Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Straight Talk for Reformed Christians

Monday, January 1, 2018, 21:42
This news item was posted in Articles category.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email



[Editor’s Note: The Christian Observer, the editor, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church – Hanover Presbytery, in which the editor is ordained a Minister and Teaching Elder, subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith, including the cessation of charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, which is addressed in Chapter I – Of the Holy Scripture – Part 1  “…those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.” footnote [6] referencing Hebrews 1:1 “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.”

This article comes to a different conclusion concerning cessationism, and is presented in order that the reader may critically compare the perspective of the article with that of the WCF.]


“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

I Corinthians 13:12 ESV

It is imperative that elders and ministers of God’s Word properly understand and exegete [1] the first three chapters of the book of Genesis. [2]  But it is equally imperative that we properly understand and exegete the great love chapter of the Bible, I Corinthians 13.  For example, to what exactly was Paul referring in I Corinthians 13:10-12?  Clearly, he was underscoring the temporal nature of the charismatic [3] gifts to the church.  The irony is that evangelical Christians remain divided as to the particular event that would signal the passing or cessation of these spiritual gifts as Paul predicted in this great chapter on love.   More specifically, what did Paul have in mind when he spoke of the arrival of the “perfect” which would mark the cessation of these supernatural gifts such as tongues, prophecy, and knowledge–gifts concerning which Paul gives counsel in what we know as chapter fourteen?  What is this “face-to-face” [4] event to which the apostle refers and which will render new testament “prophecy,” “tongues,” and the gift of “knowledge” obsolete?  There are two evangelical camps who fail to see eye-to-eye on this issue.

The classical Reformed position with respect to the charismata, as set forth in the Westminster Standards, seems to be that Paul had in mind their cessation co-existent with the first-century completion of the New Testament canon.  The argument is that with the establishment of the full biblical canon there was no further need for prophesying or for any other supernatural workings of the Holy Spirit inasmuch as prophesy was fulfilled once for all in the recording of the New Testament.  Biblical “Cessationists” would argue that prophesying has accordingly been redefined.  This was essentially the position of John Calvin.  German Reformer Martin Luther, on the other hand, affirmed in his famous hymn: “The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth.”

A more fundamental question may be asked: Does the Scripture itself, the authoritative basis for our lives and ministry, corroborate an extremist Westminster argument that the apostle Paul was referring to the completion of the New Testament canon when he spoke those words in 1 Corinthians 13:10-12?  To argue “face to face” “perfection” on the basis of canon completion is to turn Scripture against itself and Presbyterians against themselves.  It is far better to suppose that Paul was simply making reference to the return of Christ.  Is that not the “face to face” event which will usher in the “perfection” which the apostle Paul acknowledged was still lacking in his own life? [5]  And if we suppose Paul was referring to the completion of the biblical canon, why does the biblical canon itself bear witness to the “face to face” meeting with the Savior as an event yet future?  Is there no distinction to be made between the closure of the canon and the second coming of Christ?   If Paul did have in mind the completion of the biblical canon, where is the contextual evidence?  The Reformed argument would likely be that prophecy, as defined by the Reformed standards of today, trumps glossolalia in keeping with First Corinthians chapter 14 which follows.  In chapter 14, however, the Apostle Paul addressed Corinthian misuse (as distinct from “use”) of glossolalia which led to confusion within the assembled church. [6]

Somewhere along the line this author heard some wise person state that “the Bible is God’s personality in print!”  On that basis, the Bible itself is the best interpreter of Scripture–a lesson that this writer had to learn as a sophomore in college, albeit in the classroom not so much.  Christians are to compare Scripture with Scripture to arrive at the true meaning of a passage.  But we are not to lift verses out of their biblical context.  To drive home that point, some have reminded us that Jesus’ words “Go thou and do likewise” is not to be juxtaposed with the statement that “Judas went out and hung himself.”  Certainly it is within the context of sound New Testament understanding, exposition, and regard for biblical authority, that to come to Christ spiritually, is to come authentically, and in some sense “face to face.” [7]  This, however, does not rule out that greater eschatological event to which the apostle John referred when he stated “we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.” [8]

We are in serious trouble if we ever deny that truth or emphasize one aspect of it over another.  The mind is important and is to be employed in regard to (but never exalted over) Holy Scripture.  But as people who are called to think, i.e., to exercise the mind as well as the heart, we must at least raise the question whether the completion of the New Testament canon was really what the apostle had in mind in 1 Corinthians 13:10-12, or whether the apostle was simply referring to the eschatological second coming of Christ? 

Beloved blind hymn writer, Fanny Crosby, pointed to an event beyond the completion of the biblical canon (however attested by the biblical canon) when she wrote that hymn “Some Day the Silver Cord Will Break.”  The resounding chorus which followed each verse began with the words: “Then I shall see Him face to face . . .”   Unfortunately, while a number of Fanny Crosby’s hymns are included in the Trinity Hymnal, this particular hymn does not appear.  Did it not measure up to the Westminster Standards?  Perhaps it was simply an oversight, but an unfortunate one.  Hopefully the Great Commission Publications committee did not deliberately steer clear of Fanny Crosby’s hymn: “Some Day the Silver Cord will Break” in keeping with the Westminster emphasis upon biblical authority at the expense of eschatology?  This question cannot be side-stepped–particularly in the context of 1 Corinthians 13:10-12 and 1 John 3:2-3 which speak of the same eschatological appearing of Christ beyond the establishment of the biblical canon?  Is it not possible that Reformed theology may be so construed as to side-step the eschatological in 1 Corinthians 13:10-12? 

This is simply to acknowledge the reality of spiritual gifts within a closed canon, as distinct from confusing Christ’s return with the 4th-century establishment of the biblical canon.  John Gerstner noted that even the astute Jonathan Edwards philosopher-pastor-theologian bought into this Reformed exegesis of 1 Corinthians 13:10-12 which ruled out post-canonical charismata, and Gerstner apparently concurred.  In the final analysis, whether one accommodates the 20th century charismatic renewal as biblical (or condemns it as heretical) hinges on the particular exegesis of the great love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. [9]  This is not to ignore the fact that the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:5 recognized a practical equivalence between prophecy and tongues-speaking in the assembled body, provided, of course, that the latter is followed by the gift of interpretation. [10]  Cessationism associated with the charismata is indeed described in 1 Corinthians 13 and contrasted with infallible love; while “poor reflection” is contrasted with the coming “face to face” heavenly reality at the return of Christ.

The author is reminded of a statement by his former Westminster Seminary professor, Dr. D. Clair Davis, who brought some clarity to a controversial issue when he posed a question concerning a certain person familiar to the students who apparently practiced glossolalia as per 1 Corinthians 14:15.   Did that make him a “Charismatic”?, he asked.  “No,” he answered, “he simply discovered another biblical way to worship.


David C. Brand

Author, Profile of the Last Puritan: Jonathan Edwards, Self-Love, and the Dawn of the Beatific,

American Academy of Region (Academy Series), Scholars Press, 1991



[1]. To “exegete” is literally to “read out of” the Scriptures rather than to “read [one’s own ideas] into” the Scriptures.

[2]. For that purpose this author has written and published a small booklet entitled The Covenant of Works and the Second Adam (www.dcbcom.org, books).

[3]. From the Greek “charisma” meaning “a grace, favor: a free gift, grace” Greek-English Lexicon, Liddell and Scott.

[4]. I Corinthians 13:12

[5]. Philippians 3:12-14; 1 Corinthians

[6]. I Corinthians 14:9, 16-23

[7]. 2 Cor. 3:7-18

[8]. 1 John 3:2-3

[9]. This issue, as it pertains to Scottish Presbyterian history, is discussed in Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Voice of God, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1996.  For a sound biblical analysis of Paul’s counsel regarding the expression of glossolalia and the role of women in the assembled church, see F. W. Grosheide’s Commentary on the First Epistle to the CorinthiansThe New International Commentary on the New Testament.  F. F. Bruce, General Editor. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Ned B. Stonehouse, General Editor

[10]. 1 Cor. 14:5


Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed for this Article !