Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mark Driscoll - “All Things to all men... By all means?”

A Conference hosted by Queensland Theological College, University of Queensland
(Videos courtesy of Mars Hill Church youtube channel) 

On Thursday, I had the awesome privelage of getting to see one of my favourite preachers in person face-to-face.
In light of Hope Brisbane's 2008 Oceania Convention: "A Contextualized Church", I was exited about seeing Mark Driscoll upfront.
Those who follow this blog will already know who Ps Mark Driscoll is. For those who don't know, Driscoll is the founder and Ps for teaching at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. In the early days of his pastoral ministry, he along with others such Dan Kimball, was part of the early “conversation” on the issue of reaching Generation X along with evangelizing postmoderns. Eventually, others like Doug Pagett and Brian Mclaren also joined; the latter two openly embracing a postmodern worldview and questioning the relevance and authority of crucial Christian doctrines such as the virgin birth, the clarity of scripture, the exclusivity of Christ. As these liberal ideologies grew to become what is now the Emergent Church movement, Ps Mark promptly distanced himself. 

Today, Mark Driscoll is best known for his contemporary, yet theologically strong preaching while Mars Hill now has over 5000 congregants divided among six campuses in a multi-site structure in what has been called America's least churched city.

When I got to the Hawken Engineering building, I was shocked by the number of people crowded outside the lecture theartre. Those who know me well are all too familiar with the fact that I do not enjoy being in a crowd. But here there were close to four hundred bible-believing aussie Christians eager to learn about taking their involvement in the great commission to the next level. As I eavesdropped on the various conversations, it was delightfully obvious that despite denominational differences, everyone took scripture, theology and eangelism very seriously.
After I picked up my name tag, I bumped into Joshua Mitchell who leads the Gold Cost team of the Operation513 open-air preaching ministry. We had a great time of fellowship where we talked about evangelism, ministry and the doctrines of grace. Since Josh was on the P.A. team , he was able to usher me into the lecture theartre before everyone else so I could get good seating.

So without further adieu, here are my notes from the morning sessions:

Session 1: “Are we as a Church Operating as we should?”

19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law.22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

The Corinthian church could be said to be one of the worst churches of the New Testament (the Galatians possibly being second)
- sexual immorality
- secularized, pluralistic society
- demonic influences
- excess of the charismata
- drunkeness

1 Corinthians 9 – Proclaimation AND contextualization

- Most churches tend to lean to one over the other
      - Fundamentalism = Strong Doctrine minus Cultural relevance
      - Liberalism = Excessive cultural relevance minus strong doctrine

- Our first priority is to preach the gospel
      - Continually preach the gospel within and outside the church
      - Never assume anything! As a leader, when you're among the Christians under
your care, never assume “they've heard it all before and don't need to hear it
again from me.”

      - Different generations bring about different assumptions and levels of knowledge
which in turn have brought about different ways of preaching the gospel that have had serious consequences upon the body of Christ
            - e.g., the Conservative Evangelical preachers of the 1950s (Billy Graham, J.I. Packer) who had a very strong emphasis on the authority of scripture, conversion as a tangible experience and the essential Christian doctrines
                        - The seeker-friendly model of the 80s-90s (Robert Schuller, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels) where in order to make non-believers feel comfortable and welcome, doctrine and the preaching of the full- gospel as done by the Conservative Evangelicals were deliberately undermined in favor of “felt-needs” evangelism and topical preaching related to a non-believer's everyday circumstances. As Bill Hybel's “Reveal Now” report revealed, the statistics show that as a means of long-term discipleship, this model actually does more harm than good and simply doesn't work.
                                    - The Emerging Church (2000-), who as the postmodern generation that follows from the seeker-friendly churches are led to adopt a liberal stance

- Your view of teaching is inevitably tied to your view of scripture
      - I.e., if you believe the Bible to be the inspired, infallible and innerrant Word of God, why on earth would you have a small-group discussion where everyone's views are equal to each other in the name of “dialogue”?

- Preach the gospel to both Christians and Non-Christians in the church

- Not all church-goers are genuinely born again, even if they may have responded to altar-calls countless times
- Preach the Penal Substitutionary Atonement of Christ's work on the cross. If there was anything the Calvinists got right, it was their view of propitiation:21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—26he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26

Advice for Preachers, Pastors and Ministers

- As a minister, take advantage of holidays and vacations

- Due to the stress commonly associated with ministry, Ps Mark has used up all of the adrenalin his body could produce. Doctors told him last year that for the sake of his well-being, the best option would be to quit ministry.

- Know what you want to preach/teach/emphasise at least one year in advance so that you can have maximum time to prepare your expositions.

- When teaching, anticipate and respond to the objections that will be raised by those on the receiving end.
      - It encourages:
            - Deeper Bible study and Devotions among congregants; people won't do passive quiet time
            - Apologetics: You teach the church how to think through controversial issues
- What do you do with the nerd who's always critisizing you over what they see as theological and exegetical errors on your part? Why not take them on as an understudy who can help you with research, adding meat to your messages in such a way that it lightens the load of study upon your schedule while allowing them to grow as an asset to the teaching/discipleship sector?

- Guard your church!
      - Membership should only consist of those who are proven to be born-again and actively support the church's doctrine
      - Keep the bar as high a possible!

- Sync the small-group teaching with the pulpit preaching
      - Keeps the “pulse”

The Church must see itself as a missional outpost

- Contextualization is the precursor to evangelism

- Understanding the culture you're reaching out to

- Contextualization is an act of service

- New converts are a great gift, they keep us focused on the important things that matter

- Decision-making should be centred around what will lead people to Christ

- Cut out the things in your ministry that hold back contextualization
      - Can you name 10?
      - Focus on growing the fruit-bearers among your congregants; don't accommodate those who don't bear fruit because they're openly disinterested and hostile.
      - When evangelism is done as a coerced work, it fizzles

- Mars Hill Church does very little in terms of “deliberate” evangelism programs and activities because:
      - Christ-centredness is always a primary aim in preaching and teaching. The gospel is not just tacked onto the end of the sermon's conclusion, but rather it is at the heart of all messages regardless of text or topic.
      - At all Sunday meetings, believers and non-believers are welcomed as two seperate groups. Believers are encouraged in their freedom in Christ while non-believers are told upfront that they will be “preached at” and asked to respond to the gospel.

Two-handed ministry

- Timeless truth held tightly in one hand + timed methods held loosely in the other

- Hold tightly to your doctrine, your theology and the gospel, yet being as flexible with how you apply these practically

- A church that doesn't do this is disobeying scripture(Room went very quiet at that point)- Contextualization should be done by everyone

- Every church contextualizes, the question is “what year?”
      - e.g., Cassette tapes vs podcasts
            - Some churches still use reel-to-reel tape!

- Biblical contextualization is not about making the gospel sound relevant, it's about showing the relevance and concern of the gospel!

Session 2: Missional Churches
Brief autobiography from Ps Mark:- Born in 1970 (38 years old) to a Catholic family
- Came to know Christ at 19: “If you're an Arminian, that's when I made a
decision for Christ. If you're a Calvinist, that's when God saved me.”

A Missional church must practice and preach repentance
- If we [leaders] won't talk about sin, they [congregants, non-believers] won't want to talk either

- An unrepentant pastor shouldn't expect to have a repentant flock
- You disarm critics who will bring accusation against you

- You have to call both the sinner and the religious to repent of their sin and turn to Christ

- Don't just focus on the sins of the individual. But sins that were committed against them
      - e.g. Rape


A missional church practices cultural exegesis

- Observe the culture
      - Try changing your daily transport route so that you can explore the area
      - Watch TV (in moderation)
      - Talk to EVERYONE!
      - Read blogs
- Get RSS feeds for local news

- Be seeker-sensible, not sinner-friendly

- Consider making the church welcoming to singles, couples and families

- A missonal church has a pastor as a missiologist
      - Studies culture and people

- The goal of missiology is to see conversions, not just being trendy for the sake of looking cool.

- Missional Churches are reproductive
      - Multi-site structure
      - Acts 2
“...and the Lord added to their number daily those that were being saved.”
      - Keep track of numbers
      - Try not to allow a quasi-socialist mindset that tries to level everything and prevents innovators from rising up
            - There is declining enthusiasm among aussie Christians for evangelism and ministry as a result of “tall-poppy syndrome.”

- A missional church is young
      - Youth groups serve as the petrie dish for innovation within your churches
      - Train young leaders who know current trends
            - If you want to reach young people, don't teach the 67 year old senior pastor how to use a skateboard!
      - Stay a player until God calls you to be a coach

- Three kinds of leaders
      - Prophets (doctrine, teaching, discernment)
      - Priests (caring, compassion, charity and encouraging)
      - Kings (Admin and management)
      - The faithful pastor serves as all three just as Jesus does

- Evolution of denominations
      - Movement (launch; lots of momentum and excitement)
      - Organization (formality)
      - Institution (preserves the organization)
      - Museum-Church (only those interested in the traditions of the institution attend out of nostalgia)

Session 3 – Practical Applications (Q&A)

How are services at Mars Hill Church Conducted?
1. Praise and Worship
2. Announcements and Welcome
3. Songs that focus on the cross and repentance
4. Sermon
5. Call to respond
      - Christians pray for each other rather than walk down the ailse
      - Silent Prayer
6. Communion
      - Congregants approach altar to collect elements individually
      - Christians only

- Mars Hill is Calvinistic and Charismatic in theology
      - “Charismatic” tends tends to have different connatations in different countries

- Leadership modeled after the Presbyterian structure (plurality of elders as opposed to a single senior pastor)

How do you reach the 18-35 age group?

- Don't do church FOR them, do church BY them (use those you currently have)

- Australia is a permission-based culture rather than commitment-based

- Encourage regulars to get involved in ministry as soon as possible

- Statistically, the average aussie Christian only goes to church once a month

How do you avoid the trap of a Christian sub-culture?

- A healthy church is a “city within a city” that does things differently to those in the outside world.

- An unhealthy closed-community church is more like a bombshelter where nothing comes in or goes out

With all these new trends, how do we define what a “church” is?

- Technology has changed the scope of the church
      - e.g., the Anglican parrish
            - What is YOUR parrish?
      - Use of video technologies
            - Online gatherings
                  - Is it legitimate?

- People must meet together under the authority of qualified leaders

- There must be biblical church discipline

- If two or three drunks are on a boat out at sea and each shouts “Jesus Christ!”, are they immediately at church?

As a new leader, pastor or church-planter, how do you respond to criticism?

- Listen to your critics and be humble
      - Is there any truth in it or is it unfounded?
      - Sometimes you have to let your critic become your coach
            - e.g. Billy Graham

- Once a criticism of you reaches the internet, it can stay there forever regardless of your repentance and apology
      - e.g., in 2006 Ps Mark was invited by John Piper to speak at the annual Desiring God conference which had the theme “The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World.” Due to Ps Mark's former affiliation with the Emerging Church, news of his participation created a furor on the internet, not just against him, but also John Piper as well.

- Never respond to a critic when you're angry; wait on the Holy spirit

- Get backup from another leader

- Meet the critic on your terms, not theirs, or you might get ensnared in a trap.

Advice for Growing leaders

- Young leaders need encouragement, yet must come under covering

- Don't be quick to stumble an entrepeneur who has new ideas

- It's a calling, not a job

- Humility is always the most important lession
      - All leaders should remember the humility of Jesus
5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:5-11     

 - A young leader who isn't humble will only humiliate others and himself

How should a Church Hire staff?

- Try to avoid hiring the most “public” guy who already attracts enough attention
- Hire people into ministry who can train and appoint others

- The larger Australian churches tend to have a “professional” clergy

- Mobilise volunteers before hiring full-time paid staff

What should act as the basis for doctrinal unity?

- As a church, know what you will contend for (Jude 3)

- Most church faith statements, while written down, only represent a a minute part of the theology that Christians will be exposed to both within and outside the church. The less specific a faith statement is in light of the plethora of various doctrines out there, the greater the potential for deception to creep in. In this regard, the majority of a church's faith statement is actually left unsaid and subject to the rule of the mob.

- What are the non-essentials in your church that may divide?
      - music style
      - dress code
      - gender roles

Beating the “Dead Horse”

- You will have people who want to constantly argue and argue

- Sometimes you have to cut people loose when they kick too hard against the flow of the church
- At times you will have to help them find the church they want
- Listen to John Piper!

- The door to leadership in your church should be immensely smaller than the doors to members and visitors.

Operation of Spiritual gifts within the Church

- There are merits of the cessationist position in that it encourages focus on the authority of scripture  
      - e.g., B.B. Warfield's writings on the subject of Inspiration, which while serving as a
great defence against the rise of liberalism, layed down the foundation for
contemporary cessationist theology
             - John Macarthur

- Mars Hill's position: All Gifts (Tongues, prophecy, healing, miracles, et al) are for today and should be encouraged, however most cases within the church are probably not the real thing

- The true evidence for being spirit-filled is growing in love for Jesus!

- At Mars Hill, the operation of prophecy is restricted to elders and above rather than “open mike”

- Some Charismatics can be very individualistic and selfish in their worship rather than using the gifts to edify and encourage others as Scripture instructs (cf.Rom 12, 1Cor 12-14)

What should be the standard for Church discipline?

(Ps Mark asked how many people come from churches where they feel that Church Discipline is operated properly. Very few hands went up.)

- Should only be for members who have pledged submission to the authority to the church and not just casual visitors

- Disciplining a visitor must be done with extra care as it can actually be counter- evangelistic


After the conference:

I eventually mustered up the courage to break through the crowd and ask Ps Mark for an autograph (to understand how I felt towards the prospect of talking to him, think of the “WE'RE NOT WORTHY!” scene in Wayne's World when Mike Myers gets to meet Alice Cooper).
BV: “You must have been asked a hundred times already.”
MD: “That's okay, brother.”
I offerered the souveneir pen I got from Oceania Convention. He noticed that it had the “Contextualized Church” logo printed on it.
MD: “Hey, that's awesome.”
At that point I asked the question that motivated me to attend the event:
BV: “Ps Mark, I attend an international fellowship where local aussies make up less than 10% of the church body. We've been active for 15 years now. What advice would you give so that we can make the transition to being a church that effectively reaches locals?”
As someone who leads a church of over 5000 in one of the least churched cities of America in addition to supporting local churchplanters, I thought his answer had to be a good one.
MD: “I'm sorry, I've never heard of that kind of situation before. I honestly don't know how to answer. I must apologize.”
I thanked him for his time, and stepped aside so others could approach him.
I sat outside the lecture theartre to pray. It was not exactly the answer I wanted to hear, no doubt. I prayed and cried out to God, the Lord of the Harvest. It was then I realized the purpose of the conference: to raise up the harvest workers. There just may be hope for this generation living in Brisbane after all.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Samuel Storms on Continuation of the Spiritual Gifts

Are Apostles for Today?

"We have become as the scum of the world,the dregs of all things, even until now" (1 Cor. 4:13)
A question that many today are asking is whether or not the office (or perhaps gift) of apostleship is still operative in the body of Christ. We hear many speak of the restoration of the apostolic and others even refer to an apostolic reformation that is coming to the church. People often line up at opposite ends of the spectrum on this question. I hear some deny that apostles are meant for today. They usually speak this way due to their belief that the presence of apostles in our day would threaten the finality and sufficiency of Scripture. They also fear the misuse of the authority that they believe is intrinsic to the office. At the other end of the spectrum are those who are quick to pin the tag “apostle” on virtually anyone who is gifted, articulate, and successful in ministry and church planting. My sense is that both views fail to grasp what the NT says about the office of apostleship. So let’s take a closer look at the biblical evidence.

A.        Levels of Apostleship

The NT clearly identifies four levels of apostleship or four ways in which the word “apostle” is used.
1)         Jesus - In one sense, Jesus is the one true apostle, the "sent one" from God the Father (Heb. 3:1).
2)         The Twelve - The original twelve apostles (the eleven plus Matthias [Acts 1:26]) constitute a unique and closed company. They will have the distinct role of judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28) and their names will be inscribed on the twelve foundation stones of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:14).
Note the qualifications that were required of the one who took the place of Judas (Acts 1:21-22).
3)         Paul and others - Another group of apostles, equal in authority to the twelve, includes Paul (1 Cor. 15:9), Barnabas (Acts 14:4,14), James, the brother of Jesus (Gal. 1:19; 1 Cor. 15:7), and perhaps Silas (1 Thess. 2:7), Andronicus (Rom. 16:7) and Junias (Rom. 16:7). 1 Cor. 15:7 may be referring to yet more apostles.
·      Although he was not included among the twelve, some would prefer to place Paul at Level 2 (or in a category unto himself), insofar as his authority was certainly equal to theirs (Gal. 1:11-17; 2 Cor. 12:11-12).
·      Although men such as Timothy and Apollos were significant in the life of the early church, they are never called apostles. See especially the discussion concerning Timothy in Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and for Today(Crossway Books), pp. 272-75.
A major point of dispute is whether Junias in Romans 16:7 is called an “apostle”. First of all, is Junias (Rom. 16:7) masculine or feminine? If feminine, then they are husband and wife. Recent examination of extensive Greek literature outside the Bible gives little help. The word Junias turned up only twice as a woman's name and only once as a man's name. If Junias is a woman, do we have reference here to a female apostle? It is possible (though not probable) to translate: "well knownby the apostles," rather than "outstanding among the apostles." The point has been made that "since Andronicus and Junias were Christians before Paul was, it may be that their longstanding ministry (reaching back before Paul's) is precisely what Paul might have in mind when he says 'of note among the apostles.' They may well have been known among the apostles before Paul was even converted" (Piper/Grudem, 80). But we can't be certain. Most believe that, if Junias was a female apostle, she should be classified at level 4 below.
4)         Messengers and Church Representatives - Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25) and the unnamed brethren of 2 Cor. 8:23 (possibly including Titus) fall into this category in which the term "apostle" (35x in Paul, 80x in the NT) is used in a non-technical, broad sense.
No one denies that there may be level 4 apostles today, people who function as church planters, ambassadors and/or representatives of a local church. Few, if any, want to argue that there are level 1 or 2 apostles today. But are there level 3 apostles today?
In his Cato Lectures of 1969, entitled "The Signs of an Apostle", C. K. Barrett argued for "eight persons, or groups of persons, all denoted, with varying degrees of propriety, by the term 'apostle'" (72). However, he appears to me to have unnecessarily made distinctions among those who belong to the same general category.
B.        Criteria for Apostleship

What qualifications are essential for Level 3 apostleship?
1)         Eye-Ear Witness to the Risen Christ - To be an apostle one must have both seen and heard the risen Christ. This is implied by Acts 1:21-22; 1 Cor.. 9:1, and 15:6-9. But simply seeing the risen Christ did not make someone an apostle, for many saw and heard Him (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:6) who were not apostles.
2)         A Personal Call and Commission from Jesus - This is evident from the statements of Paul himself (Gal. 1:1; Rom. 1:1,5; 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; etc.).

C.        Characteristics of Apostleship

There are other features or characteristics of apostolic ministry that must be noted. Whereas the presence of these factors does not make one an apostle, their absence may well call into question the authenticity of one's claim to that office. One would be hard-pressed to find an apostle in the NT whose life was not characterized by these features.
(1) Success in ministry (1 Cor.9:2; cf. 2 Cor. 3:1-3; [Paul appealed to the reality of their conversion as evidence of the authenticity of his apostolic calling]; but non-apostles also have great evangelistic success; see Philip in Acts 8).
(2) Signs and Wonders (Acts 5:12; Romans 15:19; 2 Cor. 12:12; but non-apostles also performed signs and wonders; see Stephen in Acts 6 and Philip in Acts 8).
(3) Extreme suffering (Col. 1:24; 2 Cor. 4:7-15; 11:23-33; etc.; certainly countless others also suffer).
(4) Christ-like life and humility (2 Cor. 1:12; 2:17; 3:4-6; 4:2; 5:11; 6:3-13; 7:2; 10:13-18; 11:6,23-28; but there is no reason why a non-apostolic believer might not live at this same level of maturity).
(5) Special insight into divine mysteries (Eph. 3:1-6; 1 Tim. 3:16; Rom. 11:25-32; 2 Cor. 12:1-4,7).
(6) Authority and the power to enforce it (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 4:18-21; 5:5; 2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10; 1 Tim. 1:20).
(7) God-orchestrated stigma (1 Cor. 4:9-13; 2 Cor. 6:3-10; 12:1-10). I often wonder if those who quickly accept the title of “Apostle” have bothered to read these texts, especially 1 Cor. 4:9-13.

D.        The Writing of Scripture
It is widely assumed that an essential part of apostleship is the authority to write inspired Scripture. There are three problems with this view:
1)         Scripture nowhere asserts that all apostles could write Scripture simply because they were apostles.
2)         Several of the apostles did not, in fact, write Scripture. Does this disqualify them from being apostles?
3)         People other than apostles did, in fact, write Scripture (Mark, Luke, the author of Hebrews, Jude).
There is no explicit or conclusive evidence that apostleship, per se, entailed the authority to write Scripture or required that one do so. Therefore, it is conceivable that God could raise up Level 3 apostles subsequent to the closing of the biblical canon without threatening the latter's finality and sufficiency. The canon is closed, not because God has stopped speaking, nor because there are no more apostles, but because God sovereignly closed it. God simply ceased inspiring and preserving canonical revelation. Basing the finality of the canon on the cessation of apostleship is disastrous. How can the absence of apostles guarantee the closing of the canon when non-apostles wrote Scripture? Such a view would require us to assert, absurdly, that as long as there are non-apostolic Christians the canon is open!

E.         Apostles and the Foundation of the Church
Some have argued from Ephesians 2:20 that apostles belonged exclusively to the foundational period of the church and not to its subsequent history when the superstructure is being built. However:
1)         This ignores vv. 21-22 where Paul refers to the superstructure as under construction, so to speak, as he speaks/writes (note the consistent use of the present tense in vv. 21-22). In other words, the apostles of v. 20, among whom was Paul, were also contributing to the superstructure, of which the Ephesians were a contemporary part, simultaneous with their laying the foundation on which it was being built.
2)         To use an analogy, once a man establishes a company, writes its by-laws, articulates its vision, hires employees, and does all the work essential in laying the foundation for its future work and productivity, he does not necessarily cease to exist or to serve the company in other capacities. As Jack Deere points out, "the founding director of a company or corporation will always be unique in the sense that he or she was the founder, but that does not mean the company would not have future directors or presidents" (Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, 248).
3)         The argument is that once apostles ceased to function foundationally, they ceased to function altogether, as if the onlypurpose for apostles was to lay the foundation of the church. But nowhere does the NT say this, least of all in Eph. 2:20. This text need say no more than that apostles and prophets laid the foundation once and for all and then ceased to function in that capacity. But nothing suggests that they ceased to function in other capacities, much less that they ceased to exist altogether. Certainly it is true that only apostles and prophets lay the foundation of the church, but it is anything but certain that such is the only thing they do.
The only text that might suggest apostleship was limited to the first century is 1 Cor. 15:8 where Paul says that Jesus appeared to him "last of all". Paul Barnett argues from this that "Paul himself sought to establish the limited extent of the numbers of apostles. His careful words that Christ 'appeared to me last of all' . . . serve to show that while there were apostles before him, there were no apostles after him. According to Paul he is both 'the least' and 'the last' of the apostles" ("Apostle," in Dictionary of Paul and his Letters [IVP 1993], 50).
But this verse may be understood differently. Paul is listing those to whom Jesus appeared in order to prove His bodily resurrection. He appeared to Peter, then the twelve, after that to more than five hundred brethren, then to James, then to other apostles, and last of all, i.e., last among all those mentioned here to whom he appeared following his resurrection, to Paul. Certainly Paul was the last to whom Jesus had appeared to that point in time, but nothing in the text suggests that Jesus could not or would not appear to someone subsequent to Paul. Finally, Paul is not describing Jesus' post-resurrection appearances in order to prove his or anyone else's apostleship, but to prove that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. After all, he mentions His appearing to more than five hundred people, none of whom were apostles.]

F.         Apostolic Authority
One reason people balk at the mention of modern apostles is based on theirerroneous belief that NT apostleship entailed an absolute authority that required unquestioning obedience. But see Galatians 2:11-21 for a clear counter-example. Whereas no apostle ever made a mistake when writing Scripture, they did not live continuously under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in such a way that all their opinions and/or actions were infallible.
Furthermore, if God should truly call and commission apostles today, we should no more fear their authority than we do that of pastors and elders who likewise have been specifically raised up by the Holy Spirit to lead, direct, and oversee the church of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Acts 20:28; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; 1 Peter 5:1-5; Heb. 13:17).

G.        Apostles: First in Authority, Last in Privilege
(1)       First in authority (1 Cor. 12:28; 14:37; 5:3-5; see also Acts 4:32-37; 8:14ff.; 2 Cor. 10:8)
(2)       Last in privilege (1 Cor. 4:9-12; 9:22-23)
Does Scripture teach that apostleship was restricted to the first century church? No. Are there apostles today? I certainly believe that it is the agenda of the Holy Spirit to bring them forth before the coming of the Lord. However, there is considerable debate as to whether those with an "apostolic anointing" today are in the office of an apostle. I am open to the possibility that they are. But if so, they must meet the criteria set forth above and display the characteristics portrayed in the NT.
Ephesians 4:11-16 strongly suggests that apostles are essential "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ". This statement pertains not only to the apostolic but also to the ministries of prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher (or pastor-teacher), all of which I expect to see functioning fully before the coming of the Lord.

Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? 

In this study and the one to follow I want to identify and then respond to the six most frequently used arguments in defense of cessationism. If you are not familiar with that word it refers to the doctrine that certain spiritual gifts, typically (and mistakenly) those referred to as “miraculous” in nature (such as healing, prophecy, tongues, miracles, word of knowledge, etc.) ceased or were withdrawn by God from the church at the close of the first century or in conjunction with the death of the original apostles. I was a cessationist until 1988. Among the various arguments cessationists employ, the following six were those I most often heard and preached. I now find them wholly inadequate, indeed wholly misleading and false. Here is why.
1.         An argument frequently cited in defense of cessationism is thatsigns, wonders and miracles were not customary phenomena even in biblical times. Rather, they were clustered or concentrated at critical moments of revelatory activity in redemptive history. John MacArthur (in his bookCharismatic Chaos) writes:
Most biblical miracles happened in three relatively brief periods of Bible history: in the days of Moses and Joshua, during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, and in the time of Christ and the apostles. None of those periods lasted much more than a hundred years. Each of them saw a proliferation of miracles unheard of in other eras. . . . Aside from those three intervals, the only supernatural events recorded in Scripture were isolated incidents.”

Several things may be said in response to this argument.
First, at most this proves that in three periods of redemptive history miraculous phenomena were more prevalent than in other times. It does notprove that miraculous phenomena in other times were non-existent. Nor does it prove that an increase in the frequency of miraculous phenomena could not appear in yet a fourth era of redemptive history, perhaps our own.
Second, for this to be a substantive argument one must explain not only why miraculous phenomena were prevalent in these three periods but also why they were, allegedly, infrequent or, to use MacArthur’s terms, “isolated,” in all other periods. If miraculous phenomena were infrequent in other periods, a point I concede here only for the sake of argument, one would need to ascertain why. Was it because God is by nature stingy with miracles? Is he skeptical of their effectiveness? Or could it be that the alleged relative infrequency of the miraculous was due to the rebellion, unbelief, and apostasy rampant in Israel throughout much of her history? Let us not forget that even Jesus “could do no miracle there [in Nazareth] except that He laid His hands upon a few sick people and healed them” (Mark 6:5), all because of their unbelief (at which, we are told, Jesus “wondered”, v. 6).
The point is that the comparative “isolation” of the miraculous in certain periods of OT history could be due more to the recalcitrance of God’s people than to any supposed theological principle that dictates as normative a paucity of supernatural manifestations.           
Third, there were no cessationists in the Old Testament! No one is ever found to argue that since miraculous phenomena were “clustered” at selected points in redemptive history we should not expect God to display his power in some other day. In other words, at no point in OT history did miracles cease.That they may have subsided is possible. But what does that prove? Simply that in some periods God is pleased to work miraculously with greater frequency than he is in others.

The fact that miracles do appear throughout the course of redemptive history, whether sporadically or otherwise, proves that miracles never ceased. How, then, can the prevalence of miracles in three periods of history be an argument for cessationism? In other words, how does the existence of miracles in every age of redemptive history serve to argue against the existence of miracles in our age? It is a strange logic indeed which contends that the occurrence of miraculous phenomena in biblical times, however infrequent and isolated, proves the non-occurrence of miraculous phenomena in post-biblical times. The continuation of miraculous phenomenathen is not an argument for the cessation of miraculous phenomena now! The fact that in certain periods of redemptive history few miracles are recorded proves only two things: first, that miracles did occur and, second, that few of them were recorded. It does not prove that only a few actually occurred.

Fourth, MacArthur’s assertion that miraculous phenomena outside these three special periods were “isolated” is simply false. He is able to make this argument only by defining the miraculous so narrowly as to eliminate a vast number of recorded supernatural phenomena that otherwise might qualify. I suppose the point is this: If miracles (using MacArthur’s arbitrary and restrictive definition of what constitutes a miraculous occurrence) were infrequent “then”, why should we expect them to be any more frequent “now”?

He insists that to qualify as a miracle the extraordinary event must occur “through human agency” and must serve to “authenticate” the messenger through whom God is revealing some truth. In this way MacArthur is able to exclude as miraculous any supernatural phenomenon that occurs apart from human agency and any supernatural phenomenon unrelated to the revelatory activity of God. Thus, if no revelation is occurring in that period of redemptive history under consideration, no supernatural phenomena recorded in that era can possibly meet the criteria set forth by MacArthur. On such a narrow definition of miracle it thus becomes easy to say they were “isolated” or infrequent.

But if “human agency” or a “gifted” individual is required before an event can be called miraculous, what becomes of the virgin birth of Jesus? On MacArthur’s definition of a miracle, not even the resurrection of Christ would qualify! What becomes of the resurrection of the saints mentioned in Matthew 27:52-53? Are we no longer permitted to call Peter’s deliverance from jail in Acts 12 a miracle simply because no “human” was instrumental in his escape? Was the instantaneous death of Herod in Acts 12:23 not a miracle because the agency was “angelic”? Was the earthquake that opened the prison in which Paul and Silas were housed not a miracle because God did it himself, directly? Was Paul’s deliverance from the venom of a viper (Acts 28) not a miracle simply because no human agency was utilized in his preservation?

To define as a miracle only those supernatural phenomena involving human agency is arbitrary. It is a case of special pleading, conceived principally because it provides a way of reducing the frequency of the miraculous in the biblical record.

MacArthur also insists that miracles always accompany divine revelation as a means of attestation. That miracles confirm and authenticate the divine message and messenger is certainly true. But MacArthur reduces the purpose of miracles to this one function while ignoring other reasons for which God ordained them. The association of the miraculous with divine revelation becomes an argument for cessationism only if the Bible restricts the function of a miracle to attestation. And such the Bible does not do.

My reading of the OT reveals a consistent pattern of supernatural manifestations in the affairs of humanity. Once the arbitrary restrictions on the definition of a miracle are removed, a different picture of OT religious life emerges. (See the chart in Jack Deere’s book, Surprised By The Power of The Spirit.)

Two other factors indicate that miraculous phenomena were not as “isolated” as some allege.
First, there is the assertion of Jeremiah 32:20 in which the prophet speaks of God who “sets signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and even to this day both in Israel and among mankind; and Thou hast made a name for Thyself, as at this day.” This text alerts us to the danger of arguing from silence. The fact that from the time of the Exodus to the Captivity few instances of signs and wonders are recorded does not mean they did not occur. Jeremiah insists they did. One might compare this with the danger of asserting that Jesus did not perform a particular miracle or do so with any degree of frequency simply because the gospels fail to record it. John tells us explicitly that Jesus performed “many other signs . . . in the presence of the disciples” which he did not include in his gospel account” (John 20:30) as well as “many other things which Jesus did” that were impossible to record in detail (John 21:25).
Second, MacArthur inists that NT and OT prophecy are the same. He also readily acknowledges, as do all cessationists, that NT prophecy was a “miracle” gift. If OT prophecy was of the same nature, then we have an example of a miraculous phenomenon recurring throughout the course of Israel’s history. In every age of Israel’s existence in which there was prophetic activity there was miraculous activity. What then becomes of the assertion that miracles, even on MacArthur’s narrow definition, were infrequent and “isolated”?
Does any of this prove that God is doing signs, wonders, and miracles in our day? No. It merely proves that He may. It proves that it would be consistent with how God has acted in times past. It proves there is nothing in the biblical record concerning the alleged infrequency of miracles that would lead us to believe God will not do them in our day.

2.         A second argument to which the cessationist appeals is this:
Signs, wonders, and miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit such as tongues, interpretation, healing, and the discerning of spirits, were designed to confirm, attest, and authenticate the apostolic message."
It is only reasonable to conclude, therefore, as Norman Geisler has said, that "The 'signs of an apostle' passed away with the times of an apostle."
It is true that signs, wonders, and miracles often attested to the divine origin of the apostolic message. But this is a persuasive argument against the contemporary validity of such phenomena only if you can demonstrate two things.
First, you must demonstrate that authentication or attestation was the sole and exclusive purpose of such displays of divine power. However, there is not so much as a single inspired syllable of Scripture that does so. Nowhere in the NT is the purpose or function of the miraculous or the charismata reduced to that of attestation.
The miraculous, in whatever form in which it appeared, served several other distinct purposes. For example, there was a doxological purpose. Such was the primary reason for the resurrection of Lazarus, as Jesus himself makes clear in John 11:4 (cf. 11:40). The doxological purpose of the miraculous is also found in John 2:11; 9:3; and Mt. 15:29-31. Miracles also served anevangelistic purpose (see Acts 9:32-43). Much of our Lord’s miraculous ministry was an expression of his compassion and love for the hurting multitudes. He healed the sick and even fed the 5,000 principally because he felt compassion for the people.
There are several texts which indicate that one primary purpose of miraculous phenomena was to edify and build up the body of Christ. At one point in his book MacArthur says that noncessationists “believe that the spectacular miraculous gifts were given for the edification of believers. Does God’s Word support such a conclusion? No. In fact, the truth is quite the contrary.”
What, then, will you do with 1 Cor. 12:7-10, the list of what all agree are miraculous gifts such as prophecy, tongues, healing, and interpretation of tongues? These charismata, says Paul, were distributed to the body of Christ “for the common good” (v. 7), i.e., for the edification and benefit of the church! These are primarily, but not exclusively, the very gifts that serve as the background against which Paul then encourages (in vv. 14-27) all members of the body to minister one to another for mutual edification, insisting that no one gift (whether tongues or prophecy or healing) is any less important than another.
Again, what will you do with 1 Cor. 14:3 in which Paul asserts that prophecy, one of the miraculous gifts listed in 12:7-10, functions to edify, exhort, and console others in the church? The one who prophesies, says Paul in 14:4, “edifies the church.” And what will you do with 1 Cor. 14:5 in which Paul says that tongues, when interpreted, also edifies the church? And what will you do with 1 Cor. 14:26 in which Paul exhorts us to assemble, prepared to minister with a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation, all of which are designed, he says, for “edification”?

And if, as MacArthur says, “tongues never were intended to edify believers,” why did God provide the gift of interpretation so that tongues might be utilized in the gathered assembly of believers? If “tongues never were intended to edify believers,” why did Paul himself exercise that gift in the privacy of his own devotions? That he did so is demonstrable from 1 Cor. 14:18-19. There he declares: “I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind, that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.” This latter statement is Paul’s somewhat exaggerated way of saying he almost never speaks in tongues in church. In the absence of an interpreter, he most definitely won’t. Now listen carefully:
If in church Paul virtually never exercises this gift, yet speaks in tongues more frequently and fluently and fervently than anyone, even more so than the tongue-happy Corinthians, where does he do it? Dare I say, in private?

My point is this: all the gifts of the Spirit, whether tongues or teaching, whether prophecy or mercy, whether healing or helps, were given, among other reasons, for the edification and building up and encouraging and instructing and consoling and sanctifying of the body of Christ. Therefore, even if the ministry of the miraculous gifts to attest and authenticate has ceased, a point I concede only for the sake of argument, such gifts would continue to function in the church for the other reasons cited.

The second thing that must be demonstrated for this argument to carry weight is that only the apostles performed signs, wonders, miracles, or exercised so-called “miraculous” charismata. But this is contrary to the evidence of the NT. Others, aside from the apostles, who exercised miraculous gifts include
·      the 70 who were commissioned in Luke 10:9,19-20;
·      at least 108 people among the 120 who were gathered in the upper room on the day of Pentecost;
·      Stephen (Acts 6-7);
·      Philip (Acts 8);
·      Ananias (Acts 9);
·      Prophets in Antioch (Acts 13)
·      Philip’s daughters / prophetesses (Acts 21:8-9)
·      the unnamed brethren of Galatians 3:5
·      believers in Rome (Rom. 12:6-8)
·      believers in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 5).

Furthermore, when you read 1 Corinthians 12:7-10, does it sound as if Paul is saying that only apostles are endowed with the charismata? On the contrary, “gifts of healings,” “tongues,” “miracles,” etc., are given by the sovereign Spirit to ordinary Christians in the church at Corinth for the daily, routine building up of the body. Farmers, shopkeepers, housewives, as well as apostles and elders and deacons received the manifestation of the Spirit, all “for the common good” of the church.

A counter argument is often made to the effect that signs and wonders and miraculous charismata in Acts were closely connected to the apostles or to those who were themselves associated with the apostolic company. But remember this:
First, the book of Acts is, after all, the Acts of the APOSTLES! We entitle it this way because we recognize that the activity of the apostles is the principal focus of the book. We should hardly be surprised or try to build a theological case on the fact that a bookdesigned to report the acts of the apostles describes signs and wonders performed by the apostles!
Second, to say that Stephen and Phillip and Ananias don’t count because they are closely associated with the apostles proves nothing. Name one person, who figures to any degree of prominence in the book of Acts, who is not associated with at least one of the apostles? If we were to apply this argument to other issues in Acts, the results would be disastrous. For example, church planting is restricted to the apostles and those closely associated with them. Should we then not plant churches today?
Someone might still wish to object, insisting that there was a remarkable concentration of miraculous phenomena characteristic of the apostles as special representatives of Christ. But the prevalence of miracles performed by the apostles in no way proves that no miracles were performed by/through others.
See 2 Corinthians 12:12. Does not this text refer to the miraculous as “signs” of the apostles? No, in point of fact, it does not. The NIV contributes to the confusion by translating as follows: “The things that mark an apostle --- signs, wonders and miracles --- were done among you with great perseverance.” This rendering leads you to believe that Paul is identifying the “signs/marks” of an apostle with the miraculous phenomena performed among the Corinthians. But the “signs/marks” of an apostle is in the nominative case whereas “signs, wonders and miracles” is in the dative. Contrary to what many have thought, Paul does not say the insignia of an apostle are signs, wonders and miracles. Rather, as the NASB more accurately translates, he asserts that “the signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, BY signs and wonders and miracles.”

Paul’s point is that miraculous phenomena accompanied his ministry in Corinth. Signs, wonders and miracles were attendant elements in his apostolic work. But they were not themselves the “signs of an apostle.” The signs of an apostle, the distinguishing marks of true apostolic ministry were, among other things:
(1) the fruit of his preaching, i.e., the salvation of the Corinthians themselves (cf. 1 Cor. 9:1b-2, “Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, as least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord”; cf. 2 Cor. 3:1-3);
(2) his Christ-like life of holiness, humility, etc., (cf. 2 Cor. 1:12; 2:17; 3:4-6; 4:2; 5:11; 6:3-13; 7:2; 10:13-18; 11:6,23-28); and
(3) his sufferings, hardship, persecution (cf. 2 Cor. 13:4; 4:7-15; 5:4-10; and all of chp. 11).
Paul patiently, in perseverance, displayed these “signs” of his apostolic authority. And this was accompanied by signs, wonders and miracles he performed in their midst.
Let us also remember that Paul does not refer to the “signs” of an apostle nor to the miraculous phenomena that accompanied his ministry as a way of differentiating himself from other, non-apostolic Christians, but from the false apostles who were leading the Corinthians astray (2 Cor. 11:14-15,33). “In short,” writes Wayne Grudem, “the contrast is not between apostles who could work miracles and ordinary Christians who could not, but between genuine Christian apostles through whom the Holy Spirit worked and non-Christian pretenders to the apostolic office, through whom the Holy Spirit did not work at all.”

Nowhere does Paul suggest that signs and wonders were exclusively or uniquely apostolic. My daughter once took dance lessons and especially enjoyed ballet. Although only 10 years old at the time, she had incredibly strong and well-developed calf muscles. Indeed, it might even be said that the “sign” of a ballet dancer is strong calf muscles. But I would never argue that only ballet dancers display this physical characteristic. I only mean to say that when taken in conjunction with other factors, her lower leg development helps you identify her as one who dances on her toes. Likewise, Paul is not saying that signs, wonders and miracles are performed only through apostles, but that such phenomena, together with other evidences, should help the Corinthians know that he is a true apostle of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, the fact that miraculous phenomena and certain of the charismata served to attest and authenticate the message of the gospel in no way proves or even remotely suggests that such activities are invalid for the church subsequent to the death of the apostolic company.

3.         The third argument for cessationism pertains to the alleged negative assessment given by many to the nature, purpose and impact of signs, wonders and miracles in the NT. I had been taught and believed that it was an indication of spiritual immaturity to seek signs in any sense, that it was a weak faith, born of theological ignorance, that prayed for healing or a demonstration of divine power. Some are even more pointed in their opinion. James Boice, in his contribution to the recent book Power Religion, quotes with approval the sentiment of John Woodhouse, to the effect that “a desire for further signs and wonders is sinful and unbelieving.”

            But consider, for example, Acts 4:29-31, which records this prayer of the church in Jerusalem:
And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bondservants may speak Thy word with all confidence, while Thou dost extend Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders takes place through the name of Thy holy servant Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness.”
This text is important for at least two reasons: it shows that it is good to pray for signs and wonders, that it is not evil or a sign of emotional and mental imbalance to petition God for demonstrations of his power; and, secondly, it shows that there is no necessary or inherent conflict between miracles and the message, between wonders and the word of the cross. Let me take each of these points in turn.

First, it is good and helpful and honoring to the Lord Jesus Christ to seek and pray for the demonstration of his power in healing, signs and wonders.
But what about Mt. 12:39 and Mt. 16:4? Doesn’t Jesus denounce as wicked and adulterous those who “crave” and “seek” after signs (cf. 1 Cor. 1:22)? Yes, but note well whom he is addressing and why they are denounced. These are unbelieving scribes and Pharisees, not children of God. These who made such demands of Christ had no intention of following him. “Seeking signs from God is ‘wicked and adulterous’ when the demand for more and more evidence comes from a resistant heart and simply covers up an unwillingness to believe” (John Piper). Seeking signs as a pretext for criticizing Jesus or from a hankering to see the sensational is rightly rebuked. But that certainly wasn’t the motivation of the early church, nor need it be ours.
 Perhaps an illustration will help. John Piper explains:

If we are carrying on a love affair with the world, and our husband, Jesus, after a long separation comes to us and says, ‘I love you and I want you back,’ one of the best ways to protect our adulterous relationship with the world is to say, ‘You’re not really my husband; you don’t really love me. Prove it. Give me some sign.’ If that’s the way we demand a sign, we are a wicked and adulterous generation. But if we come to God with a heart aching with longing for vindication of his glory and the salvation of sinners, then we are not wicked and adulterous. We are a faithful wife, only wanting to honor our husband.”

Do you come to God insistent on a miracle, being prompted by an unbelieving heart that demands He put on a show before you will obey him? Or do you come humbly, in prayer, with a desire to glorify God in the display of his power and an equal desire to minister his mercy and compassion and love to those in need? The former, God condemns. The latter, he commends.

Second, the power of signs and wonders does not dilute the power of the gospel nor is there any inherent inconsistency or conflict between wonders and the word.
Still, there are those who appeal to Rom. 1:16 and 1 Cor. 1:18,22-23, texts that assert the centrality of the cross and the power of the gospel to save (theological truths to which all of us, I am sure, wholeheartedly subscribe). But who wrote these passages? Was it not Paul, the same man who described his evangelistic ministry as one characterized by the “power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:19)? Was it notPaul, the same man who wrote 1 Cor. 12-14 and about whom most of Acts, with all its miraculous phenomena, is concerned? Was it not Paul, the same man whose message and preaching came “not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4)? Was it not Paul, the same man who reminded the Thessalonians that the gospel did not come to them “in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction”?

And here I speak reverently when I say that if there is an inherent inconsistency or conflict between miracles and the message then someone forgot to inform God, for it was He, according to Acts 14:3, “who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.” If signs and wonders dilute the word of God’s grace, if signs and wonders detract from the centrality of the cross, if signs and wonders reflect a loss of confidence in the power of the gospel, someone should have told the Almighty about it for He seems to have thought differently on the matter.If there is a conflict between wonders and the word, it is in our minds that the problem exists. It isn’t in Paul’s mind. And it certainly isn’t in God’s.

Signs and wonders and miraculous phenomena could not save a soul then nor can they now. The power unto salvation is in the Holy Spirit working through the gospel of the cross of Christ. But such miraculous phenomena “can, if God pleases, shatter the shell of disinterest; they can shatter the shell of cynicism; they can shatter the shell of false religion. Like every other good witness to the word of grace, they can help the fallen heart to fix its gaze on the gospel where the soul-saving, self-authenticating glory of the Lord shines" (Piper; cf. Acts 9).
Furthermore, be it noted that if any generation was least in need of supernatural authentication, it was that of the early church. Yet they prayed earnestly for signs and wonders. Remember:

This was the generation whose preaching (of Peter and Stephen and Phillip and Paul) was more anointed than the preaching of any generation following. If any preaching was the power of God unto salvation and did not need accompanying signs and wonders, it was this preaching. Moreover, this was the generation with more immediate and compelling evidence of the truth of the resurrection than any generation since. Hundreds of eyewitnesses to the risen Lord were alive in Jerusalem. If any generation in the history of the church knew the power of preaching and the authentication of the gospel from first-hand evidence of the resurrection, it was this one. Yet it was they who prayed passionately for God to stretch forth His hand in signs and wonders” (Piper).

Others have argued that signs, wonders and miracles breed a spirit of triumphalism inconsistent with the call to suffer for the sake of the gospel. Those who desire and pray for the miraculous, so goes the charge, do not take seriously the painful realities of living in a fallen world. Weakness, afflictions, persecution and suffering are an inevitable part of living in the “not-yet” of the kingdom.

But when I read the NT, I see no inherent conflict between signs and suffering. And be it known that it is the NT, not the posturing or glitz of certain TV evangelists, that must be allowed to decide the issue. Paul certainly sensed no incompatibility between the two, for they were both characteristic of his life and ministry. As C. K. Barrett put it, “Miracles were no contradiction of the theologia crucis he proclaimed and practised, since they were performed not in a context of triumphant success and prosperity, but in the midst of the distress and vilification he was obliged to endure.”

As John Piper has said, “Paul’s ‘thorn’ [in the flesh] no doubt pressed deeper with every healing he performed.” His own personal trials and afflictions did not lead him to renounce the miraculous in his ministry. Nor did the supernatural displays of God’s power lead him into a naive, “Pollyanna” outlook on the human condition. Again, if signs and suffering are incompatible, one must look somewhere other than in the Bible to prove it.

4.         A fourth argument pertains to the closing, completion, and sufficiency of the canon of Scripture. Signs, wonders and miraculous gifts accompanied and attested to the truth of the gospel until such time as the last word of canonical Scripture was written. The need for such manifestations of divine power therein ceased. The Bible itself has replaced miraculous phenomena in the life of the church.
There are several problems with this argument.
In the first place, the Bible itself never says any such thing. No biblical author of whom I am aware ever claims that written Scripture has replaced or in some sense supplanted the need for signs, wonders and the like.
Secondly, why would the presence of the completed canon preclude the need for miraculous phenomena? If signs, wonders and the power of the Holy Spirit were essential in bearing witness to the truth of the gospel then, why notnow? In other words, it seems reasonable to assume that the miracles which confirmed the gospel in the first century, wherever it was preached, would serve no less to confirm the gospel in subsequent centuries, even our own.

Thirdly, which is greater: Jesus or the written word? Which is greater: the Son of God or the Bible? Jesus, of course! But if signs, wonders and miracles were essential in the physical presence of the Son of God, how much more so now in his absence! Surely we are not prepared to suggest that the Bible, for all its glory, is sufficient to do what Jesus couldn’t. Jesus thought it necessary to utilize the miraculous phenomena of the Holy Spirit to attest and confirm his ministry. If it was essential for him, how much more so for us. In other words, if the glorious presence of the Son of God himself did not preclude the need for miraculous phenomena, how dare we suggest that our possession of the Bible does?

5.         Yet another argument is from church history: “If the so-called miracle or sign gifts of the Holy Spirit are valid for Christians beyond the death of the apostles, why were they absent from church history until their alleged reappearance in the twentieth century?”
To argue that all such gifts were utterly non-existent is to ignore a significant body of evidence. After studying the documentation for claims to the presence of these gifts, D. A. Carson’s conclusion is that “there is enough evidence that some form of ‘charismatic’ gifts continued sporadically across the centuries of church history that it is futile to insist on doctrinaire grounds that every report is spurious or the fruit of demonic activity or psychological aberration” (Showing the Spirit, 166).

If the gifts were sporadic, there may be an explanation other than the theory that they were restricted to the first century.
·      Limited access to the Scriptures
·      Theological ignorance
·      Spiritual lethargy
I don't think it at all unlikely that numerous churches which advocated cessationism experienced these gifts but dismissed them as something less than the miraculous manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The ministry of Charles Spurgeon is a case in point. Consider the following account taken from his autobiography:

While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, ‘There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!’ A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, ‘Do you know Mr. Spurgeon?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the man, ‘I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and, under his preaching, by God’s grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place; Mr. Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit out of it. I did take ninepence that day, and fourpence was just the profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul’” (The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon [London: Curts & Jennings, 1899], 2:226-27).

Spurgeon then adds this comment:

I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, ‘Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.’ And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, ‘The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door’” (ibid., 227).

My opinion is that this is a not uncommon example of what the Apostle Paul described in 1 Cor. 14:24-25. Spurgeon exercised the gift of prophecy (or some might say the word of knowledge, 1 Cor. 12:8). He did not label it as such, but that does not alter the reality of what the Holy Spirit accomplished through him. If one were to examine Spurgeon’s theology and ministry, as well as recorded accounts of it by his contemporaries as well as subsequent biographers, most would conclude from the absence of explicit reference to miraculous charismata such as prophecy and the word of knowledge that such gifts had been withdrawn from church life. But Spurgeon’s own testimony inadvertently says otherwise!

If we concede that certain spiritual gifts were less prevalent than others in the history of the church, their absence may well be due to unbelief, apostasy, and other sins that serve only to quench and grieve the Holy Spirit. Both theological ignorance of certain biblical truths and a loss of experiential blessings provided by spiritual gifts can be, and should be, attributed to factors other than the suggestion that God intended such knowledge and power only for believers in the early church.

Finally, what has or has not occurred in church history is not the ultimate standard by which to judge what we should pursue, pray for, and expect in the life of our churches today. The final criterion for deciding whether God wants to bestow certain spiritual gifts on his people today is the Word of God. It is unwise to cite the alleged absence of a particular experience in the life of an admired saint from the church’s past as reason for doubting its present validity. Neither the failure nor success of Christians in days past is the ultimate standard by which we determine what God wants for us today. We can learn from their mistakes as well as their achievements. But the only question of ultimate relevance for us and for this issue is: “What saith the Scripture?”

6.         Sixth, and finally, there is another reason why I remained for years committed to the doctrine of cessationism. It isn’t based on any particular text or theological principle and yet it probably exercised more of an influence on my life and mind than all of the other arguments combined.
I’m talking about fear: the fear of emotionalism, the fear of fanaticism, the fear of the unfamiliar, the fear of rejection by those whose respect I cherished and whose friendship I did not want to forfeit, the fear of what might occur were I fully to relinquish control of my life and mind and emotions to the Holy Spirit, the fear of losing what little status in the evangelical community that I had worked so hard to attain.
I’m talking about the kind of fear that energized a personal agenda to distance myself from anything that had the potential to link me with people who I believed were an embarrassment to the cause of Christ. I was faithful to the eleventh commandment of Bible-church evangelicalism: “Thou shalt not do at all what others do poorly.” In my conceit and pride I had unconsciously allowed certain extremists to exercise more of an influence on the shape of my ministry than I did the text of Scripture. Fear of being labeled or linked or in some way associated with the “unlearned” and “unattractive” elements in contemporary Christendom exercised an insidious power on my ability and willingness to be objective in the reading of Holy Scripture.

I’ve learned an important lesson, far beyond the point at issue in this study. I’ve learned, in the words of J. I. Packer, that “the reaction of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” Packer explains it this way:
If you are walking backward away from something you think is a mistake, you may be right in supposing it is a mistake, but for you to be walking backward is never right. Sooner or later people who walk backward in the physical sense stumble over some obstacle behind them which they never saw, because their minds and their eyes were fixed on what they were trying to get away from, and then they fall. We are meant to walk forward, not backward. Reaction is always a matter of walking backward, and thus it brings its own nemesis.”
I believe all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are valid for the contemporary church for these reasons.

First, there is the absence of any biblical evidence indicating they are notvalid. This is not, however, a mere argument from silence, because the NT isanything but silent concerning the presence of the charismata in the church. If certain gifts of a special class have ceased, the burden of proof is on the cessationist to prove it.

Second, the ultimate purpose of each gift is to build up the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:7; 14:3,26). Nothing that I read in the NT nor see in the condition of the church in any age, past or present, leads me to believe we have progressed beyond the need for edification and therefore beyond the need for the contribution of the charismata. I freely admit that spiritual gifts were essential for the birth of the church, but why would they be any less important or needful for its continued growth and maturation?

Third, four texts come to mind. 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 implies that the gifts of the Spirit are operative until “the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 7).Ephesians 4:11-13 explicitly dates the duration of the gifts. They are required “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (v. 13). In 1 Corinthians 14:39 Paul commands “the brethren,” among whom I include myself, “desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.” And despite the controversy that still surrounds it, I remain convinced that 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 dates the cessation of the charismata at the perfection of the eternal state, consequent upon Christ’s return.
Fourth, I believe that the charismata are designed by God to characterize the life of the church today for much the same reason I believe in church discipline for today and in rule by a plurality of elders for today and in the observance of the Lord’s Supper for today and in a host of other biblical practices and patterns explicitly ordained in the NT and nowhere explicitly designated as temporary or restricted to the first century.

Fifth, and finally, I do not believe the Holy Spirit simply inaugurates the new age and then disappears. He, together with His gifts and fruit, characterizesthe new age. As D. A. Carson has said, “the coming of the Spirit is not associated merely with the dawning of the new age but with its presence, not merely with Pentecost but with the entire period from Pentecost to the return of Jesus the Messiah.” Spiritual gifts such as prophecy, tongues, and related revelatory phenomena such as dreams and visions, are explicitly said by Peter to be the fruit of the outpouring of the Spirit, the latter being the evidence for the advent and presence of the "last days" (Acts 2:17ff.).

Are Prophets Foundational to the Church?
The fact that Paul, in Ephesians 2:20, describes “apostles and prophets” as the foundation of the Church has led some to draw what I believe are unwarranted theological conclusions, specifically the idea that prophecy is a gift that was restricted to the first century and subsequently died out. Richard Gaffin, for example, says that in Ephesians 2:11-22 the church

is pictured as the construction project of God, the master architect-builder, underway in the period between the ascension and return of Christ (cf. 1:20-22; 4:8-10,13). In this church-house the apostles and prophets are the foundation, along with Christ as the ‘cornerstone’ (v. 20). In any construction project (ancient or modern), the foundation comes at the beginning and does not have to be relaid repeatedly (at least if the builder knows what he’s doing!). In terms of this dynamic model for the church, the apostles and prophets belong to the period of the foundation. In other words, by the divine architect’s design, the presence of apostles and prophets in the history of the church is temporary” (Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views, 42-43).
Gaffin’s point is two-fold. First, he argues that since the “foundation” for a building (i.e., the church) can only be laid once, apostles and prophets ceased to exist or function once this task had been accomplished. Second, he argues that Paul has in view all apostles and all prophets. If that is true, neither apostles nor prophets can be conceived as continuing in any capacity in the church beyond the first century.

Wayne Grudem has responded by arguing that we should translate the phrase: “apostles who are prophets.” His point is that Paul has only one group of people in view (“apostle-prophets”, not two (“apostles and prophets”). Thus, there are still other prophets who are not apostles and they continue to function in the building of the church in subsequent generations. Grudem’s view, however, is grammatically unlikely. I also believe, with Grudem, that there areother prophets in the NT who are not included in the ministry of “foundation-laying” that Paul has in view here in Eph. 2:20. But I don’t believe that one need resort to Grudem’s grammatical suggestion to prove it true.

By way of response to Gaffin’s first point, he seems to believe that once apostles and prophets ceased to function foundationally, they ceased to function altogether, as if the only purpose for apostles and prophets was to lay the foundation of the church. Nowhere does the NT say this, least of all in Eph. 2:20. This text need say no more than that apostles and prophets laid the foundation once and for all and then ceased to function in that capacity. But nothing suggests that they ceased to function in other capacities, much less that they ceased to exist altogether. Certainly it is true that only apostles and prophets lay the foundation of the church, but it is anything but certain that such is the only thing they do.

It would appear that Gaffin (and other cessationists) wants us to believe that apostles and prophets belong exclusively to the period of the foundation (i.e., the first century a.d.), not the superstructure. But this ignores vv. 21-22 where Paul refers to the superstructure as under construction, so to speak,as he speaks and writes (note the consistent use of the present tenses in vv. 21-22). In other words, the apostles and prophets of v. 20, among whom was Paul, were also contributing to the superstructure, of which the Ephesians were a contemporary part, simultaneous with their laying the foundation on which it was being built. We must be careful not to push the metaphor beyond what Paul intended by it.

To use an analogy, once a man establishes a company, writes its by-laws, articulates its vision, hires employees, and does all the work essential in laying the foundation for its future work and productivity, he does not necessarily cease to exist or to serve the company in other capacities. As Deere points out, "the founding director of a company or corporation will always be unique in the sense that he or she was the founder, but that does not mean the company would not have future directors or presidents" (248).

Second, on Gaffin's view, all NT prophets functioned foundationally. But there is nothing to suggest that "the prophets" in Eph. 2:20 is an exhaustive reference to all possible prophets in the church. Why should we conclude that the only kind of prophetic activity is "foundational" in nature, especially in light of what the NT says about the extent and effect of prophetic ministry? It simply isn't possible to believe that all prophetic utterances were part of the once-for-all foundation of the church.
·      For one thing, the NT nowhere says they were.
·      For another, it portrays prophetic ministry in an entirely different light from the one Gaffin attempts to deduce from Eph. 2:20. Surely not everyone who ministered prophetically was apostolic. Therefore, the cessation of the latter is no argument for the cessation of the former.
To suggest that Eph. 2:20 has in view all possible prophets active in the early church does not measure up to what we read about the gift of prophecy in the rest of the NT. Are we to believe that all those who prophesied on the day of Pentecost, "sons and daughters, young men, old men, bond slaves, both men and women," were laying the foundation of the church?
·      Are we to believe that "all mankind" (Acts 2:17) in the early church were contributors to its once-for-all foundation? The cessationist is asking us to believe that the long-awaited promise in Joel 2 of the unprecedented outpouring of the Holy Spirit on "all mankind", with its resultant revelatory activity of dreams, visions, and prophecy, was exhaustively fulfilled in only a handful of individuals whose gifting functioned in an exclusively foundational, initiatory, and therefore temporary fashion! Does this theory adequately explain the text? Is the revelatory and charismatic experience of the Spirit, foretold by Joel and cited by Peter, exhaustively fulfilled in a small minority of believers in a mere sixty-year span in only the first century of the church? It seems rather that Joel 2 and Acts 2 are describing normative Christian experience for the entire Christian community in the whole of the New Covenant age, called the "latter days".

·      Cessationism would require us to believe that a group of anonymous disciples in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7) who prophesied upon their conversion (none of which, be it noted, was ever recorded or mentioned again) did so with a view to laying the foundation of the church.
·      It is no less a strain to think that the four daughters of Philip were a part of the once-for-all foundation of the church (Acts 21:9).
·      On Gaffin's thesis, all prophetic activity is foundation-laying activity. But if it were, it seems unlikely that Paul would have spoken of prophecy as a gift bestowed to common people for the "common good" of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:7-10).
·      Are we to believe that Paul exhorted all believers in every church to earnestly desire that they exercise foundational significance for the universal church? On the contrary, prophecy is to be desired because its purpose is to communicate revelation from God that will "encourage" those who are discouraged, "console" those who are disconsolate, and "edify" those who are weak and untaught (1 Cor. 14:3).

·      Again, I must ask, how does the exposure of an unbeliever's secret sins in the churches at Corinth and Thessalonica and Rome and Laodicea and throughout the inhabited earth, sins such as greed, lust, anger, selfishness, etc., function in laying the once-for-all foundation of the universal church of Jesus Christ? Yet, this is one of the primary purposes for the prophetic gift (1 Cor. 14:24-25).

·      Gaffin believes that tongues is also a revelatory, and therefore prophetic, gift (22). If this were true, then we would have non-canonical revelation coming to individual Christians for their own personal edification, not to be shared with the church at large in the absence of an interpreter (1 Cor. 14:28). How could such private revelation in any way be conceived as contributing to the once-for-all foundation of the church at large?

·      Paul anticipated that every time Christians gathered for worship that, at least potentially, "each" believer would come with or contribute, among other things, a "revelation" (1 Cor. 14:26). He anticipated that a normal part of Christian experience was receiving revelatory data or insight from God. It is difficult to read his instruction for corporate worship and conclude that he viewed all revelatory, and thus prophetic, ministry as foundational for the universal church. There must have been thousands upon thousands of revelations and prophetic utterances throughout the hundreds of churches over the course of the years between Pentecost and the close of the NT canon. Are we to believe that this multitude of people and their even greater multitude of prophetic words constituted the once-for-all foundation of the church?

In a word, the portrayal in Acts and 1 Corinthians of who could prophesy and how it was to be done in the life of the church simply does not fit with the cessationist assertion that Eph. 2:20 describes all possible prophets, every one of whom functioned as part of the once-for-all foundation of the church. Rather, Paul is there describing a limited group of prophets who were closely connected to the apostles, both of which groups spoke Scripture-quality words essential to the foundation of the church universal.
An addendum from:
I hope this articles served it's purpose as an apologetic to my brothers and sisters in the cessationist camp as well as to those who may be more inclined to be neutral or "open but cautious" as to why I choose to embrace the view that all of the gifts God gave to his church are for today until perfection comes. On that note, I'd like to give encouragements:
1. To those who are now cessationists, having come from backgrounds in pentecostal/charismatic churches. Can I ask that you pray and seek God, notsomuch that you be convinced of what I've postedfor the sake of proving me right, but rather that you can examine yourself and ask God upfront whether your convictions are truly from the study of God's word or are just a response to your own experiences. Perhaps during your time among continuationists you actually did have a very high aptitude in the above areas that brought much to the edification of others, yet due to abuses on the part of those who did not act of the Spirit of God, you now feel bitter and disillusioned. Don't let what Man did cause you to lose hope in God, but rather look to him and Him alone as your sole source of vindication.
2. To those on either side who are involved in interdenominational ministry, do not behaive or mistreat the other in such a way that they may srumble in the greater ministry, that is, of preaching Christ to those yet to hear the gospel message. What is it that makes you and I Christians? Is it Christ crucified or tongues and them specified?

3. As we come closer to Christ's return, let us join together to see the Bride of Christ arise to be the glorius image of perfection displayed in Ephesians 4: complete, stable, without blemish and fixed on her groom. May we see genuine revival come to our churches - by that I don't mean over-spiritualized emotionalism and counterfeit manifestations a'la Toronto Blessing, Todd Bentley - but a passion fort the glory of God that just sets hearts ablaze for prayer, discipleship and biblical evangelism, bringing awakening to our nation and the whole world.
For the glory of it all,

Ben V.