Adrian Warnock recently posted a questionair on his blog asking “How Charismatic are you?” Here is the link to it:
Now, I am not a charismatic, and I found a number of his questions, and the assumptions behind them, odd. Essentially, the assumption expressed is one I hear a lot from charismatics: if you don’t believe in the gifts, your life as a Christian is stale. And behind that is an unintentional but implicit assumption that the Spirit’s ministry is mostly about the gifts, and only through them can we have a personal relationship with God. So here is a little response.
Firstly, let us understand who the Holy Spirit is and what he does. The Holy Spirit is God, like the Father and the Son, but a separate person. He proceeds from the Father and the Son, and what he says is what the Father and the Son tells him (John 16:13). He is the Helper, the Paraclete, who lives in the heart of the believer and causes him to walk in holiness to love and serve the Lord (Ezekiel 36:27), leading us and guiding us in righteousness and holiness (Romans 8:14), causing us to put to death our sin (Romans 8:13). He unites us with Christ, so that all that is Christ’s is declared as ours (John 15:14-15). Through the Spirit’s uniting us in Christ in his death and resurrection, we have access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18). We are adopted in Christ, united to him by the Holy Spirit, so that we may say “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:6-7, Romans 8:15-17). He seals our soul, declaring us to be Christ’s, and guarenteeing our inheritance in him (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Spirit leads us and sanctifies us by making us one with Christ. He equips us to live as Christians, both as individuals and as the Church, the body of Christ, who are united and are one in Christ in the Spirit. In this, as JI Packer states:
“The Spirit’s message to us is never “Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me,” but always “look at him [Christ], and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gifts of joy and peace. The Spirit, we might say, is the matchmaker, the celestial marriage broker, whose role it is to bring us and Christ together and ensure we stay together” (Keep in Step with the Spirit, IVP:Leicester, 1984, p66)
I could go on forever at this wonderful truth of the Trinity: the Spirit declares to our soul JESUS IS LORD! The reason why this is important in relation to the cessationism/continuationism debate is this: we all, if we are in Christ, agree on these truths. Therefore, no Christian can be a Christian without a deep personal relationship with God, simply because the Spirit testifies to our soul who we are in Christ, and works on our Spirit to sanctify us and mould us into followers of Christ. As JI Packer puts it:
“the Spirit is here to glorify Christ and that his main and constant task is to mediate Jesus’ presence to us, making us aware of all that Jesus is, so that we will trust him to be all that to us” (Keep in Step with the Spirit, p67)
Thus, to be a Christian entails an unavoidable relationship with Jesus through the Spirit. The whole Christian life, therefore, is somewhat experiential, as we love Jesus and seek to be like him.
Turning to the continuation of the sign gifts, I hope that it can be seen that one’s Christian walk is not devoid of intimacy with Christ because one does not believe that they continue. The issue of the continuation of sign gifts is one which relates not to the Spirit’s work as stated above - that aspect in which the Spirit communicates all the blessings of God which are found in Christ to us - but it is fundamentally about the question of what is the Word of God.
I would encourage you to read Richard B Gaffin’s Perspectives on Pentecost, as it is this book which best illustrates the cessationist viewpoint through exegesis and through the placing of Pentecost and the Apostolic ministry in its historical-redemptive context. I am not going to use this post to write a theological treatise on cessationism, so I would recommend that you read this book to get an idea about where I’m coming from.
My basic problem with the concept of continuing revelation is one of the Canonicity and the Sufficiency of Scripture. In very basic terms (noting what I have said above), the problem with continuing Apostles and the sign gifts which attested to their ministry (Acts of the Apostles 2:43 connects the gifts with the Apostles), is that should they continue, we cannot have a closed canon. The canon did not, as is often stated, come out of a council in which they decided on what books were God breathed and which weren’t, but that the canon developed organically, with the books retained being those which the early Church could attach to the Apostles.
The early Church saw the importance of the Apostolic ministry: that the Apostles were witnesses to the risen Lord, specifically called to be his witnesses to the world (don’t forget that the Great Commission is actually a specific call and ordination before it is a general call), and what they taught had authority as God’s word because of their position (notice how the epistles are often prefixed with “… and apostle of Christ” or similar, denoting a specific office with a specific duty). Hebrews begins “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”. The ministry of the Apostles is the testimony of this full revelation of God, the climax of the historical-redemptive history. In their words, Christ, in whom all that attains to life and godliness can be found, in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, is communicated to us, and through their words the Spirit attests to our soul who Jesus is.
Furthermore, the Word of God is the Word of God. It is nothing else. Read 2 Peter 1:19-21 to fully understand this. The prophetic word is the very word of God, a lamp unto our feet, and thus becomes just like Paul’s description of Scripture as mentioned in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, equipping man for every good work. If prophecy continues, then the Bible is still being written: we should be noting down all the prophecies and writing them down akin to the Histories in recognising God’s work in the world, or simply recording them as prophesies like the books of prophecies in Scripture. We should be exegeting these as the very words of God akin to Scripture. If God speaks, he speaks: the words prophesied are his very words, and should be taken as such, and are binding on all people as moral commands, setting examples for future conduct. For me, the only words which are his very words which we have access to today are contained in Scripture, and these words speak to us today.
Thus, God’s Word is the means by which God speaks to us. The Word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), not a dead letter. It is not merely a record of revelation in times past, but in and of itself, in its very words, God’s own words of revelation, through which God speaks. The Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Furthermore, it can dwell amongst us as a people of God, encouraging and convicting us (Colossians 3:16). Thus, there is warrant for what the Second Helvetic Confession says concerning the Word Preached (the Word Sacramental): “The Preaching of the Word of God is the word of God”. Wherever God’s Word is faithfully proclaimed, God speaks through those words in the words he inspired (i.e. Scripture). Thus, I find some agreement with JI Packer when he says:
“Prophesy has been and remains a reality whenever and wherever Bible truth is genuinely preached – that is spelled out and applied, whether from the pulpit or more informally” (Keep in Step wth the Spirit, p217)
Hopefully, this has thus far illustrated that a belief in the cessation of continuing revelation does not lead to a stale Christian life. God speaks in his Word! Christians since the beginning of time have known and believed this, and up until the 20th Century, all orthodox Christians believed that God has finished with new revelations, having completely revealed himself in Christ, whom we have the Apostolic testimony of. I love the fact that when I read Scripture, God speaks to me: me personally, through the illumination of the Spirit, and when I hear his Word preached, that inspired Word speaks through the preacher’s words, giving me life. And I know that all Christians who are Christians, charismatic or cessationists, know and believe this. The Spirit stirs our affections towards Christ, enabling us to love and honour the Lord who gives us life.
So worship is emotional for me, because it proclaims the God who I know as a Father, through the God-man of Jesus who made it all possible, and who I am united with by the Spirit. I often feel like raising my hands, but sadly because it has been nicked by the charismatic movement I have, alas, reservations in doing so because it may be divisive. I yearn for a deeper relationship with God, and I know that every time I read his word, my Dad (Abba, Father!) in heaven speaks to me, whether that is telling me of the things he has done for my brothers and sisters in times gone past, or in advice as to how to live my life in his service, or in explaining simply who his is. What a wonderful God we have.