Just as Southern Baptists in the US are catching up with the groundswell of Christianity to embrace the full gospel by teaching on the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit and even speaking in tongues, the uptight cessationists throw down their crinkled gauntlet of protest.
Jeff Maples is a fellow of the chookwatcher clan, being an administrator on their Facebook page, and a frequent contributor to their chookwatch blogs.
The end of dreams
A writer at the ultra-critical Reformed theologist site Pulpit&Pen, Maples presents himself as a dyed-in-the-wool cessationist, which means he teaches that the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit have ended and we now live by the Word alone – Sola Scriptura.
Anything remotely spiritual is fair game for the cessationist, and Maples comes down on ministries who speak about, teach or practice the things of the Spirit.
Denying, in a recent article, the testimony of a Jewish Christian who says that Jesus reached holocaust survivors through dreams and visions, Maples makes the claim that God no longer ministers through his people through dreams and visions, even though scripture does, in fact, say that in these last days the Holy Spirit would administer dreams and visions through male and female believers.
Acts 2:17-18 ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy.’
This is a fulfilment, says the Apostle Peter, of the prophecy God made through Joel, speaking of the last days, which we are surely in today, having started, prophetically, on the Day of Pentecost, when the outpouring of the Spirit began as Promised by God.
The last days will not end until Jesus comes for the Church. Therefore the outpouring of the Spirit remains in the earth – and comes, according to scripture, upon all flesh.
Nowhere in scripture does it say that this time has ended.
The completed canon
The claim that cessationists like Maples make is that we have the completed canon of scripture, and therefore we no longer need the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, which would cut out the need for large swathes of scriptural instruction.
The problem with this argument, of course, is the testimony of the Word itself, which instructs us how to administer the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit in the Church, and shows us how to do these things decently and in order.
Maples makes the following erroneous claim…
‘During the closing of the canon, we see the gifts (i.e. revelations, miracles, tongues, etc.) tapering off, and the preaching of the Word of God becoming the dominant form evangelism’
That is his teaching on how the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit apparently ended. They ‘tapered off’, he claims. The thing is, they have not tapered off. There is no evidence that God intended for them to ‘taper off’.
Maples, like other cessationists, misapplies a verse or two from Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 13:8-13 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
The problem with this is the next verse from chapter 14 which says…
Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
Remember that scripture wasn’t written in chapter and verse, which were not added until much later – chapters in the 13th century, and verses in the 15th. When Paul wrote this the text was continuous. It read…
Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
This is not signalling the end of prophecy, or the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit for the Church, any more than it is ending love, faith and hope.
What is the perfect?
Cessationists incorrectly consider the canon of scripture to be the ‘perfect’ that has come and replaced prophecies, tongues and knowledge, but clearly this is the wrong application.
The canon of scripture was not put together until the fourth century after Christ, and then by the early Catholic Church. Whilst we can attest to the accuracy and vitality of the canon as it exists, it is not ‘that which is perfect’ that has replaced the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit. That notion is debatably poor exegesis, or, rather, eisegisis.
Otherwise the prophecy that says that in the last days men and women would prophesy is made null, as is the admonition to pursue love, desire spiritual gifts and prophesy.
God is not the author of confusion. He doesn’t spend time getting Paul to explain the ground-rules for the gifts and manifestations in the local church setting simply for us to ignore what the Apostle teaches.
Paul talks about the ‘perfect’ in Ephesians, in fact.
Ephesians 4:11-13 He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…
The word for ‘perfect’ is teleios, which means to be made complete, or brought to full age, perfect, or brought to its end, and it is talking here about the maturity of a believer being brought to the measure of the fulness of the stature of Christ.
We are, in one sense, in relationship, complete in Him, but we are also, in terms of growing in maturity as believers, going on to completion. He is complete, and because of our connection to Him we are being completed through the Word, and through the equipping of those who have been set apart for that ministry, and through the leading and anointing of the Spirit.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
So we are a work in progress, people of God being perfected through the Word and Spirit.
As Paul says, “we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”
It is the Church that is being perfected. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)
The doctrine of the Apostles and Prophets is as vital to us today as ever. The whole counsel of the New Testament is as relevant and as necessary as ever. It will be until the Church is caught away to be with Him.
As Maples reminds us, the New Testament Church is built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, therefore their teaching is as crucial to us today as it was to the burgeoning Church of Paul’s day.
God has not ended the gifts or manifestations of the Spirit. He has not ended tongues. He has not ended knowledge. He has not ended prophecy. He has not ended dreams or visions.
Of dreams and visions
I have heard testimonies out of Indonesia of Muslims coming to the Lord after having dreams and visions of Jesus. Not only Muslims. I was ministering at a church in Indonesia a few years ago and a Buddhist man came to the altar after the message trembling and crying out for God to save him, and asking what must he do.
Of course we prayed for him and led Him to Jesus and brought him into a local church to be looked after by a godly pastor. Later, over lunch, I asked the man what had spurred this on, and he said he had had a dream the night before and in this dream he was told to go to the meeting at which he was saved and to go forward for prayer.
You can criticise this all you want and deny it, but I am a living witness to this man’s conversion. He was literally terrified by what he had seen in his dream, crying out and begging for relief from sin as he came forward in that meeting. It is happening to many other Buddhists.
And we are hearing of many such testimonies on a regular basis. As with this man, people are being drawn by God into situations where they can hear the gospel preached and surrender their lives to Christ. It is Biblical for people to dream dreams and see visions.
When we deny what scripture says we are truly limiting God.
When ministers reject the power of God they are demonstrating their own fear of His Presence and relying on their inadequacies to quench the Spirit. This spirit of timidity which is effectively an unwillingness to trust God and take Him at His Word needs to be overcome, remembering that in our weakness His strength is made greater.
We need to surrender any reticence to believe God’s Word and allow His Spirit to teach us how to have confidence in what His Word says.
We cannot glorify God by stifling the Spirit.
Signs follow the preached Word
God’s Word works hand in hand with the Spirit. It is the Spirit who confirms the Word with signs following. If the Word is true, then the Spirit is true, and if the Spirit is true, then His gifts and manifestations are true.
The truth that works against the cessationists who claim that we no longer need the Spirit because we have the Word is the fact that the Word teaches so much about the power and working of the Spirit in and through the Church.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
When we preach Christ crucified we can expect the Holy Spirit to work with us to minister the full gospel wherever we are to whomever we preach. It is not about our oratory or ability, but about the power and grace of God as He works through His Spirit.
God gave us the Word, but He also gave us the Spirit. We cannot operate in the canon without the leading of the Spirit. There is no new revelation, but there is confirmation of the Word we have, and this always comes through the Holy Spirit.
And it is the Spirit that empowers us to be witnesses of Christ. He fills us, baptises us, and empowers us to minister the Word. He works in and through us. He is the One like Jesus in the earth, in us, with us, and upon us, as Jesus promised.
He has not ended, and He never changes, therefore His gifts have not ended, and His manifestations have not ended, any more than His fruit has ended. The fruit is the motive for the gifts. If we love people we will want, like the Spirit of Christ, to minister to them and bring them to Christ. We cannot do it without the Spirit.
The Word without the Spirit is death, not life. It is the Spirit that gives life to the Word. He quickens the Word. We speak the Word and He makes it come alive in the hearer.
Sadly critics like Jeff Maples are rejecting the truth that is in the Word they defend. Being self-proclaimed polemists, they do so in very strong terms and cause division within their own ranks.
I pray that they will see enough of the Word they profess to defend to grasp what it is actually telling them, and that they will yield themselves to the true godly power of the Word and Spirit in their lives and ministry, just as those they are criticising in this piece have been Berean enough to read the scriptures for themselves and are learning to trust God and lean on His instruction with humility.