If you would please turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 12 verse 1. Chapter 12 of Paul's letter to the Corinthians begins a three chapter section in which he addresses yet another issue that had arisen within the congregation at Corinth. This time it's the issue of spiritual gifts and more specifically of the use or function of spiritual gifts within the context of corporate worship and body life in the church. I want to use our time tonight to simply lay some general groundwork, so we're not going to work through an extended passage in Scripture. We're going to jump around a little bit, but I think this groundwork will be important so that we can better understand Paul's specific instruction here in his first letter to the Corinthians. We'll look at several passages of Scripture, but let's begin in chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians and use this first verse as I guess sort of a launching pad for this topic of spiritual gifts. Paul says, concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. Let's pray. Lord, how easily we are confused.
Our minds have been affected by the fall in ways that we sometimes aren't even aware of. Lord, thank you that you've given us a full and adequate revelation of yourself and of the gospel and even of ourselves so that we might know you and understand what we need to understand to be saved and to be fruitful members of your kingdom. Father, you don't want us to be ignorant of your will, so we pray now that you would open our eyes and that we might behold wonderful things from your word.
True things, helpful things, necessary things. And Lord, we pray that you would soften our wills, that we might subject ourselves joyfully to what you say. Guard us from the error of adding to your word and from the error of taking away from your word. I pray all this in Jesus' name. Amen.
You can be seated. I think that if we don't conscientiously ground our thinking and practice in the context of scripture's authority, then we will just increase the confusion and increase the disunity that's already evident in the church. I was tempted to just begin working my way through 1 Corinthians 12 through 14, the section in this letter that deals with spiritual gifts, and deal with things, disputes, disagreements, apply things as they came up. I realized that there's a whole background of theological principles and assumptions driving my interpretation of these three chapters, assumptions that I don't think everyone intuitively shares. It occurred to me that maybe a better approach, a clearer approach, would be to just initially lay out the theological presuppositions, the definitions first, and then we'll be in a better place, I think, to make sense of chapters 12 through 14. I'm going to go ahead and tell you up front that I'm going to spend the bulk of our time tonight laying a foundation for the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture because that's going to be a crucial component to properly defining the nature of spiritual gifts because this foundation has largely been neglected over the last century or so with regard to Christian teaching on spiritual gifts specifically.
If we don't get the foundation right, the whole building is going to look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book with towers and all the wrong places and stairs leading to nowhere. In fact, that's what a lot of so-called Christian teaching on spiritual gifts has become, just an eclectic, incoherent mix of assumptions that are driven more, I think, by intuition or emotionalism or even tradition than by the Word of God. But if we get the foundation right, then Paul's teaching in these chapters, I believe, begins to fall into place and make sense. We then have a helpful touchstone by which to understand Paul's words to Corinth and by which we can evaluate and utilize the different spiritual gifts in the church. So if you go home tonight and Google the topic of spiritual gifts, you're going to see some labels that are pretty prominent in the discussion, some isms that are commonly used in discussions of spiritual gifts. Now, I understand that labels are double-edged swords, aren't they?
They can clarify or they can really muddy the water, so we want to be careful. I'm just going to go ahead and embrace the labels tonight for the sake of efficiency and do my best to define them accurately and helpfully, just to sort of ballpark some concepts that are going to be crucial for us as we study 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14. Well, the first label or viewpoint or position is what we will call continuationism. Continuationism holds to the belief that all of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament continue unabated, unchanged for the most part, into the present day. The other label or viewpoint is what we will call cessationism, not sensationalism, cessationism. Cessation means a ceasing, a stopping of something. Cessationism asserts that certain spiritual gifts, specifically the gifts that are revelatory and miraculous in nature, were given in the time of the apostles to reveal truth and to confirm the legitimacy of the apostles and their testimony. Once their apostolic ministry had been completed and confirmed, these revelatory gifts were no longer necessary, and so they ceased, or they at least were significantly changed. Continuationism believes that every spiritual gift given to the church is perpetual, still in effect today, while cessationism believes that certain spiritual gifts were unique to the apostolic era and are no longer in effect in the same way today.
Well, that's pretty different, isn't it? If people hold these different views, you can see how one's view of these two options will radically affect one's interpretation and application of scripture passages that address the topic of spiritual gifts. Whole movements, whole denominations have revolved around the continuing nature or the ceasing nature of various spiritual gifts. Some groups hold so strongly to a continuationist view that they make particular gifts a litmus test of genuine conversion. Others hold to such a strict cessationist view that they will not acknowledge any legitimate use of certain spiritual gifts. Now, as is the case with most theological differences, not everyone falls neatly into these two categories. There are 31 flavors of cessationism and continuationism. Some cessationists are open but cautious to the possibility of certain gifts. Some continuationists are cautious but affirming with regard to some gifts.
And then there's people everywhere in between. So we don't want to assume that everything's black and white in discussing these things. Nevertheless, I think that these general labels as at least starting points are helpful for us in the conversation. Grace Church holds to a cessationist view. Now, if you talk to most of the elders, I think they would want to qualify that in some very important ways and we will certainly do that over the course of the next few sermons. But I say we are a cessationist church because our confession of faith, Westminster Confession of Faith, affirms that there is not a one-to-one correlation between how every spiritual gift functioned in previous eras of redemptive history and how they function today. We see this, in fact, in the very first paragraph of the Westminster Confession.
Westminster acknowledges that although God previously chose to reveal Himself and His truth through various means, such as through a prophetic word, a direct vision, a dream, He has preserved His self-revelation in written form and since that revelation is now ours in its completed form, quote, those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people is now ceased. A quick survey of church history reveals that prior to the Protestant Reformation, the 1500s, the church fathers held various views. Some were more continuationist, others were more cessationist. Justin Martyr and Irenaeus would be examples of early continuationism.
Chrysostom and Augustine would be examples of early cessationism. But the disagreement wasn't really a big deal until the Roman Catholic Church started pointing to so-called miracles to discredit Protestants and to discredit Protestantism. And so Luther and Calvin began systematizing the arguments that would eventually become what we know as cessationism and they did so in order to demonstrate that the Roman Catholic Church's claim to infallibility on the grounds of these various miracles that they were pointing to was a false claim. Now around the close of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th century, some Protestants would begin claiming the divine upper hand by virtue of God's supposed direct communication with them through means outside of Scripture and by confirmation of that direct communication through supernatural signs. So what historically began as a disagreement between Roman Catholics and Protestants has in the last century or so morphed into a disagreement between Protestants, predominantly between non-reformed and reformed Protestants. Perhaps the most well-known cessationist of our day is John MacArthur, who recently wrote a book about this controversy. The book is called Strange Fire.
Maybe some of you have have read that or heard of it. And while most reformed theologians remain cessationists, there are a few notable exceptions, including John Piper, Sam Storms, Wayne Grudem, and I think with some serious qualification, Martin Lloyd-Jones. At the denominational level, the continuationist, I'm having trouble with that word, the continuationist churches are going to be Pentecostal, Charismatic, Assemblies of God, and again with some serious qualification, some Lutheran denominations. Explicitly cessationist denominations like us include the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America, among others. One notable Presbyterian exception is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the EPC. Maybe you know some folks that are in an EPC church. They are sympathetic to continuationism.
So that's just a very quick history of the debate. I want to make the biblical case now for a qualified cessationism tonight. A qualified cessationism because for one, I believe it's biblical, and in fact safeguards the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, but also because this viewpoint is going to shape my interpretation of a whole lot of what Paul says about spiritual gifts. I read and understand 1 Corinthians 12 through 14 in light of some overarching principles that I believe are non-negotiable in God's word. So with that in mind, let me try and make the case for cessationism by highlighting several pertinent biblical truths. Once we've walked through the argument from Scripture, I'll try to draw some practical applications for us. And then the next time we're in 1 Corinthians, we'll be in a good position, I think, to dive into the specifics of what Paul has to say regarding spiritual gifts. All right, the first truth I want to highlight is this. Throughout redemptive history, God has revealed himself, his will, and the way of salvation through various means. And let me just say up front, my points are going to be all very long. You're going to be frustrated if you're trying to write them down. So if you miss them, I'd be glad to get them to you if you want the full thing.
I don't want you to miss out on what I'm saying between the points because you're trying to write the points. Hebrews 1 says, Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke by the prophets. If we go back to the Old Testament era, we can see God revealing truth in a variety of ways, sometimes some strange ways. In the Garden of Eden, he would walk with Adam in the cool of the day.
Wouldn't that be a wonderful means of revelation of God? To Abraham, he manifested himself as a flaming torch. To Jacob, he showed up in physical form and wrestled with him. To Joseph, he gave dreams and interpretation of dreams. To Moses, he spoke from a burning bush.
He wrote his law in stone with his own finger. In the wilderness, God revealed himself to Israel through a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. To Balaam, God revealed truth through the mouth of a donkey. In the temple, God revealed himself and the gospel through an elaborate system of bloody sacrifices that would point to Christ. During the years of Israel's monarchy, God would raise up prophets to speak the truth and sometimes act out various events and moral lessons that the covenant community needed to learn. In the exile, God continued to speak through prophets and even showed up in person as that fourth man in the fiery furnace.
We come to the New Testament and we see that God spoke through angels and through the prophet John the Baptist. The triune God revealed himself at the Jordan River. God the Son in the person of Jesus Christ. God the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.
God the Father in the sound of a disembodied voice. Throughout the ministry of Jesus, God revealed and confirmed the gospel through various miracles and healings, through sermons on mountains and sermons in plains and conversations along the roadside. In fact, all of these varied and creative means of revelation throughout history culminated in the one whom the Bible describes as the image of the invisible God, for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
And this is our second proposition. These varied and divine revelations culminated in the coming of Jesus Christ, who is the living word. Hebrews 1 goes on to say, but in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.
That is a seriously powerful word. In the beginning was the word and the word has become flesh. So what more can he say than to you he has already said? Jesus Christ is the perfect, complete revelation of God to man. But we can't see him. We can't interact with Christ like those first disciples did. Which brings us to the third truth. Jesus Christ, knowing that he would not be physically present after his ascension, ensured through the apostles that his person and work would still be proclaimed.
And this is the whole point of the Great Commission, isn't it? Matthew 28, Jesus says, 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. The apostles, through their verbal testimony, were to convey everything necessary for sinners to become faithful followers of Jesus Christ. But not only were the apostles commissioned to be verbal witnesses to the person and work of Christ, that verbal witness would be established beyond a shadow of a doubt through miraculous signs and wonders.
This brings us to a fourth truth. To confirm the witness of the apostles, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to enable the apostles to powerfully and miraculously proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus promised this empowering of the Holy Spirit in John 15. He said to the apostles, 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 and you also will bear witness because you have been with me from the beginning.
Jesus even says to them that they will do the works that Jesus did and greater works than these would they do. Luke elaborates on Jesus' promise in Acts 1-8 where he says that you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth. And then in Acts 2, we see the beginning of this Spirit empowered witness.
It tells us that the disciples were gathered together and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Miracles begin to happen through the apostles. Just as Jesus was attested to by God through various signs and wonders that he performed, so the apostles message would be attested to by God through various signs and wonders. The extraordinary signs we see in the book of Acts then were confirmation that the message of the apostles was faithful to what Jesus had commissioned them to proclaim.
So we begin to see a pattern, don't we? Jesus proclaims the way of salvation and his message is confirmed by signs and wonders. Jesus then commissions the apostles to carry on that work of the gospel proclamation and analogous to Christ's earthly ministry, their message is also confirmed by signs and wonders. We see them healing people and speaking in languages they've never learned and casting out demons and speaking prophecies.
They're doing extraordinary things, supernatural things as divine confirmation that their message is authentic and true. Well, the apostles are not going to live forever and so the Holy Spirit in his wisdom inspires them just as he had done with the Old Testament prophets to write down with perfect accuracy the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our fifth truth then is this, the apostles witness to the gospel was written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and preserved along with the inspired writings of the prophets of the Old Covenant. 2 Peter 1 21 says, no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit and this process produced a written testimony that is so reliable and so complete that we call it the very word of God and we stake our lives and our eternal souls on that word.
2 Timothy 3 16 says all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. Furthermore, and this is the sixth truth, that inspired record which is the very word of God having now been completed is inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient. 2 Timothy 3 17 tells us that this word of God is so sufficient that it perfectly and completely equips the man of God for every good work. Now if the word of God is as sufficient as it claims to be, it means, church, that there no longer remains a need for new revelation.
We have what we need to be thoroughly equipped for every good work. And it implies that there is no longer a need for further corroborating evidence of the revelation we already have, that that evidence that proved the revelation has already been given and included in the inspired record of God's word. Now perhaps you will say, well that's not fair, they got to see the miracles, we don't get to see them, to which I would simply reply yes we do get to see them in the pages of scripture. Those signs and wonders have been accurately preserved for us in the word of God. Now of course we can choose to believe what we read or not, but the testimony, the evidence, the proof, the divine authentication is right there in the word for all of us to see. You know it's interesting that Jesus anticipated this reaction. He didn't particularly commend the demand for extraordinary proof, although he often graciously accommodated it. In Mark 8, for example, we read, the Pharisees came and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him, and he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, why does this generation seek a sign?
Truly I say to you no sign will be given. After accommodating Thomas's unbelief by letting Thomas touch his wounds from his crucifixion, Jesus said, have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed. And one of the most powerful demonstrations of the sufficiency of God's word is the story of the rich man and Lazarus. You know the story, I'm not going to retell it now, but at the end of this story, the rich man begs for a miracle on behalf of his family. He says, if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent, but the request for a miracle is denied on these grounds.
They have Moses and the prophets. If we refuse to believe the word of God, we will not be convinced even if someone were to rise from the dead to tell us God's truth. Folks, the point is our problem is not a lack of evidence. Our problem is a lack of faith. It's the sin of unbelief. What more can he say than to you he had said? And so through Moses and the prophets and the apostles' witness, God has revealed himself authoritatively, inherently, and sufficiently.
This brings us to truth number seven. Anyone, therefore, who claims to have new revelation or who offers miraculous signs as corroborating evidence of new revelation incurs judgment. And I'll just let Scripture make the point without comment.
Isaiah 8, 19, and 20. When they say to you, inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony. If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. Deuteronomy 4, 2, you shall not add to the word that I command you nor take from it that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you. Deuteronomy 12, 32, everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do.
You shall not add to it or take from it. Proverbs 30, verses 5 and 6. Every word of God proves true.
He is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar. And then Revelation 22, 18 and 19. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.
And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city which are described in this book. So that's the case for cessationism, but let me draw a conclusion that pertains to our understanding of spiritual gifts since that's what we're going to be studying moving forward. And we'll certainly develop this further as we make our way through 1 Corinthians 12 through 14. And the conclusion is this. The spiritual gifts then that bear the same name as those witnesses and miraculous evidences of the canonical era, that is apostles, tongues, healing, etc., do so by way of analogy and not identity.
In other words, they're similar in purpose and function, not identical in purpose and function. We're going to unpack what that means as we walk through 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. I hope that you see that that conclusion is grounded not in subjective experience or emotionalism as so much that goes on under the banner of continuationism is, but rather that it is grounded in the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. Well, let me close then with some practical considerations for the contemporary church. First, it might be helpful to acknowledge and address a couple of common objections to the idea of cessationism. One common objection has to do with the charge of dead orthodoxy.
It goes something like this. God is bigger than just a mere book. I'm not going to put him into a box and say that he can only work through the Bible. The Holy Spirit is alive and at work in the world, so who am I to say that he can't work in the lives of people in whatever way he wants to?
My answer is this. To say that the sign gifts have ceased is not to say that God must follow our rules for him or stay in some sort of box that we've created for him. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Cessationism is seeking to let God define how he is going to work in the world today rather than insisting that my experience, my temperament, my subjective desires define how he is at work. Nor is this a denial of the reality and presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is at work in the world today, and his work is perfectly aligned with the written Word of God. In fact, it is only by the Holy Spirit that we can even understand and believe Scripture. So to say that God is no longer giving new revelation is not to say that God is no longer active in the lives of people today.
He absolutely is at work by his Spirit through his Word. Another objection is that cessationists don't believe in miracles, or at least have no place for the miraculous or the supernatural in their worldview, and that's simply wrong. I don't know of any cessationist who denies the possibility of miracles. It is God's prerogative to break his own natural laws when and where he pleases. What cessationism denies, as I'm defining it, and as I believe our confession defines it, is the presence of miracles as supernatural proof of new revelation.
That's what we're denying. Any claim to the miraculous that supplants the sufficiency of Scripture is denied. But folks, God performs miracles, things that cannot be explained in naturalistic terms all the time. So don't assume that the assertion of Scripture's sufficiency means that God cannot and will not ever work in extraordinary ways in time and space. He can and he does.
All right, let's close then with three quick points of application. First, in light of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture, we need to be guarded in how we speak of God's will and God's Word. I think sometimes we adopt the language of continuationism without even realizing it. We say things like, God told me to do X. And I think I know what Christians mean when they say things like this, at least Christians in our circles who believe the Bible and want to be people of the Bible. But there are plenty of professing believers who, when they say God told me something, really do believe that God told them directly and specifically.
That's dangerous ground. At the very least, it confuses the Word of God with a word from the Lord, a distinction that doesn't seem to have any biblical grounding. My heart is deceptive, just like your heart is deceptive, and we don't need to give ourselves any opportunity to confuse what God has actually said with what I feel like God has said or what I want Him to have said. You know, James, interestingly, exhorts us to qualify our plans about the future with that wonderful phrase, if the Lord wills, right?
You remember that at the end of James? If the Lord wills, I will do this or that. I think it's wise to keep a similar sort of qualification in mind when we speak about God's Word and God's will and God's ways. Maybe instead of just saying in a cavalier manner, God told me to do X, perhaps we should say, I believe that God would have me do X. Or maybe I think X is consistent with what God says in Scripture, qualifying it to acknowledge that we might be wrong. God is never wrong. Maybe it sounds like an unnecessary splitting of hairs, but if it's important enough to James for us to think this way with regard to our certainty of the future, I think it's important enough to think this way about the certainty of our impressions and promptings and leadings.
Secondly, I would encourage us to be appropriately skeptical of our subjective thoughts, emotions, and impressions. Everything in the Christian life ought to be subject to the propositions, precepts, and principles of the Bible. Now, some people might find this too restrictive, and so they find a way around it by saying, well, God still gives direct private revelation. It's just that this new revelation needs to be tested against Scripture.
But think about it. If it contradicts Scripture, it's wrong. If it doesn't contradict Scripture, it's unnecessary. So we need to train ourselves to rely more on the Spirit's illumination of the Word and less on our own thoughts and sentiments. And then finally, be enthusiastically reliant, enthusiastically reliant upon the ordinary objective revelation of God. We may be fully convinced of the sufficiency of Scripture and yet in life long for and rely on extraordinary things with far more eagerness than we do on Scripture. Maybe Scripture is just too normal, too mundane for us. We profess confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture, but then we live like practical continuationists ever looking for another confirmation, another sign, another word from the Lord. We're like Gideon or like the Pharisees who were always wanting new evidence, new proof, rather than by faith simply taking God at His Word. We become addicted to the novel, the exceptional, the sensational, not realizing the demeaning reflection that that cast on God's ordinary means of revealing Himself and revealing truth.
There's a phrase I hear a lot, and I know I've used it myself. It's the phrase, that's a God thing. There's nothing wrong with that phrase, but sometimes I wonder if it might not betray an unhelpful need in us for God to prove Himself in extraordinary ways rather than just trusting and resting in what He's already said. Now, I'm not denying that God does some pretty amazing things, and when He does those extraordinary things, we need to take notice. We need to praise Him for it, but you know, God is every bit as involved in the mundane and explainable circumstances of life. When I walk out my front door and see an amazing sunset, that's a God thing. But when I walk out my front door and see a gray drab sky, that's also a God thing. The cancer patient whose tumor inexplicably disappears, that's a God thing.
But it's also a God thing that my diabetic daughter is being kept alive right now through a very explainable, predictable insulin pump. That's a God thing. You see, false prophets and demons can imitate the miraculous.
False prophets and demons can imitate the miraculous. Church, that means that extraordinary-ness is not the measure of God's involvement in something. We need to learn to value God in both the extraordinary and the ordinary.
We need to teach ourselves to maximize contentment in the normal, the average, the usual, the common. If we're always needing the whirlwind in order to believe God, we run the risk of not hearing when He speaks in the still, small voice. And this is perhaps most evident in the sufficiency, or lack thereof, that we ascribe to Scripture. What more can He say than to you He hath already said? Are you listening to His Word?
Are you valuing that Word? Are you using your spiritual gift to promote that Word and to edify the people to whom that Word has been given? That's the question that we're going to take up next time that we are in the book of 1 Corinthians.
Let's close in prayer. Lord, we've considered tonight how you have revealed yourself. Well, Lord, may we not overlook or underappreciate the fact that you have revealed yourself. Nothing obligated you to help us or run to our rescue and our fallenness, but you have.
You showed up in time and space. You showed us the way, the truth, the life. So now, Holy Spirit, I pray that you would help us to understand that way, help us to believe that truth, help us to rest fully in that life, for we have no other hope besides Jesus Christ, who is the fullness of God in human form. Lord, thank you for giving us a trustworthy, written revelation of your Son. Thank you that we have in the Bible a window through which we can see Christ. Thank you for confirming that Word through signs and wonders. Thank you for giving us the faith to believe that which we haven't seen. And thank you that you are using all of these means, both the extraordinary and the ordinary, to prepare us for glory. Lord, we long for that day. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus. I pray in your name. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-03 11:19:53 / 2022-12-03 11:32:37 / 13