Saturday, August 12, 2006

Commentary from a wet cat part II

This is part 2 of my commentary that critiques Dan Phillips, the Cessationist, as he attempts to rebut Adrian Warnock, the Charismatic Continuationist. This is an exerpt taken from Dan Phillip's TeamPyro posting on July 31st entitled "Tongues" accross the water: response to Adrian, part three as a rebuttal to the same posting by Adrian Warnock on July 25 entitled Sufficient Grace and Efficient Grace: Spurgeon, Tongues and the Toronto Blessing.

Dan's words are in red, Adrian's words are in blue and mine are in black.

Adrian swings this fish at my head:

Why does the passage Peter then [in Acts 2] quotes [Joel 2] speak of the Spirit being poured out on "all flesh" in the "last days" if we cannot experience this? Are we now living in the days after the last days? If the gifts were only to authenticate the Apostles, why the wide extent detailed here?

Why does Peter speak of the Spirit being poured out? because he was.

This really needn't be a very long answer. What is Adrian's point? Because some of the people whom the Spirit was being poured out on Pentecost spoke in tongues, everyone (or anyone) must do so now?

Of course not everyone "must" speak in tongues. There is no indication from the text that the Spirit being "poured out on all flesh" is limited to tongues or that the "last days" is limited to Pentecost.

Unless Adrian wants to paint God into the box of always having to do everything exactly the same way no matter what the developments of His plan, it's difficult to see what this has to do with our discussion.

Just answer this, Dear Reader: was God authoring Scripture then, by His outpoured Spirit? I'll help you: the answer is "Yes."

My next question is: Is God authoring Scripture today, by His outpoured Spirit?

If you answer "No" to just that question, you grant the principle that there may be phases, chapters, movements, openings and closings in the unfolding plan of God. You have accepted the principle of cessationism.

If, however, any of you answer "Yes, the Holy Spirit is still authoring new Scripture today," then please (A) say so plainly, (B) tell us what books we need to staple to the backs of our Bibles, and (c) don't call yourself a "Reformed" Charismatic.

Of course, if one defines Cessationism so broadly that it merely refers to the belief that we are in a dispensation wherein the canon of Scripture has been completed, then we're all Cessationists. Since none of us in this debate contend that new Scripture are being written, the real question in contention is whether the only purpose of the Holy Spirit being "poured out on all flesh" was to authenticate the Apostles in order to create the canon. Here, Dan is not recognizing that this question is a topic for debate that he must continue to try to prove, rather, he has assumed that his answer to that question is already beyond debate. It is already an axiom for Dan that the only purpose of the Holy Spirit being made manifest was to authenticate the Apostles to create the canon of Scripture. That is why the only way that Dan can reconcile the idea that one is a "Charismatic" is if that same Charismatic also believes that the Holy Spirit is moving and writing new Scripture. Dan does not allow for the possibility that one could be a Charismatic who believes that the Holy Spirit has had a purpose for "being poured out on all flesh" beyond creating the canon.

A "Reformed Charismatic" believes that the "irresistable grace" of 5 points Calvinism is grace that involves the experience of the Holy Spirit here and now in conjunction with the written Word. The "Reformed Charismatic" does not believe that the written Word, which was written in the first century and codified into a canon in the fourth century, is the sole key to our sanctification. Instead of carefully clarifying the issues that are at stake in this debate, Dan wants you, Dear Reader, to be so taken with the ridiculousness of stapling books to the Bible that you don't stop to notice what he has failed to clarify.

Adrian moves on:

How do you explain it when Peter says that the end of his speech that the promise "is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself" He is clearly referring to the same thing that they experienced that day? Peter says (to quote the KJV) "this is that," and yet we are not allowed to experience "that" according to the cessationist and in direct contradiction to Peter's universal promise.

Adrian doesn't actually quote the passage in Acts 2 at length. So I will. Here Peter quotes Joel:

"And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they will prophesy" (vv. 17-18)

That's the part Charismatics quote. And there you go: "this is that," last days, Spirit poured our, sons and daughters prophesying, visions, dreams, the whole nine yards. Therefore, tongues are forever! QED, right?

Forever? No one has said anything about forever. The question in this debate is over what, exactly, comprises the last days.

Well now, hold on. I seem to remember Acts 2 is longer than eighteen verses. Isn't it? What are the next two verses?

And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and a vapor of smoke; 20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.

Okay, now; so if verses 17 and 18 must obviously mean that everybody will be speaking in tongues at every church meeting for the next twenty-plus centuries...

Not everyone must be speaking in tongues. There is much more at stake here than just tongues. It is the question of the Spirit's movement and our relationship to the Holy Spirit in general.

doesn't it equally obviously mean that there must be signs in heaven and on earth, blood, vapor, all those special effects, at every church meeting, for the same duration?

Blood, vapors at church meetings, cute.

Yet I don't even remember those things happening on Pentecost, let alone for the last two thousand years. (I might also mention that tongues have never been claimed to be a fixture of Bible-believing Christianity, from the second century until the twentieth.)

So maybe the meaning is not as self-evidently a slam-dunk for continuationism as bro. Warnock seems to feel?

Here, Dan has assumed that one must "obviously" interpret this Scripture from Joel in such a way that these two events --1) the Spirit poured out on all flesh and 2) signs and wonders in earth and heaven -- will happen concurrently. Based on this interpretation, Dan says that anyone who claims this Scripture as the basis of their experience the Holy Spirit must also claim the concurrent experience of signs and wonders on earth and in heaven. Since A) Peter claimed this Scripture to proclaim Pentecost and since B) there were no signs and wonders in the heavens at Pentecost, perhaps there is another way to interpret this Scripture.

It is possible that the "and" that separates verses 17 and 18 from verses 19 and 20 is separating two different aspects of the last days. In this interpretion, verses 17 and 18 refer to the last days in the broadest sense from Christ's death and resurrection onward, while verse 19 and 20 refer specifically to the apocalypse. In this interpretation, Joel's prophecy is condensing two related aspects of time into one relevatory vision of the future.

This "condensing" is actually a common feature of Biblical prophecy. For example, Jesus, in his Olivet Discourse description of the last days (Mark 13:37) includes the destruction of the temple mount. His olivet discourse prophecy was partially fulfilled in 70 AD. with the fall of Jerusalem. His same Olivet Discourse prophecy contains elements of the last days that we have yet to encounter.

Since the Apostles experienced the Spirit being poured out on them and on those whom they proclaimed the Gospel to but did not have wonders in the heavens at that exact time, we can surmise that these two aspects of the last days --1) Spirit being poured out and 2) signs and wonders on earth and in the heavens-- do not always need to be coincided hand-in-hand as happening at the exact same time.

Since Dan is open to the idea of different dispensations, phases, chapters, etc..., allow me to clarify what is at issue. Are we Christians operating in a dispensation that has:

a) no signs and wonders on the earth and in the heavens,

b) no more writing of the canon of Scripture, and

c) no more experience of the movement of the Holy Spirit?

Or, are we in a dispensation that has:

a) no signs and wonders on the earth and in the heavens

b) no more writing of the canon of Scripture, and

c) continuing movement of the Holy Spirit to accomplish things in our hearts beyond writing the canon of Scripture?

But I note something else, as well. The Joel citation comes at the beginning of Peter's sermon, in vv. 17-21. But Adrian links that citation directly to what comes at the end -- in fact, after the end-- of the sermon, in the baby sprinkler's favorite verse: Acts 2:39.

Now I'm no professor of hermeneutics, but when Peter says "This promise," shouldn't I ask "Which promise?", and not just assume that I know, or read in a favorite verse? Shouldn't I look at the immediately-preceding words to see if I find my answer?

If I do that, here is what I find: "Repent and be baptized every on of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will be receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." So the promise is that repentant believers will receive the forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What cessationist denies that? Certainly not I.

Since both Cessationists and Charismatics believe that repentant believers will receive the Holy Spirit, the real question remains -- what is the "gift of the Holy Spirit"? This can't mean the same thing to both parties.

Acts 2:39 is a challenge to the cessationist position only if every time I see "Holy Spirit," I must think "Oh, yes--tongues, prophecy, apostles, writing the Bible, stuff like that."

So, when considering the Holy Spirit in the present day, if I am:

A) OK with tongues, believing that they serve an edifying purpose for the individuals who have the gift and an edifying purpose for a community of believers when they are interpreted and

B) OK with dreams, visions and leadings that elaborate on God's revealed truth and make His direction specific to persons and communities without adding to the canon, and

C) Don't think that everyone must have these gifts equally, since we are a body with many parts, and

D) Believe that those ever-important fruits of the Spirit have something to do with the gift of the Holy Spirit that has been poured out on all flesh and has been received into the hearts of repentant flesh,

where do I fit in? Am I a Cessationist too? The problem with Dan's argument is that he wants the Cessationist tent to seem larger, more welcoming and more reasonable than it actually is. Dan wants you, Dear Reader, to not notice that he has not actually confronted the question whether the Holy Spirit can have an active role in the lives of believers beyond facilitating the canon.

If you get past the large, welcoming, reasonable tent that Dan has portrayed, what Dan is really saying is that it is the Cessationist position that the writing-of-the-Bible-canon-prophecy-tongues-dreams-experiences-of-the-Spirit-being-poured-out-on-all-flesh is an indossulable package. According to this logic, since we can't be writing the canon, we can't experience the Holy Spirit in any manifestaion of Him 'being poured out on all flesh".

But if we go there, then we have a problem with the whole Bible.

Only if you operate on an understanding of the Holy Spirit according the Cessationist position that Dan is claiming.

This verse says that every believer receives the Holy Spirit. But Paul says that not every believer, even then, was meant by God to be a prophet nor a tongues-speaker. Did that mean that not every believer received the Holy Spirit?

No. We are a body with many parts. No one is arguing that everyone must have the gifts of the Spirit equally. Again, there is a much more substantive question -- what does it mean to in partake of the gift of the Holy Spirit to bear the fruits of the Spirit?

Also, Paul expressly says that tongues and prophecy were temporary gifts (1 Corinthians 13:8).

After they cease, then--whether that's at the close of the Canon, or the return of Jesus, or the next Republican Convention -- does every believer lose the Holy Spirit? Surely not.

Challenges from 1 Corinthians

Then we leap with Dr. Warnock to a totally different question:

What exactly is it about 1 Corinthians 13 that leads some to assume that the cessation of gifts is tied to the completion of Scripture rather than to the return of Christ?
Well, again, that's fundamentally simply answered. Let's quote the apostle. Here is my faily literal translation of the Greek text:

Love never fails. Whether there are prophecies, they will be rendered inoperative; or whether there are tongues, they will cease of themselves; or whether there is knowledge, it will be rendered inoperative. 9 For we are knowing piecemeal, and we are prophesying piecemeal; 10 but whenever that which is complete comes, that which is piecemeal shall be rendered inoperative

So here, Paul contrasts the piecemeal (to ek merous) with the complete (to teleion). What is it that Paul expressly says is piecemeal, or partial, at that time? Well, it certainly isn't Jesus, or His return. No Paul explicitly says that it is relevatory knowledge and speech (cf. v. 2). So what would be the complete thing, the complete element that answers to the partial? Jesus? He's certainly not a neuter, and the phrase is in the neuter gender. The Second Coming? Awfully odd way to put it, wouldn't you say--"whenever that which is perfect, that perfect thing, the Second Coming, comes"?

No, I think if we didn't have a sectarian dog in this hunt, and just were thinking it through, the most obvious answer wound't be that hard to discover. Paul contrasts a then-present process of revelation, piece by piece (to ek merous), with the finished product (to teleion). The most natural answer, then is the completed product of that piecemeal revelatory process. In a word, Scripture.


I'm sure a lot of people are madder than wet cats at this point.

There is another "natural" interpretation. Paul is describing an era where the thing that the relevatory words point to will be so obvious that one will no longer need relevatory words to point to it. When Paul says that knowledge will be rendered "inoperative", it will be rendered "inoperative" in the way that you won't need to "know about" a long lost friend when that long lost friend returns and is sitting in your living room.

In this interpretation, the "complete" or the "perfect" is the full perfect realization of the Kingdom of God. Paul is neutering the "perfect" to emphasize, in this verse, the result of the Kingdom of God and not specifically the source per se. This is not saying that Paul doesn't care about the source. Rather, Paul is simply examining the Kingdom of God as we experience it existentially, from our vantage point. Paul is highlighting the completeness of the Kingdom to contrast it with the incompleteness of God's Kingdom as we now experience it. When Paul says that "our" knowledge and understanding is piecemeal and incomplete, it is incomplete because we are operating in a time when our experience of the Kingdom of God as believers is incomplete.

When the "complete" and "perfect" happens, the truth will be self-evident enough that you won't need knowledge, prophesy, tongues, et. al to point it out. You won't need these things because the Kingdom of God will be so perfectly realized that it will no longer be merely visible "through a glass (mirror), darkly" when we shall see "face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12). The perfect knowledge of God and His Kingdom will happen when we see God face to face and not merely through the mirror in the dark. Here, Paul is employing "Plato's cave" type imagery to describe our present reality in relation to our understanding and experience of God.

If Paul is "knowing piecemeal" and Paul is the completer of the Canon aside from the other books of Scripture written by apostolic contemporaries in the latter part of the first century, are those who are no longer seeing "through a glass darkly" and no longer "knowing piecemeal" those readers just after the Jewish Christian community diaspora of 70 AD? Those just after the council of Nicea in the 4th century? The few New Testament books, if any, that were written without Paul's knowledge do not provide all that much more knowledge about the Kingdom of God than that which Paul was equipped with for his ministry.

If, rather, the complete realization of the Kingdom of God is the "complete" that Paul is referring to, the completion of the canon of Scripture is the merely the complete codification of apostolic knowledge. The Scripture is not "knowledge made inoperative" when the complete comes because it is still knowledge that we desperately need. It is this knowledge that we won't need as "knowledge about" when God and the fullness of His Kingdom is revealed to us in concrete, tangible fullness at the end of history. Until then, the teachings of Paul and his description of our condition as those who "see through a glass darkly" still applies to us.

If a Cessationist were to try to split the hairs of my argument to say that "complete codified knowledge" in the form of Scripture has replaced the imparting of knowledge in the form of gifts--i.e. prophecy, tongues, words of knowledge, etc..., that cessationist would still be left with the fact that we are not in an era when knowledge is inoperative. For this reason, 1 Corinthians 13 cannot be the argument for Cessationism in the way that Dan has tried to make it one.

If Dan interprets 1 Corinthians 13 to mean that we live in such a state of completeness that we no longer need the daily guidance of the Holy Spirit in all of the ways that the Holy Spirit chooses to manifest himself, then Dan has thought his way out of believing that he is living in the reality that Scripture, according to Paul, says that he is in.

It is in understanding that we live in an era of the incomplete, seeing through a glass darkly, that we understand that we, in our weakness, do not even know what to pray for. It is in coming along side us in our weakness that the Holy Spirit guides us to make the decisions that place us where the Holy Spirit can best work in our hearts. It is this here-and-now guidance of the Spirit that is the act of unfolding His promises to us in Scripture, not the act of adding to the Canon. As the Holy Spirit guides us and tranforms us to have the fruits of the Spirit, we experience the gift of the Holy Spirit that we have been given. While not every person needs to have all of the gifts of the Spirit, and not all of the gifts need to be manifested all of the time, it is by no means out of the realm of Scripture for God to continue to use those gifts for our edification and guidance until that day when we see God "face to face". To deny this would be to truly "paint God into a box."

I am not demanding that anyone agree. (You should, of course; but I don't demand it [insert smiley face here].) But I do demand that you grant that I have answered Adrian's question head-on:

"What exactly is it about 1 Corinthians 13 that leads some to assume that the cessation of gifts is tied to the completion of the Scripture rather than to the return of Christ?" If you don't know, now you do.

I'll grant that I now know how "some" create a problematic doctrine out of this 1 Corinthians 13 8-10 passage. That is why I am a "wet cat" who is compelled to weigh in on this debate.

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