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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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A. A Biblical Doctrine of the Holy Spirit Is Inimical to Cessationism

    Warfield's desire to limit the Spirit's contemporary miraculous and revelatory work is not only to confuse the finality of revelation with its mode of presentation and application, but also to change the essential character of the Holy Spirit as biblically defined and to alienate his pneumatology from its clear and authoritative biblical grounding. If we apply Warfield's own biblical hermeneutic to every scriptural context on the Holy Spirit, it reveals a profile of the Spirit's activity that is characteristically, if not exclusively, miraculously charismatic--the virtual consensus of serious biblical scholarship. Specifically, in a broad sense, the Spirit of the Bible is the Spirit of prophecy. To speak of the Spirit's "subsequent [post-apostolic] work" as functioning only within the Calvinistic ordo salutis, demonstrates that the Holy Spirit of post Reformation cessationism is far removed from the portrayal of the Spirit in the canonical Scriptures. Most significantly, Warfield's pneumatology fails to account for the great Old Testament promises of the specifically prophetic Spirit to be poured out upon all eschatological generations who believe, beginning with those in the New Testament era (Isa 47:3; 59:21; Joel 2:28-32; cf. Acts 2:4, 38).

B. A Biblical Doctrine of the Kingdom of God Is Inimical to Cessationism

    Warfield failed also to address the important implications of the doctrine of the kingdom of God. Its nature is essentially that of warfare against the kingdom of Satan and its ruinous effects (Mt 4:23; 9:35; 10:6,7; 12:28 Lk 11:20; Lk 9:2,60; 10:1-2,9,11; Acts 10:38). The NT teaches that Jesus' earthly mission was to inaugurate the kingdom of God in charismatic power, and that he is to continue that mission through Christian believers, beginning with his disciples and their converts and continuing until the end of the age. As a rabbi's good disciples, his followers are to duplicate and continue exactly his work ("teaching them to obey all that I commanded you," Mt 28:20), in this case, to demonstrate and articulate the inbreaking Kingdom. This is shown by: 1) an analysis of the commissioning accounts of Mt 10, Mk 6; Lk 9 and 10; Mt 28:19-20 [cf 24:14]; Lk 24:49 and Acts 1:4,5,8); 2) the characteristic way in which the kingdom was demonstrated articulated in Acts; and 3) by the summary statements of Paul's ministry among the Gentiles throughout his epistles (Rom 15:18-20; 1 Cor 2:4; 2 Cor 12:12; 1 Th 1:5, cf. Acts 15:i2). Thus, the "signs of a true apostle," or of any Christian, do not accredit anyone as a bearer of orthodoxy, but rather, characterize the way in which the commissions of Jesus to proclaim and demonstrate ("in word and deed") the eschatological kingdom of God are normatively expressed by any believer. Whether in the context of an unevangelized crowd of pagans, or within the Church community itself, wherever the Spirit displaces the kingdom of darkness in its various manifestations of evil, whether sin, sickness or demonic possession, the kingdom of God has provisionally arrived. Such victories of repentance, healing or other restoration from the demonic world, represent a continuing, though partial experience of the fully realized and uncontested reign of God to come.

    The essential nature of the kingdom of God is divine power--directed toward reconciliation of man to God, of righteousness, peace and joy--displacing the rule and ruin of the demonic ("The kingdom of God does not consist in talk, but in dunamis," 1Cor 4:20). Of the 98 contexts of divine dunamis in the NT, 65 refer to what the Protestant tradition would designate as "extraordinary" or "miraculous" charismata, 33 of the cases refer to the power of God without clear indication in the immediate context as to the exact way in which God's power is working. See the discussion of the Holy Spirit and his relation to charismatic power in the appendix of my dissertation, "On the Cessation of the Charismata," esp. p. 323. The New Testament miracles do not appear simply to accredit preaching (or, "the word"); rather the preaching in most cases articulated the miracle, placing it in its Christological setting and demanding a believing and repentant response. Presently, the exalted Christ continues to pour out his charismata upon his Church to empower his kingdom mission until the end of the age (see sec. II, D, below). It is simply unbiblical to say as Warfield does, that after an initial outpouring of spiritual gifts in the apostolic age to reveal and establish Church doctrine, the exalted Christ's "work has been done."

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