Cease the ceasing!

As a person that grew up in a Pentecostal household, and attended Pentecostal churches my whole life, I have witnessed and experienced firsthand the demonstration of the moving of the Holy Spirit on many occasions. I am often staggered by the position held by many in the Body of Christ that miracles and signs such as those recorded in the book of Acts are ‘not for today’. There’s a term for this point of view called ‘cessation theology’. This term described those than believe that the age of the supernatural passed or ‘ceased’ with the death of the Apostles and the completion of scripture (canon).

Many who espouse this point of view do so by misunderstanding 1 Corinthians 13:8-10: “. . . but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away”. They maintain that the ‘perfect’ represents scripture completed in what we now call the canon (Bible). I maintain that this in fact refers to the post-resurrection experience we will have at the coming of Jesus Christ. This view is further supported by 1 Corinthians 13:12. The contrast is not about before scripture and after scripture, it’s talking about the life we have now (imperfect) contrasted with our post-resurrection experience, where knowledge and understanding will be perfect! “Where we will know fully, even as we are fully known.”

A walk down memory lane

It’s true that modern day Pentecostalism has its roots in a largely marginalized under-educated and under-intellectualized rabble that met in ramshackle houses and barns. But there’s no doubting that moves of the Spirit that sprung up (like the Azusa Street Revival in 1906) were game changers. The miracles, healings, deliverances and spiritual manifestations that occurred in those days are well documented and the stuff of legend to us from Pentecostal circles. I have always loved the raw, uncut, unpolished and slightly chaotic origins of the early Pentecostal movement. It’s no wonder that many of the established churches were so vehement in their opposition of the movement.

While I don’t hold to the doctrine that speaking in tongues are the proof of salvation as did some of the Pentecostal offshoots, I do see the gift of tongues as a valid and powerful spiritual practice and the heart of my prayer ‘engine room’. The spiritual gifts are not necessary for salvation, but they are a sort of spiritual toolbox Jesus provided to the church to continue His works.

Jesus himself promised the coming of the Holy Spirit. The fulfillment of His promise arrived on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2:4. The Spirit came upon and dwelt within the disciples, teaching and reminding them all about Jesus just as He had promised them in John 14:26. This promise is the culmination of all that Jesus said and promised. Jesus assured them that they would not be left to look after themselves (orphans) but that they would have a supernatural Helper. Not only that, but Jesus himself returned to them after His resurrection and prior to His ascension and the events of Acts 2:4! The Greek word translated “helper” (parakletos) means “one who is called alongside.”

Called alongside to do what? Most of the roles assigned to the Holy Spirit are agreed upon across denominational boundaries. Most people can deal with concept of the Holy Spirit as helper, comforter, friend and guide. They are kind and non-threatening after all, and comforting adjectives.

While there’s no doubt that the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to show us Jesus Christ, there is so much more the Spirit does for the believer. Prior to receiving the Holy Spirit, the apostles were powerless to carry out Jesus Christ’s work. So in Acts 1:8 Jesus promised, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” The Greek word translated “power” (dunamis) is the source of the English word dynamite. This is the essential nature of what Pentecostals seek to understand, experience and embody.

No doubt many Christians feel they are lacking in power. If you feel that way, it’s not God’s fault and it certainly wasn’t His plan, but no condemnation! You can still experience this today! The role of the Holy Spirit is certainly to come along side us, to teach, lead and guide us while reminding us of Jesus. But the Holy Spirit also empowers the believer for an intensified life of powerful service, just like what happened to those who were filled on the day of Pentecost. It radically changed the way they saw God and the way they lived their lives for Him. They did things they had only briefly seen and experienced in the presence of Jesus, and they were never the same. This is what birthed the church! The church was born and sustained on the power of the Holy Spirit! You see when the Holy Spirit comes into your life, he brings gifts or ‘abilities’ that are supernatural in nature and character. The ‘super’ of God meets the ‘natural’ of our world and the impossible is suddenly very possible! Just like in the resurrection of Jesus, the rules of this world are no longer absolute. There has been a spiritual paradigm shift and nothing is the same.

So where did this concept come from?

The theological support for the idea of cessation is largely by those who espouse dispensationalism. Basically this is a futurist interpretation of Bible prophecy where God interacts with people in a series of “dispensations” or periods in history. Some correlate dispensations of church history with the seven churches in Asia written about in the book of Revelation. Many dispensationalists believe that the miracles ceased with the completion of the writing of scripture, and many also think that this will further lead to a ‘last days’ church that will be ‘Laodicean’ in nature, or facing the same judgment mentioned to the actual Laodicean church in Revelation. Many dispensationalist/cessationists see the last days church as a weak, powerless, compromised, and deceived Body out of which a true remnant will be rescued by the rapture. So this view of prophecy is best served and mostly validated by a powerless and weak Body of Christ, deeply in need of rescue.

Just to clarify, there are also some people that believe in the dispensational interpretation of prophecy but do also believe in the indwelling, empowering and gifts of the Holy Spirit. So not all dispensationalists are cessationists and vice versa. This futurist approach to Bible prophecy has led to a large industry within the modern day church and produced many books and movies that dramatize these end times events. I really don’t get the idea that Christ is returning to save us from a desperate and wicked world that is bent on our destruction. I believe that the first time Jesus was here He achieved all He needed for our salvation. That being the case, His second coming will be to gather believers to Himself and to return to earth where we will rule and reign with Him until all things have been placed under His feet. Then He shall hand all things over to our Father.

We don’t need to be rescued – we’ve been empowered to establish the Kingdom of God on this earth. I believe that far from longing for the rescue call, the church will be at its most potent and effective when Christ returns, having taken the gospel to our world in power and authority.

The basic truth is that living a Spirit empowered life is not easy! It draws criticism and opens people up to attack by those with opposing worldviews. It forces you to live on the edge of failure, to face your fears and to dare to trust God to do what He promised in His word. It takes courage and faith to stand publicly or privately in front of a needy person and declare God’s healing power in their life expecting to see it happen. Especially when experience tells me that it doesn’t always work the way you had hoped. It is so much easier to believe that we live in an age where God doesn’t do this stuff anymore. But it’s nowhere near as exciting and rewarding because there are many times when God does do it!

Experience vs. Argument

There’s an old saying that my friends and I used to quote as youth: “a person with experience is never at the mercy of a person with an argument!” I have my own experience with God’s supernatural healing power, both as a recipient and as a conduit to others. The story of my healing is beautifully linked to the healing that took place in the life of a young lady who was infatuated with the first hand stories she heard from the Azusa Street Revival as a child.

As a young lady Jean Darnall loved to hear the stories of the Azusa Street revival, and herself experienced a miraculous healing as a child that led to her own preaching and healing ministry beginning at the age of sixteen. Later in life she would be mentored and then become one of the successors of Aimee Semple-McPherson at Angelus Temple in Los Angeles. In her time Aimee was one of the most publicized Christian evangelists, conducting public healing demonstrations before large crowds where tens of thousands of people received healing.

Many years later along comes Jean Darnall to a public meeting held in Melbourne Australia in the mid 1970’s. My mother was attending this meeting, and I was far away in rural north Victoria asleep in my bed. I had been diagnosed some time before with coeliac, which in those days was a rare condition. I recall being hospitalized on occasions as doctors searched to diagnose my condition.

That night Jean Darnall felt led by the Spirit to minister to sick children, and my mother responded to the call on my behalf. I wasn’t there that night, and I have no memory of anything special occurring. However I do remember the next morning when my parents informed me that Jesus had healed me and that I could now eat normal food like everyone else. From that day to this, more than 40 years later, I have never had a trace of coeliac in my body.

Someone can argue with me until they are blue in the face that God doesn’t heal today, that the gifts of the Spirit ceased with the Apostles, and I’ll just say “yet here I stand!” I have lived a life where healing is indeed the children’s bread. Healing is in Christ’s atonement. Talking about Jesus, Peter writes to the churches in Asia saying:

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24 [ESV]

Healing is the children’s bread. It’s our portion. It’s what God has given to us! If you’re a believer healing belongs to you!

It’s just not logical

From the moment of creation we read about a God who creates something from nothing. He speaks and things appear. Over the length and breadth of Old Testament scripture God continues to interact with mankind, frequently performing supernatural acts on behalf of His people. The Bible is packed full of supernatural wonder. Then Jesus arrives on the scene, and what does He do? He does miracles, heals the sick, casts out devils, and brings freedom and forgiveness everywhere He goes. Then after His resurrection and ascension, the Holy Spirit is sent and the believers (not just the apostles!) start to do many mighty miracles and signs in His name.

Why would God suddenly stop?