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Defending Continuationism - Part 1

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Introduction & Defense of Continuationism


Defending Continuationism - Part 1

Purpose of Sermon Series

Teach the Whole Counsel of God
Pressing Need
I believe we’ve grieved the HS
I believe our church has little understanding of these things
I believe we are in great need of God’s grace, and his gifts are a part of his grace towards us

Defining Terms

The belief that the more miraculous gifts of the Spirit (described in 1st Corinthians 12:8-10), most specifically, prophecy, tongues, and healing, are no longer given to individual believers, but were only given to believers during the times of the apostles, for the purpose of authenticating the Gospel.
2. Continuationism
The belief that all the gifts of the Spirit as described in the Bible (with the possible exception of “Apostle”) have continued, and will continue, to be given by the Holy Spirit to His people until the return of Jesus.

Denouncing Frauds & Scams

Prosperity Gospel is a Scam
The Gospel is about salvation from sin and God’s wrath, not about financial prosperity, good health or any all nonsense these charlatans promote. Men like Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, and TD Jakes are false teachers who will experience the fury of God’s wrath if they don’t repent. What I am endeavouring to teach on over the next several months has nothing to do with such fraudulent teachers and teachings. Myself, and all the elders, distance ourselves completely from such blasphemous heresy.
Faith Healers are Frauds
Additionally, what I propose to teach on has little to nothing in common with the many faith healers of our day. I heartily stand with the John MacArthur’s of the world and call these people what they are: heretics who are promoting destructive teachings which are ravaging the lives of millions, if not billions, all the while blaspheming the glorious name of the Spirit of God.
I do not associate in any way shape or form with these people’s teachings or ways, but rather stand diametrically opposed as they are distorting the Gospel of grace and trampling underfoot the blood of Christ. They are taking the Name of our Lord in vain, and the Lord will not hold him guiltless who disregards his name so lightly.

The Importance of this Topic

Now, before I present to you 4 arguments for defending continuationism, I want to say a word about the importance of your response as the people of God.
It is true that whenever a sermon is given, the person in the most accountable position is the speaker. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” However, we must understand that the listener is also greater responsible and accountable to God for how they respond to the Word preached.
It has been my experience and observation that people generally are more likely to receive a verse by verse sermon as the Word of God than they are to receive a topical sermon as such. I think it’s probably just the nature of how the sermons are presented. Usually it’s a lot easier for someone to follow along with a verse by verse sermon and see quite naturally the points that are being brought out by the preacher. While certainly doable, it is much more difficult for the teacher to twist Scripture going verse by verse than it is when preaching on a topic.
Because of this and some other reasons, I am someone who usually likes to preach verse by verse. However, based upon the nature of what I believe God would have us look at, verse by verse isn’t going to be entirely possible. And so, with this understanding I want to stress to you all the great responsibility that is laid upon you all to examine the Scriptures yourself.
It has become rather cliche in Christian circles to say, “Be a Berean.” If you will remember, the Berean Jews were the ones who searched the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul was teaching was true or not. They are painted in a very positive light. And so, the phrase “be a Berean” has come to mean, “do your own research and see if the preacher is telling the truth or not.” This is good and right. We must do this.
However, with that said, it has also been my experience, probably based mostly upon personality, that those who are the most “Berean-like” are the more “intellectual” people. (That’s not a slam to those that aren’t like them!) And as a general rule, those who are more “intellectual” are not the best at actually obeying the Word they believe.
You know, the Thessalonians get kind of a bad wrap in this passage. It says in Acts 17:11 that the Berean Jews were “more noble” than those at Thessalonica. However, I want to show you 2 things.
First, notice from this passage that it’s talking about the Jews of Berea and Thessalonica. When we turn over to 1 Thessalonians 2:13, we actually see that the Gentiles in Thessalonica were actually quite noble themselves. They accepted Paul’s word as the Word of God, which indeed it was.
Secondly, what often gets missed in Acts 17:11-12, is the next verse. The result of the Bereans searching the Scriptures was that they believed. You see, what so often happens when people hear sermons is one of two failures.
The first thing we do is hear the Word but then fail to study it ourselves to see if it’s true. Because of this we tend to either get led astray, if the teacher is teaching false things, or we fail to get ignited by the Word by making it our own.
The second error is that when we hear the Word and actually study it, we leave the Word at an intellectually level and don’t actually believe it. Because, as James says, true belief, true faith, goes to work. It produces action.
So the responsibility upon you all, then, is always twofold. First, study to see if the things taught are true. Then, if they are determined to be true, accept it as the Word of God and not the word of men. To say, “Yeah, Dan’s right, the gifts are still given by the Spirit today” and then move on with your life without any change, is folly and sin.
In at least 3 explicit texts, and many more implicit, God says to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts.” We are commanded to “not neglect the gift of God that we’ve been given.” We are commanded to “fan into flame” our gifts. If we are going to reject such Scriptures as having no authority over our lives, we better have darn good reason to say so.
But if we don’t have Scriptural reason to say that these commands are no longer applicable, well then we better start obeying. We cannot continue trifling with these passages and treating them as a mere debate topic. While it is most certainly true that this is a secondary issue, it is by no means a minor issue. If continuationism is true, we MUST obey. We must accept it as what it really is, the Word of God. We are obligated to obey and we will be judged if we do not.

Defending Continuationism

Burden of Proof
Purpose of Gifts: Edification of the Body (1 Cor. 12:7)
Continuity of the Church
Explicit Teaching: 1 Cor. 13:8-12

Burden of Proof Argument

What is meant by this argument is that the burden of proof rests upon the cessationist to prove from Scripture that the gifts have ceased, not on the continuationist to prove that they still exist. While virtually all cessationists agree with this statement, let me explain it further and why this argument holds water. For, while almost all cessationists do agree with this sentiment, there are some that attempt to turn this back around on the continuationist and say that Scripture has no explicit statement either way to prove or disprove their continuation. It’s simply silent on the matter, at least with specific references.
That, however, is not exactly the argument. The argument is that any normal, orthodox reading of the Bible that uses proper hermenutics would say that the spiritual gifts described in the NT are going to continue till today, unless something in Scripture specifically shows us that they won’t.
Why do I say this?
1. This is always how we read the Bible. Rom. 15:4 & 1 Cor. 10:11 are two helpful texts to prove this point. We always understand the Bible to be relevant and binding upon us to obey today unless otherwise noted elsewhere in Scripture.
2. This becomes even more true when we consider the fact that this is a didactic portion of Scripture in the New Testament. While sometimes we do not apply the same weight of responsibility upon ourselves when we read a narrative section, any Christian should readily understand that when Scripture teaches us and commands us to do something, we better have clear biblical reason elsewhere to show us that such a command is not binding upon us.
3. Furthermore, this is especially true when it comes to realities or functions of the church.
We assume that baptism continues today
We assume the Lord’s supper continues today
We assume church discipline continues today
We assume qualifications for elders continues today

Purpose of the Gifts Argument

I intend to do a full sermon on this topic in a few weeks. Suffice it say for now, though, that the primary purpose for the Holy Spirit giving his people gifts is for the edification and building up of the Body of Christ. This point is affirmed, again, by virtually all Christians, including cessationists, as Scripture is quite clear on this. 1 Cor. 12:7; 1 Cor. 14:3-5; 1 Cor. 14:26
Now, while most cessationists agree with this point, it is a common argument of the cessationist to say that the purpose, or least the primary purpose, of the revelatory gifts (mainly healing, miracles, prophecy and tongues) was to authenticate the apostles and the Gospel. There are texts that seem to indicate this, most notably, in my opinion, Heb. 2:4. And so, while affirming the purpose of the gifts stated in 1 Corinthians, as regards the revelatory gifts, they state that their purpose has been fulfilled and they are therefore no longer necessary. The great irony of this argument, though, is that the gifts that are expressly mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 are the exact same gifts that they say served a different purpose.
Thus, even if we concede the point that the revelatory gifts were given to authenticate the apostles and the gospel, we must also still acknowledge at least a 2nd purpose for these gifts, namely for the building up of the church.
Now what is my point in sharing this? Well, I ask you this: Is the church still in need of encouragement, edification and building up? I hope we would all answer that with a resounding YES. And so, I ask you, if the purpose that these gifts served is still as much a need today as it was back then, why then do we assume that the gifts themselves, which are a means to this good end, have stopped? Were tongues meant to edify the church only in the 1st century? If so, again I ask, where do we get such a notion from the Bible? If we are going to say that only the church in the 1st century needed tongues for their edification, are we then going to say that only the church in the 1st century needed to love one another as well? 1st Corinthians 13 is right in the middle of that discussion on gifts, you know. Of course we don’t say that.
And again, my point is not that God can’t take away the gifts, even though it would be unlikely based upon his reason for giving them to us. My point is that we must be quite clear from Scripture that they have ceased in light of these realities. They may have. But Scripture must prove it. We have no reason to believe they have ceased unless the Bible tells us so.

Continuity of the Church Argument

My third argument is the continuity of the church. What I mean by this is that the New Testament does not give us precedence for dividing the church age up into different ages or dispensations. Specifically, I mean that Scripture does not give us reason to believe that we can divide the “last days” into the “apostolic age” and the “post-apostolic age”.
Now the immediate rebuttal of any cessationist to this is to talk about the uniqueness of the 12 apostles plus Paul. And since the majority of continuationists, including myself, believe that there are no apostles of the same type as the 12 today, they say that people like me are actually dividing the church age into “apostolic age” and “post-apostolic age.” However, as I understand it, that’s like saying that the church age can be divided up into pre-Constantine days and post-Constantine days, or pre-reformation days and post-reformation days. While of course we can do that, such a statement or division doesn’t alter anything regarding the reality that we’re still in the same “last days” that the Bible speaks about.
“But the apostles were a gift to the church that the Spirit no longer gives” they will argue. Was not Martin Luther a gift to the church that the Spirit no longer gives? I just don’t see the connection that the cessationist makes here. You and I, according to Scripture, are all apart of the same Body of Christ as Peter, Paul, John, Apollos, Lydia and the rest. We’re all apart of the same church. Indeed, the apostles and prophets laid the foundation, and Christ Jesus Himself is the cornerstone, but that doesn’t make it a different structure than us. The Bible assumes a continuity of the Church from the days of Pentecost to Jesus’ return. There is nothing in the New Testament that would lead me to believe that the Spirit operated in such a different way in the 1st century than He does now. Indeed He worked in a unique way, but He is always working in unique ways in that sense. He worked in a unique way in the Reformation. He brought to light forgotten, foundational truths of the Bible to Martin Luther and the rest. But the fact that the doctrine of justification by faith alone was essentially lost for 1000 years of church history doesn’t mean it wasn’t still true. And the fact that the gifts of the Spirit have increased and decreased throughout church history bears no weight on their existence for today. The church today is the same church it was 2000 years ago.
I am going to address this at greater length next sermon, but beyond all of this, even if we are to concede the point that there are no more apostles like the 12 today, which I do, that again doesn’t mean a whole lot. I grant such a concession based upon Scripture. The argument that if you grant the cessation of one gift, why not more, is not a valid argument, and I will attempt to show that next week.

Explicit Teaching Argument

Finally, while I will not be going into depth on this argument today because I will exegete it in much more detail in a few months, I argue for the continuation of the gifts based upon, what I believe is explicit teaching that they will in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. Again, while not going into too much detail right now, suffice it to say that I believe this text is teaching that tongues, prophecy, and knowledge at least will not pass away until the return of Jesus Christ. Most cessationists dismiss this text based on various interpretations, which are valid insofar as we shouldn’t just say their arguments are stupid. They must be discussed and evaluated thoroughly to see if there is any legitimacy to them. There are many different interpretations of this text though so I will need to spend a whole sermon on it going through many of the various interpretations.
I would just add here that my argument does not hinge upon this text, but it is greatly enhanced in my opinion. If I were to somehow become convinced that this text isn’t teaching what I currently think it’s teaching, I would not become a cessationist, based upon the points above, most specifically point 1.

Closing Remarks

Before I close, I do want to point out to you that I am not arguing for the continuation of the gifts based upon experience. While I do not dismiss experience, I do not put a whole lot of stock into it as far as forming my position on this topic. Since I am firm in my conviction based upon Scripture, I now take experience into account and give it credibility, but I can honestly say that if I was convinced from Scripture that cessationism was true, I would then start viewing experience in a different light. I hope we can all agree on this point and hold true to a firm conviction in Sola Scriptura. We must always subject our experiences to the Word of God, and not the Word of God to our experiences. We interpret life’s experiences in light of the Bible, not the Bible in light of life.
Next week I will continue on defending continuationism, but will come at it from a different angle. As I have stated many times this morning, I believe we should assume the gifts of the Spirit described in the New Testament are being given and operative today, unless Scripture shows us that they are not. Because of the fact that virtually all cessationists agree with this reality, and because cessationists by and large are godly and committed to Sola Scriptura, many arguments have been posited by many different cessationists from Scripture that they say prove that the miraculous gifts have ceased. We will look at those next week to see if these arguments hold water. I will be mainly interacting with 7 arguments that have been brought up by Tom Pennington from Grace to You at the Strange Fire Conference back in 2013. To the best of my knowledge, these still remain some of, if not the, top arguments used by cessationists to defend their position.
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