I’ve had an interesting journey these last 8 years of being a Christian. Having been raised Catholic, I certainly had encountered the biblical narrative of creation-fall-redemption-restoration, but I never had real faith. I believed that God existed, but that was it.
At the age of 13, on June 10, 2004, I truly encountered Christ when He saved me. Following in my brother’s footsteps, especially because he was the one who led me to Christ, I found myself deeply committed to a charismatic/pentecostal view of God and His work in our lives. I sought the Lord for His anointing, crying out for Him to heal those around me and work miracles, signs, and wonders. I prayed that I might receive the gift of tongues, and I prayed over quite a few people to receive it as well. This was my life for at least two years after I had been saved.
Eventually, God drew me out of the charismatic movement. There were too many inconsistencies. You weren’t healed unless you had enough faith—but faith is a gift from God, isn’t it? God doesn’t fail to heal anyone He intends to heal, right? God’s power isn’t based on my strength, is it? Is not God sovereign and capable of doing all He pleases? Questions like this eventually forced me to abandon much that I had been clutching. It was frightening. I thought that I had been misled, believing lies that encouraged me to seek God’s gift instead of God Himself. I wanted miracles, signs, and wonders, but would often get so caught up in the miracles and the healings that I would focus more on them than the miracle Worker.
And, while I cannot repudiate my experiences and still believe fully that the gifts are for today, in spite of the tendency of the Reformed churches towards cessationism (i.e. the belief that the sign gifts “ceased” with the end of the apostolic age, primarily because of the completed revelation of the New Testament canon), my understanding has significantly changed. I am firmly Reformed because I believe that the Scriptures clearly explain the doctrines of grace, the sovereignty of God, the overarching and unifying theme of God interacting with His people within covenants that He initiates, etc. But I cannot agree with the explanations that cessationists use to explain away the gifts.
The main passage that I am aware of that is used to show that the gifts have ceased is in 1 Cor. 13:
“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” (1 Cor. 13:8-12).
Those who hold to cessationism would say that the “perfect” described in this passage is the perfect, inerrant revelation of the New Testament, which closes the canon of Scripture (Old and New Testaments). When the perfect comes, prophecy, tongues, and the revelatory gifts will cease.
The reason I can’t agree with this interpretation is because the “perfect” coming is explained in relational terms and suggests a level of knowledge and understanding that cannot be represented by our current understanding—whether we have Scripture or not. It says that Paul only sees in a mirror dimply, but then we will see face to face; that he only knew in part, but when the perfect comes we will all know fully and be fully known. I don’t think that we can adequately suggest that we know fully, even with Scripture as our guide. Scripture is sufficient for teaching us everything that we need to live a God-honoring life, but does it contain the full knowledge of God? No, it doesn’t. The book of John says that if all the things Jesus did during His earthly ministry were recorded, there would not be enough room in all the books in the world to contain them (John 21;25). The full knowledge of God cannot be contained in one book. It is unthinkable.
Does that detract from the sufficiency of Scripture? No, not in the least. God has given us a perfect revelation that clearly demonstrates the truth and is used by Him to lead us into truth. To say that there is more than we have in Scripture does not weaken what we already have. Rather, it is safe to say that we have yet to experience what Paul is describing in this passage. I do not know fully, nor am I fully known in the way that I will be when I stand in Christ’s presence. The only adequate interpretation of this passage is that it must refer to the final consummation—when Christ returns and fully inaugurates His kingdom.
What, then, do we do concerning the gifts? Are we to seek them? What might that look like? Can we expect the Holy Spirit to move? If so, can we withstand the excesses and lack of order that are seen in some charismatic circles?
I’m going to explore some of these questions in a few posts. I pray that God will work deeply in me to understand these things much more fully. I’m sure I have only scratched the surface.