Thursday, February 19, 2015

Is This the Time for Signs and Wonders?

In the debate between cessationists, those who believe that the Pentecostal gifts were for a particular time only, and continuationists, those who hold that they are permanent gifts in the church, the cessationist case is usually based on I Corinthians 13:10: "When the perfect comes, the partial will pass away," which is understood to refer to the completion of the New Testament canon. And I grant the importance of that. Pentecostals play fast and loose with the implications of continuing revelation, like teasing an unfamiliar dog. But I think there is more in Scripture to indicate that the extraordinary gifts were intended for the apostolic period only, not as a continuing phenomenon.

There are four verses that I want to consider.

The first is Mark 16:20: "They [i. e., the Apostles, v.14] went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs." This verse is especially important, because it is in the context of one of the strongest descriptions of the Pentecostal gifts, especially verses 17 and 18.

Next is Acts 14:3: "They [i. e., Paul and Barnabas] remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands."

The third is II Corinthians 12:12: "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works." Here the context is Paul's defense of his apostleship as equal to that of the original Twelve.

And finally, I refer to Hebrews 2:3-4: "It [i. e., the message of salvation] was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will."

What do all of these passages have in common?  They refer to signs and wonders, not as a permanent state of the church or as general to all Christians, but rather as proofs of the ministry of the Apostles in their evangelistic work. Now, that office is the role that was ultimately fulfilled by the completion of the canon, thus closing the office of apostleship.

Some Pentecostals, conceding the apostolic connection, claim to have a continuing office of Apostle (as does the Catholic Church). The error of that claim is particularly bold, considering that one of the qualifications for an Apostle was to have seen the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:22). Observe also the doctrines associated with these so-called new Apostles: Pelagianism, Sabellianism, and the arrogance of claims to new revelation. Heresies of a feather flock together!

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