A Good Argument Against Continuationism is Resumptionism


Posted by Matt Postiff March 5, 2015 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Theology 

Summary

A good argument against continuationism and in favor of cessationism is this: the Bible promises that there will be a resumption of revelatory activity and associated spiritual gifts during the end time.

For a resumption to be possible, there has to be a cessation first. We are experiencing that cessation in the present day, because there is a complete absence of new revelatory activity, including revelatory gifts such as prophecies, tongues, and knowledge. There is also the complete absence of authenticating gifts such as miraculous healing and resurrections. The current cessation of such charismata makes a future resumption of them meaningful.

If the cessation indicated in 1 Cor. 13:8 does not happen until the end time, or in other words if continuationism is true, it makes no sense for Paul state that something will cease, for in fact it will never cease if it "ceases" in the end time and immediately restarts again. At best, continuationism and cessation-at-the-end-time basically make the phrase "they will cease" a vacuous statement because the point at which they will cease is the same point they start again. At worst, the continuationism doctrine completely turns the meaning around so that "they will cease" means "they will never cease."

I contend therefore that for there to be any meaningful sense of resumption of the spiritual gifts and revelatory activity, there must be a cessation first. Something cannot resume if it never ceased.

Further Explanation

1. Basic Cessationism

I am not a continuationist. I am a cessationist. I believe that in the church age, since the completion of the 66 books of the Bible, God has ceased giving miraculous gifts. This does not mean I deny miracles, for the miracle of regeneration occurs regularly. God can heal someone from a sickness if He so chooses. I deny that God gives gifts to individuals that permit them to do miraculous activities such as prophecy, tongues, knowledge, healing, interpretation of tongues, resurrections, and the like.

I have long believed the cessation doctrine on grounds other than I describe in this article: the plain statement of 1 Corinthians 13:8, the argument of the apostolic foundation in Ephesians 2:20, and the complete lack of evidence of the existence of miraculous spiritual gifts today. Since I understand miraculous gifts and revelatory activity to be closely connected, and I understand that the canon is closed, there is no need for miraculous spiritual gifts in the present day. God has, in his sovereign distribution of gifts, decided not to give certain gifts in the present portion of the church age. The question is not whether God can give such gifts for obviously He can; it is whether He has said He will. Presently, the Scriptures indicate, He has decided against distributing such gifts.

2. Basic Resumptionism

However, I am a resumptionist. I coined this term for my own thinking on the subject (not sure if it has been used before or not) to refer to the doctrine that God will once again, at the end time, sovereignly grant special miraculous abilities to certain individuals. This will occur during the Tribulation and forward, according to Joel 2:28-29. At that time, God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh; Jewish men and women will prophesy; older men will have special dreams and younger men will have visions. These manifestations of the Spirit are reminiscent of what happened on a limited scale in the prophets during the Old Testament era.

It is evident that the Joel prophecy was not completely fulfilled at Pentecost, for the heavenly disturbances were not, and have not, happened (Joel 2:30-31, Acts 2:19-20). Because of this incomplete kind of fulfillment, I understand Peter to be preaching using an analogy, that the Pentecost outpouring of the Spirit is like that which will happen in the end time, but because of the obvious differences, Joel has not yet been fulfilled.

The gifts listed in Joel do not include tongues, but they do include a special presence of the Holy Spirit and associated dreams, visions, and prophecies. These are all revelatory gifts. Were such gifts operational today as is supposed in the continuationist view, there would be nothing special about them being promised in the end time.

Seminary professor and author Kevin Bauder recently wrote on the subject of the resumption of revelation and spiritual gifts at the end time: "In the future, however, special revelation will commence again. The Tribulation will involve divine communication at several different levels. This phenomenon is what Joel had in mind when he wrote that God would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh and 'your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions' (Joel 2:28-31)." (In the Nick of Time, February 20, 2015, Central Baptist Theological Seminary).

When the Lord returns in the end time, the things He says and the world-wide decrees He makes will obviously be revelatory as well, authoritative and equal to Scripture. The end time will bring both the revelatory and the miraculous.

3. Problem with Continuationism

Gordon Fee in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 teaches that the first century gifts will not cease, but will rather continue until the end time, at which point they will disappear because they are no longer needed. He illustrates by citing Barth's imagery that the nighttime visible light of the stars is extinguished by the brighter light of the Sun when it rises (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT, p. 646). So the continuationist's gifts continue until the end time when something greater arises and cause the earlier, dimmer gifts to "cease." Fee basically argues that the gifts that are needed to build the church today will fade as the "complete" comes onto the scene.

He writes, "Good as spiritual gifts are, they are only for the present; Christian love, which the Corinthians currently lack, is the 'more excellent way' in part because it belongs to eternity as well as to the present" (p. 649). His point about love is helpful, and the solar illustration is clever, but it doesn't do justice to the real meaning of cease because the gifts effectively never cease on his view. Those gifts were present—at the time of Paul's writing and for a brief period of time beyond that—but are obviously not present now. That I view it this way is not due to my "totally cerebral" and "domesticated" "bland" western version of Christianity which is without the Spirit (a severe charge leveled on p. 645, fn. 23). Rather, it is due to my eyes being open to the lack of evidence of miracles (an experiential argument, to be sure), and to the teaching of Scripture that such things would stop at some point. That point was reached a long time ago.

The inaugurated eschatology of Fee allows him to say that we are in the end time already but not in the end time yet. We are in the beginning, but not the completion, of the End (p. 645-46). Such inaugurated eschatology permits the interpreter to believe that Joel's prophecy is being fulfilled in the present "end times." But current conditions are so far from the promised conditions in the Old Testament surrounding the inauguration of the earthly kingdom of the Messiah that there is no meaningful way we can say we are in that kingdom. We are in the church, not the kingdom.

Around the time of Jesus' return we will see a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, new revelatory activity, and a massive change in world conditions as the Messiah takes His throne and rules the nations with a rod of iron. We pray that the kingdom will come (Matthew 6:10), and that the Spirit's work of old will resume. For now, we await that resumption, praying to be faithful with the "normal" means granted by the Spirit to accomplish the work of Christ.

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