First I want to thank Eric for taking the Continuationist position even if it doesn’t describe him completely, his playing of devil’s advocate is helpful for both us and everyone else to get a better view on this important subject. I appreciate any challenge to my beliefs, and writings because the end result can only be a better position, and a more precise argument.
First I think you misunderstood my statements on how the Spirit works with the Church. I apologize if I wasn’t as clear on this as I could have been I will try to make it a bit more clear what I meant.
I do not believe that there is a contradiction between saying that God still works supernaturally, and that we rely upon Scripture alone to hear from God, to prove His gospel, and be the catalyst that saves His people (to quote myself). I am not saying that the Holy Spirit doesn’t work, for surely He does, what I am saying is that the time in which we live now, is different than the time of the Apostles. The Holy Spirit works with and through Scripture, not apart from it.
You see, in the time of the Apostles there was no completed Bible, in fact most of the N.T was being written while the Apostles still lived, but who was writing it? The Apostles were the ones writing it, but how did they do it? Did they just have a crazy good memory, great notes, or flashcards? Maybe, but we do know that Jesus promised to give them the Holy Spirit so that He could teach them all things, and bring to their memory all that Jesus taught; that they could write the Bible for us Christians who would live and not see or hear Jesus teach. The argument is, that during the time that Holy Spirit was bringing to memory all that Jesus taught, He was also empowering the Apostles and the early church with supernatural power, signs, and wonders in order to prove His Apostles message. So, not only did the Apostles claim to be speaking for God, they proved it with signs, and wonders, with miracles. Now we argue from scripture, that since we now have an established church, and scripture, the Holy Spirit no longer works in this way, because He does not need to prove anything, nor are there Apostles to verify.
Does the Holy Spirit still work today? Yes. Does He still perform miracles? Yes. Does He speak to people or use power to verify people’s messages, spoken outside the scope of Scripture? No. The Holy Spirit is not building His scripture for us, there is no new revelation coming to us, thus there is no need for prophecy in this sense. If we mean by prophecy, as someone speaking the written word of God to others, sure, if we mean prophecy in people speaking words of God that do not come from scripture, no. We are just saying that the Holy Spirit works differently in some ways today, than He did in the past; that there are some methods that He just doesn’t use any more, or so we believe, but this doesn’t mean He can’t work that way if He wants to. If God wanted us to hear from Him apart from Scriptures and through the Holy Spirit alone, wouldn’t He have not given us scriptures then and just had the Holy Spirit speak to each man individually?
The basis of what I am saying, is that now that the Canon is closed (meaning God is not adding to His revelation to us), the Holy Spirit will not speak to us apart from Scripture. I am talking about authoritative speaking here, of the kind that wrote Scriptures through men. Meaning He will not give us anything new, anything that isn’t found in Scripture. –God does work providentially in our lives and does “speak” to us in that sense, meaning He does lead us, and His methods for doing so are plentiful and are not in discussion here.– Of course one of His jobs is to bring people to Christ, to change their hearts, convict them of sin, to empower them in Jesus’s name, to seal them into the Kingdom, and never let them go. But I think from scripture it should be argued that we are not to look for Him to manifest Himself apart from the reading, study, preaching, and teaching of Scripture. God can do what He wants, but He does tell us that people are saved by hearing the Gospel taught in the Bible. Is the Spirit working in the background? For sure He is. Rom 10:14-15 says that people need to hear the Word of God to believe, to have it preached to them, but where does the preacher get the material to preach? From Scripture of course. What about 2 Tim 3:14-16 which clearly teaches that salvation comes from having Faith in Jesus, which you learn about in Scripture. What I am saying is that God uses Scripture, working through the Holy Spirit to save people.
The Holy Spirit will only teach people what is found in Scripture. The scary thing for me is that many people who believe that all these gifts still exist today, also believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to people apart from Scripture, and often times run around waiting for God to “speak” to them apart from Scripture. I do not think this is Biblical and thus unhealthy. Not that all people believe this, nor is this a reason not to believe in Continuationism, just because some people misuse it, but that it is something to be aware of. So Eric I do not believe it is a contradiction to say God works miraculously, and supernaturally and yet uses Scripture. Because isn’t even the Holy Spirit working to save one person a miracle in itself and a supernatural work?
Is it really personal and subjective?
I would assert that even a cessationist relies on this personal, subjective experience from the Holy Spirit to confirm the truth of Scripture. Just as the Apostles relied on their personal experience of the Risen Christ to confirm what Christ said about Himself, so too does the modern Church rely on the personal experience of the Holy Spirit, however it manifests, to confirm the Word of God.
If you are saying with A.H. Ackley:
You ask me how I know he lives?
He lives within my heart.
I would argue that this misses the whole point of why God gave us the scriptures. Greg Koukl has written a great article on this subject called “A Private Hotline to God” so there is no real point for me to re-argue it. Here is a quote from that article:
The question is actually two-fold: Is it enough for Christians to simply say, “‘You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.’ I have the confirmation of a subjective experience. I feel Jesus.’?”
The answer is no, it is not enough to say that. Because the Mormons feel Jesus. And the New Ager feels Jesus. And a Jehovah’s Witness feels Jesus. Lots of people feel Jesus. They have psychological certainty that they’re children of God and that they’re right with God.
The point I’m making is that the foundation of our confidence cannot be placed on the subjective side, because it’s too easy to be misled by subjective elements. There must be something else that gives us reason to believe that our subjective certainty– our personal confidence that Jesus is ours– is more than just an empty confidence, but is, in fact, the truth.
You see the point is the subjective really doesn’t matter, what matters is objective truth. It’s not enough to say you “feel” Jesus, you must be able to prove Jesus saves, or else you are trusting in pure wishfulness and who would want to believe in you, or follow you into your delusion? So, no, I and many other Christians do not believe that the subjective plays a primary part in our faith. Yes, the Holy Spirit works in our lives, but He gave us scripture so that we could say to our neighbors “here is the truth, test it, believe in it” instead of “well I feel good about this, why not try it and see if you feel the same”. You know why God gave us Communion and Baptism (maybe a subject for the next debate?)? To give us an objective, and tangible way to “experience” God’s statement to us “You are forgiven and are now My child”. He doesn’t just speak to our hearts, He gives us real and tangible means to communicate to us, Scripture and the Sacraments.
A thought on experience
We do not rely upon subjective experience, but the declared Word of God found in Scripture, which is objective and external. Our faith isn’t subjective, it is objective and external. Either Jesus is God, the Savior of the world, or else He isn’t, it doesn’t matter how I feel about it, or how my experience has been with it. The experience the Apostles had was primarily external, and objective, meaning they saw, touched, talked, and lived with Jesus. Of course there is a subjective part to it, meaning the Holy Spirit does work with in us, He does confirm Himself to us, but this is not how we should argue views, or the truth of our beliefs. If God wanted us to rely on subjective experiences He wouldn’t have given us Scripture, Communion, and Baptism.
Also do not forget that some experiences prove more than others. If I told you that in the privacy of my room I saw Jesus, you wouldn’t really have good reason to believe me, but if I and 500 other people said “we’ve seen Jesus” well then you would have many more reasons to believe me, 500 to be exact. Our seeing of Jesus was a personal experience, it was subjective in a sense that it was “I” who saw Him, but it was a verifiable, and reasonable experience for others to believe in. So some experiences hold more weight than others.
As to 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 I do not think we can be dogmatic on this either way. First I would like to say, that what is being referred to here by Paul is not that clear as this has been debated for a long time by people on both sides. I think there are arguments that it can go both ways. The completion and perfection, the becoming mature that Paul talks about, definitely could be the Second Coming of Christ, but I think there is warrant in saying that it could mean, not only the completion of scripture, but the establishment of the church, created by the Holy Spirit working through the Apostles.
Again we are getting to points where others have said it way better than I. “Cessationism Defended” makes a better case than I could, please read it for more in depth understanding of the arguments, I will just quote a section here:
It is clear from this passage that tongues, prophecy, and words of knowledge will cease. The main issue is when they will cease. It is interesting to note that these three gifts are specifically called out as being temporary, in contrast to faith, hope and love. Why? I believe it is because they are revelatory.
Verse 10 tells us exactly when these gifts will cease, namely “when that which is perfect has come”. The Greek word telios (perfect) means “brought to its end, finished; lacking nothing necessary to completeness; perfect” according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon and “having reached its end, finished, complete” according to the Liddell & Scott Greek lexicon. In other words, when the finishing of something has come, these gifts will cease. Here are some common interpretations of the word “perfect” (telios) in 1 Cor. 13:10.
- maturity attained in our glorified state. This mixes metaphors (explained below).
- the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ. However, Christ is never described in the neuter gender. This also mixes metaphors (explained below).
- the completion of the canon.
I believe the 3rd interpretation is correct for the following reasons. Firstly, this interpretation better explains how prophecy, tongues and words of new knowledge are incomplete (see “For we know in part and we prophecy in part” in verse 9). They are incomplete because, at that period in history, God had not completed them. Secondly, the third interpretation fits perfectly with the two metaphors that Paul uses to explain how the church’s knowledge will become complete. The two metaphors that Paul uses to explain the contrast between knowing or prophesying in part and complete knowledge are as follows:
- knowledge of a child vs. knowledge of a man
- seeing through a dim mirror vs. seeing face to face
It can not be emphasized enough that these metaphors must be taken as metaphors. The first mistake people make in this passage is to interpret the “face to face” as the 2nd coming of Christ. But this would be mixing the metaphor (“seeing in a mirror”) with something real (seeing Jesus Christ at His 2nd coming). Paul would never mix a metaphor with reality. If the first part is metaphorical (seeing in a mirror) so must the 2nd part (seeing in face to face). So, Paul is telling us that the completion of the canon will be like looking at someone face to face, compared to looking through the dim reflection of a 1st century mirror.
I agree with the Author here that it seems most likely that he is referring to the completion of the canon. Of course Paul is including himself in this because the church has not been built yet, nor has the canon, since others like John were writing it. I think it is reasonable to assume that Paul could have been saying something like “we know that once God is done building what He wants to build here, somethings will be done away with, since they are still here God is still working and building and our growth is not completed yet.” I think the danger here is on both sides to read too much into it, so we do have to be careful. However, I think because Apostles ended with John’s death, it makes since that other things could have ended, and that event could have marked the perfection that Paul was talking about. The key with these passages is to read them as they are, and not read them as we have grown up hearing how they should be read. This interpretation is something I have never heard before and I find it compelling, the view Eric says is the one I have grown up hearing, and it is hard for me to see it any other way, since things taught to one in their youth stick, some times undesirably, too much.
I think this passage could go both ways, but I think the fact that there are no more Apostles around now days, hints to me that perhaps it should be read like this Author proposes.
There is a lot to expand on here, and I could write a book picking every sentence apart if not just to be clear on everything, however I do believe this should give us some more food for thought.
One thing I would like someone to answer is how do Continuationists defend the lack of healings like people being raised from the dead? Are all these reports 2nd, 3rd, 4th hand? Why do these things supposedly mostly happen in 3rd world countries? Why do we, in a hugely populated country of Christians, not see people being raised from the dead, the blind seeing, and the lame being healed, at least in any real provable way? I would love to see sources on this.
Any ways back to you Eric, and hopefully some people will jump in with their thoughts. Until then Sola Deo Gloria and Coram Deo!