For Continuationism (Blog #11 on the Holy Spirit)

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The Gospel Coalition recently published two posts: one argued for cessationism and the other for continuationism. Cessationism is the belief that the so-called extraordinary gifts of the Spirit (tongues, prophecy, healing, etc.) ceased when the apostles died or soon after. Continuationism teaches that these gifts continue today. I recommend reading these posts as a general introduction to this discussion.

And this is a difficult discussion. Many teachers I deeply respect are cessationists: Tom Schreiner, J.I. Packer, Doug Wilson, John MacArthur and others. Many I respect are continuationists: John Piper, Wayne Grudem, D.A. Carson, C.J. Mahaney and others. My background is largely cessationist. Most churches I’ve been a part of have been largely cessationist and for all intents and purposes I’m a functional cessationist – I’ve never spoken in tongues, never witnessed miraculous healing. I don’t believe in a second baptism of the Holy Spirit after conversion and I firmly believe the canon of Scripture is closed.

And yet the Scriptures keep pushing me to believe in continuationism! There are two scriptural arguments for continuationism that I find extremely compelling. The first comes from Acts 2:1-13 when the Spirit descends in tongues and then Peter clearly explains that this event is fulfilling Joel 2:28-32 where the Spirit descends on all flesh. Joel, like the other Old Testament prophets used the language of the Holy Spirit being poured out to describe the inauguration of the New Covenant era and the restoration therein (cf. Isaiah 32:15-16; Ezekiel 36:26-27). The New Covenant will be an era in which the Holy Spirit reigns. Therefore, the nature of Old Covenant prophetic fulfillment suggests that the gifts of the Spirit will be experienced during the entire New Covenant era, not just the apostolic age of the early church.

Second, when I read the (much debated) passage of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 I am totally persuaded that Paul’s original, inspired intent is to teach that the extraordinary gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14 will pass away when Jesus “the perfect”  returns. Trying to change what this text clearly means feels to me like playing fast and loose with Scripture, a problem so common in our day!

Therefore, I conclude that the Bible teaches the continuation of the gifts and so we should “earnestly desire” them with discernment, care, unity, and love, holding firmly to Scripture as ultimate authority, and being alert to some of the dangers and abuses that have emerged in some charismatic circles (1 Cor 14:1). Much more could (and perhaps should) be said but this blog post is already getting too long…

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One thought on “For Continuationism (Blog #11 on the Holy Spirit)

  1. Your post made me remember this: I have an uncle, who was a very conservative Baptist pastor for many years in California. He used to say something like this: “God will never speak to you unless it is through the words of scripture.” As I have grown and studied scripture, I believe it is completely true to say that God will never speak to someone in a way that contradicts scripture, and he often confirms his messages to us with specific words of scripture, but there is an irony in my uncle’s words. I think it’s ironic that, in order to elevate the importance of scripture, he said something that cannot, in my opionion at least, be supported by scripture. I’m not talking about “new revelation,” but it certainly seems scriptural to me that God’s Spirit can lead me to sponsor a needy child in Peru, even though there is no specific scripture telling me to do that exact thing.

    Now, my point is to agree with you. I remember reading, I think, MacArthur’s attempt to make 1 Cor 13 teach cessationism, and I was struck by the irony of someone working so hard to elevate the authority of scripture, while twisting the plain meaning of scripture to fit his presuppositions.

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