Spiritual Gifts and Graces – What is cessationalism?

Spiritual gifts and graces basic logo Cessationism is the belief that the miracles performed Jesus and the apostles occurred  solely to attest to the authority and inspiration of the New Testament, and that spiritual gifts ceased after the writing of the NT was finished.

 

As writers such as Jack Deere have argued, this is a position with no biblical foundation. He shows that miracles authentic the character of Jesus (John 3.2; 9:32-33; etc.) and the message of Jesus (Mk 16.20) but have nothing to say about the apostles! His argument makes convincing reading in Surprised by the Power of the Spirit.

 

It also has a problem with the historical record. That record shows clearly that the early church was quite active in the charismatic gifts at least through 200 AD. There was a decline in the 3rd century, and then again became active.

 

The early church experienced martyrdom and persecution, resisted Gnostics and Arians and doctrinal disputes, and established which of the books we accept as the New Testament canon.  Tertullian scoffed at those who tried to translate the gospel into the categories of Greek philosophy. Origen of Alexandria nearly single-handedly invented the systematic study of the Bible.  Irenaeus defended the faith against a host of heresies and spoke of the Work of Christ in illuminating new ways.  Cyprian insisted on the unity of the church and its necessity for salvation.

 

And this same early church and same church fathers from the 100s to well beyond the 200s AD  — Tertullian, Cyprian, Irenaeus, and many more — experienced and wrote about miracles of healing, prophecy, and exorcism as everyday occurrences in the church.

 

Tertullian is typical when he says “God everywhere manifests signs of his own power—to his own people for their comfort, to strangers for a testimony unto them” (Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul).

 

In other words, the early Christian church was a charismatic church. A community of Christians in the 100s and 200s continued to experience the charismata, the spiritual gifts, described by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians.

 

The influential bishop of Carthage, Cyprian, for example, says:

In Christianity there is conferred (upon pure chastity, upon a pure mind, upon pure speech) the gift of healing the sick by rendering poisonous potions harmless, by restoring the deranged to health, and thus purifying them from ignominious pains, by commanding peace for the hostile, rest for the violent, and gentleness for the unruly, by forcing—under stress of threats and invective—a confession from unclean and roving spirits who have come to dwell within mankind, by roughly ordering them out, and stretching them out with struggles, howls, and groans, as their sufferings on the rack, by lashing them with scourges, and burning them with fire. This is what goes on, though no one sees it; the punishments are hidden, but the penalty is open. Thus what we have already begun to be, that is, the Spirit we have received, comes into its kingdom.

Harnack’s list

The 19th-century church historian Adolf Harnack, in his Mission and Expansion of Christianity, categorises the charismatic activities of the 2nd- and 3rd-century church —and the list is impressive:

(1) God speaks to the missionaries in visions, dreams, and ecstasy, revealing to them affairs of moment and also trifles, controlling their plans, pointing out the roads on which they are to travel, the cities where they are to stay, and the persons whom they are to visit. Visions occur especially after a martyrdom, the dead martyr appearing to his friends during the weeks that immediately follow his death, as in the case of Potamiaena (Eus., H.E., vi. 5), or of Cyprian, or of many others.

It was by means of dreams that Arnobius (Jerome, Chron., p. 326) and others were converted. Even in the middle of the third century, the two great bishops Dionysius and Cyprian’ were both visionaries. . . .

 

(2) At the missionary addresses of the apostles or evangelist, or at the services of the churches which they founded, sudden movements of rapture are experienced, many of them being simultaneous seizures; these are either full of terror and dismay, convulsing the whole spiritual life, or exultant outbursts of a joy that sees heaven opened to its eyes. The simple question, “What must I do to be saved?” also bursts upon the mind with an elemental force.

 

(3) Some are inspired who have power to clothe their experience in words-prophets to explain the past, to interpret and to fathom the present, and to foretell the future. Their prophecies relate to the general course of history, but also to the fortunes of individuals, to what individuals are to do or leave undone.

 

(4) Brethren are inspired with the impulse to improvise prayers and hymns and psalms.

 

(5) Others are so filled with the Spirit that they lose consciousness and break out in stammering speech and cries, or in unintelligible utterances—which can be interpreted, however, by those who have the gift.

 

(6) Into the hands of others, again, the Spirit slips a pen, either in an

ecstasy or in exalted moments of spiritual tension; they not merely speak but write as they are bidden.

 

(7) Sick persons are brought and healed by the missionaries, or by brethren who have been but recently awakened; wild paroxysms of terror before God’s presence are also soothed, and in the name of Jesus demons are cast out.

 

(8) The Spirit impels men to an immense variety of extraordinary actions—to symbolic actions which are meant to reveal some mystery or to give some directions for life, as well as to deeds of heroism.

 

(9) Some perceive the presence of the Spirit with every sense; they see its brilliant light, they hear its voice, they smell the fragrance of immortality and taste its sweetness. Nay more; they see celestial persons with their own eyes, see them and also hear them; they peer into what is hidden or distant or to come; they are even rapt into the world to come, into heaven itself, where they listen to “words that cannot be uttered.”

One of the best more academic articles on the subject is by Nigel Scotland: http://www.earlychurch.org.uk/pdf/ejt/signs_scotland.pdf

Spiritual Gifts and Graces (1) – Different Gifts: One Spirit

Spiritual gifts and graces basic logo

This is the beginning of a series which will take us through to the start of the school summer holidays! So you don’t have to discover everything about “Spiritual Gifts and Graces” in this first week! In particular, towards the end of the series we will explore how to discover our own gifts, ministries, passions and styles. However, we need to ground all of that in the word of God.

 

Gifts and Graces 101

  • These ‘spiritual gifts’ need to be understood (1 Cor 2.14f; Rom 8.16)
       In 1st century Corinth  
       In 21st century Godmanchester
  • These are gifts from and about the Lord
    (Col 2.15; 1 John 2.22, 4.2-3)

Gifts + Service + Work = ?

Bittlinger says that charisma in the NT is the ‘concrete realisation of drive grace’.  Whether an ordinary or extraordinary function, charisma serves to build up the body of Christ.

 

In a rare Greek translation of the OT, charisma occurs just once: May your unfailing love be with us.  But this was more usually rendered as by the word for compassion or pity. Giving the AV translation of:  Let Your mercy, O LORD, be upon us.  Otherwise the term is virtually unknown.  Even in the NT, charisma only appears in connection with twenty gifts from administration to prophecy, healing to celibacy.  There is no systematic classification of charisma in the NT.

 

Almost any attempt to categorise charismata tells us more about the interpreter than the Biblical truth.  The previous attempts at distinguishing between natural gifts and supernatural ones, or between continuing ones and those limited to an apostolic age, fail in the face of church history, theology and even science.

 

Two misunderstandings are worth tackling which .  One is that charismata are in some way sensational – the province of the enthusiast or fanatic.  This understanding fails to take seriously the natural of humanity. Indeed humans are debased if they are only a lifeless instrument, an automaton,  powerlessly acting out the service of God.  The NT is clear that there is no distinction between so-called natural and supernatural gifts.  That’s why the lists are all mixed up!  The administration of money is just as much a charisma as speaking in tongues and the work of service just as much a charisma as a prophetic utterance.

 

But it is equally foolish to suggest that whatever a Christian does, then that is the exercise of a charisma.  That makes charisma everything and nothing.  It opens the door to limiting, say, healing to only being the study of medicine.  Similarly, formal appointment to a task does not of its self impart a charismatic gift. Formal recognition of a ministry should take place after it has be demonstrated as a person’s gift.

 

This activist understanding of gifts also fails to acknowledge our humanity.  We are fallen people, and the ‘old Adam’ will appear! For this reason, we exercise our gifts in the context of faith: “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you (Rms 12.3)”.

Having rejected charisma as solely sensational or universally dull, we need a better working explanation.  Bittlinger suggests:

A charisma is a gracious manifestation of the Holy Spirit, working in and through, but going beyond, the believer’s natural ability for the common good of the people of God.

So we can say that God creates us unique.  Therefore he implants concrete and unique gifts in us by his Spirit.  Through these gifts God himself can work in our Christian community and into our world.  When we open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit, we are freed to discover the unique way that God can use us.  It also means that we will be continually aware of our own inadequacy and therefore dependence on God.

  • GIFTS: Charismata (v4)
    Gifts of grace are given to everyone in the church
    (Eph 4:18)
  • Service: Diakonia (v5)
    Given for service of everyone (2 Tim 1:6)
  • Workings: Energemata (v6)
    Given to be used and seen to be used (1 Cor 15:28)
    I want to expand the point here.  If we live a narrow life, it is very likely the exercise of, say, a prophetic gift will be similarly narrow. On the other hand if our horizons are wide, taking in the whole of life, then our prophetic words will reach widely too.  
    “A committed and dedicated involvement within a definite realm or with a particular person is a prerequisite for charisma to reach that ream or person”.  
  • Common good
    (v7; 1 Cor 14:26; Eph 4:11-16)

Gifts and the Giver

image

John 3:5-6; Romans 8:9; 1 Cor 12.11; 2 Cor 1:22

 

Cell Outline

If you have time before your cell group read through 1 Corinthians 12­-14.

1. Read 1 Corinthians 11. How are chapters 11 and 12 linked? What similarities are there with previous issues addressed?

2. What do you think they said or asked Paul in their letter which provokes the reply in chapters 11 and 12?

3. Read 12:1­-11. If verse 3 is not to be taken literally, then what is it saying?

4. Could there be a reason why particular gifts are mentioned in verses 8­10, and others are not?

5. What are your personal tendencies and temptations in how you view different spiritual gifts?

6. What consequences might these have for our attitude to other Christians?

7. What would make it easier for you to exercise the gifts in verses 8-10 in your cell group meetings?

 

Going deeper:

1. Which idols were you influenced by before you became a Christian? How has the Holy Spirit set you free from them?

2. Is declaring “Jesus is Lord” the sole criteria for deciding if someone is speaking under the Spirit’s guidance? Or are there other things you take into account (v3)

3. Why might there be a Trinitarian structure in verses 4­-6? What can we learn from this?

Witness

1. How might you use the gifts, service and workings described in verses 8-10 for the “common good” of your work colleagues, neighbours or family?

I’m trying out Windows Live Writer

Recently I discovered that Microsoft have created a better text editor for Blogger than Blogger has done.  Which seems nuts!  Despite my reservations about using Microsoft products if there is a free alternative available, it is much much easier to use! In fact I love it.

At first I was unable to create a carriage return! Even typing the source code </p><p> made no difference at all.  [Shift]+[Enter] worked fine to create <br>.  After a lot of Googling, I discovered what was wrong.  Not obvious and not well documented.  My css template had this code in it:

 

.post-body p {
/* Fix bug in IE5/Win with italics in posts */
margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px;
padding: 1px 0px 1px 0px;
display: inline; /* to fix floating-ads wrapping problem in IE */
height: 1%;
overflow: visible;
}

 

Since no-one uses IE5 any longer (!), it was safe to take that code out, and Live Writer now works perfectly.

All-age service

It’s a well know fact that all-age services take me right outside my comfort zone.  I led one of Easter Sunday morning which even included communion, and it seems to have been fairly well appreciated. Leave aside the extra work and thought beforehand, which I estimate at about 10 times that of a normal service, and maybe, just maybe it is possible that the whole church family can worship meaningfully together.

Rachel thought it was awesome! She says “The creative metaphoric visuals that were used in the service and how so many age groups involved.”  Not actually a sentence but a great sentiment.

My Sarah, who knows about these things, said that I should:

  • keep it short!!! 45-55mins I think is definitely enough!
  • do something with food. Talk to whoever is normally in charge of this and come up with Easter treat- is worth spending money on especially if you’re going to have visitors- it looks good to them! We did Hot Cross Buns!
  • Think about what’s happening on Good Friday- do you want to link it/ carry something on.  We did a great collective reading to start which got everyone in the post-Good Friday but not-yet Easter Sunday mood.
  • Have something they can make- when they come in.  We made a giant paper chain which we then tore up at the end when se sang “My chains fell off”.
  • When thinking about prayer think CREATIVE eg ACTIVE eg KINESTHETIC eg GOOD FOR BOYS.  We got stones and people wrote or drew on them their name and those they were praying for.  Then at the end we made a prayer cairn.
  • When thinking about talk/input/ think SHORT and VISUAL and INTERACTIVE.  Our teenagers did six tiny sketches and I spoke very briefly between each one.
  • Don’t fill with too many things- you don’t need a drama, and a dance, and a PowerPoint video, and a talk etc. We did a drama/talk, plus the chains and the stones and communion and the youth band and the children’s band. Opps too much.

(Quietly)
What a mess!
What a mess!
After a day of horror,
and blasphemy, and death, now this:
a tomb that’s empty.

(Sadly)
We lost you on Friday,
and now we’ve lost you again.
We could eventually cope with death,
but empty tombs?
We’ve lost you once more.

There is no rejoicing here, just confusion.

Confusion after the trials, and the long dying, and confusion now:
no body,
no grave to go to,
no place to weep.

We’ve lost a friend,
and we don’t know where he is.

He died on Friday,
and now?

(Slowly)
Well, now there is not even that,
not even a death,
just a vacant,
empty,
hollow tomb.

And that leaves us…??

(Resolutely!)
Well, that leaves us in fear.
Dare we believe the rumours?
Dare we be the first to trust
what no one has ever dared to trust
before?

(Resolutely!)
Dare we believe his predictions
that love returns?

(Building up)
‘Only by seeing his hands,’ says Thomas.
‘Only by holding him,’ says his mother.
‘Only by feeding his lambs’ says Peter.

‘Only by eating with him,’
say his disciples.
‘Only by anointing his feet,’
says Mary of Bethany.
‘Only by calling him Lord,’ says Mary of Magdala.

(Astonished)
But who is that?
eating with us in the room?
going ahead to Galilee?
Walking on the road,
sitting?
cooking on the beach?
Standing?
waiting in the garden?

My Lord, and my God.

Response of hopeful people

Bit of an early start today because I was leading an open-air ecumenical Sunrise Service at 6am.  It was cold and dark and muddy!  I fond this reasonable responsive reading to use: 

When we are despairing;

when the world is full of grief;

when we see no way ahead,

and hope has gone away:

Roll back the stone.

Although we fear change;

although we are not ready;

although we’d rather weep

and run away:

Roll back the stone.

Because we’re coming with the women;

because we hope where hope is vain:

because you call us from the grave

and show the way:

Roll back the stone.

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