By: Raymond Harris
First Entry: Theology: A Root of Argumentation
Second Entry: Dispensational Theology
Third Entry: Replacement (Supersession) Theology
Fourth Entry: Cessation Theology
Fifth Entry: Covenant Theology
Sixth Entry: Olive Branch Theology
NOTE: Remember that it is not my intention to compose a thesis giving a critical examination of theological perspectives; my reasoning is somewhat simple, doing such an investigation seems to appeal to a small audience. Instead, I am attempting to reveal how I believe the theology is attempting to process biblical teachings. Within that framework, I will reveal some of my thoughts about why I agree or disagree about the theological perspective.
What is Continuation Theology?
Continuation Theology (CT) interprets that the Miracles, Signs and Wonders (MSW) evidenced in the NT are for the church, irrespective of First Century or modernity. Within CT, just because the NT canon is compiled does not negate the ability of God to perform MSW. This means that CT asserts that since the foundation of the church and the entrance into the last days, the church has been the recipient of Miracles, Signs and/or Wonders.
If Continuation Theology is more accurate, it simply means that events and questions have to be addressed as they arise, which is no different that the circumstances during the First Century when considering these words from Paul and John:
13For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. 14And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. 15Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. (2 Corinthians 11.13-15 KJV)
1believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world (I John 4.1)
It seems proper to conclude that if MSW are still occurring, then God would still provide his children the ability “to test” whether or not God is the source of the MSW. We must remember that since God provided the First Century Church with the ability to determine source of a MSW, then it stands to spiritual reasoning that God would do the same for the modern Church.
In discussing CT, the previous is probably the biggest issue, at least for me. The reason seems to be “certainty.” With Cessationation Theology there comes an amount of “certainty” – if God cannot, then He did not; and therefore it is a farce from the start. Consequently, false security becomes an unintended consequence of Cessationism. However, if Continuationism is true, then this “security” is lessened, but this should not frighten the modern church. The modern church simply must do what the First Century church was told to do: test and verify everything. If that was their spiritual reality, why should it not be the spiritual reality of the modern church?
There is a longstanding debate as to which theology is proper: Is it Cessation Theology or Continuation Theology? So, I see myself as another voice in the discussion, but certainly not the last. Sincere, honest, God-fearing, wanting-to-have-eternal-life, Bible students and Christians, from ages past to the present have argued vehemently for or against MSW, but it is my hope that I will offer some thoughts that reveal why CT is more biblical.
Continuation Theology’s Process of Biblical Teachings
Continuation Theology (CT) interprets the Gifts of the Spirit:1 wisdom, knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, kinds of tongues, and interpretations of tongues as continuing beyond the First Century and are an active part of the church. This means that passages which suggest anointing the sick with oil and praying for them2 were practicable in the First Century Pre-NT Canonized Church, and are part of the modern Church.
While Cessation Theology seems to primarily rely on 1 Corinthians 13.8-10 as support for the ending of MSW, Continuation does not accept that reasoning. CT reasons that since the “last days”3 are still here which means that the Modern Church is within the last days, and since Christ has not returned (as he said he would4), then MSW must still be part of God’s work within the church.
Testing Continuation Theology
So, how do we go about testing Continuation Theology? That is a great question, because we seem to have relied on logic and reason to test everything up to this point.
Since the ‘last days’ are still here (which means that the Modern Church is within the last days), and since Christ has not returned (as he said he would), then MSW should still be part of God’s work within the church.
Since this previous logic is sound, how do we go about testing CT? Perhaps this is best done by offering Scripture that informed the First Century Church how “to test” and validate the things they were seeing and experiencing.
False Prophets, False Christs
It seems proper to begin by examining some teachings from Jesus. The interesting thing, for me, at least, is that so many people quote the following passage when examining other believers and how they cannot possibly be good fruit. So, we need to apply this primarily to ourselves: are we good fruit?
15“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7.15-20 ESV emphasis mine)
In this statement Jesus is making it certain that there will be those prophets (being spokesmen, preachers, ministers, and one’s who foretell future events) who will definitely hide themselves within innocence. But what reveals their inner nature is the outcome of their labor, it will either be godly and righteous, or it will not.
So, in the aspect of CT, it seems imperative that attention is given to the outcome of labor. If the labor bears good fruit, it seems spiritually proper to conclude that the good fruit came from God, because he is the originator of all good things.5
In addition to those teachings, Jesus also addressed issues of false prophets during the last days. In part Jesus said, “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray”6 and then he said:
23Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24.23-24 ESV, emphasis mine)
Jesus does not indicate that false prophets and their ability to perform MSW would ever cease existing. Biblical interpreters have given such intimations saying that MSW have stopped; but Jesus seems to be implying that the MSW will not stop because he indicated that the disciples (ancient or modern) should be alert because the false prophets will perform powerful MSW and that these false MSW would be powerful enough to lead believers astray. If these false non-God ordained MSW can exist, then it seems spiritually proper to conclude that true God ordained MSW would exist in order to offset the falsehoods.
6When they [Barnabas and Saul, cf. Acts 13.2, 7] had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. 7He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. (Acts 13.6-8 ESV, emphasis mine)
The whole point of looking at this verse is to see that Luke, through Holy Spirit inspiration, leaves an account of one who was considered a false prophet. This may seem like no big deal, but when we are looking at events in Acts Thirteen, we should recognize that these are events that occurred after Jesus’ warnings about false prophets, and after Jesus’ Ascension.
Two things should be taken from this passage. One, it seems proper to conclude that the first century church was empowered by the gifts of the Spirit, which helped them determine who was and was not false. Two, it also seems proper to conclude that since Jesus said false prophets would exist and since false prophets existed after Jesus’ Ascension and during Paul’s years (as evidenced by this Acts passage), then it seems spiritually probable that false prophets are a realty for the modern church.
It is interesting to me that when Paul is telling the Corinthians of the dangers that he faced in taking the Good News7 that it falls within the same section of verses that Paul speaks of false Apostles.8 But specifically within this section Paul mentioned that one of his dangers was false brothers.9 Whether or not these false brothers were at one time full followers of the Messiah seems unclear; but what is clear is that these men presented themselves to be followers of Jesus and presented some level of danger to Paul.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul did not specifically identify the characteristics of a false brother, just that they presented dangers. However, Paul does provide at least some type of description of these false brethren in Galatians:
false brothers secretly brought in–who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery (Galatians 2.4 ESV, emphasis mine)
This verse in Galatians reveals, at least, one goal of the false brothers, but it does not reveal how they went about spying and enslaving the other followers of Jesus. All that can be surmised from this passage, since it sits within Galatians and Paul will admonish and rebuke the Galatians for being “bewitched”10 is that the teachings of the false brothers persuaded some disciples away from the true Gospel.
What we really need to see from this passage is that if false brethren existed in the First Century Church then it seems spiritually proper to conclude that false brethren are a probable threat within the Modern Church. This simply seems to affirm that since gifts of the Spirit helped the First Century brethren discern the spirits,11 then those gifts of the Spirit would help the modern church do the same.
We have spent some time looking at passages from Jesus and Paul, but for our last passage we will look to Peter. Not only does Peter say that false teachers are a problem, the ESV shows it to be future tense. If the ESV verb tense is correct, it seems this passage should mean as much to the Modern Church as it did the First Century.
1But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2.1-3 ESV, emphasis mine)
As we can see from the passage false teachers could wreak havoc on the disciples, denying Jesus the Master, bringing blasphemy to the truth, and taking advantage of disciples. Since Peter does not seem to insinuate that the work of false teachers would ever subside or go away, then it seems proper to conclude that false work is not idle in the modern church and will not go away; then it seems to follow that the gifts of the Spirit would help identify these false teachers.
The Church Is Not Powerless Against Falsehood
As we have discussed, Cessation Theology affirms that MSW ceased long ago, yet in my experience with Cessation Theology it still affirms the following spiritual truth:
Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5.8 ESV)
It seems contradictory for Cessation Theology to affirm that the gifts of the Spirit and MSW no longer exist, but to affirm that the adversary prowls around looking for someone to devour.
Here is the unintended affirmation of Cessation Theology: the First Century Church had more spiritual power than the current modern church; because the First Century church, while not having possession of the full NT, had not only MSW as testimony for the Gospel, but also the Holy Spirit gifts of interpretation and spiritual discernment to recognize and defend against falsehood. Cessation Theology’s unintended affirmation causes another unintended consequence in which Cessation Theology primarily empowers the human intellect leaving the modern church seemingly spiritually defenseless against spiritual falsehoods.
It seems proper to conclude that God would not establish a New Covenant built upon spiritual gifts and MSW to then turn around and remove those things and virtually leave his people spiritually powerless.
For this particular passage I want to use the KJV instead of another version primarily because of the way the KJV uses the word false. Here is the passage:
Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. (1 Corinthians 15.15 KJV, emphasis mine)
Here is how the ESV reads:
We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. (1 Corinthians 15.15 ESV, emphasis mine)
Both translations provide the same idea, but the KJV presents the passage in a way that seems better fit for our discussion about falsehood. With the ESV we can see that Paul was being characterized as misrepresenting God, which is what false witnesses do; but I find the phrase false witnesses more powerful.
What this passage tells us is that even when testifying to the truth of what God has done, does, and will do, there are those who will take the truth, slander it calling the truth teller a false witness. This is done in order to impugn the disciple’s character hoping that this type of vilification will scare off the disciple. Since this passage reveals that this false labeling happened to Paul, then it seems proper to conclude that this passage implies that there will be others in the church who will be accused of being false, yet their testimony is true.
It is nothing new to castigate someone or something that is not fully understood, but if we are claiming to be true followers of Jesus, then we should be looking at the fruits of those labeled false. Jesus said the fruits reveal the person, not the label. So, if the fruits are good then it seems spiritually proper to conclude, whether an ancient disciple or modern, that God can send a falsely-labeled false prophet, such as seen with Paul.
Additionally, it seems proper to conclude that the gifts of the Spirit would help identify both the true and the false. The only real issue I see with that statement is, even though that statement is true, in many regards it seems that a false prophet or a false teacher depends on (I don’t want to say perspective, even though that is true to a certain extent, so I’ll use the following-) maturity of faith, awareness of spiritual truth and spiritual gifts. With that in mind, I refer to a thought from Paul:
we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2.13 ESV)
The Church Empowered
The early church had its problems, just like the modern church has its problems; but irrespective of ancient or modern, perhaps there is no greater threat to the church than that of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. As far as I know, Christians, since the foundation of the church, have been warned about those who appear innocent in their teachings, yet within they are not. In our previous sections, we saw warnings against false prophets, saw there was a false prophet, and we saw that the early church had false brethren, along with false teachers. When considering the vast divisions within Christendom, it seems probable that these threats have not been truly assuaged.
Jehovah, being a beneficent God, did not establish the church without providing it with spiritual insight and intelligence. He did not leave the early church defenseless against the onslaught of falseness. God, through the Spirit, provided gifts from the Spirit, these gifts were for the benefit and strengthening of the entire church not just the individual disciple. Consider this from Paul:
1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed (1 Corinthians 12.1 ESV)
7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
11All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12.7-11 ESV, emphasis mine)
What this passage reveals is that the Holy Spirit empowered the Christian and the Church to fight against falsehood so that the “common good” of the church would be protected and nurtured. Paul made it plainly obvious that he wanted the brethren to be informed about this situation. These manifestations (gifts) are from God through His Spirit to empower Christians to serve the Church and the world.
Three of the threats to the Christian and to the Church are: false prophets, false brethren, and false teachers. It seems a proper spiritual conclusion that the Spirit’s gift of being able to “distinguish between spirits” would help distinguish between: true prophets versus false prophets; true brethren opposed to false brethren; and true teachers from false teachers.
Personally, I have yet to meet any Christian who does not want to be correct in their understanding of God, Jesus and the Scriptures. But when I accept the fact that there are fractures and divisions in Christendom, it seems spiritually proper to conclude that false prophets, false brethren and false teachers are partially responsible.
Has Christendom gone astray? If so, where did the Christian and the Church go off track? As I have been seeking an answer, it seems that the debate between Cessation Theology and Continuation Theology has some role to play. The unintended affirmation of Cessation Theology is that the church now depends primarily on human intellect to determine spiritual intentions and truths. This means that the more one intellectually knows about the Bible, the more one can protect themselves from falsehood. While this certainly has some truth, sole reliance on human intellect seems antithetical (directly opposed) to God’s premise:
8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55.8-9 KJV)
which comes from the same book that says: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD.” (Isaiah 1.18 KJV)
It seems to me that Continuation Theology affirms human intellect, but that human intellect has its limitations, therefore it is the gifts of the Spirit that guide the church into the truth, making up for these limitations. Even though humanity has been given the New Covenant, the human and the human mind are still in a position of having been created by God and are therefore limited and finite.
Cessation Theology’s affirmation and emphasis on intellect has a major weakness: if the strength of faith and faithfulness depends on human intellect, then: Which human’s intellect is to be trusted? What is to be done for those who do not have a strong intellect? What is to be done for those who cannot read and do not have a Bible to read? Continuation Theology’s affirmation accounts for these weaknesses because the Spirit is for the common good of the Church and the Christian, empowering where there is weakness.
Do Not Quench the Spirit
There really is another passage that came to mind while researching this topic, and it is a comment that Paul makes to the Thessalonians, “Do not quench the Spirit”. This passage is highly relevant to our discussion, so let’s consider part of its context:
14And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise prophecies, 21but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5.14-22 ESV, emphasis mine)
Verse twenty-two is very short and depending on translation is only four of five words. Yet this verse sets within a significant passage, Paul, Silvanus and Timothy12 were giving final comments to the Thessalonian Church urging them to do certain things. So, when Paul urges them to “not quench the Spirit” the statement is actually quite vague: To what degree? To what extent? In what way could the Thessalonians quench the Spirit? One way to quench the Spirit would seem to be for them to believe that the Spirit did not operate. If that is true for them, then it seems that holds true for the modern church.
Another issue is experiential Christianity. I mention it and bring it up, because experiential Christianity seems highly subjective. One person accepts it and another does not. So the question becomes: how does the subjective have an objective meaning? It seems that this is best addressed by the verses mentioned previously. Yet, even knowing this, I have come to be amazed that we as Christians would doubt the possibility of our God’s power. Here is what I mean.
If I attempted to express in words my testimony of subjectively perceived MSW, then I would be doubted, impugned and called a lunatic by other Christians. I am confident of this assessment for three reasons. One, I used to respond in the exact manner described, believing that MSW could not exist and therefore did not occur. Second, because of the reactions I have received from some Christians when just discussing the possibility of MSW. Third, the outright denunciation I have heard coming from some Christians when they reveal how others could not have experienced a miracle, sign or wonder.
Here is what I mean by being impugned. I have heard and witnessed some Christians testify to the power of doctors, medicine, and luck. Becoming willing testifiers to the power of science and medicine, chance and time, but actively articulating why Jehovah, the very one they claim to have faith in, cannot and will not be their power.
Any more, such things make sense only when coming from those who do not believe in Jehovah; but coming from believers? Come on. So this does not hit too personal, I ask: as Christians, where is our Faith? Have we become practical atheists? Does or does not our God hold all power? Are or are not all things possible with our God?
Between my articles on Continuation Theology and Cessation Theology, I have offered many thoughts; I am hoping that very little was duplicated. So, I suggest that both articles be read as a unit. For me it all comes down to this one thought: Cessation Theology no longer stands up to the logic “with God all things are possible”. For example, I did not witness the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection, yet I believe that God did that miracle. Just because I, personally, have not witnessed a MSW is not evidence that God cannot or does not perform them.
A Christian who has an intellectual defense for Faith is intellectually powerful, and perhaps will be able to convert some to trust that God was, is, and will be. But intellectual strength only goes so far. Intellectual faith can only deliver so much. Intellectual faith must become practicable faith. The thoughts must become action. The thoughts must become actuality.
Most certainly Faith comes by hearing, but the Father nurtures his child’s faith for the child’s benefit. Consider a physical human child on the swimming pool’s edge – if the child does not believe that his father will catch them as they jump into the water, the child will not jump. The child could intellectually accept that his father would catch him and never leap from the pool’s edge. That leap takes faith; trusting that the Father will do as he has said.
At the end of the day, it seems spiritually proper to conclude that God through Christ cannot force his MSW upon anyone (as evidenced by Jesus being limited by the faith of others13). Doing so would violate his essence of allowing you and me the freedom of choosing to believe. We can choose to believe in him and his power, or we can choose to believe in him and not believe in his power. Remember the lesson of Jesus in Capernaum: Jesus was unable to do many powerful works because of their unbelief,14 not his.
1. Gifts of the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12.4-10.
2. Anointing the sick will oil and praying for them. James 5.14-15.
3. Last days. Acts 2.17; 2 Timothy 3.1; Hebrews 1.2; 2 Peter 3.3-4 KJV.
4. Christ yet to return, as he said he would. John 14.4, 14.28.
5. God is the originator of all good things. James 1.16-17.
6. Jesus said, “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray”. Matthew 24.11.
7. Paul told the Corinthians of the dangers that he faced in taking the Good News. 2 Corinthians 11.21-28.
8. Paul telling the Corinthians of the dangers that he faced in taking the Good News falls within the same section of verses that Paul speaks of false Apostles. 2 Corinthians 11.1-12.12.
9. Paul mentioned that one of his dangers was false brothers. 2 Corinthians 11.26.
10. Paul will admonish and rebuke the Galatians for being “bewitched”. Galatians 3.1.
11. It seems to spiritually proper to affirm that gifts of the Spirit could have helped those First Century brethren discern the spirits. 1 Corinthians 12.10.
12. Final comments to the Thessalonian Church were given by Paul, Silvanus and Timothy. 1 Thessalonians 1.1.
13. God through Christ cannot force his MSW upon anyone (as evidenced by Jesus being limited by the faith of others). Matthew 13.53-58.
14. Jesus was unable to do many powerful works because of their unbelief. Matthew 13.54-58, cf. Matthew 13.58.
SOME RESEARCH LINKS
The links are not provided to affirm or deny my perspective; they are, however, provided so that my readers can continue their study drawing their own conclusions.
“Continuationism and Cessationism: An Interview with Dr. Wayne Grudem” www.challies.com.
“Continuationism and Cessationism (Part 2): An Interview with Dr. Wayne Grudem”, www.challies.com.
“Tongues! Signs! Wonders! An Interview with Dr. Sam Waldron”, www.challies.com.
“Tongues! Signs! Wonders! An Interview with Dr. Sam Waldron (Part 2)”, www.challies.com.
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