy of Peter’s death was very much as Paul tells us for Peter’s “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” (1 Cor 14:3) He had failed in his love when he thought he wouldn’t. Jesus promises he will ultimately succeed in his love for Christ, to the very death, even though he now thinks he cannot.

Similarly, prophesy in the body of Christ has this same role. It is not only proclamation of the gospel, but also “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.”

Prophecy also serves to convict the unbeliever:

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)

By prophecy God is exposing the secrets of the person’s heart, “reading his mail,” as they say. This is what Jesus said the Spirit would do, “convict the world concerning sin” (John 16:8). Why? Because Jesus was going to the Father, and that was one of the works that He did on earth, as He prophesied to the woman at the well:

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. (John 16: 16-19)

Her response?

Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (v. 29)

“Can this be the Christ?”

God is really among you.”

So while the prophesies themselves are individual, personal in their content, they serve to point to Christ, to glorify the Father, to drive home the gospel:

2. Knowledge

Prophecy is just one example. We have also reference to the “utterance of knowledge’ (1 Cor. 12:9). What is this? Well consider this exchange:

Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:46-51)

Now it seems very clear to me that here Nathaniel understood Jesus’ seeing him sitting under a tree to be something other than natural sight. He reacted to this knowledge as miraculous. As a miracle, it is rather modest, yet through it God revealed Himself to Nathaniel, opened His heart to believe in Christ.

Similarly, New Testament believers experienced sight beyond the natural, instances of knowledge given by the Spirit for ministry.

Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” (Acts 14:8-10)

It is difficult to know how Paul would be able to see “faith,” apart from the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. He understood that apart from Christ he could do nothing. Indeed, he saw what God was already doing in this man. Jesus Himself said:

Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”(John 5:19)

If this was so for the Lord Jesus, how much more do we as His Church require the knowledge given through the Spirit to carry out His works?

3. Other gifts

Is there any need to demonstrate from the gospels how healing, miracles, distinguishing spirits, speaking wisdom, acts of service, teaching, showing mercy, exhortation and such are all works performed by Christ in his earthly ministry? And they are also works said to be performed by the body of Christ on earth (Rom 12:5-8; 1 Cor. 12:8-10, 28-30).

Many of the gifts however, explicitly entail communication through the Spirit. In one way or another, certain information, certain content comes to exist in the mind of the individual. The Scripture indicates that as in a human body, the head connects to and coordinates all the various members of the body (Eph. 4:15-16). A human body accomplishes this in part through the efferent and afferent pathways of the nervous system. It should not be surprising that Christ’s body similarly maintains interconnection through flow of information, sensation, and activation from the head.

This necessary and essential flow of information should not be confused with communication of a different kind.

The message of the Church is the gospel, the good news about Christ’s finished work. Proclamation of this message is the primary mission of the Body. It is sometimes asserted that true prophecy and any utterance of knowledge will express this message and only this message. Yet this is not at all what we find in Scripture, which indicates that the Body not only communicates with the world but within itself for such purposes as “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3). This may involve matters quite mundane, such as Nathaniel sitting under a tree or contain crucial and time-sensitive information for specific believers in a given time and place (Acts 11:28). All these are ultimately oriented toward the good function of the Body, and in that way serve the proclamation of the gospel, though not every individual message is in itself a gospel message.

Second, communication through the Spirit should not be confused with expression of doctrine or expansion of the Canon. This is simply not what the continued practice of New Testament prophecy and similar speaking gifts is intended to do. Only a tiny percent of what Jesus Himself said and did in His life is recorded in the Scriptures (John 21:25). In His ministry He spoke to many people the things given Him by His father to say (John 12:49). The Spirit uses what He wishes to effect His results.

So then, Jesus Himself, who functioned in the power of the Holy Spirit (though He was Himself God), carried on his ministry be being in continual communication with the Father, through the Spirit, as we saw above:

Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. (John 5:19-20)

We have already seen the similar statement in regard to us vis-a-vis Christ:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

Communication through the Spirit then, constant contact with Christ, is not only not presumption or denial of Christ’s work or pointing away from Christ. It is of the essence of the Church being His Body, and of the individual being a member of that Body.

In summary, the Holy Spirit empowers the church, yes, to proclaim the good news of the unique Son of God and His finished work on the cross. But He also empowers the Church to be the Body of Christ that does the proclaiming. The Holy Spirit in several places in the New Testament effects works of communication. This includes proclamation of the gospel, communication specifically about the person of Christ and about His work. However, this is not the only subject He communicates about. He also is described and exemplified as speaking to specific details of individual lives. This is the way He operated through Christ in His earthly ministry, and by multiple statements we are assured that He also operates in the body of Christ in these same ways. This understanding is quite basic to the concept of the body of Christ, and according to Christ is to continue as long as the Church serves on earth as His body, that is until the end of the age.

The Singular Role of the Third Person (Part 2)

by Marv

In part one, we considered God’s plan to have Jesus minister through resources that He would later make available to the Church. That is, He planned for Jesus, though Himself fully divine from all eternity, to minister as Man, anointed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and so in turn for the Church to be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

This explains Jesus’ sending language:

As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. (John 20:21)

This passing of the torch, so to speak, is also exemplified in Jesus’ instructions about carrying on as His disciples in the Upper Room Discourse:

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (John 15: 8-10)

This abiding is the disciple’s source of power:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (vv. 4-5)

This source of power is, as we have seen in the case of the Son of Man, the Holy Spirit:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16)

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)

…if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

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: 7-15)

The disciples, the Church, then is sent by Christ as Christ was sent by the Father. The Church testifies to Christ as Christ testified to His Father. The Church is empowered by Christ’s sending the Spirit to them, as Christ was empowered by the Father sending the Spirit to the Son.

Jesus makes it clear that this chain of sending and empowerment will have some astonishing results:

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. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:12-13)

Jesus’ plan is that empowered works by His Church not only testify to Him but bring glory to the Father. This is because everything Christ does is to glorify His Father:

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb. 1:3)

So much so that Jesus proclaims: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8).

He is empowered by the Spirit, in order to represent—in an ambassadorial role—to be the Father:

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. (John 14:10)

Amazingly, the Scriptures describe the function of the Church by similar expressions The Church testifies to Christ, represents Christ, and in an ambassadorial role is Christ for the world to whom the Church is sent.

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. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Cor. 12: 12-13)

The language is vivid. Christ came in human flesh, with hands and feet and eyes and ears and mouth, and He ministered through these. His plan, coming as a human, being empowered by the Spirit, making disciples, sending disciples to make disciples, was after his ascension, to continue to minister in human flesh with hands and feet and eyes an ears and mouth, through His Body, the Church. Thus Luke can begin Acts, the sequel to his gospel:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up… (Luke 1:1-2)

He continues to do and teach, through the Church, through His body. There is such identification that Christ asks Saul, then a persecutor of the Church: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?

The purpose of the Spirit among the Church is not only to point back to Christ, but to point to Christ by being His body. His unique work is finished. Yet He continues to be actively at work through His Church.

Is this activity in the world something He no longer does? Is that something that is completed in the apostles’ foundational ministry? How long does Christ intend for the Church to function as His body empowered by the Holy Spirit? Does He tell us?  I believe He does.

Peter says of Christ, in His empowerment:

…God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. (Acts 10:38)

God was with him” is an astonishing way to speak of One who is Himself God—but once again, we see the Father’s wisdom in empowering Christ’s earthly ministry through the Holy Spirit.  For God to be “with Him” is precisely an expression of that anointing, that empowering. 

Now this is exactly what Christ Himself promises us, His “being with” us, His continued empowering of His Church through the Holy Spirit.  For how long?  Until the death of the apostles?  Until the close of the Canon?  No, this is what the Lord says:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28: 18-20)

This expression “I am with you” is so familiar, we may tend to think of it as sort of a warm, fuzzy encouragement, expression of Christ’s concern for us. Yet in context it also is a statement of the Church’s Spirit-empowered mission. Let me state, that in distinction with various theories of cessationism, Christ’s tells us that His empowerment lasts until “the end of the age.”