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Continuationism is a Christian theological belief that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have continued to this 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 God specifically chose to accomplish His works, as in the New Testament .
The gifts of the Holy Spirit
Though Christians may possess skills in hermeneutics, they are taught from a particular viewpoint or denominational doctrine. 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 (Erickson):
- Romans 12:6-8: prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, liberality, giving aid, acts of mercy
- 1 Corinthians 12:4-11: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, ability to distinguish spirits, various tongues, interpretation of tongues
- 1 Peter 4:11: speaking, service
There are a total of eighteen gifts listed above, but according to some scholars[who?] there are actually a total of twenty. 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." (McRae).
Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 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 would 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." (Erickson)
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 Cor. 14:27-28).
There are two main views regarding each of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: cessationism and continuationism. Paul may suggest that the gifts he mentions in 1 Cor. 13:8-12 including tongues, prophecy and knowledge; were temporary. 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" (Grudem). 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. Continuists hold that this view poses a couple of issues right away. The Bible does not teach that it alone strengthens the church without the active presence of the supernatural or miraculous gifts. Jesus said that the church would need the Spirit to remind us of his words (Jn. 14:26) and when the Spirit was given, he brought these gifts (Acts. 2:4, 19:6). Both sides agree, however, that the purpose of the gifts is to strengthen the church (1Cor.14:26), and that the Bible trains and equips the church (2Tim.3:16-17).
Different interpretations of scripture and the completion of the New Testament canon
There are opposing interpretations when reading the Scriptures on the subject of spiritual gifts. Christians holding either view on this subject can read the same Scripture and draw completely different ideas from it. There are varied interpretations of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 where Paul writes "But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears". One of the problems with interpreting this passage as suggesting cessationism is the implication that the gifts listed here are imperfect. This would in turn imply the works of the Spirit as being imperfect. The word "perfection" here has been taken to mean the completion of the New Testament, according to the cessation view. The word for "perfect" used in this passage is the Greek word teleio; which means "complete" or "mature". "Paul uses the term in the specific context of charismatic conduct, and we must therefore look for its meaning in light of that special discussion." (McRay) It is also used within the context of the other verses stating that which was incomplete, or immature; will be complete, or mature. This word for "perfect" has been used elsewhere in Scripture referring to a person's spiritual completeness or maturity (Mt.19:21; 1Cor.2:6; 1Cor.14:20; Heb.5:14).
John MacArthur wrote in his book "Strange Fire," in 2013: "... that idea would have been meaningless to the Corinthians. Nowhere in this letter does he mention or allude to such a scriptural completion. The Corinthian believers would have taken Paul's meaning in the plainest and simplest way: as a reference to spiritual and moral perfection…By process of elimination, the only possibility for the perfect is the eternal heavenly state of believers." (MacArthur) It is possible that Scripture is understood but also being taken out of context. In Paul: His Life and Teachings, J. McRay points out; "If Bible readers do not simply look for other usages of the term in Pauline material but, more important, for usages in context similar to the one in this chapter; they can be confident in assigning the word the meaning that best suits the author's intentions." (McRay) Continuists say that Paul does not use this passage to refer to the completeness of the New Testament. "While they do not deny that some prophecies and glossolalic utterances may have become part of the New Testament canon, the New Testament does not restrict utterance gifts (or any of the gifts) to canonical function." (Grudem). The purpose of the gifts is to edify and strengthen the church. The gifts were used to testify to God's message (Heb. 2:4), but not take the place of the New Testament. The gift of glossolalia is for speaking to God (1 Cor. 14:2). "There is no indication anywhere that this edifying function of the utterance gifts was intended to cease when the New Testament canon was complete, for utterance gifts (or any of the gifts) do not equal canon." (Grudem) Therefore, continuists find no evidence that the Holy Spirit would ever cease to bestow these gifts on the church.
Continuists also believe that the Scriptures alone do not enable Christians to reach perfection and that such a state would be when they are in their glorified bodies in heaven. The completed canon does not give to them perfect or complete knowledge since only God can possess that.
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 (Sanders). 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. In the Old Testament, there are hundreds of laws and instructions. The animal sacrifices that were offered by the priests had to be without blemish and done in specific ways. Animal sacrifices are not offered today, but the instructions are still present in Scripture. This is for today's Christians to know how important sacrifice was and how the laws themselves stood for the holy standard of God. The Law was given before Jesus had come and he clearly stated that he had come to fulfill it (Mt. 5:17). The gift of the Spirit had not yet been given until after Jesus returned to heaven (Jn. 16:7). Paul's instructions regarding the utterance gifts was for the church to desire them (1Cor. 12:31; 14:1, 39). This and the 1Cor. 13:10 passage 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). Continuists 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).
The doctrine of continuationism
God used the gifts of the Spirit to testify to His message (Heb 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 (Keener). Theologian Dr. John Piper in his message titled Signs and Wonders Then and Now says: "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." (Piper)
The Holy Spirit does not weaken or redefine Himself over time. God has demonstrated the opposite by increasing its presence. The way people have been allowed to experience and access it has increased since the Old Testament times. It is people that can cause the decrease (1Thes. 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 (2Tim.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)
- Cessationism versus Continuationism
- Speaking in Tongues
- Spiritual gift
- Pentecostal Charismatic Peace Fellowship
Cottrell, Jack. The Faith Once for All: Bible Doctrine for Today. College Press, 2002.
Erickson, M. J. Christian Theology. Baker Books, 1983.
Fowler, James. Charismata: Rethinking the So-Called Spiritual Gifts. 1999. April 2010 <http://www.christinyou.com/pages/chrsmata.html>.
Grudem, Wayne. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Zondervan, 1996.
Keener, Craig. Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. Baker Academic, 2011.
Keener, Craig. Three Crucial Questions About the Holy Spirit. Baker Books, 1996.
MacArthur, John. Commentary on I Corinthians. Moody Press, 1984.
McRae, William. The Dynamics of Spiritual Gifts. Zondervan, 1976.
McRay, John. Paul: His Life and Teachings. Baker Academic, 2003.
Piper, John. Are Signs and Wonders for Today? 25 Feb 1990. Jan 2014.
Sanders, J. Oswald. The Holy Spirit and His Gifts. Zondervan, 1970.
Wayne Grudem (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).
Advocates of Continuationism
Jon Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Post-Biblical Miracles. Revised Edition. Tulsa: Word & Spirit Press, 2011. (Often identified as the definitive study, it examines the historical, philosophical and exegetical issues, focusing on Warfield.)
Gary Greig and Kevin Springer (eds.) The Kingdom and the Power: Are Healing and the Spiritual Gifts Used By Jesus and the Early Church Meant for the Church Today? Ventura, CA: Gospel Light, 1993 (thorough and practical, especially the comprehensive summary of popular cessationist arguments by Wayne Grudem, Ch. 2).
Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993, and Surprised by the Voice of God Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996. Influential work by a former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Studies on Miracles in History
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.
Bentivegna, Joseph, SJ. "The Witness of St. Augustine on the Action of the Holy Spirit in the Church and the Praxis of Charismata in His Time". Studia Patristica 22 (1989): 188-201.
Campbell, Theodore C. "Charismata in the Christian Communities of the Second Century". Wesleyan Theological Journal 17 (Fall 1982): 7-25.
Campbell, Theodore C. "John Wesley and Conyers Middleton on Divine Intervention in History". Church History 55 (March 1986): 39-49.
Campbell, Theodore C. "The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the Theology of Athanasius". Scottish Journal of Theology 27 (November 1974): 408-443.
Campenhausen, H. von. Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual Power in the Church of the First Four Centuries. Translated by J. A. Baker. London: A. and C. Black, 1969.
Carroll, R. Leonard. "Glossolalia: Apostles to the Reformation". In The Glossolalia Phenomenon. Edited by Wade H. Horton. Cleveland, TN: Pathway, 1966. pp. 69–94.
Congar, Yves M. J. I Believe in the Holy Spirit. 3 vols. New York: Seabury, "Excursus A: The Sufficiency of Scripture according to the Fathers and Medieval Theologians" and "Excursus B: The Permanence of 'Revelatio' and 'Inspiratio' in the Church”. In his Tradition and Traditions: An Historical and Theological Essay. Translated by M. Naseby and Th. Rainborough. New York: Macmillan, 1967. Pp. 107 37.
Davison, James Edwin. "Spiritual Gifts in the Roman Church: 1 Clement, Hermas and Justin Martyr". Ph.D. dissertation, University of Iowa, 1981.
DiOrio, Ralph A. Signs and Wonders: Firsthand Experiences of Healing. New York: Doubleday, 1987.
Dixon, Larry E. "Have the 'Jewels of the Church' Been Found Again? The Irving Darby Debate on Miraculous Gifts". Evangelical Journal 5 (Spring 1987): 78 92.
Dollar, George W. "Church History and the Tongues Movement". Bibliotheca Sacra 120 (October -December 1963): 309-11.
Elbert, Paul. "Calvin and Spiritual Gifts". Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 22 (Spring 1979): 235 256.
Foubister, D. Ron. "Healing in the Liturgy of the Post Apostolic Church". Studia Biblica et Theologica 9 (October 1979): 141 55.
Franklin, Lloyd David, "The spiritual gifts in Tertullian". Ph.D. dissertation, Saint Louis University, 1989.
Frost, Evelyn. Christian Healing: A Consideration of the Place of Spiritual Healing in the Church of Today in the Light of the Doctrine and Practice of the Ante Nicene Church. London: A. R. Mowbray, 1954.
Greer, Rowan A. The Fear of Freedom: A Study of Miracles in the Roman Imperial Church. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989.
Harnett, Anne Marie, "The Role of the Holy Spirit in Constitutive and Ongoing Revelation according to Yves Congar". Ph.D. dissertation, The Catholic University of America, 1989.
Harris, Ralph W. Spoken by the Spirit: Documented Accounts of "Other Tongues" from Arabic to Zulu. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1973.
Hebert, Albert J. Raised from the Dead: True Stories of 400 Resurrection Miracles. Rockford, IL: TAN Publications, 1986.
Hinson, E. Glenn. "A Brief History of Glossolalia". In Glossolalia: Tongue Speaking in Biblical, Historical and Psychological Perspective. Edited by Frank Stagg, E. Glenn Hinson, and Wayne E. Oates. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1967.
Hinson, E. Glenn. "The Significance of Glossolalia in the History of Christianity". In Speaking in Tongues, Let's Talk about It. Edited by Watson E. Mills. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1973.
Hunter, Harold. "Tongues speech: A Patristic Analysis". Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 23 (June 1980): 124 137.
Hvidt, Neil C. Christian Prophecy: The Post-Biblical Tradition. Oxford/New York: Oxford Univ. Pr., 2007.
Kelsey, Morton. Healing and Christianity in Ancient Thought and Modern Times. New York: Harper and Row, 1973.
Kelsey, Morton. Tongue Speaking: The History and Meaning of Charismatic Experience. NY: Crossroad, 1981.
Kester, Leigh Aaron, "The Charismata in Crisis: The Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Reformation Church of England". Ph.D. dissertation, Miami University, 1990.
Kydd, Ronald. Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1984. Based on his "Charismata to A.D. 320: A Study in the Overt Pneumatic Experience of the Early Church". Ph.D. dissertation, St. Andrews University, 1973.
Leivestad, R. "Das Dogma von der prophetenlosen Zeit". New Testament Studies 19 (April 1973): 288 99.
Mullin, R. B. Miracles and the Modern Religious Imagination. (New Haven, Conn., USA: Yale Univ. Pr., 1996).
Pont, Gabriel. Les dons de l'Esprit Saint dans la pensée de saint Augustin. Sierre: Editions Chateau Ravire, 1974.
Robbins, Steven Charles, "Charismata, Revelation, and the Authority of Scripture: A Theological, Philosophical, and Exegetical Study of the Implications of 1 Corinthians 12:8, 10". Ph.D. dissertation, Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Theology, 1999.
Robeck, Cecil M., Jr. "The Role and Function of Prophetic Gifts for the Church at Carthage, A.D. 202–258". Ph.D. dissertation, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1985.
Robeck, Cecil M., Jr. Pagan Christian Conflict over Miracle in the Second Century. Cambridge, MA: The Philadelphia Patristic Foundation, Ltd., 1983.
Robeck, Cecil M., Jr., ed. Charismatic Experiences in History. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1985.
Rogers, Cleon L, Jr. "The Gift of Tongues in the Post Apostolic Church (A.D. 100–400)". Bibliotheca Sacra 122 (April June 1965): 134 43.
Schlingensiepen, H. Die Wunder des Neuen Testamentes. Wege und Abwege ihrer Deutung in der alten Kirche bis zur Mitte des fünften Jarhunderts. Beträge zur Förderung christlicher Theologie 2e Reihe. 28 Band. Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1933.
Stephanou, Eusebius A. "The Charismata in the Early Church Fathers". The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 21 (Summer 1976): 125 46.
Wagner, C. Peter, editor. Signs and Wonders Today. Expanded edition. Altamonte Springs, FL: Creation House, 1987.
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.
Ward, Benedicta. Miracles and the Medieval Mind: Theory, Record, and Event, 100 1215. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
Warfield, B.B. Counterfeit Miracles. NY: Charles Scribners Sons, 1918.
Watkin Jones, Howard. The Holy Spirit in the Medieval Church. London: Epworth, 1922.
Watkin Jones, Howard. The Holy Spirit from Arminius to Wesley. London: Epworth, 1929.
Weinel, Heinrich. Die Wirkungen des Geistes und der Geister in nachapostolischen Zeitalter bis auf Irenäus. Tübingen: Druck von H. Lampp, 1898.
Wendland, Johannes. Miracles and Christianity. E.t., H. R. Mackintosh. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911.
Wenham, David. "Miracles Then and Now". Themelios 12 (September 1986): 1-4.
Wetmore, Robert Kingston. "The Theology of Spiritual Gifts in Luther and Calvin a Comparison". Concordia Seminary: ThD dissertation, 1992.
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.