by Jeff Hagan
“GOOD” REASONS FOR BEING A CONTINUATIONIST:
In this section I’m going to be very brief on each point, with the exception of the one related to church history. As I stated earlier I was going to cover that with more detail later, and this section is the “later” I was referring to.
Okay, let’s get right to it. “Good” reason number one: “This may sound strange, but the first good reason for being a continuationist is the twelve bad reasons for being a cessationist! …no convincing biblical, theological, historical, or experiential argument…gives reason to believe that what God did in the first century he will not do in the twenty-first.”
RESPONSE: This is clearly weak. In the same light, no convincing argument in the same categories he mentions above (biblical, theological, historical, and experiential) gives reason to believe that what God did in the first century he will continue to do all the way through to the twenty-first. It goes both ways.
The second “good” reason to be a continuationist is the “consistent, indeed pervasive, and altogether positive presence throughout the NT of all spiritual gifts…The problems that emerged in the church at Corinth were not due to spiritual gifts, but to unspiritual people.”
RESPONSE: Okay, fair enough. But we all know a case can also be made that the incidents had a specific and direct purpose for a particular time and event.
“Good” reason three for being a continuationist is the “extensive NT evidence of the operation of so-called miraculous gifts among Christians who are not apostles.”
RESPONSE: Because it was true then does not mean it is true now. Many things applied only to biblical times and particular people.
Fourth “good” reason for continuationism, “the explicit and oft-repeated purpose of the charismata: namely, the edification of the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:7; 14:3, 26).
RESPONSE: In my opinion this is another stretch. For one, as we saw in the “bad” list the charismata served more purposes than only edifying the body of Christ. And second, there are other means of edification besides charismata. Like I said, I think he was reaching on this one.
Storms fifth “good” reason for continuationism is the “fundamental continuity or spiritually organic relationship between the church in Acts and the church in subsequent centuries.”
RESPONSE: I think what he is saying here is that the universal body of Christ which started with the apostles is the same universal body of Christ existing today. I fail to see how this is any kind of real support for continuationism, let alone a “good” one.
Sixth “good” reason ties back to the fifth. “…because of what Luke recorded Peter saying in Acts 2 concerning the operation of so-called miraculous gifts as characteristic of the new covenant age of the church.”
RESPONSE: Again, sorry to say I think he’s taking another leap here. It still doesn’t mean they are for today. I really don’t even think anymore commenting is necessary for this one.
“Good” reason seven for being a continuationist is found in 1 Cor. 13:8-12. This was discussed in the “bad” list. In this passage Paul says that the gifts will not “pass away” (vv.8-10) until the “perfect” comes. In the “bad” list I covered why I agreed with this point. Refer back to that portion if you wish to read it again.
Eighth “good” reason given is Paul’s words in Eph. 4:11-13. In reference to the gifts he speaks of them as functioning “until we all attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (v. 13). Because it is clear the latter has not been achieved by the church, he surmises we can confidently expect these gifts to continue until that day comes.
RESPONSE: Okay, I’ll bite. I don’t believe the above has yet been achieved either. But still, there are other ways to explain this passage that do not automatically require the gifts to be continually operative.
Reason number nine, “because the Holy Spirit in Christ is the Holy Spirit in Christians.” Again, a giant leap is taken here. We are NOT Christ.
“A tenth reason to be a continuationist is the absence of any explicit or implicit notion that we should view spiritual gifts any differently than we do other NT practices and ministries that are portrayed as essential for the life and wellbeing of the church.” He then connects this to church discipline, Communion, water baptism, requirements for elders and deacons all still being practiced today and then goes on to ask, “What good exegetical or theological reasons can be given why we should treat the presence and operation of spiritual gifts any differently?” And answers himself with, “None, so far as I can see.”
RESPONSE: Some being applied today does not equate to all needing to be applied today. How about separating men and women on different sides of the congregation? What about apostles? I could ask more, but I think the point is seen with just these two.
I am now going to reverse the order of Storm’s final two as what he lists as reason eleven is quite extensive. His reason number twelve is very short and unimpressive. So my eleven is his twelve, and my twelve is his eleven.
The eleventh “good” reason for being a continuationst is personal experience.
RESPONSE: Come on now, really. Although he admits it’s technically not a reason or argument like the others, he states he cannot ignore his personal experience. Well, experiences are subjective. Any cessationist can just as easily state that a “good” reason for being a cessationist is their personal experience. I mean, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
Okay, on to number twelve. I think this one is important and I think it’s one cessationists use when they shouldn’t. How they present it displays ignorance of church history or such a complete bias they ignore church history or somehow justify explaining it away. So, in Storms own words, the “good” reason here is, “the testimony throughout most of church history concerning the operation of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit.” In direct opposition to what many, if not most, cessationists argue, these gifts (or at least the recording of them) did not stop or vanish from early church history and life after the death of the apostles. Let’s take a look (if you want thorough documentation and more depth on this I point you to Kydd, Ronald A.N., Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church, Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984).
JUSTIN MARTYR (100-165), he bragged “that the prophetic gifts remain with us” (Dialog with Trypha, 82).
IRENAEUS (120-200), “…many of the brethren who have foreknowledge of the future, visions, and prophetic utterances…others, by laying-on hands, heal the sick and restore them to health” (Against Heresies, 2:32, 4).
“…members of the church who have prophetic gifts, and…speak with all kinds of tongues, and bring men’s secret thoughts to light for their own good, and expound the mysteries of God” (Against Heresies, 5:6, 1).
“It is impossible to enumerate the charisms which throughout the world the church has received from God” (Against Heresies, 2:32, 4). was p
EUSEBIUS came to the conclusion that these gifts were still active at least throughout the life of Irenaeus (Ecclesiastical History, 5:7, 6).
APOLLINARIUS is quoted by Eusebius as having said, “the prophetic gifts must continue in the church until the final coming, as the apostle insists” (Ecclesiastical History, 5:16, 7).
EPIPHANIUS, “the charism [of prophecy] is not inoperative in the church. Quite the opposite… The holy church of God welcomes the same [charisms] as the Montanists, but ours are real charisms, authenticated for the church by the Holy Spirit” (Panarion, 48).
“The work of Theodotus (late second century) is preserved for us in Clement of Alexandria’s Excerpta ex Theodoto. In 24:1 we read: ‘The Valentinians say that the excellent Spirit which each of the prophets had for his ministry was poured out upon all those of the church. Therefore the signs of the Spirit, healings and prophecies, are being performed by the church’” (Storms, p.256).
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA spoke directly about the exercise of the gifts in his time listed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:7-10 (d. 215; The Instructor, iv.21, ANF, 2:434).
ORIGEN (d. 254) recognizes the operation of the gifts during his life but describes them as not as extensive as in the New Testament, but they were still active and contained power: “And there are still preserved among Christians traces of that Holy Spirit which appeared in the form of a dove. They expel evil spirits, and perform many cures, and foresee certain events, according to the will of the Logos” (Against Celsus, i.46, ANF, 4:415).
NOVATION has left these words for us, “…this is he who appoints prophets…directs tongues, brings into power and conditions of health, carries on extraordinary works, furnishes discernment of spirits,…brings together and arranges all other gifts there are of the charismata and by reason of this makes the Church of God everywhere perfect in everything and complete” (Treatise Concerning the Trinity (ca. 245), 29, 10).
CYPRIAN, BISHOP OF CARTHAGE (248-258) frequently wrote and spoke about the gift of prophecy and visions given from the Holy Spirit (The Epistles of Cyprian, vii.3-6, ANF, 5:286-87; vii.7, ANF, 5:287; lxviii.9-10, ANF, 5:375; iv.4, ANF, 5:290).
GREGORY THAUMATURGUS (213-270) is recorded as having operated in several of the miracle gifts often accompanied with signs and wonders.
CYRIL OF JERUSALEM (d. 386) frequently wrote about the gifts in his time, “For He [the Holy Spirit] employs the tongue of one man for wisdom; the soul of another He enlightens by Prophecy, to another He give the power to drive away devils, to another he gives to interpret the divine Scriptures” (Catehetical Lectures, xvi.12, NPF 2nd Series, 7:118).
BASIL OF CAESAREA (born 330) frequently spoke about prophecy and healing being active in his time. He mentions “word of wisdom” and “gifts of healing” as necessary for the common good of the church (The Longer Rules, vii).
“Spiritual leaders in the church, such as bishops or presbyters, says Basil, possess the gift of discernment of spirits, healing, and foreseeing the future… (The Longer Rule, xxiv, xxxv, xlii, lv)” (Storms, p.259).
GREGORY OF NYSSA (born 336), younger brother of Basil, says this in reference to Paul’s words in chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, “Even if someone receives the other gifts which the Spirit furnishes (I mean the tongues of angels and prophecy and knowledge and the grace of healing), but has never been entirely cleansed of the troubling passions within him through the charity of the Spirit, he is in danger of failing” (The Life of St. Macrina, FC: 58:175).
GREGORY OF NAZIANZEN (born 330), gives comprehensive descriptions of physical healing of both his mother and father along with visions that accompanied them (On the Death of His Father, xxviii-xxix, NPF 2nd Series 7:263-64; xxxi, NPF 2nd Series 7:264).
HILARY OF POITIERS (356) talks about “gifts of healing” and “working of miracles” being done through “the power of God” also “prophecy” and “discerning of spirits.” He comments on the importance of “speaking in tongues” with the “interpretation of tongues” (On the Trinity, viii.30), NPF 2nd Series 9:146).
AUGUSTINE (354-430) was a fairly staunch cessationist early on in his life (tongues in particular), but later he changed his position. You see in his writings that he recanted his denial of miracle gifts. In fact, he documents 70 cases of healing right in his own diocese during just a two-year time period (City of God, Book XXII, chs. 8-10).
While it is true that in his Retractions, which he wrote at the end of his life and ministry (ca. 426-27), he states that tongues and the more dramatic miracles like people being healed by “the mere shadow of Christ’s preachers as they pass by” have stopped functioning. He goes on to state, “But what I said should not be understood as though no miracles should be believed to be performed nowadays in Christ’s name. For I myself, when I was writing this very book, knew a blind man who had been given his sight…I knew of some other miracles as well; so many of them occur even in these times that we would be unable either to be aware of all of them or to number those of which we are aware.”
Some more who are recorded as having miraculous gifts operating during their ministries: “Pachomius (287-346) and John of Egypt (d. 394); Leo the Great (400-461; who served as bishop of Rome from 440 until 461); Genevieve of Paris (422-500); Gregory the Great (540-604); Gregory of Tours (538-594); Aidan, bishop of Lindisfarne (d. 651) and his successor Cuthbert (d. 687; both of who served as missionaries in Britain); the Venerable Bede (673-735; his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written in 731, contains numerous accounts of miraculous gifts in operation); Bernard of Clairvaus (1090-1153); Bernard’s treatise on the Life and Death of Saint Malachy the Irishmen (1094-1148); Richard of St. Victor (d. 1173); Anthony of Padua (1195-1231); Bonaventure (1217-1274); Francis of Assisi (1182-1226; documented in Bonaventure’s Life of St. Francis); Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274); together with virtually all of the medieval mystics, among whom are several women: Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), Gertrude of Helfta (1256-1301), St. Clare of Montefalco (d. 1308), Bergitta of Sweden (1302-1373), Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), Margery Kempe (1373-1433); Dominican preacher Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419); and Theresa of Avila (1515-1582)” (Storms, p.261-62).
I can hear it right now. Some of you are objecting to this last paragraph because all of them are Roman Catholics. Let’s remember though that during this time in history that’s pretty much all there were. Apart from a few splinter groups and sects, there was virtually no exercise of Christianity beyond the Church of Rome (the formal split of Eastern Orthodoxy didn’t even take place until about 1054).
IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA (1491-1556) who founded the Jesuits and wrote Spiritual Exercises.
COUNT VON ZINZENDORF (1700-1760), as well as other leaders, within the Moravians.
JANSENISTS in the first half of the eighteenth century.
FRENCH HUGUENOTS in the second half of the eighteenth century.
JOHN WESLEY (1703-1791) defended the continuation of tongues beyond the time of the apostles.
GEORGE FOX (1624-1691), founder of the Quaker church.
GEORGE WISHART (1513-1546), John Knox’s mentor; JOHN KNOX (1514-1572); JOHN WELSH (1570-1622); ROBERT BRUCE (1554-1631); and ALEXANDER PEDEN (1626-1686) all have comprehensive documentation which provides evidence for their exercise of the gift of prophecy (I personally don’t recommend Jack Deere as an author, but the resources where this documentation can be found is recorded in his book Surprised by the Voice of God, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, pp.64-93).
SAMUEL RUTHERFORD (1600-1661), one of the main people responsible for the development of the Westminster Confession of Faith, is known to have believed the operation of the gifts were still active in his time.
CHARLES SPURGEON is thought of to be a cessationist due to the lack of any explicit reference to the operation of the charisma in his theology, ministry, or from those who have written biographies on the man. However, let’s take a look at some of his own words found in his own autobiography (Spurgeon, Charles. The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, Vol. II, Curtis & Jennings, 1899, pp.226-27). From the pen of Charles Spurgeon: “[While preaching] I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, ‘There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker, he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning morning, he took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it, his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence?’” He goes on to explain how his statement was true and found out after the man admitted it to a “city missionary.” Sounds eerily familiar to “prophecy” or a “word of knowledge.”
Spurgeon continues, “I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea if I was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons has gone away and said to their friends, ‘Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did…’ …I have known many incidents in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit” (Ibid.).*
So, what does all of this information regarding church history mean? Does it prove miracle gifts are still active today? No. Does it prove they actually operated as these accounts and resources state? No. But is it evidence? Yes. It is evidence that is beneficial for the continuationists case, but not so much for cessationists.
Cessationists need to stop making the false claim that there is no record of the miracle, or sign, gifts operating in church history after the time of the apostles. If one is going to be a cessationist that’s fine. There are plenty of strong arguments for which that case can be made. But to use this argument is inappropriate, inaccurate and blatantly false.