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Enjoying God Blog

When the film, Cessationist, was released, I posted a series of articles highly critical of its view of spiritual gifts. Josh Buice recently published an article critical of my perspective. Here is the first of three responses citing the many errors in Buice’s thinking.

Buice begins with this statement:

“According to Dr. Storms, anyone who does not earnestly desire the gift of prophecy is sinning.”

Actually, it isn’t Storms but the Apostle Paul who says this. Sin can be defined in many ways, but its most fundamental meaning is willful defiance or disobedience to a biblical command. Since Paul commands us to earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy (1 Cor. 14:1, 39), I don’t see on what basis Buice would object to my statement.

I’m also befuddled by Buice saying this:

“The Bible contains several different types of genre. One of the most prominent genres in the Scriptures is prophecy. In the Old Testament, a number of books chronicle the message that was delivered by God through his spokesmen to God’s people. Those books are organized into two main groups known as the major and minor prophets. The designation of major and minor is based on the length of the text rather than the significance of the prophetic figure.”

I don’t know how this contributes to the issue he is addressing. No one denies that prophecy is a genre of OT literature. But we aren’t talking about a collection of books that share the same literary features. We are talking about a spiritual gift that is apportioned to Christians according to the will of the Holy Spirit (1 Co. 12:11).

Buice then writes:

“The purpose of prophecy was to deliver God’s message to his people. This pattern began after the fall (Genesis 3) and continued through the New Testament. The gift of prophecy was never viewed in Scripture as a casual gift. In an article titled, “No. The Spiritual Gift of Prophecy is not the same as Preaching” Sam Storms defined prophecy as, “speaking forth in merely human words something the Holy Spirit has sovereignly and often spontaneously revealed to a believer.” The problem with that definition is that it makes the gift of prophecy far too casual and allows for a distinction to be made between the prophecy of the Old Testament and the prophecy of the New Testament.”

There is nothing “casual” about that definition. I’m not even sure what he means by “casual.” All spiritual gifts are the manifestation of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:7). Paul explicitly describes how prophecy functions in 1 Cor. 14:30-31. There he says, “if a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.” So, there it is. Prophecy is speaking something in human words that the Spirit has revealed to him/her.

Earlier in 1 Cor. 14:3 Paul said that prophecy is speaking to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. It seems, then, my definition is entirely consistent with how Paul portrays it. If Buice has a problem with that definition, he should take it up with the Apostle Paul.

Buice then writes:

As a cessationist, I’m quite aware of the fact that no Bible verse can be supplied that states “all of the apostolic gifts will cease.” Just as the doctrine of the Trinity is supplied through progressive revelation, so is the doctrine of cessationism. As we read the Scriptures, progressive revelation makes it known that some gifts do cease because they were given for a specific time period and purpose in redemptive history.

First, nowhere in the NT are any spiritual gifts referred to as “apostolic.” This word is arbitrarily applied by Buice and other cessationists in order to influence the reader into thinking that if apostles are no longer with us, neither are the gifts associated with them.

Furthermore, where and in what text does “progressive revelation” make it known “that some gifts do cease”? I’ve got numerous texts that support Trinitarianism, but none that suggest what Buice states. He argues that these gifts ceased “because they were given for a specific time period and purpose in redemptive history.” Where does the NT say this? The only texts that speak of a specific time period during which these gifts operate are Acts 2:17; 1 Cor. 13:10; and Eph. 4:13.

In Acts 2 Peter, quoting Joel, says that the Spirit is given to empower men and women to prophesy “in the last days,” a regular description of the entire church age in which we live. In 1 Cor. 13 Paul says such gifts operate until the coming of the “perfect,” which virtually all NT scholars believe is a reference to the consummate perfection of the New Heavens and New Earth. And in Eph. 4 Paul says apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers are given to equip the saints for ministry “until” we attain to “the unity of the faith” and the “knowledge of the Son of God” and “mature manhood.” I hardly need to point out that we have not reached that level of spiritual growth, and won’t until Christ returns.

Buice also refers to the “purpose” of these gifts in redemptive history. What is that “purpose”? It is “the common good” of all Christians (1 Cor. 12:7). It is the “edification” or building up of the body of Christ (see 1 Cor. 14:3, 4, 5, 12, 17, 19, 26, 31). Those verses clearly teach, repeatedly, that gifts like prophecy are designed to encourage and build up and strengthen believers. The fact that some gifts served to attest to the truth of the gospel proclaimed by the apostles in no way suggests, far less requires, that they cannot function in numerous other ways, fulfilling other divinely designed purposes.

Buice continues:

In the work of preaching and church planting, God gifted these men and some of their close associates with gifts known as miraculous gifts or better described as apostolic gifts due to their association with the apostles. These gifts included tongues, healing, and prophecy.

But if that were true, why does Paul speak of tongues, healing, and prophecy as given to ordinary, non-apostolic, believers in Corinth (1 Cor. 12:7-12)? Nowhere does the NT say that such gifts were restricted to the apostles or people who were in “association” with them. I simply ask, is there a single text of Scripture that says non-apostolic believers ministered in the power of miraculous gifts because of their association with apostles? The answer is decidedly, No!

Philip’s four daughters weren’t close associates of the apostles, yet they prophesied (Acts 21:9). Does Buice really want us to believe that all “sons and daughters” and “young men” and “old men” and “male servants” and “female servants” (Acts 2:17-18) prophesied because of “their association with the apostles”?

Stephen and Philip were deacons and yet they operated in the power of signs and wonders (Acts 6:8; 8). Ananias had no association with an apostle yet received a revelatory “vision” from the Lord (Acts 9:10). Well before Cornelius ever met Peter, he was the recipient of a revelatory vision and angelic visitation (Acts 10:3). There is no indication that Agabus was associated with an apostle, yet he prophesied a coming famine (Acts 11:27-28). Christians in Rome prophesied (Rom. 12:6) in the absence of any apostle (there is no evidence that Peter founded the church in Rome and Paul had not yet visited the city). Nothing indicates that apostles were present in Galatia when believers there witnessed “miracles” (Gal. 3:5). Nothing suggests that the Thessalonian believers prophesied because of association with an apostle (1 Thess. 5:20).

Again, here is what Buice writes:

Once the gift of the apostle ceased, the revelatory and miraculous gifts associated with them likewise ceased.

Where does the Bible say this? Answer: Nowhere!

Such revelatory gifts were necessary because the biblical canon was not yet complete, but today we are not living in an age of an open canon and we are not anticipating any new or fresh words from God. Once the gift of the apostle ceased, the revelatory and miraculous gifts associated with them likewise ceased. There was no passing of the baton as we see from the ministry of the prophets to the ministry of the apostles. Since we now have a completed canon of Scripture we should not be looking for any new books to be added or divine words to be spoken directly to men apart from the pages of Scripture.

Clearly, I agree with him that “we should not be looking for any new books to be added” to the Bible. No one has ever suggested otherwise. But when the “pages of Scripture” are read, what do they say about the operation of these gifts? They say that we should eagerly pursue them and not forbid speaking in tongues and be careful not to despise prophetic utterances. In other words, it is the very all-sufficient Scriptures that tell us whether or not we should expect “divine words to be spoken directly to men.” And it clearly says we should.

I’m not surprised when Buice writes, “Modern Prophecy Is a Denial of the Sufficiency of Scripture and Dangerous for the Church.” But I am disappointed and disagree.

I certainly agree with Buice that what the Bible contains and teaches is “enough” to enable us to lead godly lives in this present age.

But among the many things that the all-sufficient Scriptures say God has done to enable us to lead a godly life is the provision of the many spiritual gifts, those in 1 Corinthians 12:7-10 in particular. The “all-sufficient” Word of God explicitly commands us to earnestly desire “the higher gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31a), which Paul goes on to identify primarily as prophecy. He again commands us to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1). Again, “Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:5a). And if there is any doubt about Paul’s meaning, he closes this chapter with the exhortation, “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:39).

To say that the Bible is sufficient means we believe it tells us what to embrace and what to avoid, that it provides us with every command we need to obey and every warning that we need to heed. Do we believe the Bible warns us about those misguided beliefs and practices that may well threaten its own sufficiency? Yes.

What then does the Bible say about both miraculous and more mundane gifts of the Spirit? It says we need them because they serve “the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). It says prophecy is given to God’s people “for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3). It says that when we come into the corporate gathering of God’s people “each one has a hymn, a lesson [or teaching], a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation,” and that all things should “be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26). And yet nowhere does it ever remotely suggest that the on-going validity of the very gifts it endorses are a dangerous threat to the reality of Scripture’s own sufficiency.

It is the all-sufficient Scriptures that teach us to earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially that we might prophesy (1 Cor. 14:1), that teach us that such gifts are not merely given to authenticate the apostolic message but also to build up God’s people (1 Cor. 12:7; and all of 1 Corinthians 14), that tell us to “earnestly desire to prophesy, and” not to “forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:39). It is the all-sufficient Scriptures that tell us that in the New Covenant age, inaugurated at Pentecost God’s people, young and old, male and female, will experience revelatory dreams and visions and will prophesy (Acts 2), and that nowhere tell us that these gifts will only last for about 50 or 60 years and then disappear.

It would appear that the cessationist appeals to the notion of the Bible’s sufficiency in order to deny the Bible’s functional authority. They say they believe the Bible is inerrant and sufficient to tell us all we need to know to live godly lives, but then they deny the Bible’s teaching concerning the operation of spiritual gifts to build up and edify God’s people. If they truly believe in the Bible’s sufficiency, then explain where in the Bible it teaches that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit were designed only for the few decades of the first century.

If, as cessationists undoubtedly believe, the Bible is sufficient for all instruction and sufficient to provide inerrant guidance for whatever we might need to grow in godliness, why does the all-sufficient Bible not say what they continually assert? Wouldn’t it have been prudent for the apostles to have told us that their teaching on miraculous spiritual gifts was only intended by God to operate for a mere 50 or 60 years of church life? The fact of the matter is that the Bible fails to provide us with a single text in which we are told that the many gifts it encourages us to pursue and practice were temporary or were characterized by some inherent obsolescence.

If the cessationist is correct, why doesn’t the Bible tell us to ignore the exhortations to earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy, or tell us that we should forbid speaking in tongues, or tell us that the gifts which were given to edify and encourage the people of God were not meant for any generation of Christians beyond those of the first century? Why does the written word only tell us to make good use of such gifts for the edification of the body and not tell us that such was only meant for the early church?

So, in summary, I contend that if you believe in the sufficiency and the functional authority of Scripture, you must necessarily believe in the on-going validity and edifying power of miraculous gifts of the Spirit.

To be continued . . .

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