Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Cessationist And The Holy Spirit

Charismatics often charge that cessationists don't believe in the Holy Spirit. This charge, not surprisingly, has intensified considerably since the Strange Fire Conference last month. Charismatics assume that believing that certain gifts ceased at the close of the  Apostolic Age necessarily means a rejection of the Holy Spirit Himself.

Yet Scripture demonstrates that God deals with His people differently at various people at different points in history. For instance, for the 400 years between Malachi and John the Baptist, He remained silent. Similarly, during the Apostolic  Age, He spoke to the apostles to instruct them on the doctrines of the  New Covenant. So despite the fact that  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), it's equally true that God varied the ways  He spoke to people (Hebrews 1:1-2). With Jesus as His final Word, God needed only for the apostles to complete the  canon of Scripture.

The gifts of healing, tongues and prophecy authenticated the apostles' authority to bring   God's Word. Interestingly, those gifts diminished, even in the book of Acts, as the apostles built the  Church. Additionally, 1 Corinthians (the only epistle to discuss the functions of these gifts) was written in about 55 A.D., still quite early in Paul's ministry. As he wrote further epistles under the direction of the Holy Spirit, those gifts became less and less necessary.

Yet, the waning of those gifts by no means indicates a cessation of the Holy Spirit's activity in the Church. First of all, He alone causes regeneration (John 3:1-8). Without Him giving us the ability to understand and believe the Gospel (1 Corinthians 2:14-15),  we could not hear the Word of Christ which saves us (Romans 10:14-17).

Beyond salvation, the Holy Spirit lives within believers (Romans 8:9-11), empowering us to resist our sinful inclinations in favor of displaying His fruit (Galatians 5:16-24). Those who battle against temptation (as I do) absolutely depend on the Holy Spirit to keep us pure and obedient because we know all too well how desperately weak we are apart from Him.

Believing that the Holy Spirit has ceased to operate in certain ways now that the Bible has been completed certainly shouldn't be misconstrued as a denial of His power and activity. Charismatics focus on outward  manifestations of His ministry--manifestations that were only temporary, having the specific purpose of establishing the apostles' authority. But, as a cessationist, I cling to the Holy Spirit, fully dependent on Him  for both my salvation and the ability to live the Christian life. Deny Him?  Never!

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