I want to take some time exploring some of the main passages that cause me to remain “charismatic.” There are a number of passages that I find extremely convincing toward a Continuationist reading of Scripture, so I’ll take a few posts to work through each of them.
Something should be said regarding the alleged “contradiction” in affirming that the gift of prophecy still functions today and that I hold to the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura (not to be confused with Solo Scriptura). A number of Cessationists have argued that it is impossible to believe that it is impossible to believe there are continued Spirit-inspired revelations while also maintaining that Scripture is both sufficient and that the canon is closed, both hallmark beliefs for Protestants.
Wayne Grudem has written three of the best responses to these assumptions in his excellent work The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Appendices A, B, and 3: “The Canon of Scripture,” “The Sufficiency of Scripture,” and “Some Incorrect Assumptions in Cessationist Reasoning, respectively). I will not rehash the points Grudem or other scholars make but will clarify that I stand within the Protestant tradition, and more narrowly affirm the historic (classic?) Reformed perspective regarding Scripture. In fact, even the Westminster divines acknowledged that Scripture stands as judge over “private spirits,” a concept that Byron Curtis suggests is equal to “personal revelations.”
Enough of the technicalities. Why am I “charismatic”? Here’s a significant reason to believe that the charismata has not ceased and that we should expect the church to operate in a similar way as the early church did: 1 Corinthians 1:4-9.
I believe a significant challenge is presented by Paul’s thanksgiving in 1 Corinthians. So much so that I believe it almost single-handedly mitigates the argument that the spiritual gifts would cease sometime towards the end of the first century or completion of the NT canon. Yeah, bold statement… but I’m going to hang my hat on it for a bit.
Let’s do some brief exegetical work, but first look at the text in question:
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge–even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you–so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:4-9 ESV)
As is typical of most Pauline letters, the thanksgiving is important for the letter. As one scholar notes,
“Extensive thanksgivings and prayers are also common, as is the use of these to present the major themes of the epistle (Phil 1:9–11; Eph 1:15–19; 3:14–17). When the thanksgiving or prayer is missing (Galatians, 2 Corinthians, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 1 John, Jude) this is evidence of the extremely serious nature of the problems addressed.” (Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, 318, emphasis mine)
It would seem that Paul’s thanksgiving in this passage certainly does present major themes that we find in the rest of the epistle (grace, speech, knowledge, charismata, the Second Coming, etc.). Ciampa and Rosner note that while the use of charisma in v. 7 shouldn’t be limited to spiritual gifts, “it nonetheless looks forward to Paul’s discussion of that subject” (The First Letter to the Corinthians, 65). The discussion that will later take places has a lot to do with “supernatural” spiritual gifts, such as prophecy, tongues, gifts of healings, etc.
So why am I hanging my hat on this text? Why do I find it a very convincing passage that leads me to conclude that the charismata continues past the end of the 1st century and that the church should seek to practice these spiritual gifts until Jesus returns? Excellent question.
First, there is a connection between “not lacking in any gift” and “as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” No one reading Greek in the 1st century would have seen these two concepts divided. The participle apekdechomenous (“as you wait for”) flows naturally from the statement that the Corinthians “fall short in no gift” (Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians). It seems important to note that apekdechomai is used eschatologically in several locations of the NT (e.g., Rom. 8:19, 23, 25; Gal. 5:5; Phil. 3:20), and that in this passage, the Corinthians are pictured operating with spiritual gifts until Jesus returns.
Second, the fact that the spiritual gifts are pictured as residing with the Corinthian believers until Jesus returns designates their temporary nature. Make no mistake, Continuationists (and Charismatics) do not believe that spiritual gifts exist for all of eternity. Clearly the gifts serve a temporary role in redemptive history. The question, however, is when will those gifts cease? According to this text, it appears quite clear that the spiritual gifts that he has in view will cease when Jesus returns!
Third, these verses are obviously eschatological because they are dealing with the Second Coming. Everyone agrees with that. But many miss the type of eschatology that Paul is emphasizing. Here we have inaugurated and enacted eschatology! It’s both “already and not yet” as well as something we experience, assuming we can include ourselves with the Corinthians. Thiselton writes,
“The first part of the verse confirms that the addressees have decisively entered the realm of salvation. The second part adds the qualification that this is not the whole story. Corinthian triumphalism (at least on the part of the “strong”) is excluded, for they still await the consummation. The well-known lifeboat analogy is well worn but still suggestive. Someone may have been saved (past) decisively from a sinking ship; but as the lifeboat brings him or her through choppy, uncomfortable seas (present), the final safe landing on the solid shore lies still ahead (future). Celebration comes then.” (98-99)
While some Pentecostals and Charismatics may not understand why inaugurated & enacted eschatology is important as a theological framework, scholars and theologians will recognize its role. The kingdom of God, as the central and predominant theme of Jesus’ earthly ministry (and I would argue, the same as the apostles!), functions to demonstrate that since we live in the “already,” we can expect the supernatural to occur until Jesus returns. And yet because we live in the “not yet” too, we can’t go about life as if the supernatural always occurs or has to occur in the ways that we determine. The main issue in 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 is that the spiritual gifts are pictured continuing until Jesus returns. Last I checked, Jesus hadn’t returned yet.