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Continuationism is a Christian theological belief that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have continued to the present age, specifically those sometimes called "sign gifts", such as tongues and prophecy. Continuationism is the opposite of cessationism.
Continuationists believe that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit are still distributed today, are still in use, and are still needed in the church. The same Holy Spirit that the Apostle Paul wrote of, claiming that it gave him supernatural abilities, was also written about in the Old Testament, which claims that it also endowed such abilities upon those whom God chose to accomplish his works, as in the New Testament.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit
Drawing from Paul's writings in the Christian scriptures, and those of contemporary Bible scholars,[who?] here is a list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit taken from M. J. Erickson's Christian Theology:
- Romans 12:6-8: prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving aid, leadership, acts of mercy
- 1 Corinthians 12:4-11: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, ability to distinguish spirits, various tongues, and interpretation of tongues
- 1 Peter 4:11: speaking, service
18 gifts are listed above but, according to some scholars, there were actually a total of 20. In his book The Dynamics of Spiritual Gifts, W. McRae says: "In 1 Cor. 7:7, Paul seems to suggest that celibacy is a gift from God, and in the context of 1 Peter 4:11, verse 9 seems to indicate that hospitality is also a gift".
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:7, 11, that the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good of the church and distributed as the Spirit determines. Christians cannot choose their gifts or decide which gifts will be bestowed upon anyone else. Christians are to use these special abilities to strengthen and build up the church so as to glorify God. Theologian M.J. Erickson wrote: "They are for the edification of the whole body, not merely for the enjoyment or enrichment of the individual members possessing them".
In scripture, Paul gave some specific instructions for one particular gift. The gift of tongues, or glossolalia, is one of the miraculous gifts and probably the most controversial in today's church. Of all the gifts listed in the New Testament, Paul instructed the Corinthian church; "If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God" (1 Corinthians 14:27-28).
There are two main views regarding each of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: cessationism and continuationism. In his book, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today, W. Grudem explains that the cessation view is: "based upon the idea that the first-century church and only the first-century church experienced the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of confirming the message of the Gospel in absence of the completed New Testament". According to this view, when the New Testament was completed, the supernatural, or miraculous gifts, had no more use in the church; so they ceased. The other gifts, such as, administration, teaching, acts of service, and exhortation, are among the gifts that are still distributed.
Canonical completion argument
Much dispute focuses on the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, which refers to specific spiritual gifts and later says "when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears". The cessationist perspective interprets "perfection" as the completion of the New Testament (McRay). Conversely, others interpret it as a reference to sinless life in heaven (McArthur).
Reasons for continuation
"Only supernatural gifts would suffice for warfare against a supernatural foe", says J. Oswald Sanders in his book, The Holy Spirit and His Gifts. According to the continuation view, one cannot say that God does not presently use signs and wonders. A significant amount of Paul's teachings is about the use of supernatural gifts. There would not be such specific instruction in the New Testament about something that would not have anything to do with today's church. Paul's instructions regarding the utterance gifts was for the church to desire them (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1, 39). This and 1 Corinthians 13:10 mean that Jesus' return and the church's glorification (perfection) will fulfill the gifts of the Spirit (needed due to imperfection), just as Jesus' first coming (his sacrifice being perfect) fulfilled the law (the imperfect). Continuationists believe that Paul wrote lasting instructions about the use of gifts in the church for worship, teaching, and fellowship until the day the Lord comes (1Cor.1:7-8). Continuationists may also defend their view with personal experience by referencing healings, prophetic words and other (from their view) demonstrations of the Holy Spirit that they claim to have observed.
The doctrine of continuationism
God used the gifts of the Spirit to testify to His message (Hebrews 2:3-4). His message has not changed. Although Christians have the complete Bible now, the concept of using all of the gifts to testify to the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ remains sound. The words Paul used referring to the supernatural gifts of the Spirit were charismata and pneumatika, translated as "spiritual gifts" and conceived to be "detached entities or abilities distinct from Christ and distributed by the Spirit" (Fowler). For Paul, all Christians are charismatic; endowed with special gifts to build up others. "Paul regarded all the communities of believers in Christ as charismatic communities, and did not give the slightest indication that he knew of charismatic and non-charismatic churches", according to C. Keener in his book Three Crucial Questions about the Holy Spirit. Theologian Dr. John Piper says in his message titled Signs and Wonders Then and Now: "On the one hand, we ought to honor the uniqueness of Jesus and the apostles. On the other hand we ought to be open to the real possibility that this too might be a unique moment in history, and in this moment it may well be God's purpose to pour out his Spirit in unprecedented revival—revival of love to Christ and zeal for worship and compassion for lost people and a missionary thrust with signs and wonders".
The Holy Spirit does not weaken or redefine his self over time. God has demonstrated the opposite by increasing his presence. The way people have been allowed to experience and access him has increased since Old Testament times. It is people that can cause the decrease (1 Thessalonians 5:19). The essence of the God of the Bible has always been portrayed as a multi-faceted entity causing growth and progression. He is God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He sends angels and His Word, the Bible. They all work together and in different ways. Through them God moves, speaks, prays, feels and thinks. "The Spirit of the living Lord Jesus is desirous of expressing Himself in diverse functional ministry within His Body, the Church, expressing therein His character of love and drawing His people together in cooperative unity" (Fowler). He also created human beings to be multi-expressive in all things, especially think with free will. But in order for Christians to accomplish what He wants them to do, they need power. Christians need the kind of power and supernatural abilities that only the Spirit gives. Paul laid hands on people, imparting the gifts of the Spirit; though cessationists believe that the: "laying on of hands no longer imparts gifts since the gifts ceased with the apostles" (Cottrell). Paul laid hands on Timothy and imparted a gift that would not disappear after Paul died. Timothy was already a believer (2 Timothy 1:5) and did not need proof that the message was from God but needed a powerful gift in order to accomplish what the Lord wanted him to do.
Continuationism asserts that the Spirit still gives gifts so that the church may be strengthened and accomplish what God wants it to do today. Salvation, however, is not contingent upon the issue of the continuation or the cessation of the miraculous gifts. But this issue divides the church today as interpretations of the scriptures will continue to differ.
But even if signs and wonders can't save the soul, they 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)
- Bouyer, Louis. "Some Charismatic Manifestations in the History of the Church". Perspectives on Charismatic Renewal. Edited by Edward O'Connor. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975
- Grudem, Wayne, ed. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today: Four Views. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996 (Richard M. Gaffin, Jr., R.L.Saucy, C.Samuel Storms, Douglas A. Oss)
- Walker, D. P. "The Cessation of Miracles". In Hermeticism and the Renaissance: Intellectual History and the Occult in Early Modern Europe. Edited by Ingrid Merkel and Allen G. Debus. Washington, DC: Folger Books, 1988. pp. 111–124
- Williams, George and Waldvogel, Edith. "A History of Speaking in Tongues and Related Gifts".“” The Charismatic Movement. Edited by Michael P. Hamilton. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975.