This is the third time I have written about “The Anatomy of the Biblical Church”. The intent of this series of writings is to look at what the Bible tells us about the church – what its goals are and how God operates within it. The first two weeks, we talked about the calling of those who make up the church – the saints. Their basic calling is two – fold:
To function as a kingdom of priests – intercede for God’s will.
To do the work of the ministry – complete the ministry of Christ.
The church has operative within it five ministry impartations that equip the members of the church to complete their calling:
Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, Teacher
While these office gifts are upon people, it is the Holy Spirit that is doing the effective spiritual work in the church. That’s what I want to wade into today: the role of the Holy Spirit in the operation of the biblical church.
The church is a vast, multifaceted organism. It is made up of many people who have differing views on worship. I don’t think that there are differing views because God is confused or confusing. Even family members can differ in viewpoint regarding certain items. One of the things that we as the body of Christ differ on is the role of the Holy Spirit in the operation of the body of Christ and the church.
All biblically minded Christians agree that the Holy Spirit is the agent of God’s work upon the earth and is the One who draws people to Jesus, saves them through Christ’s finished work and sanctifies them as they live in Christ.
But, when it comes to how the Holy Spirit performs His ministry on the earth, there are differing views. Without being too simplistic, these views basically break down into two camps:
Cessationists and Continuationists
While there are factions within each camp that believe slightly different things, allow me to give you a definition of both of these views.
Cessationists believe that the “miracle gifts” of tongues and healing have ceased – that the end of the apostolic age brought about a cessation of the miracles associated with that age. A great number of cessationists believe that prophecy has also ceased in any form other than speaking forth biblical doctrine. Most cessationists believe that, while God can and still does perform miracles today, the Holy Spirit no longer uses individuals in the performance of those miracles.
Continuationists (Charismatics) believe that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit found in the New Testament are active today and did not pass away after the apostolic age.
Those who believe in cessation give seven primary reasons for their belief:
- There were 3 primary periods in which God worked miracles through unique men. The first was the ministry of Moses; the second was during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha; and the third was with Jesus and His apostles. The purpose of the miracles performed during these periods was to establish the credibility of the one speaking the word of God.
- The apostles were a temporary gift to the church. Since there are no apostles alive today that meet the qualifications of the original twelve, then the apostolic age is over which means the gifting of the Spirit has changed.
- Ephesians 2:20-22 identifies the apostles and prophets as the foundation of the church. In the context, it is clear that Paul is referring not to Old Testament prophets but to New Testament prophets. One the apostles and prophets finished laying the foundation of the church, their gifts were complete.
- Tongues as spoken of in the New Testament described existing, understandable languages not an ecstatic language. New Testament prophets, like Old Testament prophets spoke direct, infallible revelation from God. There is no other type of prophecy. If prophecy is spoken today, it is infallible revelation. Paul prophesied in 1 Corinthians 13:8 that tongues and prophesy would end.
- Miracles declined even during the time of the apostles. They are mentioned less as the date of their writings gets later. Some church fathers also agree the gifts ended after the first century.
- The Spirit speaks only in and through the Bible.
- Current observation confirms that tongues has ceased. If not, why would missionaries need to learn languages before going to the field? Paul’s failure to heal Epaphroditus, Trophimus, Timothy, and himself prove that the gift of healing was passing.
I want to go through scripture and look at these statements in light of what the Bible says – not to prove anyone wrong, but in an effort to find out what the ministry of the Holy Spirit looks like in the church.
I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:4-8
One of the rules of Bible exposition or understanding is to use Scripture to interpret Scripture. While verses 4-8 are rarely used in discussing the ministry of the Holy Spirit, I think they are important to our discovery.
These verses state the following:
- Grace was given to the church by Jesus Christ.
Grace is a different word than mercy. Mercy is the bestowal of that which is undeserved. Biblical grace, while a product of mercy carries within it the idea of a gift given. In this passage, Paul thanks God for the gift of God given to the church (people) by Jesus Christ.
2. That gift given by Jesus enriched them in all utterance and all knowledge.
The people of the church received a gift from Jesus that enriched or enlarged them in every aspect of their divine speech and their knowledge. They received empowered speech and had experiences that increased their knowledge.
3. This gift of grace confirmed the testimony of Christ in them.
The enrichment or enlargement of their speech and experiential knowledge confirmed the testimony of Christ, or was evidence or proof that Christ was in them.
4. So that you come short in no gift.
The word “gift” used here is almost exclusive to Paul. The only other usage of the word is found in 1 Peter 4:10 in which it is not used to denote salvation as a gift but describes empowerments for use in ministry to others.
Chárisma (“grace-gift”) divinely empowers a believer to share God’s work with others, i.e. Spirit-empowered service to the Church to carry out His plan for His people.
In fairness, “charisma” is not used exclusively to describe spiritual gifts but can also describe salvation. But notice in this usage, Paul writes “So that you come short in no gift”; which indicates plurality. Since salvation is singular, Paul must be speaking of something else.
5. This proof will last until the return of Jesus.
The context being that, what Paul is speaking of will last until the revelation or day of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note that the context appears to be the same as used in 1 Corinthians 13:10 & 13:13.
Let me briefly explain:
Verse 10: something perfect is coming which will do away with the need for prophecy, tongues, and knowledge.
There is no way that we can conclusively say that the knowledge spoken of here is speaking only of gift of “the word of knowledge” spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12:8. It states in verse 12 that when the perfect comes, I will know just as I also am known. Who is the one I am known by that I will have the same knowledge of myself that he has? Has that happened?
When will there no longer be a need for faith and hope? When we get to heaven! Love is the greatest and endures forever. According to scripture, could it also be the definitive evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit?
The ministry of the Holy Spirit is the ministry of Jesus on the earth and will be with us until Christ returns for His people! So, get busy!!