I pray, Father, for the leading and the illumination of Your Spirit that we might give attention to eternal things today and You might grow us in areas where we need to be grown. And we thank You, Lord, for this special day when we commemorate motherhood and mothers. I ask that they would feel honored today and also the 70th birthday of Israel which is tomorrow. I pray that that would be foremost on our thinking as we look into Your Word, both in Sunday School and in the Bible study that follows in the main service. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said… Amen.
Everyone should be receiving a couple of things, number one, a handout and number two a little booklet called Gifts of the Holy Spirit, by Steven Waterhouse.
Let’s open our Bibles if we could to the Book of Ephesians, chapter 2 and verse 20. As you know we are continuing to deal with ecclesiology which is the doctrine or the study of the church and we’ve looked at many, many subjects related to the church. And we’ve been spending a lot of time on its purpose or purposes; why does the local church exist. And we’ve seen that one of the things that the local church exists for is edification of the saints through the teaching of the Word of God which makes a promise that promises to equip us for every good work. And so as the Word of God is being taught by those called to do it within a local assembly the believers are being basically prepared, if you will, for their ministries.
And the reason your ministry is important is because the local church will either rise or fall depending on whether we pursue God’s design for the local church or not. And His design for the local church is that you have many, many people exercising their spiritual gifts in harmony with one another. So the ministry of a local church should be preparing you for the ministry that He has for you within that context, which is serving the Lord based primarily on the spiritual gifts that God has given you. So normally you handle the subject of spiritual gifts under pneumatology, which is the doctrine of the Spirit and so we’ve sort of chosen to include it here in Ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church since the gifts of the Holy Spirit are there to serve Christ within His church.
So as we’re kind of looking at spiritual gifts we’re basically trying to ask and answer four questions. Number 1, what are some general observations about spiritual gifts? So the last two lessons that we have gone through we’ve looked at, I think, nineteen basic observations about spiritual gifts.
And now we move into Number 2 probably the most controversial part of this study on spiritual gifts, which is trying to ask and answer the question, are all the spiritual gifts for today? There can’t be a question that divides Christians more than this one. And I’ve sort of been struggling, really all week, on how to present this and so finally late last night I decided to go with this outline which I’ll be explaining to you a little bit more as we go this morning.
But before we get to that I want to just make some preliminary comments about this issue of are all the spiritual gifts for today? If you memorized this pneumonic device, 12, 12, 4, 4, it stands for Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Peter 4, Ephesians 4. 12, 12, 4, 4! And if you were to go home today and read those four chapters you would basically be reading all of the relevant sections of the Scripture in the New Testament which lists the spiritual gifts. And as you’re going to read that list there’s going to be a big elephant in the room; there are about, by my count, twenty-two gifts mentioned.
And as you’re reading you’re going to come across six gifts and you’re going to be asking yourself well, how come these aren’t being practiced at Sugar Land Bible Church regularly? And these are all what I would call the disputed gifts, disputed in the sense that there is a very lively discussion concerning whether these gifts are in operation today or not. They are: the gift of apostle, prophet, worker of miracles, tongues, now tongues (I’ll be making this point) tongues is a terrible translation, it doesn’t say tongues, what it says is language and it come from the word glossalia, if I’m pronouncing that right, where we get the word glossary. And dialectō where we get the word dialect. But the King James sort of set the trend for this and translated that word as “tongues” because in the days of King James that’s what tongues meant in that language.
So you’ll see the gift of tongues, then you’ll see another gift called the interpretation of tongues and then you’ll see an actual gift called the gift of healing. And as you’re walking with the Lord you’re eventually going to hit this controversy because the Christian church is very divided on this. A group of people that I would call the continuationists, another name for them is charismatics, another name for them is Pentecostals, their basic view on it is every single gift that you see in the New Testament, including these six gifts that I just went over very briefly or just listed at least, those gifts are alive and well in the church, just like any other spiritual gift. So that’s why they’re called continuationists. And anything you basically see in the Book of Acts continues on into 2,000 years of church history into the 21st century.
Now there’s another group of people called cessationists and I really don’t like that word, cessationists, because it kind of gives you the title that well, you don’t believe in any spiritual gifts because cessationist means to cease. So I prefer the title selective cessationists. But there’s another group of people that basically believe that yes, most of the gifts that you read about in the New Testament are in operation today but those six gifts (that I just mentioned) passed away in the first century. That’s really the discussion: continuationists—every gift that you see in the New Testament is in operation today. Then you have what is called selective cessationists where we’re trying to argue that six of the twenty-two gifts have passed. So those are basically the two camps.
And one of the things you need to know is where Sugar Land Bible Church is on this terrain. And so before I give you the reasoning as to why I just want to announce where we are as a church on this particular issue. We would be in that latter camp, selective cessationists camp. So when you read our position statements and our constitution, and hopefully you have a chance to read that, if you want to join the church we ask that you have read these, and this is what you’ll run into, it says: “Although agreement with the POSITION STATEMENTS” and we have seven position statements, “is not required for membership, they are taught in this church. The POSITION STATEMENTS are not meant to prohibit honest and healthy discussions concerning what the Bible teaches about these issues; however, we believe that such discussions must be conducted under the guiding principle that believers are to strive to maintain unity.”
So what you’re going to discover in our Constitution is we have what are called Statements of Faith; there’s twelve of those. And those are very sort of generic concepts that all Christians believe in, things like the virgin birth, Trinity, the inerrancy of the Bible, those kinds of issues. And the only thing we ask if you want to join our church is that you agree with those twelve statements of faith.
Now having said that there’s another section of the Constitution which talks out our position statements and these are basically teaching positions where we take a stand on areas that are controversial in the body of Christ, things like dispensationalism and things of that nature. And in one of our position statements, and I’ll read it to you in just a second, we do take a stand on this issue of the perpetuity of all of the gifts of the Spirit. To join the church you don’t have to agree with our view on it, okay, you just have to agree with the twelve statements of faith. But you have to also understand that when this church teaches it will teach from the angle of the seven position statements, including cessationism.
So it would be sort of crazy for us to make everybody agree with seven areas that are controversial because the purpose of a local church is to help people grow, one of the purposes anyway, in their knowledge. We can’t expect people walking in to have everything correctly ironed out. The purpose of a church is to bring folks to maturity in the area of knowledge. So you don’t have to agree with the seven position statement to be a member here but you do have to understand that when we teach we teach from the angle of the seven position statements. Does that make sense?
So we have SLBC position statement Number 7, and it’s entitled “TEMPORARY SPIRITUAL GIFTS “ and this is what is says, this has been part of this church since it was founded around 1983. “This church teaches that the miraculous sign gifts, including the gift of tongues, (always the ability to speak in a previously unlearned, known language) along with the gift of healings were temporal gifts, given by the Holy Spirit solely to authenticate both the apostles and their message before the close of the canon of Scripture (1 Cor. 13:8-10). We do not believe that these are active as gifts today.” Now watch this very carefully. “However, we affirm that God is sovereign and may heal and/or give someone the ability to speak in a tongue (foreign language) today.”
So you’ll notice this, we believe God heals today; we believe that God intervenes in the affairs of men today. If we didn’t believe that why in the world would we pray for people to get well. But there’s a big difference between healing and healers. We believe that healers, people with a gift of healing, is a gift that has already passed so when God does heal today, and I believe that He does, He does it directly Himself rather than working through someone that supposedly has a spiritual gift of healing. And I’m not just going to read this to you, I’m going to explain to you biblically why we believe that this is the case. “We also believe that the majority of what is termed ‘miraculous’ within the contemporary charismatic movement is something other than the Biblical gifts of tongues or healing.”
So I’m going to be showing you from the Bible that assuming all of these gifts are for today, let’s just pretend they are, part of this study will deal with that, there have to be certain rules that are followed. So even if you are a continuationists and you can still believe that and be a member of Sugar Land Bible Church, (as I’ve tried to explain) even if all of that is true Paul lays out certain rules for those gifts to be practiced. And largely within the charismatic movement today, not in every case but in many cases, those rules are neglected.
That’s the belief system of this church; I think it’s sort of important if you come here, you attend here, you support this church with your attendance and your finances you have to understand where the church is coming from. We’re not a hide the ball kind of church. Have you guys noticed that? I mean, we’ll just come out and tell you what we think about things. So with those preliminary thoughts in mind we’re now moving in a section of our study on Ecclesiology dealing with what I would call the case, not for cessationism, the case for selective cessationism, the case for the belief that six of the twenty-two gifts passed in the first century. And so the outline is going to precede as follows: I’m going to try to explain to you that there are… when you take those twenty-two gifts, spiritual gifts that Paul talks about, you can put them into four categories. The first are foundational gifts (I’ll be explaining those today) that God used to lay the foundation for the early church. Another category is the confirmatory gifts, there are specific gifts that the Holy Spirit used to confirm the inauguration, particularly of God doing something brand new, like giving the Law to Israel, starting the church, etc. You can also fit some of those gifts into revelatory gifts, direct communication. And then finally there are the edificatory gifts.
The position of Sugar Land Bible Church, at least in terms of its teaching, is the foundational gifts, the confirmatory gifts, the revelatory gifts have passed in the first century. Once the canon of Scripture was closed those gifts ceased. But sixteen of the twenty-two gifts continue on because the church never outgrows its need for edification. So we’ll be sort of unpacking that.
And then I’ll also be trying to explain what church history reveals about this. I think this is a case that can be made not only from the Bible but you can actually see it in the writings of the early Church Fathers so I’ll be showing that to you. And then I’ll be putting on another hat and saying well, let’s pretend that all of these gifts are for today; if they are for today then the Apostle Paul is very clear here at laying out some certain rules that have to be practiced for these gifts to be used authentically and legitimately. So we’ll be going through those rules. And then number five, I’ll be trying to ask and answer this question: if the source of many of the things that we see in the charismatic movement today are not the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit can’t contradict God’s Word, then what is the source of the charismatic movement? I mean, where are these things emanating from? So we’ll briefly be explaining that issue. And then finally we’ll be looking at an explanation of the charismatic movement’s popularity. In other words, if thing is sort of off base biblically why is it so popular; why is it that almost every preacher and teacher that you turn on (on so-called Christian television) is of the charismatic persuasion? So I’ll be getting into that issue a little bit as well. So that’s sort of the direction that we’re going in here.
And I want to say this also, that there is no verse in the Bible that’s ironclad on this. There’s no verse where God said “thus saith the Lord, six of the twenty-two gifts ceased in the first century.” It’s a case that can be put together as you compare Scripture with Scripture. And I’ll also say this, there is no clear cut verse on the Trinity in the Bible. Did you know that? There’s no verse you can point to that says “thus saith the Lord, God is one but He’s expressed Himself in three personages.” You have to compare Scripture with Scripture to put together the doctrine of the Trinity; you have to compare Scripture with Scripture to put together the doctrine of the pretribulational rapture. You have to compare Scripture with Scripture to put together any doctrine in the Bible, including this doctrine, the doctrine of cessationism.
But many people look at us and they say well, you guys are just very arbitrary. In fact, when I was in the Dallas area, at Dallas Seminary, I was there in Barnes and Noble and a guy found out that I was a student at Dallas Seminary; Dallas Seminary historically has taken a position on cessationism the way we take it here, and I’m just minding my own business drinking my coffee and he just starts up on me saying well you guys just go through the Bible and you don’t like this gift so you cross it off and you don’t like that gift so you cross it off and you don’t like that gift so you cross it off but you like this gift over here so you keep it. And so his view was sort of Dallas Seminary was just sort of going through the Bible saying we like this one and don’t like that one and they think we’re very arbitrary about that. And I’m going to try to communicate that that’s not at all what we’re doing here. We believe that there’s biblical basis and historical precedent for the doctrine of selective cessationism.
And let me say something else about this; this is a topic that I frankly have never dealt with at this church, partly because when I came here I would have offended probably 25% of the audience. But most of the people that have been offended by me have left already so I’m kind of safe not to talk about this. And it’s really an issue that I really don’t like to talk about. The reason I really don’t like talking about it is because the moment you start dealing with this you take the body of Christ and you almost divide it in half, because half of Christianity believes one way; half of Christianity believes another way. And I believe this—at the end of the day that what unites both camps is greater than what divides. Both camps believe in the virgin birth, the Trinity, the deity of Christ and all of the basic core doctrines but there’s a division on this issue.
And so I will call this issue a secondary issue. If you have friends and family members that don’t think the way this church thinks on this issue it doesn’t mean they’re not Christians. But having said that, although it’s a secondary issue it’s an important issue. It’s important because the way you think about it influences how you think on so many other issues as well. So I’ve, through my life I think gone through the full spectrum on this. The guy that brought me to Christ was a gentleman that believed in the perpetuity of spiritual gifts. I mean, I wouldn’t even be saved without the influence of a charismatic or Pentecostal in my life from the human point of view.
And this is an issue that goes right down the middle of my family because my cousin, who was saved just a tad before I was, became very strong in the area of charismatic theology. He and his father, my uncle, are that way today. And having sort of experimented with it I’ve sort of moved in the direction of selective cessationism. So it’s been an issue I’ve been thinking about, talking about, dialoguing about, probably since around 1983. And it’s sort of an awkward issue for me to talk about because I, as a prophecy teacher, am invited into a lot of charismatic Pentecostal churches. Now the churches that I go to, they don’t make an issue out of it and I don’t make an issue out of it. And there are many, many things I could talk about that we agree on that edify people across the board and so that’s really another reason why I’ve sort of not aggressively dealt with it, just because of friends and family and the person that led me to Christ.
But having said all that it’s still an important issue to wrestle with; it’s still an important issue to think through. So it is a secondary issue but of all of the secondary issues out there this would probably be one of the top most important secondary issues. I have read, since 1983, a lot of different books on this. Some of them are very hot and heated and are more adept at rock throwing than they are educating. Not I hope you hear my heart as I get into this subject. My heart in this is not to be polemical, and it is not to throw rocks at anybody. If you’re kind of looking for a study where “all right, give it to ‘em pastor,” that’s not at all what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to deal with an issue that is important but at the same time it’s a secondary issue.
So this is not going to be a polemical attack and I’ll go ahead and bring up the name, one of the problems I had with John MacArthur, who I agree with on this particular point, I don’t agree with John MacArthur on the doctrine of soteriology, we’ve got big differences between us, but I agree with him here. And I’ve sort of felt, having read his book, Charismatic Chaos, many, many years ago, and then most recently he had a conference called the Strange Fire Conference, I feel that sometime polemics and overheated rhetoric makes the fissure or the division in the body of Christ worse than it needs to be. So this is not going to be a bomb throwing type of thing; it’s just going to be a basic study and why Sugar Land Bible Church thinks the way it does on this particular issue.
And I’ve read several books on it but one of the most helpful books I have ever read is the book by Steven Waterhouse called Not By Bread Alone. And we put that out frequently, we actually put some out on the table which you can pick up on your way out. He deals with every area of systematic theology based on the Scripture and in the process he deals with gifts of the Holy Spirit. And fortunately what he did is he took the information on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which is part of his big Not By Bread Alone book and he put it into a smaller book which only spans 52-53 pages. So did you all get a copy of that? I’m going to be drawing from this particular book as we go through because I really have a lot of respect for Steven Waterhouse and his ministry and how he argues things from the Scripture and the Scripture alone.
Now when I say that we’ve got an online audience, praise God for that, and they’re all going to e-mail me and say where can we get this. It’s very easy, you just go to his website, Westcliff Press, and he’s got all of these booklets, including Not By Bread Alone and including this little pamphlet, The Gifts of the Holy Spirit downloadable. So this book is easily accessible, just go to his website. [http://www.webtheology.com/]
So having said all that is there really a case for selective cessationism in the Word of God? We think that there is. Now next week, and this study, I don’t know how long this is going to last, I mean, my Daniel study has lasted sixty-two sermons, I don’t think this will take that long, we’re just going to try to cover this outline as part of ecclesiology but I will warn you that next week we’re not going to be here. I mean, we’re going to be here we’re just not having class because we’re having a church wide membership meeting, congregational meeting next week, May 20th.
So having said all that let’s take a look here, having made some preliminary thoughts let’s look at these gifts of the Holy Spirit. You can take the gifts of the Holy Spirit, all twenty-two of them, and you can organize them into four categories: foundational gifts, confirmatory gifts, revelatory gifts and edificatory gifts. Again, the continuationists will say that all of those gifts are alive and well in the church today. The selective sensationalist is going to say no, some of those gifts, six of them are either foundational, confirmatory or revelatory and consequently passed out of existence when the New Testament canon of Scripture was closed when John penned the last book of the Bible called The Book of Revelation.
So let’s go ahead and start with the foundational gifts. That’s why I had you open up to Ephesians 2:20. And when we talk about the foundational gifts we’re talking about two of them: number one, the gift of apostle, number two, the gift of prophet. It’s our conviction that those two gifts are not in existence today because those two gifts are part of the foundation of the church.
So notice, if you will, Ephesians 2:20, notice what it says of the church, “having been built on the” what? “foundation of the” what? “apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,” the corner stone is the most important stone that goes in first and in Paul’s metaphor of the church, analyzing the church to the temple, and all other stones are gauged by how they align with the cornerstone, Jesus Christ. So the cornerstone goes in first and then come the foundational stones of apostles and prophets. Now this is just a basic issue in the area of construction; exactly how many times to you lay a foundation? Well of course you would lay a foundation one time. So these are foundational gifts that God strategically used to get the church off the ground and as that happened those gifts became unnecessary because the foundation was already laid two thousand years ago. I mean, what exactly has God been doing for the last two thousand years? He’s been… not relaying the foundation, that’s already been laid, He’s been putting in the bricks of the structure.
I believe that God today is not laying the foundation again, He’s putting on the roof of the church. I mean, that’s how close we are to the completion of the body of Christ and the ensuing and subsequent rapture of the church. So you’ll notice right out of the gate there that Paul takes two gifts, apostles and prophets, and He describes them as foundational gifts.
So let’s focus, first of all on apostles. Your understanding of an apostle is sort of a linchpin that moves you in the direction of selective cessationism. If there are no apostles today, and since the apostles wrote the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, that is going to influence the way you think about an open canon, ongoing revelation. And it’s also going to influence how you think about certain gifts that maybe I’ll get to today, maybe I won’t, called sign gifts. So what you think about the issue of apostles, are apostles here today or are they not here today, that’s sort of going to be the initial direction you take theologically, either as a continuationists or as a selective cessationist.
So what do we mean by an apostle? There are many, many people today that will claim to be apostles but you see, when you go back to the Book of Acts, and you can turn there if you’d like, chapter 1, verses 21-25, written during a time when the church, which hadn’t even experienced the Holy Spirit yet the way they would experience it on the day of Pentecost, were trying to search for a replacement of Judas, one of the twelve who had just committed suicide as you know, and they’re trying to figure out who’s going to take Judas’ place. They finally settled on a guy named Matthias, and in the process of this deliberation they tell you exactly what an apostle is.
Notice Acts 1:21-25. It says, “Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His” what? “resurrection.” That’s the standard. If you wanted to be an apostle, you want to be part of one of the twelve here’s the lipid test; you had to have been with us from the beginning, beginning with the baptism of John the Baptist all the way back in early gospels and you had to have been with us for three years. You had to have been an actual recipient of the ministry of Jesus Christ, an actual eyewitness of the ministry of Jesus Christ. And you had to have been a witness of His resurrection from the dead. And if that hasn’t happened in a person’s life how in the world could they be an apostle, as this standard is laid out here.
So with that standard in mind, verse 23, “So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias.  And they prayed and said, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen  to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.  And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.”’
Now there is a teaching in the Book of Acts which says these guys made a mistake. I mean, because after all, they’re casting lots and you can’t gamble as a believer, right? And number two, the Holy Spirit hadn’t been given yet, at least the way it would be given in Acts 2. And number three, we never hear about this guy, Matthias, again. So a lot of Bible teachers will tell you the church made a big error here. Let me ask you a question: does it ever say here that they made a mistake? I mean, that’s just theory that people speculate about; there’s nothing here in the text that indicates they made an error. And in the process of selection they have explained to us exactly who an apostle is. You had to be an eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, be an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus Christ, and you had to have been with us since the John the Baptist days three years earlier. And if you don’t fit that category then you’re not an apostle.
Now the last time I checked all these folks are dead. Amen! I mean, the question I ask people when they tell me they’re an apostle is I say you look really good for your age. [laughter] I mean, you must have some kind of diet and exercise tip I’d like to know about because you ought to be about two thousand years old. My point is simply this: the Bible, not me, it doesn’t matter what I think, the Bible has a technical definition for an apostle. If you go over to 1 Corinthians 9:1 you run into this guy named Paul and I’ll be explaining his inclusion in all of this in just a minute, because he was the apostle untimely born. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:1, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” So Paul again lays out the criteria for an apostle, having seen or been an eyewitness to Jesus Christ.
Now those of you that are good Bible students are automatically saying well wait a minute, Paul wasn’t converted until Acts 9 so Paul himself would have flunked the test, wouldn’t he, of Acts 1:21-25? So why does Paul get to be an apostle yet he flunks this test? Well, he gives you the answer in 1 Corinthians 15:8-9, he says, “and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.  For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Notice what Paul says, he says my apostleship is the least of those twelve. Why is that? Because I didn’t meet the test of Acts 1; I was born out of due season, I was born in an untimely way. Now what is he talking about? He’s talking about the fact that he was a persecutor of the church. When you study Acts 9 what you’ll see is he received a direct revelation from Jesus Christ and so he is inducted into the apostleship on that basis and the commissioning the Lord gave him. But Paul says while I am “untimely born” and “the least of the apostles,” you know what, I at least meet the test of having seen Jesus Christ because I saw Him in a vision.
Now I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking well, if Paul saw him in a vision then Joe Schmoo down the street can see him in a vision and Joe Schmoo down the street could be an apostle just like Paul. Right? Wrong! Because look at what it says, and what? “last of all,” see that phrase, last of all. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15 is explaining the resurrected Christ and his eyewitness testimony, and all the people that Jesus appeared to as an eye-witness. Paul says “I am the least” because I am “untimely born,” and he makes a very interesting statement, he says, “and last of all.” I’m the last one; “He appeared to me. “…and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.  For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” In other words, you have the twelve selected with Matthias and then you have Paul added, untimely born, through direct divine revelation and Paul says I was the last one.
So consequently in the technical sense of the word since that happened there never has been, “last of all” he says, another apostle added to the group. So what you have is a technical definition of an apostle and Paul’s explanation as to how he got included in that group in 1 Corinthians 15:8-9. And what’s happening today is people are throwing around this word “apostle” very loosey-goosey. It’s sort of like what they’re doing with the kingdom, they just toss that word around and what you’re not getting in most local churches is careful Bible study, explaining what those words actually mean. That’s what I’m trying to do here with apostle, I’m trying to give you a careful precise Bible study explaining to you and us exactly what that means and why an apostle was a foundational gift that God used to lay the foundation of the church. You only lay the foundation one time so therefore the way I’m describing apostle, the way the Scripture is describing apostle, you can’t have apostles today. It’s an impossibility.
Now if you will agree with me on that you also have to acknowledge that other gifts connected to apostleship also ceased because Paul, in Ephesians 2:20, in the area of foundational gifts says that the church was not just built on the foundation of the apostles but on the” what’s the next word, starts with a P, got it underlined, “prophets.” Your view on apostleship controls your view of the canon. What’s the canon? It’s not that thing you shoot cannon balls out of at your opponent, the canon means the reed, or the measuring rod to determine what books of the New Testament should be included and which ones should not be included.
The apostles, as prophets receiving direct revelation from God wrote the 27 books of the New Testament. In fact, I would challenge you sometime to just open your table of contents, which lists the 27 books of the New Testament and what you’ll discover is every single one of them was written by an apostle OR in the case of Luke, Mark, James and Jude, the half-brothers of Jesus, it was written by someone closely affiliated with an apostle. So either in the New Testament, the twenty-seven books, the book was written by an apostle or it was written by someone so closely affiliated with an apostle that the apostle could have either accepted or rejected that writing as authentic. See that?
So if apostle was a foundational gift that was one time given to the church, and I think it was for reasons that I’ve tried to explain, then the gift of prophet, receiving direct revelation from God of such a level that you might as well write Revelation chapter 23… that ceased as well because God attached the standard for the canon of Scripture to the apostles. To get a book included in the New Testament canon it had to have been written by an apostle or someone closely affiliated with an apostle. Well, the apostles are all dead, they’ve been dead for two thousand years so therefore the gift of prophecy, which was used to write the New Testament, that gift has ceased as well. Do you see that? And that’s why the Apostle Paul connects or puts together as the foundation of the church, not just the apostles but the prophets. Many of the apostles themselves were prophets, they received direct revelation from God and wrote the New Testament or they were in a position to sign off on (to use modern vernacular) books that should be included as well. And that’s how we got our New Testament canon.
There was a test for the New Testament canon called apostolicity. There’s three tests really. Apostolicity was it written by an apostle or someone connected to an apostle. Number two is orthodoxy, it had to have been something that didn’t contradict, like many pagan books floating around at that time, other divine revelation, because God can’t say something on Monday and say something different on Tuesday. So a lot of books are rejected from the canon on that basis. And number three, catholicity… now some of you are very nervous when I say catholicity because you’re thinking of the Catholic Church but I’m not talking here about the Catholic Church. Catholicity means universal; the book was something that was embraced by all the churches back at the time of writing.
So unless the standard of apostolicity orthodoxy or catholicity is satisfied you can’t have a book included in the New Testament canon. And so since all of the apostles who wrote these books or authenticated these books had died there haven’t been New Testament books written since that period of time. You with me on that? And that’s why with the gift of apostle going out of existence simultaneously also causes to go out of existence the gift of prophets, that I’m defining here as people that receive revelation on equal par with divine Scripture. Because when someone says I had a revelation from God, I’m always curious what am I going to do with that, I mean, should I add it to Revelation 22, I mean what exactly are you talking about?
Now in my life I’ve experienced yearnings, promptings, direction from God, open doors, closed doors, ministry opportunities, I’ve experienced the same walk with God that you have. But let me tell you something, I do not put that on the same level as a New Testament book. The things that I’ve experienced can be interpreted lots of different ways; they’re very subjective and in no way, shape or form does that rise to what I’m talking about here, part of canonical material. So the doctrine of revelation has ceased. What is revelation? Revelation is receiving something from God that’s on equal level with the New Testament. There is no such thing!
The doctrine of inspiration has ceased. What is inspiration? It’s the ability as 2 Peter 1:20-21 talks about it, 2 Timothy 3:16 talks about it, should be carried along by God in such a way that the receiver of the revelation is able to record it. Revelation is the reception, inspiration is the actual recording of it. [1 Peter 1:20-21, “For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you  who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;”]
And we believe that there are no errors in the recording process in the original manuscripts. When those manuscripts were completed there was not a single error in those manuscripts. You say well where are the original manuscripts. We don’t have them. You say well, that’s convenient. Think about if God allowed us to keep those. Don’t people worship everything and anything? They find a splinter on the cross in Mexico, they think, and they start worshipping it and crowds gather around. I mean, there’s a logical reason why God did not allow us to keep the original manuscripts.
And think about this, if you damaged one of the original manuscripts and that’s the only one you got, you just set back the whole cause of Christianity, didn’t you. So God in His sovereignty did not allow us to retain the original manuscripts. You say well what do we have? We’ve got copies of them. You say is that all? Oh, let me tell you something, we come out so far ahead on this when you compare it to other works of antiquity that are readily accepted today, Thucydides, Homer, you name it. They don’t have original manuscripts either. What do they have? They have copies of the original manuscripts. And because Christianity has always been a missional faith we have more copies of the original manuscripts than any other work of antiquity, and time of writing between the original and the first copy is so short compared to any other work of antiquity.
So if you want to throw out the Bible because we don’t have the original manuscripts you’ve got to throw out ancient literature is what you’ve got to do and no one wants to do that. Look how many professors would have their classes cancelled if you throw out Thucydides, you can’t throw that out. So don’t let the fact that we don’t have the original manuscripts bother you. That is the sovereignty and providence of God, AND the copies that we do have, you know what? They all agree with each other, about 99% of the time. You say well what about the 1%? That 1% is interesting but it never covers a major issue of doctrine. So some people believe the earlier manuscripts are better, The New American Standard Bible. Other people say the majority of manuscripts are better, when there’s a potential conflict, the King James does that.
But we don’t have the original manuscripts. We don’t have divine revelation today. We don’t have divine inspiration today. Well then what do we have? What are you going leave us pastor? I didn’t know I was the one making the rules. It’s God that makes the rules. We have illumination today where the Spirit of God is at work helping us to understand what the Holy Spirit has revealed in His Word. And you say well if it’s that simple why don’t all Christians agree on everything? The reason for that is the Holy Spirit’s illuminating ministry works through the rules of language. When God decided to codify His Word in linguistic form automatically certain rules of grammar took over. So to understand God you have to understand the laws of language, like context. And a lot of people claim some understanding from God but it’s not based on the rules of language, grammar or context. So part of the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit is becoming adept at the laws of language so that you can understand the revelation of God which He decided to reveal in plain language. So therefore the canon of Scripture is shut. The gift of prophecy where somebody has some kind of revelation on equal par with the New Testament, that has stopped as well, because the gift of apostle has stopped, because the Bible has a technical definition of apostleship. And that’s why Paul, in Ephesians 2:20 talks about apostles and prophets as the foundation of the early church, as the foundation of the church and we know from construction that you lay a foundation one time.
What I’ve tried to explain to you is why two of those gifts are not in existence today. And you see, the process of explanation that I’ve given is a lot more complicated than the mischaracterization that’s aimed at us, saying well, you just go through the Bible and you cross out this one because you don’t like it and you cross out that one because you don’t like it, but you keep this one because you do like it, which is what the gentleman at Barnes and Noble was ranting at me about when I’m trying to enjoy my morning coffee. So why don’t we have apostles and prophets? Because those are foundational gifts that have passed; you lay a foundation one time. And if you don’t have an apostle you can’t have a prophet, not in the sense of having some revelation on equal par with the Scripture.
Now there’s a second group of gifts called the confirmatory gifts. What exactly are we talking about with the confirmatory gifts? Those gifts would be as follows. Workers of miracles, tongues (which is better translated languages) and gifts of healing. You say well you don’t believe God heals today? I do believe He heals today but there’s a big difference between healers and divine healing. Are you with me on that? And so this next category are three gifts that aren’t foundational gifts but they are what you call confirmatory gifts.
And let me just throw this chart at you because I’m running out of time here, I’ve got a couple of minutes and we’ll pick this up the next time I’m with you. But a lot of people have this view of the Bible that it’s miracles from beginning to end; every time you open the Bible there’s a miracle happening and so miracles certainly are highlighted very aggressively in the Bible. Redemptive history has been going on since the days of Adam and Eve right up to the present. I mean, that’s a big chunk of time. There’s no way the Bible can record every little historical happenstance that happened during that time so it highlights the very special times. And the very special times are when God performs a miracle.
So people think that when they open the pages of the Bible they’re seeing miracles quite frequently, they have this idea that miracles have just flown in an uninterrupted form since the beginning and that is not true. Miracles in the Bible have a tendency to cluster around certain eras, particularly when God is doing something brand new, i.e. starting a new dispensation, i.e. starting new house rules. So miracles will cluster around six eras in the Bible.
Number one, the time of Moses, you see a lot of miracles there because that’s when the Law was delivered from Mount Sinai to the nation of Israel. Number two, you’re going to see a lot of miracles around the Joshua era because that’s when the nation of Israel went into the promised land and conquered the land. And then miracles sort of stopped for a while, you don’t see a lot of them. And they start to flare up again in great proportions during the days of Elijah and Elisha. And why is that? Because God is doing something brand new, He’s raising up the office of prophet. What’s the function of a prophet? To correct wayward kings. We’ve got kings now but some of these kings are going astray, in fact, most of them. So we need to raise up a prophet to correct the king and how in the world would the king ever understand that the prophet is of God unless his ministry is accompanied by signs and wonders.
Then you have a lot of silence in the Bible about miracles when you look at this time period historically. Then miracles really start to show up with Jesus Christ. Now why is that? Because He’s offering the kingdom to Israel on a silver platter. And how in the world are they to know that this kingdom offer is legitimate. So the ministry of Christ is accompanied by signs and wonders. And then that offer is rejected and the next place in the Bible where you see miracles and signs and wonders in great proportion is in the Book of Acts, because what is happening in the Book of Acts? God is raising up the church.
And then the next place in the Bible where you see a ton of miracles is in the Book of Revelation which deals with a time period when God is doing something new. What is He doing? He is evicting Satan and He’s setting up His kingdom. See that? So this is the cluster that you see in the Bible. When you study the Bible in a historical linear sense it’s not unbroken miracles from beginning to end; miracles are there to signify when God is doing something new. And see, that is part of the selective cessationists perspective because we have been in the same dispensation for 2,000 years. We’re not in the foundational stage any more.
So there ought to have been miracles at the beginning, when God is setting up something new but a gentle petering out of sign miracles as the age progressed; that would not be abnormal because as you study the Bible you see miracles petering out in other eras as well after God did something brand new.
So I’ll be showing you next time how even Paul’s miracles… I mean, Paul is the guy that would raise people from the dead, Acts 20. You get to the end of his ministry and he’s leaving people sick, Trophimus I left sick in Miletus and others. Why is that? Because there’s a gradual petering out of certain sign gifts signifying the inauguration of something new.
So anyway, I’ll be showing you that three of those gifts are not foundational gifts, they are sign gifts and those are not in existence today either, as we try to explain the cessationist viewpoint. I realize that I’ve probably provoked more questions than answered but hang with me on this, be patient, if you have a different understanding that’s okay but just sort of hear us out as we move through this so that we can have a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches on this subject and why Sugar Land Bible Church takes the position that it does.
Let me pray. Father, we’re grateful for today, grateful for Your ministry of illumination and I ask that You’ll be with us as we touch on a secondary issue but an important issue in Your church. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said Amen.