What is the role of the Spirit in our lives today?

To attempt to demystify the miraculous nature of God’s working in the Bible is to deny the power of God.

“Theology” can stir the heart or strike a little fear. But regardless of your love of reading or gaining knowledge, we are all theologians. This is a series of articles attempting to inform you about various theological positions in our Christian world. 

It is necessary to note that not every issue of belief is as essential as the other — “legit” Christians can hold various positions on a lot of issues in the Bible and still be faithful. 

However, and this is the most important thing: we can never compromise on the gospel itself. Core issues must be addressed, and central beliefs cannot be softened. To do so would be heresy and damnable, not because we say it is, but because God says it is.

We don’t mess with who God is, or Jesus’ deity and Sonship, or the Spirit of God. We don’t tweak whether Jesus died on the cross for a sin-debt that was not His own and then rose again on the third day to conquer that sin and death for any and all who believe in Him as Lord and Savior. We don’t skew the inerrant and infallible Word of God as anything less than that. These things are of highest and primary importance. 

This is a brief overview of the role of the Spirit for New Testament believers on this side of the completion of the Bible. In short: continuationism vs. cessationism. Full disclosure: I grew up in and became more cessationist until about 2016 when I became convicted of continuationist theology. Just the same, my goal is to provide a fair synopsis of major arguments on both sides — read, research and decide for yourself before God.

Definitions

Cessationism is the belief that certain gifts of the Spirit, mainly speaking in tongues, prophecy and healing, are no longer given to the Church today but were used by God through the Spirit in the early Church while the Apostles were establishing it among the Jews and Gentiles. These specific gifts have ceased.

Continuationism is the belief that all gifts of the Spirit are available to Christians today according to the will and gifting of God for His purposes and His timing. All the gifts continue. 

Where we agree

There is agreement on several levels. Both beliefs agree the gifts happened exactly as written about in God’s Word. To attempt to demystify the miraculous nature of God’s working in the Bible is to deny the power of God. And both believe these things happened because the Spirit of God was working in the Church. There also is general agreement that these gifts have specific purposes, mainly to point to the one true God.

While there is disagreement on a few of the gifts, most mentioned in the Bible (see 1 Cor. 12:28) still apply to the Church today. This means there is room for disagreement, and we can all sit at the same table.

Where we disagree

Cessationism teaches that because Paul spoke of the gifts of tongues and prophecy as ceasing in 1 Corinthians 13:8, we know it will end. This belief reasons that, “when the perfect comes” in verse 10, is a reference to the closed canon of Scripture. These signs were meant to accompany the breakthrough of the gospel into the Jews and Gentiles during the early Church and under the leadership of the Apostles. We see this in Acts 2, 10 and 19.

And because early Church history doesn’t discuss these gifts nor do we see them mentioned in later books of the Bible, cessationists believe they were becoming less frequent and eventually ended. Language schooling for missionaries and hospitals for believers would not be necessary if these “miraculous” or “sign” gifts were still to be used by the Church today. 

Cessationism also teaches that prophecy should be viewed only as preaching God’s Word. And the church was told to seek love primarily and seek prophecy more than speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 13). 

Continuationism teaches that the gifts are given to be used by the Spirit’s leading, not the will of the individual (1 Cor. 12:11). This is important because some have abused this belief by claiming to use the Spirit almost like a tool. Another common abuse is the disorderly use of gifts, clearly refuted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14. 

Continuationists believe “the perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10 is a reference to the coming of Jesus and eternity with Him. The verse in context refers to being known face to face. It isn’t something the Bible does or is, but Jesus, when He comes again, will most certainly do and be. Prophecy is not held to be at the same level as Scripture, but to be accountable to Scripture and seen as false if it doesn’t pass the test of the Bible. Prophecy is not just speaking God’s Word as preaching but also foretelling and forthtelling the truth of God. 

Without any sort of biblical comment on the removal of these gifts, continuationists generally do not feel the burden of proof. They do believe the gifts are all from the same Spirit and meant to be used orderly and in worship to make much of God, not the one being used by God.

Conclusion

This is a very general description. You may find many other books and articles helpful. So read, pray and decide for yourself. Be convicted after studying this issue. And don’t be divided or become dividing because you disagree with another faithful brother or sister. Either conviction should drive you deeper into God’s love, not deeper into pride.

James Hammack

James Hammack is a regular contributor to The Rope. He also is digital services manager for The Alabama Baptist/TAB Media. He also serves as worship pastor at Sovereign Grace Church, Prattville. He and his wife, Alicia, have three children.

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