In a frank admission accompanied by written evidence, Pulpit & Pen polemist Jeff Maples features an article on Calvin’s cessationist errors.
Maples, also a contributor and moderator for chookwatcher sites, including their Facebook page, starts with the following claim:
Continuationism, that is the belief in the continuation of the apostolic sign gifts, is a growing problem in evangelical churches. There is no argument that nearly every error in the church is entering through the conduit of continuationism.
Well, this is nonsense, of course. First of all, continuationism, as it is termed, is the belief in the continued ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Church, including the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit. Both believers and apostles were used of the Holy Spirit to operate in the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit in the early Church, and there is no evidence to support a cessationist approach.
The Holy Spirit has not abandoned His own gifts and manifestations. They eminate from Him, and operate through the Church as He wills.
The gifts and manifestations of the Spirit are for all believers
Quite a bit depends on Maple’s understanding of what he calls ‘apostolic sign gifts’. If he is saying that the gifts were solely for Apostles, he is scripturally wrong, since the gifts and manifestations were shared amongst believers as well as Apostles. They are gifts of the Spirit, meaning they were, and are, manifestations of the Spirit operated through believers as He wills.
A manifestation is a showing forth. It’s an exhibition, a demonstration. The gifts reveal the presence of the Spirit in the assembly.
1 Corinthians 12:4-7 There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.
He works all in all. He works all gifts and manifestation in all believers as He sees fit. They are His gifts, His manifestations, and He leads as He wills. Our only requirement is to be available to the Holy Spirit for His use as He leads.
1 Corinthians 12:11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.
If, on the other hand, Maples is referring to apostolic in the Koiné Greek meaning of a sent one, and, therefore gifts operated through believers as they were sent out, then he is wrong on the basis that he claims they have ended. Either way Maples is making claims he cannot back up through scripture.
His claim that continuationism is the cause of error is not borne out by either scripture or fact. The truth is that it is cessationism that is the key error issuing from ministries, including Reformed theology exponents.
Calvin is not the Holy Spirit
In fact, Maples lays the doctrine of cessation firmly at the feet of Calvin, on whose teaching Reformed theology is based. He goes on:
Both the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and the Westminster Confession of Faith affirm the cessation of the apostolic sign gifts in the church. While these are not in and of themselves Scripture, and neither is John Calvin, the most notable systematizer of Reformed theology during the Protestant Reformation, authoritative, his exegetical work is not, by any means, to be disregarded.
Wait a minute. If cessationist teaching is error it should certainly be disregarded, whether Calvin taught it as dogma or not. Our source is scripture not Calvin. Everything is to be tested against scripture, not a famous teacher’s theology.
And, yes, Maples hits the nail on the head when he admits that the Westminster Confession of Faith and 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith are not in and of themselves scripture. Nor, as he readily confesses, is Calvin.
Maples then claims cessationism as a ‘foundational principle to Reformed theology’. Actually, scripture should be a foundational principle for all theology.
Maples completes his article with a number of excerpts from Calvin’s teaching on cessationism, which fair and square lays the blame for the error at Calvin’s feet. Here are some highlights:
But the gift of healing disappeared with the other miraculous powers which the Lord was pleased to give for a time, that it might render the new preaching of the gospel for ever wonderful.
How and when did the gifts of healings end? Where, in scripture or fact, is there any evidence of this claim? There is none.
‘Therefore he promiseth them the gift of the Spirit, whereof they saw a pattern in the diversity of tongues. Therefore this doth not properly appertain unto us. For because Christ meant to set forth the beginning of his kingdom with those miracles, they lasted but for a time; yet because the visible graces which the Lord did distribute to his did shoe, as it were in a glass, that Christ was the giver of the Spirit, therefore, that which Peter saith doth in some respect appertain unto all the whole Church: ye shall receive the gift of the Spirit. For although we do not receive it, that we may speak with tongues, that we may be prophets, that we may cure the sick, that we may work miracles; yet is it given us for a better use, that we may believe with the heart unto righteousness, that our tongues may be framed unto true confession, (Romans 10:10,) that we may pass from death to life, (John 5:24) that we, which are poor and empty, may be made rich, that we may withstand Satan and the world stoutly.
Where does scripture say this does not pertain to us? The reality is that scripture requires us to be zealous for spiritual gifts, but especially to prophesy. Paul even encourages believers to speak in tongues as he did.
Where does scripture say that miracles lasted but for a time? It doesn’t. Nor did manifestations of the Spirit end in scripture. It tells us to be desirous, that is, ready and willing, to be used of the Spirit in the gifts and manifestations. It tells us that both speaking in tongues and prophecy are applicable for different reasons.
1 Corintians 14:1-3 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.
‘That the gift of healing was temporary, all are constrained to allow, and events clearly prove: then the sign of it ought not to be deemed perpetual.
No. Not all of us are constrained to allow that the gifts of healing were temporary. Where is the scripture for this? Nowhere.
Here, then, is a serious error that has misled countless generations and is the source of much debate in the Church today. Calvin’s cessationist approach is sustained amongst Reformed theology exponents, who, as the opening paragraph indicates, reject continuationist teaching as a ‘growing problem’, and that ‘nearly every error in the Church is entering through the conduit of continuationism’.
Yet scripture firmly and undeniably agrees with the continuationist’s teaching. There is no evidence whatsoever, Biblically, that the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit have ended. It is pure speculation on the part of people who cannot take the Word of God at face value.
Calvin rejects the ascension gifts
In an incredible addenda to his article on the teaching of Calvin, Maples throws in the following claim from Calvin’s doctrine:
It deserves attention, also, that, of the five offices which are here enumerated, not more than the last two are intended to be perpetual. Apostles, Evangelists, and Prophets were bestowed on the church for a limited time only, — except in those cases where religion has fallen into decay, and evangelists are raised up in an extraordinary manner, to restore the pure doctrine which had been lost. But without Pastors and Teachers there can be no government of the church.
This is an astonishing claim. There is no evidence that the ascension gifts have ended, nor that only two of them are today necessary.
No, the truth is that Christ ascended long after He had called and set apart His Apostles. The passage of scripture that speaks of the gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher clearly states that He gave these gifts after He had ascended.
Ephesians 4:9-12 Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
And 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…
We know, from the Book of Acts, that He ascended in full view of His Apostles, who were already appointed during the time of His ministry on earth, so the promise that, in ascending, He would set apart apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teaches as gifts to the Body demonstrates that there would be apostles other than the Twelve.
It is also quite clear that we have evangelists in the earth today. The notion that we only need pastors and teachers to sustain the government of the Church is false.
In retrospect, Maples has done us a great service in pointing out the source of these wrong teachings.
Hopefully, as an exponent of Sola Scriptura, he and his colleagues will search scripture in a deeper way and discover the truth contained in those precious verses that leads them to pursue love, and spiritual gifts and everything that God has for the Body as He leads through His Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant.