Tag 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


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……

Response to Patton’s “Why I’m Not Charismatic” (Part 6)

by Scott

Marv and I are currently working through a series in which we are interacting 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 our first five posts, they are here:

To be honest, I believe this is the most difficult section of Patton’s series with which I have had to respond. It isn’t so much that the difficulty comes on biblical and theological grounds, but what has happened is that the lines have become extremely blurred. On a more positive note, this could be a good thing for the sake of seeing continuationists and cessationists come closer and closer to agreement, moving towards greater unity in this particular area of our theology (which includes practical theology or orthopraxy).

But with section 6 of “Why I’m Not a Charismatic”, this becomes difficult for at least two main reasons.

  1. Agreement that, because God is sovereign, He can do the miraculous.
  2. Terms like normative, expectations and sign gifts.

Now, I am aware some of these things have already been addressed previously in some form or manner. But they keep coming up, these same underlying statements. And, so, hence why I am re-addressing them, but hopefully with some newer thoughts.

1) God Is Sovereign and Can Do Miracles

This is where the blurring of lines, or confusion, begins. For example, Patton lays out this well-known argument from more modern-day cessationism:

Folks, we all believe in miracles to varying degrees. If you don’t then you have departed from the historic Christian worldview and slipped into some variation thereof (something of the deist sort).

I identify this as a more ‘modern-day’ argument because I am not sure you would have heard too many cessationists some 50 to 100 years ago arguing this. They would have believed that God certainly did (past tense) the miraculous in biblical times during the three main clusters of Moses-Joshua, Elijah-Elisha and Jesus-the first apostles. But the purpose of such had been fully exhausted long ago with the completion of the New Testament canon.

But, today, as Michael reminds us, we all believe in miracles to varying degrees.

I would identify these types of statements as a ‘get out of jail free’ card. I am not trying to be nasty here, but I am trying to be real. When it comes to discussion around these issues, many modern-day cessationists will slap this card on the table as if to say, ‘Yeah, well we believe in those things as well. We believe God is sovereign and can do whatever He wills.’ And, thus, this should settle the matter.

Now we must respect a cessationist’s acceptance that our God is truly a God of the miraculous. This is a starting point. And you even have people now, like Patton, who say they are open to all the gifts of the Spirit. But there is still much confusion when you start digging deeper into their belief, especially the more practical distinctions.

But I believe the arguments like, ‘Of course God is sovereign and, so, He can do miracles whenever He wants,’ can serve as a smoke screen. I suppose both Calvinists and Arminians believe in God’s foreknowledge and predestination, since the words show up in Scripture. But how does this break down for both groups? A lot differently.

So, Patton even notes some differences between the continuationist and cessationist.

A continuationist/charismatic is one who believes that the so-called supernatural sign gifts such as tongues, prophecy, worker of miracles, etc. are normative for the church and that we should commonly expect people to be gifted with them.

A cessationist is one who believes that the supernatural sign gifts ceased after the death of the last Apostle or shortly thereafter due to an exhaustion in their purpose. Therefore, we should not expect such gifts in the church today.

Differences? Yes, though oddly Patton makes this statement later on:

Even most cessationists believe that God could gift anyone with the gift of tongues or prophecy at his will.

This is where some can be left with a furrowed brow of confusion. What do cessationists believe here? Can God perform and give such gifts? Does God do such? Or does He not?

So, it seems at this rate, anyone could play a ‘get out of jail free’ card with regards to our beliefs. ‘Well, if God is really God and can do anything He wants, then He will do A or B or Y or Z.’ Or how about, ‘Well if God is really God, then He could reveal Himself to me.’ Or finally, ‘If God wants others to know about Him, He could tell them.’

Goodness, this all sounds like we are moving towards Christian-agnosticism. But don’t let the clay stand before the potter saying, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ There is responsibility with our faith. We cannot just claim something of black ink on white paper, or black type on a blog. There is responsibility given to the believer.

Listen, I am completely convinced of the sovereignty of King Jesus and that our Father in heaven can accomplish anything He wants. Nothing can thwart His plans. Nothing! But that will never stand as an excuse for the saints to not pursue all that God has for us in Christ by the His Spirit.

So, with regards to miracles, healings, prophecy, etc, we can’t just sit around and claim God’s sovereignty and go about our business as if we have ticked (checked) all the boxes that are required. We can’t even simply tick the box that says, ‘I’m open’ (see more here). Many have been open to Christ. But following is a different matter.

2) The Confusing Terms

Ah, but here comes the clarification of the contention and difference, this from Michael’s own words:

A charismatic, however, believes that these are normative and that we should expect them. Did you get those two important words? Normative. Expect.

The words normative and expect can cause the two groups to talk past one another, and even people within the same group can talk past one another due to these terms. Now, I already addressed the word normative in my part 2, but I thought I would reiterate some things and share some more thoughts.

I believe the use of these terms can become just another ‘get out of jail free’ card. Why? Because each person has a different definition of what is normative and what is to be expected. But just as I was not willing to grant the first pass, I cannot allow this one either.

Cessationist and continuationist would both agree that the fruit of the Spirit are normative and to be expected. I’ve yet to hear anyone claim for their ceasing and I don’t expect to ever hear such. But do we always see the fruit manifested? Heck, there are even periods when we might say the fruit of the Spirit seemed quite foreign to a portion of the church. I’m thinking the period of the Crusades, I’m thinking of western expansion into places like Africa or North America (all in the name of Christ many a times).

But, guess what? These are still normative and to be expected, right?

There have been times when polygamy was acceptable, but the norm and expectation, from a biblical standpoint, was to the contrary. There was a time when indulgences and penance were acceptable, but the Christlike norm and expectation should have been different. There was a time when slavery was acceptable, but the norm and expectation was to the contrary.

Ah, but this is much different with the issue of miracles and healings. Is it? I know what Scripture teaches as the norm and expectation of the body of Christ. Christ’s body is to be all of Christ in all the earth.

Michael goes on to remind us:

However, there may be times in history when miracles do happen much more regularly. God moves in time at his leisure and has complete freedom. We dare not attempt to bind his freedom with an artificial theological position of our own systematic comfort. I believe that there are times in history and places where miracles do seem to become regulars. But, generally speaking, they are extremely rare. Too much expectation can set us up for disillusionment. Most people don’t get healed. Everyone stays dead. Christian’s bills sometimes don’t get paid.

Wow! Let’s just hand out an infinite book of passes, those ‘get out of jail free’ cards. We need a bunch here today.

This kind of thinking, this kind of theology, this kind of practical theology leaves us with a bunch of theory and absolutely no expectation. In theory, we say it could happen. But we walk around with no expectation at all. That is not too healthy, is it? We never step out in faith to pray for the sick, we never take the time to listen to God as if He might speak, we never step out to utter that which we believe God is communicating.

Sure, we might fail or miss it at times. You know, just as those in the cloud of witnesses could have and did miss it at times, and all those since. I’m not trying to throw out my own ‘get out of jail free’ card. This is simply the reality that God’s people can and do miss things. God speaks and we don’t realise it. God doesn’t speak and we think He does. I’ve prayed for people before with a faith that they would be healed, and they weren’t. I’ve not prayed for people at times because I didn’t want to deal with the disillusionment of another non-healed person.

But, as a friend wrote in a song – Our disillusionment is how we grow. But I still want to take steps of faith. And as we keep journeying in hearing God, we will become more and more sensitive to the words of the Father, looking to emulate the Son’s own reliance upon the Father (John 5:19).

So, with the particular words normative and expectation, I think they become unhelpful on many counts. If a continuationist speaks of all gifts of the Spirit being normative or that we should expect them, I am pretty sure most don’t believe this necessarily warrants that we each walk around every single day laying hands on the sick and seeing healing or receiving revelation that we stand up an prophesy publicly. I’m not sure this was the mindset of even the early church. Maybe, maybe not.

But the problem begins when we take a more individualistic mindset on these things, or only viewing things from the standpoint of our own local church. We forget that Christ has a body of believers spread right across planet earth, possibly reaching the 2 billion mark now, which Patton testifies to himself on his own blog. Even if that number were a bit high, and even if we sliced that number to only consider those who were truly pursuing Jesus, we would be left with a large portion of people interested in pursuing the things of God. And to think that Jesus might even do something without the express permission of His people.

But in our western mindset, we only think about our lives or our local church. Yet Jesus is Lord of a body that spans across all 24 time zones. I’m thinking that, though you or I might not see a miracle today, God is quite actively at work all across the world and these things are taking place on a daily basis. Remember, 2 billion Christians today.

And please don’t put this off to just third-world areas. Yes, there is a lot more regular testimonies of miraculous activity in places like Africa, India and China. I have plenty of ministry friends that can testify to such. But I almost vomit when I hear someone argue that, the reason this happens more regularly in the third-world is because the testimony of Christ has not fully spread to those areas nor are the Scriptures fully distributed in these places. Huh? What?

So if these people in the third-world spread the gospel a little more, receive more copies of Scripture and acquire more theological training, then the norm and expectation would then be to see the miraculous fade? Are we serious? This only resembles the age-old argument that these things pretty much faded sometime after John, the apostle, died and the New Testament canon was completed. It’s just more suitable for the modern day. Please give me a break.

God’s activity, the norm of His activity, is to do that which only He can do – to reveal Himself, to testify to Himself, to break in with the kingdom rule of God which brings salvation, righteousness, healing, revelation, faith, hope, peace, joy, etc. That is God’s activity from Genesis to Revelation, which includes us since Christ has not returned to marry His bride.

As to our expectation, well Jesus did teach that those who believe in Him would do the works that He did (John 14:12), which is not only tied to miracles or healings or prophecy, but does include those. Luke starts off Acts by telling us that, in his first book, he wrote to tell all that Jesus began to do (Acts 1:1), thus expecting more to continue via His Spirit-empowered body. And Paul says to earnestly desire spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1), even telling us to not despise prophecy (1 Thessalonians 5:20) and to not forbid speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39). And remember, Michael tells us that Scripture actually does not teach that these gifts will end.

So, if they are not to end, and we have so much encouragement to continue on in these things of Jesus, then let’s get on with lining ourselves up with the challenge of the God-breathed Scripture. Let us take the free-pass cards back off the table.

Normative – Yes, knowing that Jesus has a people spread across planet earth.

Expectation – Yes, according to the teaching of Scripture, which Michael affirms.

As for sign gifts, those who frequent To Be Continued will note that we are not huge fans of categorising certain gifts of the Spirit as sign-gifts. It’s a dubious category that cessationists have created to serve their own purpose. I am a little more benevolent than Marv in recognising that this sign-gift category might be semantically sustained. But, if so, there is still nothing suggesting that this sign-gift group gets chucked out or becomes rare as the church moved into the second century AD.

Still, so we don’t get too repetitive, and so I don’t go on and on, I point you to this post and this post to read more about the sign gifts.

So, of course, it is quite easy for both cessationists and continuationists to espouse their belief in God’s sovereignty and that He can perform miracles whenever He wants. That’s great in one sense, but not too helpful in another. Doctrinal statements consisting of white paper and black ink don’t lead to something being a reality in our lives. Rather, we are challenged to align ourselves with Scripture’s teaching, this being true even if what we see around us is contrary to biblical teaching. And Michael Patton believes Scripture teaches that these gifts will not cease.

So, what is the next step? I think Marv already gave some practical points to consider in part 3.

Four Scriptures From Cessationists

by Scott

When discussing the gifts of the Spirit as found in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, or what some might identify as ‘sign gifts’ (i.e. healings, miracles, prophecy, tongues), the continuationist claims that all of these gifts are to continue through until Christ’s return. Whatever the label for these gifts, Christ meant for them to continue until He returns to make all things new. On the other hand, the cessationist might either say the necessity of these gifts have ceased or that they could still possibly be used, but they are not normative or regular for the church today.

The arguments from the cessationist side are usually centred around four passages of Scripture, as listed below:

  1. 1 Corinthians 13:8-12
  2. 2 Corinthians 12:12
  3. Hebrews 1:1-2
  4. Hebrews 2:3-4

Though there are definitely other passages of Scripture that might arise in the discussions about such gifts as miracles, healings, prophecy, tongues, etc, we might say these are the focus of much discussion. Again, it doesn’t all boil down to debating four passages from the Biblical text, as it is more about developing a holistic theology on the topic. Still, these four passages are very worth the consideration as one approaches the discussion of the work of the Spirit today.

So, let’s consider carefully what these passages say and, even more, what they are communicating.

1 Corinthians 13:8-12

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

I know Marv recently posted an article looking at this verse as well, but I thought I would share some of my own thoughts on this Corinthian passage.

To be honest, in the present-day, most cessationists will now agree that this passage in Corinthians is found lacking in support of their view.

Still, some cessationists use this passage to claim that the ‘perfect’ in these verses is the New Testament canon that would be completed by the end of the first century. And, since we have this perfect revelation of God as now complete in the entire Bible, we no longer need such gifts of the Spirit, since they were given to confirm the gospel message in the first century. When the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. That gospel is now firmly and solidly found in the Bible.

Yet, though I definitely believe that the New Testament canon is God-breathed and from the Spirit, we must realise that the ‘perfect’ of this passage is by no means speaking of the New Testament. We must read the passage carefully, the key being found in vs12:

Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Though vs10 states, ‘but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away,’ again, this is not speaking of the completion of the New Testament canon. Vs12 shows that it is speaking of the final eschaton when Christ comes and completes all, making all things new.

Who will we see face to face? Christ. Paul goes on to say that he would know fully, even as he had been fully known. Known by whom? Christ.

‘When the perfect comes’ is in reference to the final consummation at Christ’s return. Therefore, this passage teaches that we will no longer need such signs and gifts of the Spirit once Christ returns. We still have a lot to accomplish, and all of God’s gifts (healings, miracles, teaching, giving, leading, etc) are needed to advance God’s kingdom.

2 Corinthians 12:12

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.

Some cessationists would claim this verse is proof that signs and wonders were only performed through apostles. Not only that, but because apostles no longer exist, signs and wonders no longer exist. But, what we must first do is distinguish between the two uses of the word ‘signs’ in this passage, for it is used in two different manners. Go back and read the verse and you will see this.

The first time the word signs is used, it does not refer to miraculous signs. Rather, it is in reference to the phrase ‘signs of a true apostle’. What does this phrase mean? What are the signs of a true apostle?

Paul uses this phrase to contrast his work as a true apostle with the selfish ways of the false ‘super-apostles’ (see 2 Corinthians 12:11). Paul had just spent chapters 10-11 defending his apostleship and in doing so he tells of all the things he has been through for the Corinthians, mainly his suffering on their behalf. This is how the word, signs, is first used. Paul had come with the signs of a true apostle – having a servant heart for them, even willing to suffer for them.

He, then, goes on to say that he was also used in signs, wonders and mighty works’. The second use of the word is in reference to miraculous signs.

This verse does not teach that signs, wonders and miraculous works are only limited to apostles. And, thus, we cannot bring forth that argument that says such has ceased because apostles no longer exist. The phrase, ‘signs of a true apostle’, is about having a servant heart for the people with whom an apostle works, willing to lay down their lives for the people. And, as Paul came with those true signs with utmost patience, he was also being utilised in things like miracles, healings, etc. That’s the biblical context of this verse.

Hebrews 1:1-2

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.

From this passage, it can sometimes be argued that, in the past, God spoke through prophets. But now, in these last days, He only speaks through His Son. And it is the New Testament canon which faithfully, finally and fully testifies of the Son. Thus, prophecy is no longer needed.

Well, there is no doubt that the ‘last days’ are the entire time between Christ’s first and second advent (I even write about this more here). But, an interesting fact to consider is that, while the writer to the Hebrews was penning these words, prophets and prophecy were alive and well. The last days had come, the Son had spoken, but prophets and prophecy were continuing to function amongst God’s people.

So, why was prophecy still active in people like Agabus, Philip’s four daughters, the Corinthian church, the Thessalonian church, the leaders who prayed for Timothy, etc? Because it was still needed and it was never there to contradict or replace the God-breathed Scripture.

By no means can this verse be used to say that prophecy has ceased because we now have a New Testament canon. I believe that, to claim such, we would have to bring a specific viewpoint and read it back into this passage. That is called eisegesis, which is opposed to the proper study of Scripture through exegesis.

It is a true statement that it is the last days, and it has been for almost 2000 years. And God has chosen to speak through His Son. But such continues to be accomplished through the Spirit of Christ acting amongst the body of Christ. Remember, we are called to be Christ in the earth today. No prophecy will contradict the teaching of Scripture and we have such as our helpful measuring standard for what we proclaim and prophesy today. But Hebrews 1:1-2 cannot be utilised to say that prophecy has somehow ceased with the completion of a New Testament canon. The passage never states such.

Hebrews 2:3-4

How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Finally, as with 2 Corinthians 12:12, some cessationists will use this verse to show that the apostles and the apostles alone were the ones who had their message attested to and confirmed by signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit. But, with the completion of the New Testament canon, which recorded the apostolic gospel message, there would no longer be a need for such things to attest to the gospel message. We now have the revelation of God’s finalised canon of Scripture, so what else do we need, right?

But, as we have seen with the other passages above, we need to carefully reflect on the words of Hebrews 2:3-4, for they might not say what we initially thought they said.

To understand the context more clearly, we need to closely consider the details of vs3: ‘How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard.’

The first thing we note is that the ‘it’ of vs3 (referred to twice) is our ‘great salvation’. Therefore, vs3 declares that the Lord Jesus Himself first proclaimed this great salvation message. And, then, those who heard Him, presumably the first apostles, were also able to attest to that salvation message.

Therefore, the ‘attesting’ in vs3 refers back to the actual salvation message first proclaimed by Jesus. This is not speaking about attesting to the message through signs and wonders, etc. Rather, it was about proclaiming (attesting to) the message that they heard from Jesus Himself. It was truly reassuring that those first apostles could affirm and attest to the truth of the salvation message. That was one of their great callings. They had heard it first hand. They were the starting point for this gospel message!

But, on top of that, vs4 tells us that God also bore witness to their message by signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit. The attesting was to the salvation message. And, with that, God was also bearing witness to that message through signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Spirit.

‘Ah,’ one might say. ‘There you have that these signs and wonders were given to attest to and bear witness to the truth of the message. That is why they were given.’

Well, hold on a minute. Let’s think this through.

Of course, the first apostles were used in signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit in confirming the gospel message. All one has to do is read the book of Acts to see such. Yet, we must be willing to admit that the Holy Spirit also used others in signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Spirit. Here are a few people who were used in such:

We must also remember that tongues and prophecy are gifts of the Spirit, and it does mention ‘gifts of the Holy Spirit’ in Hebrews 2:3-4. We can see that the Scripture records that many others were used with gifts of the Spirit (including miracles and other similar things) besides the first apostles.

Thus, the wider church has always been used in all gifts of the Spirit. Some are not solely related to apostles or solely to a particular time period pre-canon formation. Such is not supported in Scripture, nor in the subsequent 1900 years of the activity of God’s Spirit amongst His people.

As a side comment, one of the first major cessationist works that looked to build the case that miracles were only performed by Jesus and the first apostles, and would subsequently cease with the completion of canon, was B.B. Warfield’s The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. Yet, Max Turner handles such a cessationist argument well in his book, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts: Then and Now (which I also review here). Here we quote a few words:

That miracles were thought to attest God’s messengers need not be doubted; but that that was their prime, if not exclusive, purpose was in no way demonstrated by Warfield (nor by his cessationist successors). As we have seen, within Jesus’ proclamation, healings and exorcisms were regarded as expressions of the salvation announced. Similarly, the prophecy and tongues of the apostolic church were not related to the preparation of Scripture, nor understood as ‘sign gifts’ in an evidentialist sense. They performed a wide range of beneficial functions within the church, and in individual discipleship, and were not in any way rendered significantly less ‘needed’ (nor less desirable) by the completion of the canon (as cessationists claim).

Later on, Turner declares:

As we have seen…, nothing in the New Testament suggests that healings would cease, and Warfield’s attempt to restrict their function to apostolic accreditation is baseless and reductionist. For the New Testament writers, the healings were not [solely] externally attesting signs, but part of the scope of the salvation announced, which reached beyond the merely spiritual to the psychological and physical.

Therefore, we must guard against making a hard-lined connection between apostles and miracles, healings, etc. While many have been used in such, there is no formula here of solely tying the two together.

Therefore, I am fervently convinced that none of these four passages can be quoted in support of a cessationist position. And, even with a passage like 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, the continuationist is convinced that Scripture itself points to the need and utilisation of these gifts until the return of Christ Himself. What a blessing to continue to see these gifts enacted by the Spirit of God. What an opportunity to see the Spirit-empowered saints moved by God’s Spirit, all with a desire to not contradict Scripture, but that we might edify the body and tough lives for Christ.