There's not a box big enough

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday. Traditionally, Pentecost is the Sunday 7 weeks after Easter, which commemorates the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Church.

Now, I hold to a doctrine called cessationism. That means I believe that certain spectacular gifts of the Holy Spirit are no longer normative in the Church today. The particular gifts in question are languages, interpretation of languages, revelatory prophecy, and powers of healing.

I certainly do believe that God still gives some people particular skill in the ordinary use of languages, and that God continues to grant some people particular skill in preaching. I believe that God gives some people particularly sensitive consciences, and that the Holy Spirit can sanctify and use the gifts of naturally intuitive people. The Holy Spirit even inspired James to write down instructions for healing prayers in his epistle.

But it's also clear that over the history of the early Church and post Apostolic Christianity that the extraordinary and supernatural use of languages, of prophecy, and of healing began to fade with the closing of the New Testament. Since there is no new unfolding revelation, and since the Holy Spirit continues to bless the ordinary means of grace (Scripture, Prayer, and the Ordinances) there is no longer a need for supernatural and extraordinary confirmation of revelation.

Cessationism is easily the majority report in the history of Christianity. Origen (3rd century), Chrysostom (4th century), and Augustine (5th century), as well as the Westminster Assembly (17th century), Jonathan Edwards (19th century), and B.B. Warfield (20th century) have all argued that some gifts gradually and eventually ceased.

Since the rise of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, though, many (in my experience) mistake cessationism as a negative reactionary response to the Charismatic Movement. Cessationists are accused of putting God in a box.

All Christians who together confess faith in one God, eternally existent in three persons, agree that the Holy Spirit is active today empowering, forming, and holding the Church together.

I did a quick search through the Baptist Confession and Catechism of 1689, which explicitly affirm the cessation of ongoing revelation, in order to find references to the historical and continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the Church today.

Here is what the Holy Spirit did and continues to do:
  • Inspired the Scripture (2Timothy 3:16)
  • Bears witness to the truth of Scripture (John 16:13)
  • Illuminates our minds to understand the Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:9-12)
  • Calls us to faith in Christ (Romans 8:30)
  • With the Father and Son, made the world and mankind (Genesis 1:2; John 1:2-3; Job 33:4)
  • Was present at Creation (Genesis 1:2)
  • Makes us willing to believe (Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 6:44-45)
  • Made Jesus incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary (Matthew 1:22-23; Luke 1:27,31,35)
  • Unites us to Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10)
  • Reveals to us the mystery of salvation (1John 5:20)
  • Persuades us to believe and obey (Romans 8:9,14; 15:18-19; John 17:17)
  • Governs our hearts (Romans 8:9,14)
  • Effectually calls us to faith (Romans 8:30)
  • Renews us to life (Ephesians 2:5; John 5:25)
  • Regenerates infants dying in infancy (Luke 18:15-16)
  • Unites us to God's family by Adoption (Romans 8:15)
  • Seals us for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30)
  • Dwells in believers (Ephesians 3:16-19)
  • Sanctifies us (John 17:17)
  • Works saving faith in our hearts (2Corinthians 4:13; Ephesians 2:8)
  • Convicts us of sin (John 16:8; Romans 3:20, 7:7,etc.)
  • Supplies the power necessary for repentance (Psalm 19:7-14, 119:6,128)
  • Supplies the quality of moral goodness in the good works God has prepared for us to do (John 15:4-6; Ezekiel 36:26-27)
  • Gives us the help and strength to persevere in faith to the end (John 14:16-17; 1John 2:27, 3:9)
  • Inwardly testifies to evidences of Grace in a Christian's life (2Peter 1:4-5, 10-11; 1John 2:3, 3:14; 2Corinthians 1:12)
  • Grants joy in salvation (Romans 5:1,2,5, 14:17; Psalm 119:32)
  • Enables us to walk in obedience to God's law (Ezekiel 36:27; Hebrews 8:10; Jeremiah 31:33)
  • Accepts our worship (Matthew 28:19, 2Corinthians 13:14)
  • Helps us make our prayers (Romans 8:26)
  • Calls together the Church (John 10:16; 12:32)
  • Grants ongoing gifts of ministry to the church in elders and deacons (Acts 6:3, 14:23; 1Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9)
  • Makes the Word (Nehemiah 8:8-9; Acts 20:32; Romans 10:14-17; 2Timothy 3:15-17), Baptism and the Lord's Supper (1Corinthians 3:7), and Prayer effectual for salvation (Deuteronomy 6:16ff; Psalm 119:18; 1Peter 2:1-2)

Nobody's putting God in a box. There's not a box big enough for that.

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