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Jon Ruthven

This paper was written by Jon Ruthven.

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Jon Ruthven is a Professor of Systematic Theology at Regent University School of Divinity, Virginia Beach, Virginia.


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Articles > Charismatic Theology > On the Cessation of Charismata

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2. Direct Commands to Desire, Seek and Employ the Charismata

    Closely related to the argument above that the function of the charismata determines their duration, is the argument from Scripture that the appearance of the charismata depends, not on accrediting functions, but on human responses to explicit biblical commands, e.g., simply to seek, request and employ the charismata, on the basis of prior repentance and obedience toward God, via faith and prayer. To deny that these commands of Scripture, woven so thoroughly throughout the fabric of the New Testament, have relevance today, is to call into question the very relevance of the scriptural canon for the Church of any age. These are not commands simply to the apostles, but often by apostles to the "laity." In any case, all these biblical commands can be construed as parenetic to the Church at large.

    The New Testament specifically commands its readers to "seek," "desire earnestly," "rekindle" and "employ" certain "miraculous" charismata (1 Cor 12:3 1; 14:1, 4, 5, and 39; 2 Tm 1:6; 1 Pt 4: 10, cf. Jn 14:12-14; 15:7; 1
6:23-24--ask for "anything" in the context of the Spirit's descent to the disciples, Jn 3:21-22) and implies that their appearance can be suppressed by simple neglect (Rom 12:6; 1 Cor 14:39; 1 Th 5:19-20; 1 Tm 4:14; 2 Tm 1:6). On the latter verse, J.N.D. Kelly affirms that "the idea that this grace operates automatically is excluded." (The Pastoral Epistles, Harper's New Testament Commentaries [New York: Harper and Row, 1963], 159). He compares this passage with the "quenching" of the Spirit of prophecy in 1 Th. 5:19. Biblical commands, "let us use," "strive to excel [in spiritual gifts]," "desire earnestly," "do not quench," etc., make little sense canonically if the occurrence of the charismata bears no relation to the obedience of these commands.

3. Cessationism and Five Biblical Principles Regarding the Charismata

    Cessationism is inimical to at least five more important NT principles regarding the charismata.

    1. Paul implicitly challenges the belief that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit were granted only for the establishment of doctrine for the Church, which then would carry on more or less under its own interpretive intellect with a greatly restricted activity of the Spirit. Paul exclaims to the Galatians who were tempted by a resurgent Judaism to exchange their calling as prophets for that of the scribes and a religion of Torah-study and works-righteousness: "Having begun in the Spirit [the context indicates a miracle-producing Spirit], will you now be completed, or reach maturity (epiteleisthe) in the flesh?" Paul does not force a choice between the charismata of prophecy and miracle versus biblical precepts; he insisted upon both. Scripture itself affirms the ongoing process of spiritual perfecting (maturing) in this age as being normatively developed by the whole range of the charismata, which, within the framework of Scripture, reveal Christ even as they illuminate, apply, express and actualize his Gospel. Against cessationism, the NT insists that the Church is both initiated and matured by the whole range of the Spirit's gifts.

    2. Romans 11:29 states a principle that could hardly be more clearly anti-cessationist: that from God's side, his radical and unconditional grace offers to sustain the above process all during the present age: "God's gifts (charismata) and his call are irrevocable--not repented of, or withdrawn." The context shows that the human failure to receive God's call, or charismata, does not at all require that they are sovereignly withdrawn in Church history, but rather that they cannot become manifested in those to who reject them. Accordingly, it may be this very unhappy state of the Church that Paul foresaw: an intellectualized quasi-deism among those having "a form of religion, while denying its power (dunamis)" (2 Tm 3:5).

    One might argue here that this verse applies only to "salvation," specifically to the Jews, and not to the gifts of the Spirit. But here one must follow Paul's logic. Paul bases the promise of salvation of the Jews as being true because it is a sub-set of the generalization that the charismata will not be withdrawn, and not vice versa.  We cannot arbitrarily change the Paul's usual meaning of "charismata" in the NT to fit a theological preconception--that is, "grace" for regeneration.  We must not reduce the "salvation" of the Jews in this passage to a narrowed conception of the traditional ordo salutis.

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