I was thinking through some things today, as I tend to do that a lot. Well, let me start off my saying that I’ve been writing about and considering the gifts of the Spirit on a more regular basis since myself and a colleague launched our new blog, To Be Continued. Our desire is to develop a solid biblical and theological resource for continuationism.
With regards to the gifts, there are two basic views: 1) Continuationism, which says all gifts of the Spirit have continued post-first century and 2) Cessationism, which more recently prescribes to the view that all gifts of the Spirit are to continue, but some of those gifts (mainly the ‘sign gifts’ such as prophecy, tongues, healings and miracles) are not normative since we now have the faithful testimony of the first apostles recorded in our New Testament Scripture.
No doubt each group has varying beliefs and both groups are continually reforming their views in an attempt to be faithful to Scripture. But that is a decent, general overview. And it should be clear, at least now, that I am a continuationist.
Now the thoughts that I want to share in this article are by no means deep or theological. Rather I have a simple, practical notion that came to me about the gifts. It came about this way:
Easter is approaching. So I’m thinking about the death and resurrection of Jesus, considering some things for our Easter gathering at Cornerstone. I remembered how the Scripture says that Jesus appeared to over 500 people (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-11).
Can you imagine the difficulty in those days of sharing this testimony that Jesus had risen from the grave? For us, it’s second nature, as they say. It’s part and parcel to our faith. Oh, yes, it’s the truth. But you might just find a lot of people saying, ‘Oh yeah, I know that already,’ which could lead to an unhealthy point in our faith. Not always, but it could.
But, for those first Christians, it was still something new. I mean, even those first apostles and close friends of Jesus struggled with Jesus’ resurrection. Some struggled to believe (think Thomas), some were disillusioned (think of the two on the road to Emmaus) and even the others had lost hope for those few days………until they saw the resurrected Christ.
It was absolutely awesome to know that their Lord had risen and had been faithful to His word. He had been hinting at His resurrection, but His death seemed so final. Thus, there was an honest struggle in their soul.
But once they had seen the resurrected Christ, they knew. And Jesus not only appeared to the twelve, but he appeared to over 500 people. That’s a lot!
So, can you imagine these 500+ followers of Jesus telling others:
He’s risen! We’ve seen Him! We even touched Him!
What? No, it can’t be.
Yes, it’s true. We’ve seen Him. We have SEEN Him alive!
I’m sure something like this happened because, again, it also happened to some of Jesus’ closest followers in those days between the crucifixion and resurrection. There was doubt, questioning, soul-searching. But, by the Spirit of Jesus, people’s hearts and eyes were opened to the reality of the resurrection of the Son of God.
So, what’s my point with the resurrection.
Well, with regards to the gifts of the Spirit, mainly those mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, I sense the same reaction today. Not only with the world, but even with followers of Jesus.
Please know I am not trying to be derogatory, poke fun, or any other such thing. I’m just saying that this comparison between the reaction to the resurrection and the reaction to the gifts of the Spirit came to me today as I was pondering the resurrection.
This has happened in my own life. People who do not believe the gifts from 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 still exist today, or don’t think they are normative, sometimes ask for proof or real examples. So, I share about examples of prophecy and revelations I have had, or I share about healings that I have seen or that my ministry friends have been used in, but the reaction is quite the same.
Ah, that’s what you say. But I need to see it myself.
They don’t believe they can take my word on it.
Sometimes it makes me wish that these gifts were kind of accessible whenever I wanted them. But it’s not like that. I know it sounds like an excuse, but I really believe He is sovereign over His gifts, not I (i.e. 1 Corinthians 12:11).
So, when they don’t want to believe my own testimonies, I share about a couple of books to check out that record (faithfully) various miracles, healings, etc. They might check out the titles online, but most of the time I hear back that the books don’t look trustworthy or something similar.
I don’t know what to say other than, in the end, if God is as sovereign as I believe He is, then He and He alone can open the hearts of humanity to the work of His Spirit. No, the work of His Spirit is not limited to nine gifts from 1 Corinthians 12. By no means. But it is part of the Spirit’s activity, even today.
And so, I ponder the reactions of those first followers of Jesus to news of His resurrection and to those being reached with the gospel in those early years. I’m sure there was a struggle to really believe that some of these people had actually seen the resurrected Christ. But, they kept on proclaiming the truth.
Today, I look to give what I believe is solid biblical and theological evidence for the Spirit’s continuing work in things like miracles, healings, prophecy and tongues. I also look to share stories of how this has really and truly happened today in my life and the lives of others I know. But, people will still disagree, doubt or even outright deny it.
I’m not here to puff up continuationists as better than cessationists. We are all pursuing God as best we know how. We all love Jesus as best we know how. But I know what I have seen and I am convinced of what I have seen, just as those first disciples were convinced of what they had seen.
I can only ask that the Spirit continue to be active in the fulness of what He desires and wills. And I will leave Jesus to be the head of those whom He gave His life for.