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Showing posts with label charismatic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label charismatic. Show all posts

Tuesday 29 December 2015

The Spirit-Word, then and now: A history of Christadelphian hyper-cessationism

An overview of Christadelphian pneumatology

This article looks at Christadelphian pneumatology, i.e. the Christadelphian doctrine of the Holy Spirit, from a historical point of view (as opposed to an exegetical or theological point of view). Note that the article is not as long as it looks: some of the footnotes are very lengthy and take up a lot of space at the bottom.

Both the Roman Catholic1 and Reformed2 traditions affirm the ongoing, direct activity of the Holy Spirit in the world. Some key areas of this activity are held to be (i) enabling people's hearts to receive the gospel; (ii) enabling spiritual and moral development of believers; (iii) enabling correct interpretation of Scripture. In the case of (iii), Roman Catholics regard the Spirit as active mainly at the macro Church level through the Magisterium, whereas Protestants regard the Spirit as active mainly at the individual level.3

In Evangelical circles, the debate continues between cessationists (who affirm that charismata such as tongues, prophecy and healings have ceased) and continuationists or charismatics (who affirm that such manifestations of the Holy Spirit are still available today). However, the most zealous Evangelical defenders of cessationism, such as John MacArthur,4 ardently affirm the present work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers.

What is the Christadelphian pneumatology, or doctrine of the Holy Spirit? From an ontological standpoint, Christadelphians reject the orthodox position that the Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity.5 However, our focus here is functional: what do Christadelphians teach about the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church (or Ecclesia, to use Christadelphian terminology)?

The BASF6 has little explicitly to say about this question. It rejects the doctrine 'that a man cannot believe without possessing the Spirit of God'.7 This seems to deny a direct role for the Holy Spirit in conversion, and would prevent Christadelphians from fellowship with Catholics and most Protestants even if all other doctrinal differences were resolved. Indeed, in view of this article, it is difficult to see how a Christadelphian who came to believe in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in believers today could remain in fellowship. Passages such as Rom. 8:9 and 1 Cor. 12:3, if they refer to such indwelling, teach that which the BASF explicitly rejects.

Other than this, the only mentions of the Spirit in the BASF are in relation to God's attribute of omnipresence8 and in relation to the earthly life of Jesus.9 Nothing is said about the Holy Spirit's work in individual believers or the Ecclesia/Church as a whole.10 The BASF is a very brief outline of Christadelphian theology, so one could not argue from its silence that Christadelphians see no role for the Holy Spirit in the Ecclesia/Church. Nevertheless, complete silence on a subject regarded as vital to Christian life by most denominations certainly says something about Christadelphian theological priorities. By the letter of the BASF, one could deny that the Holy Spirit had ever been poured out at Pentecost and still remain in fellowship with Christadelphians!11

One can gain a better idea of traditional Christadelphian teaching about the present role of the Holy Spirit by consulting the writings of the two most influential founders of the Christadelphian movement: Dr. John Thomas and his protégé Robert Roberts. As we shall see, they teach a much more radical cessation of Holy Spirit activity than that taught by Evangelical cessationists. Hence, traditional Christadelphian pneumatology can aptly be termed 'hyper-cessationism'.12

Dr. John Thomas

The quotation below comes from a debate between Dr. Thomas and a Presbyterian minister which took place in 1837. This was still a decade before Dr. Thomas' final baptism, which would seem to represent the formal beginning of the Christadelphian movement. Nevertheless, this debate was published in 1872 with a glowing preface by Robert Roberts, and the passage below was quoted favourably a century later by Graham Pearce in his book The Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit Gifts. There does not seem to be evidence that Dr. Thomas' position changed from the following:
If the sacred Scriptures are able to make us wise, we need no other instrumentality. The Holy Spirit by the word, without infusing a single idea into it more than it actually and ordinarily contains, and without any collateral influence, teaches us all wisdom and knowledge that is necessary.13
Evidently Dr. Thomas restricted the teaching function of the Holy Spirit to the production of Scripture. The same is true of the converting function of the Holy Spirit. In a fictional dialogue entitled Clerical Theology Unscriptural (apparently first published in 1850),14 Dr. Thomas has Boanerges, the interlocutor representing his viewpoint, offer the following interpretation of the 'renewing of the Holy Spirit' (Titus 3:5):
His Spirit is His power by which He effects intellectual, moral, and physical results. When He wills to produce intellectual and moral effects, it is by knowledge revealed by His Spirit through the prophets and apostles. This knowledge becomes power when received into “good and honest hearts”... The prophets, Jesus, and the apostles were the channels through which it was transmitted to mankind; and the spirit the agent by which the knowledge was conveyed to them. Hence, the knowledge or the truth being suggested to the prophets by the spirit is sometimes styled “the spirit” (Rom. ii. 20). The spirit is to the truth as cause and effect; and by a very common figure of speech, the one is put for the other in speaking of them relatively to the mind and heart of man. So that the phrase “renewed by the holy spirit” is equivalent to renewed by the belief of the truth testified by the Holy Spirit (John xv. 26: xiv. 13-14).15
Here, Dr. Thomas divides the effects of the Holy Spirit on people into three categories: intellectual, moral, and physical. In the case of the former two, he again restricts the function of the Holy Spirit to the production of Scripture.16 No divine help is available for the interpretation of Scripture; it is apparently left to the individual to ensure he has a 'good and honest heart' and so arrives at a correct understanding. As to physical effects, Dr. Thomas has the other interlocutor, Heresian, ask, 'But doth the Spirit of God exert no physical energy upon man in his regeneration?' Boanerges replies: 'Certainly it does but not in the renewal of his character. It will operate physically upon “the new creature in Christ Jesus,” when through Jesus it raises him from the dead (2 Cor. iv. 14).' Heresian then comprehends, to Boanerges' approval, that
regeneration is not an instantaneous mesmeric action upon an immortal soul; but a process beginning with the truth understood and believed, and ending with the resurrection of the believer from the dead
Hence, Dr. Thomas denies that the Holy Spirit exercises any direct influence on the believer in this life. It exercises an indirect intellectual and moral influence due to its role in the production of Scripture, and will exercise a direct physical influence at the Resurrection of the Dead. As he writes in Elpis Israel, 'The Holy Spirit does not renew the heart of man as He renews the mortal body, when through Jesus He raises it from the dead. In this case, the power is purely physical. But when the heart is the subject of renewal, it is by the knowledge of the written testimony of God, or the word.17

What is remarkable about Elpis Israel, given that it was Dr. Thomas' main work of systematic theology, is the paucity of its teaching about the Holy Spirit. A search for the exact phrase 'Holy Spirit' yields only 23 occurrences (by comparison, the phrase occurs 89 times in the NASB New Testament). Of these, ten are in direct quotations from Scripture, six are in passing references narrating biblical events, and three are in usage of the baptismal formula from Matt. 28:19. Of the four remaining cases, two refer to practices of which Dr. Thomas is critical,18 and only two contain affirmative teaching about the function of the Holy Spirit.19 A search for the phrase 'Spirit of God' yields little more. Some ontological teaching on the Spirit is present, focusing on its relationship to God's person and creation, and its relationship to the resurrection.20 However, Dr. Thomas has remarkably little to say about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Ecclesia/Church, past or present. Pneumatological language largely dissolves into terminology concerning Scripture and the human intellect: 'word', 'truth', 'knowledge', etc. For all practical purposes, Dr. Thomas reduces pneumatology to a facet of his doctrine of Scripture.

Dr. Thomas also apparently authored a work entitled The Holy Spirit not a present possession, but I have not been able to obtain access to this.

Robert Roberts

In his best-known work of core doctrine, Christendom Astray, Robert Roberts discusses the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit, at some length in a chapter on 'God, Angels, Jesus Christ, and the Crucifixion'. His main concerns are ontological. He defines the spirit of God as 'an actual element in universal creation', which is none other than electricity!21 'Holy Spirit' is defined as 'Spirit concentrated under the Almighty's will... as distinct from spirit in its free, spontaneous form.'22 Apparently, then, the Holy Spirit is a special, divine use of electricity. Of 'this form of the Spirit's manifestation', Roberts starkly states, 'It is given to none in the present day.'23 After describing its outpouring and supernatural effects in the apostles' time, and arguing for its necessity for their work, he proceeds to argue for its redundancy in the post-apostolic period. Quoting Eph. 4:11-14,24 he takes 'until' in v. 13 to refer to the post-apostolic period:
This is perfectly intelligible: If the early churches, consisting of men and women fresh from the abominations and immoralities of heathenism, and without the authoritative standard of the completed Scripture which now exists, had been left to the mere power of apostolic tradition intellectually received, they could not have held together. The winds of doctrine, blowing about through the activity of "men of corrupt minds," would have broken them from their moorings, and they would have been tossed to and fro in the billows of uncertain and conflicting report and opinion, and finally stranded in hopeless shipwreck. This catastrophe was prevented by the gifts of the spirit. Properly qualified men, as to moral and intellectual parts, were made the repositories of these gifts, and empowered to "speak and exhort, and rebuke with all authority." They "ruled" the communities over which they were placed, feeding the flock of God over which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind, neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock (Acts 20v28; 1 Peter 5v2,3). In this way the early churches were built up and edified. The work of the apostles was conserved, improved, and carried to a consummation. The faith was completed and consolidated by the voice of inspiration speaking through the spiritually-appointed leaders of the churches. By this means the results of gospel-preaching in the first century, when there were no railways, telegraphs, or other means of a rapid circulation of ideas, instead of evaporating to nothing, as, otherwise, they would have done, were secured and made permanent, both as regards that generation and succeeding centuries. But it must be obvious that the case stands very differently now. There is no manifestation of the Spirit in these days. The power of continuing the manifestation doubtless died with the apostles; not that God could not have transferred it to others, but that He selected them as the channels of its bestowment in their age, and never, so far as we have any evidence, appointed "successors." There are many who claim to be their successors; but it is not the word but the power of a man that must be taken as the test in this matter. Let those who think they have the Spirit produce their evidences. There is a great outcry about the Holy Spirit in popular preaching; but nothing more. There are phenomena which are considered outpourings of the Holy Spirit; but they bear no resemblance to those of apostolic experience, and, therefore, must be rejected. They are explicable on natural principles... The result of an intelligent apprehension of what the word of God teaches and requires, is different from this; this [result] has its seat in the judgment, and lays hold of the entire mental man, creating new ideas and new affections, and, in general, evolving a new man. In this work, the Spirit has no participation, except in the shape of the written word. This is the product of the Spirit - the ideas of the Spirit reduced to writing by the ancient men who were moved by it. It is, therefore, the instrumentality of the Spirit, historically wielded the sword of the Spirit by a metaphor which contemplates the Spirit in prophets and apostles in ancient times, as the warrior... The present days are barren days, as regards the Spirit's direct operations.25
On another occasion, quoted on the Christadelphian Research website, a reader of The Christadelphian magazine (1893) posed a question about the Holy Spirit to which Robert Roberts, as Editor, responded. The question was essentially this. Petitionary prayer presupposes the hope that God will directly intervene (through His Spirit) in response to the request, e.g. for comfort, strength, or guidance. If it is only through the written Word that the Holy Spirit is available today, what is the point of petitionary prayer? The question concludes:
If it is only through the Word and by our own effort such prayers are answered, why do we not go to the Word at once, and use our own effort?  What faith or reason can there be in such prayers if we do not receive the Spirit?
Roberts' answer to the question proceeds thus. He reiterates that God is silent today; He does not speak, and the manifestation of 'the gift of His Spirit' 'has now lapsed'. Those 'who profess to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit' are mistaken. He then asks whether God is therefore 'unregardful of those upon the earth' who seek Him today? No, he replies, emphasizing that 'we may draw nigh [in prayer] from day to day with full assurance of heart' and that 'In His response to these advances, He will work by His Spirit; but in what way we know not; we cannot know; we need not care to know'. It appears that Roberts is not prepared to say that God works by His Holy Spirit in response to prayer today.26 However, this would seem to follow from his definition of the Holy Spirit: a response to prayer would necessarily be 'Spirit concentrated under the Almighty's will... as distinct from spirit in its free, spontaneous form'.

Roberts further emphasizes, 'But in all this, God is the worker. Man is the subject, without possessing in himself the Spirit of God as it was in the apostles'. In contrast, he claims, 'When God granted the gift of His Spirit, the Spirit was in the control of those who received it'. The implicit claim seems to be that God was not the worker when the apostles did things by the Holy Spirit! Roberts appears to be creating this distinction to avoid a contradiction in his position: he claims on the one hand that 'There is no manifestation of the Spirit in these days' and on the other hand that God works today 'by His Spirit' in a way 'we cannot know' in response to petitionary prayer.

He concludes by denouncing 'prayers which are childish', e.g. 'that the speaker (who perhaps has his address prepared) "may speak acceptable words"; that the hearers (who are already there just as they are) "may have good and honest hearts" &c., &c.' He describes these as 'prayers that are unreasonable, that could not be answered, that are a mere rattle of words... an insult to the majesty of God.' While he allows that prayer ought to include 'supplication for the various things we need', Roberts does not give any positive examples of the kind of supplications that he envisions God might grant 'by His Spirit'; only negative examples of the kind of supplications that he regards as unreasonable and insulting to God's majesty.

The Spirit-Word concept

Traditional Christadelphian pneumatology is perhaps best characterized by the Spirit-Word concept, which is explained thus by Christadelphian writer H.P. Mansfield:
The Holy Spirit relates to God's power, which was then (but not now) poured out upon men, enabling them to speak foreign languages without having learned them, or to perform miracles. The prophets were moved by the Spirit to record their teaching (Nehemiah 9:30; 2 Pet. 1:21), and by the same means God spake to men through His Son (Heb. 1:1). In consequence of this the revelation of God's truth can be described as the spirit-word (see John 6:63; Eph. 6:17; 1 John 5:7). It is this spirit only that is available to men today, but that is also capable of performing miracles, for it can cause the hard hearts of men to become softened and pliable to the Divine will, and to reflect this in a changed way of life (see Gal. 5:22-25).27
Essentially, the term 'Spirit-Word' is substituted for 'Spirit' in Christadelphian interpretations of many New Testament passages about the Spirit, in order to stress that the Spirit is only working indirectly, through the instrumentality of the written Word of God. 'Spirit-Word' indicates that the interpreter should not look further than the intellectual process of reading and understanding Scripture to explain the Spirit's present role. The Spirit's input into this process occurred in antiquity when the biblical writers were inspired; the Spirit has no active role today. The term 'Spirit-Word' never occurs in Scripture, but as Mansfield's explanation shows, Christadelphians think the concept can be inferred from passages which link '(the) word(s)' with '(the) S/spirit' in some way or other.28

This terminology appears already in the writings of Dr. Thomas, albeit sparingly. He uses the term 'Spirit-Word' in passing in the Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, 1855: 'Does the Spirit-Word beget people to the belief of nonsense?' Since he does not explain the term 'Spirit-Word' here, it seems he could already assume his audience's familiarity with it.

In his magnum opus, Eureka: An Exposition of the Apocalypse, another, similar passing reference occurs which indicates that the concept is dependent upon John 6:63:
It is the Spirit-Word that quickeneth; and therefore Jesus says, "It is the Spirit which is life making; Spirit is and life is the words which I speak to you" (John vi. 63).29
The logic behind the 'Spirit-Word' can be seen in Dr. Thomas' comments on Titus 3:5 quoted earlier:
The spirit is to the truth as cause and effect; and by a very common figure of speech, the one is put for the other in speaking of them relatively to the mind and heart of man.
If Dr. Thomas can argue that by a figure of speech, 'Holy Spirit' in Titus 3:5 actually means 'truth' due to their cause-and-effect relationship, he could similarly argue that other references to the Spirit actually mean 'Word' due to the same cause-and-effect relationship. 'Spirit-Word' then becomes a convenient shorthand expressing that by 'Spirit' we should actually understand 'Word'. What is surprising is that the other two occurrences of the term 'Spirit-Word' in Eureka actually refer to Jesus personally:
The Eternal Spirit-Word was the High Priestly Offerer of His own Flesh, whose character was without spot -- "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners;" "who knew no sin;" yet whose nature was in all points like ours -- "sin’s flesh," in which dwells no good thing (Heb. ix. 14; vii. 26; 2 Cor. v. 21; Rom. viii. 3; vii. 18; Heb. ii. 14-17)... Suspended on the tree by the voluntary offering of the Spirit-Word (John x. 18), "sin was condemned in the flesh," when the soul-blood thereof was poured out unto death. The Spirit-Word made his soul thus an offering for sin (Isa. liii. 10); and by it sanctified the Altar-Body on the tree.30
Jesus, then, like all his brethren, is to be considered in two states, each state having a nature peculiar to it. In the former state, "he was crucified through weakness;" but in the after state wherein he now is, "he liveth by the power of the Deity" (2 Cor. 13:4). In the former state, the flesh was "the filthy garments" with which the SPIRIT-WORD was clothed (Zech. 3:3); "the iniquity of us all" that was laid upon him; "the soul made an offering for sin" (Isa. 43:6,10); but, as He now is, the filthy garments have been taken away; "his iniquity has passed from him," and he is clothed with "change of raiment."31
Hence, it appears that Dr. Thomas had a complex, nuanced Spirit-Word concept. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any detailed explanation of how he comes to identify the Spirit-Word with Christ. Presumably this is related to Christ's identification with the Word in John 1.

Antecedents of Christadelphian hyper-cessationism

We have seen that Dr. Thomas was able to use the term 'Spirit-Word' without explanation as early as 1855. We have also seen that in Elpis Israel (1848), his treatment of pneumatology was very cursory. This may suggest that within the circles in which he moved, a 'Spirit-Word' concept was already widely held and needed no comprehensive defense. I have not been able to find this term used in any religious literature prior to 1855.32 However, research into the Restorationist movement has found that 'hyper-cessationism' similar to that of Christadelphians has arisen within this movement.

The 19th-century Restorationist movement is usually referred to by historians as the Stone-Campbell movement because it was founded by Barton W. Stone and Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander. In his essay on pneumatology in the Stone-Campbell movement, Kurka speaks of a general conviction among Evangelicals 'that for the euangelion to either be preached or heard, the Holy Spirit must be present in some real sense'.33 He says that this belief spans the Reformed and Wesleyan/Arminian traditions. However, he notes a nuance in the Stone-Campbell tradition not found elsewhere, i.e. that 'The Holy Spirit indwells the hearts of God’s saints through the instrumentality of the Word'.34

He identifies
a fairly typical, early to mid-twentieth century Restorationist pneumatology which suggests "tighter" Word/Spirit relationship than most other evangelicals would comfortably allow. While virtually all evangelicals would eagerly admit to a close connection between the gospel and the Holy Spirit’s work, these descendants of Campbell’s (more than Stone’s) theological tradition have expressed a view of the testimonium spiritus that appears to nearly "swallow up" the Spirit in the divine writ.35
Since, as a rule, Stone-Campbell Restoration literature maintains a Trinitarian view of the Holy Spirit, Kurka stresses that 'the apparent loss of the Spirit within the Scriptures is less an evidence of a binitarian view of God than a by-product of an "extreme" form of cessationism'.36

Kurka thinks this pneumatology owes much to the influence of Alexander Campbell, who, more than anyone else, eventually controlled Restorationist soteriology. He stresses Campbell's 'almost intellectualized definition of faith'37 and 'theological and philosophical indebtedness to Scottish Common Sense Realism.'38 The latter philosophy is the product of a more conservative and religious branch of the Enlightenment which elevated human reason and rejected ecclesiastical hierarchies but still accepted biblical revelation. Since God's communication to man in the Bible was held to be fundamentally clear,39 'a special interpreter such as the Holy Spirit is not needed, nor for that matter, specially trained teachers to interpret the Bible.'40 Campbell optimistically expressed the belief that if everyone applied the same common-sense rules of interpretation to the Bible, a greater uniformity in doctrine would result. He viewed the Bible as 'a book of facts' and the New Testament as 'a sort of legal constitution'.41

According to Kurka, one aspect of Campbell's Christian rationalism was a 'hyper-cessationism' which makes the Bible 'the consummate supernatural expression of this age'.42 He criticizes this view inasmuch as it 'forces an improbable "canon" interpretation on 1 Corinthians 13:10' (a passage I have discussed previously).

He notes that Campbell refused to completely equate the Spirit with the biblical text, but that he made statements that suggested such an equation. For instance, in 1824 he wrote, 'Since those gifts (of the Spirit) have ceased, the Holy Spirit now operates upon the minds of men only by the Word.'43 This sounds very much like the Christadelphian Spirit-Word concept.

Hughes, however, observes that 'Campbell's view of the Holy Spirit was more complex than many of his later followers recognized'.44 While he denied that the Spirit works in miraculous ways today, he held that Word and Spirit 'are always united in the great work [of conversion]' and that 'No one is converted by the Word alone, nor by the Spirit alone.'45 In his book The Christian System, he wrote that
Whatever the word does, the Spirit does; and whatever the Spirit does in the work of converting men, the word does. We neither believe nor teach abstract Spirit nor abstract word - but word and Spirit, and Spirit and word.46
In this he seemed to shackle the Spirit to the Word as in the Christadelphian Spirit-Word concept. However, according to Hughes, when his later followers 'contended that the Spirit works only in the pages of Holy Writ', they were going beyond Campbell, who had emphasized only 'that the Spirit always works in conjunction with the word.'47 As Campbell wrote further in The Christian System,
The Spirit of God inspired all the spiritual ideas in the New Testament, and confirmed them by miracles; and he is ever present with the word that he inspired. He descended from heaven on the day of Pentecost, and has not formally ascended since. In the sense in which he descended he certainly has not ascended: for he is to animate and inspire with new life the church or temple of the Lord.48
He regarded the work of the Spirit as important not only in conversion but in sanctification:
Christians are, therefore, clearly and unequivocally temples of the Holy Spirit; and they are quickened, animated, encouraged, and sanctified by the power and influence of the Spirit of God, working in them through the truth... when through faith, repentance, and baptism, we have assumed him as our rightful Sovereign, by his Holy Spirit, in answer to our prayers, he worked in us, and by us, and for us, all that is needful to our present, spiritual, and eternal salvation.49
It appears, then, that Alexander Campbell was a cessationist who, despite leaning toward hyper-cessationism in some respects, affirmed a direct influence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Some of his followers developed his pneumatology further into full-blown hyper-cessationism. Among these was Dr. John Thomas, his protégé during the 1830s until doctrinal disagreements led to a rift between the two, culminating in Campbell disfellowshipping Dr. Thomas in 1837. Although Dr. Thomas' pneumatology may have been shaped by the rationalism of his scientific education, it is also likely that Alexander Campbell exerted an influence on him in this regard. Whatever the case, it appears that by 1837, and for the remainder of his life, Dr. Thomas was a hyper-cessationist.

Beyond hyper-cessationism?

Kurka concludes his essay by noting that many of today's descendants of the Stone-Campbell Restorationist movement (in the Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ denominations) 'have recognized the philosophical liabilities and rigidities of their brilliant forebear and have tended to find a comfortable niche among mainstream Arminian theologians.'50 This reform has included 'A more supernaturally appreciative view of the Holy Spirit and his presence in conversion', 'admitting a more direct influence from the Spirit upon the lost person than in years past'.51

What about the Christadelphians? Since the latter half of the 20th century, a number of Christadelphians have written literature challenging the movement's traditional hyper-cessationism. The 1975 booklet The Holy Spirit and the Believer Today, by Alfred Norris, challenges the notion that the promise of 'the gift of the Holy Spirit' in Acts 2:38 was valid only for one or two generations. Norris does not identify this gift with 'miraculous powers', which he thinks have ceased. However, he cautiously affirms the direct influence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers today, while not claiming to be able to 'chart the course of the Spirit's activities.' 

Also in 1975, a longer study was published by Edgar Wille entitled The Holy Spirit: An Exploratory Survey of Scripture Teaching. In a foreword to the Second Edition (2000), Wille states the central thesis of his book: 'that the Holy Spirit is God at work within the hearts and minds of those who have faith in him through Jesus Christ.' Wille challenges the traditional Spirit-Word idea head-on when he writes concerning conversion that, while 'The written Word is obviously the basic source of our information', Christianity is 'the precious gift of God, not the hard earned outcome of the exercise of man's mental powers.'52 Wille emphasizes the experiential side of faith in Christ without abandoning the intellectual side. He affirms that 'The Spirit of God somehow takes hold of the cross of Christ and the whole redemptive work of Jesus and works it into the experience of the believer.'53 He summarizes the work of the Spirit thus: 'that the absent Lord is present in his church, moving it how he will; whether the outward appearances are normal or supernatural'.54 He goes on to argue that life in Christ is a matter of 'receiving - not achieving'.55 He stresses in his conclusion that 'the work of the Holy Spirit is an essential part of the gospel.'56 Wille seems to be a moderate cessationist who is not prepared to assert the present reality of miraculous manifestations of the Spirit, nor to deny them outright.57 Wille's ideas have apparently not won widespread acceptance. A critical review was published in The Christadelphian,58 and Wille himself apparently left the Christadelphian community soon after writing the book. To this day a website is maintained specifically to oppose the 'false doctrine' in this book, while participants in a Christadelphian discussion forum strongly discouraged another participant from reading the book.

It seems the torch lit by Norris and Wille is today being carried primarily by Nathan Trevor Brierly, who maintains a website partially devoted to educating other Christadelphians about the present role of the Holy Spirit. Particularly relevant to this post is Brierly's critique of the Spirit-Word idea. Otherwise, criticism of Christadelphian pneumatology has largely come from former Christadelphians, such as Stephen Cook (who helpfully debunks the Christadelphian claim that the 'Holy Spirit' and the 'Spirit of God' are two different things in Scripture), Tim Woodall (who states that he was disfellowshipped by Christadelphians 'over the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer'), and myself (I haven't written extensively on the Holy Spirit but see my articles on God's Down Payment on Eternal Life and on 1 Corinthians 13:8-13). It seems that generally, Christadelphians who challenge the traditional hyper-cessationist pneumatology eventually end up outside the movement (as noted earlier, it would be difficult for a non-hyper-cessationist to endorse article 25 of the BASF's Doctrines to be Rejected). Additionally, Christadelphians who leave the movement for other reasons will almost inevitably rethink hyper-cessationism.


The traditional Christadelphian view of the Holy Spirit's work may be termed 'hyper-cessationism'. It holds that the Holy Spirit influences the human intellect and character only indirectly, through the Scriptures which were inspired by it in the ancient past. Thus New Testament references to inward manifestations of the Holy Spirit are interpreted as referring to the 'Spirit-Word', i.e. to the transformative power of Scripture. This view was held by the founders of the Christadelphian movement, Dr. John Thomas and Robert Roberts. Dr. Thomas' pneumatology appears to have been influenced by his estranged mentor Alexander Campbell, a pioneer of the Restoration movement, who had in turn been influenced by Scottish Common Sense Realism, a religious breed of Enlightenment rationalism.

Although Christadelphian hyper-cessationism has been challenged from within during the past half-century by writers who advocate something akin to Evangelical cessationism, these challenges have largely remained at the margins of the movement. Hyper-cessationist doctrine remains entrenched, and in this respect Christadelphians seem to be virtually unique among Christian denominations and sects. This may be news to some Christadelphians, who may not be fully aware of the distinctiveness of the Christadelphian view of the Holy Spirit's present work (perhaps because this is not made explicit in the BASF and does not figure prominently in Christadelphian counter-orthodox apologetics teaching).

Amendment (added 30/12/2015): This post has generated some discussion on Christadelphian Facebook groups. One piece of feedback I have received is that I have underestimated the contemporary prevalence of views other than the traditional hyper-cessationism / Spirit-Word teaching. Seemingly, the rethinking of pneumatology advocated by Norris, Wille, and more recently Brierly has been more influential than I realized. These views do not seem to be well-represented in print, with Pearce's and Crawford's hyper-cessationist works being the standard works linked to on major Christadelphian websites (christadelphia.org; christadelphianbooks.org) (though I did overlook an apparently recent book by Peter Schwartzkopf linked to on the latter site).59 It may be the case that what is happening in practice does not correspond to what is happening in literature.


  • 1 The following are excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church which highlight some major Catholic teachings about the Holy Spirit. Note that footnotes have been omitted: 'If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, "open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures."' (CCC 108); 'According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church's heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God's Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (". . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church").' (CCC 113); 'Interpretation of the inspired Scripture must be attentive above all to what God wants to reveal through the sacred authors for our salvation. What comes from the Spirit is not fully "understood except by the Spirit's action"' (CCC 137); 'This knowledge of faith is possible only in the Holy Spirit: to be in touch with Christ, we must first have been touched by the Holy Spirit. He comes to meet us and kindles faith in us. By virtue of our Baptism, the first sacrament of the faith, the Holy Spirit in the Church communicates to us, intimately and personally, the life that originates in the Father and is offered to us in the Son.' (CCC 683); 'Through his grace, the Holy Spirit is the first to awaken faith in us and to communicate to us the new life, which is to "know the Father and the one whom he has sent, Jesus Christ."' (CCC 684); 'The Holy Spirit is at work with the Father and the Son from the beginning to the completion of the plan for our salvation. But in these "end times," ushered in by the Son's redeeming Incarnation, the Spirit is revealed and given, recognized and welcomed as a person. Now can this divine plan, accomplished in Christ, the firstborn and head of the new creation, be embodied in mankind by the outpouring of the Spirit: as the Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.' (CCC 686); 'By his coming, which never ceases, the Holy Spirit causes the world to enter into the "last days," the time of the Church, the Kingdom already inherited though not yet consummated.' (CCC 732); 'By this power of the Spirit, God's children can bear much fruit. He who has grafted us onto the true vine will make us bear "the fruit of the Spirit: . . . love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." "We live by the Spirit"; the more we renounce ourselves, the more we "walk by the Spirit."' (CCC 736); 'The mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit is brought to completion in the Church, which is the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. This joint mission henceforth brings Christ's faithful to share in his communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit prepares men and goes out to them with his grace, in order to draw them to Christ. The Spirit manifests the risen Lord to them, recalls his word to them and opens their minds to the understanding of his Death and Resurrection. He makes present the mystery of Christ, supremely in the Eucharist, in order to reconcile them, to bring them into communion with God, that they may "bear much fruit."' (CCC 737); '"The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with sighs too deep for words." The Holy Spirit, the artisan of God's works, is the master of prayer.' (CCC 741); 'The Holy Spirit, whom Christ the head pours out on his members, builds, animates, and sanctifies the Church. She is the sacrament of the Holy Trinity's communion with men.' (CCC 747); 'In the Church's liturgy the divine blessing is fully revealed and communicated. The Father is acknowledged and adored as the source and the end of all the blessings of creation and salvation. In his Word who became incarnate, died, and rose for us, he fills us with his blessings. Through his Word, he pours into our hearts the Gift that contains all gifts, the Holy Spirit.' (CCC 1082); 'Thus the risen Christ, by giving the Holy Spirit to the apostles, entrusted to them his power of sanctifying: they became sacramental signs of Christ. By the power of the same Holy Spirit they entrusted this power to their successors. This "apostolic succession" structures the whole liturgical life of the Church and is itself sacramental, handed on by the sacrament of Holy Orders.' (CCC 1087); 'The anointing with sacred chrism, perfumed oil consecrated by the bishop, signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized, who has become a Christian, that is, one "anointed" by the Holy Spirit, incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet, and king.' (CCC 1241); 'Christ himself declared that he was marked with his Father's seal. Christians are also marked with a seal: "It is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has commissioned us; he has put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee." This seal of the Holy Spirit marks our total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in his service for ever, as well as the promise of divine protection in the great eschatological trial.' (CCC 1296); 'Confirmation... increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us... it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross' (CCC 1303); 'The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity.' (CCC 1813); 'The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon Christians are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.' (CCC 1845); 'The Holy Spirit, whose anointing permeates our whole being, is the interior Master of Christian prayer. He is the artisan of the living tradition of prayer. To be sure, there are as many paths of prayer as there are persons who pray, but it is the same Spirit acting in all and with all. It is in the communion of the Holy Spirit that Christian prayer is prayer in the Church.' (CCC 2672); 'Contemplative prayer is the prayer of the child of God, of the forgiven sinner who agrees to welcome the love by which he is loved and who wants to respond to it by loving even more.8 But he knows that the love he is returning is poured out by the Spirit in his heart, for everything is grace from God.' (CCC 2712)
  • 2 The following are excerpts from the Westminster Confession of Faith which highlight some major Reformed teachings about the Holy Spirit. Note that footnotes have been omitted: '...yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.' (WCF I.V); 'The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word' (WCF I.VI); 'The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.' (WCF I.X); 'Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.' (WCF VII.III); 'This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.' (WCF X.II); 'Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. And that they may be enabled thereunto, beside the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in them to will, and to do, of His good pleasure: yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.' (WCF XVI.III)
  • 3 Of course these three categories certainly do not exhaust the activity of the Holy Spirit according to the Catholic and Protestant traditions. See the excerpts quoted above and the respective confessional documents in their entirety.
  • 4 Asked in an interview about continuationist claims that cessationists regard the Holy Spirit as inactive since they don't believe the Spirit performs miracles, MacArthur responded thus: 'Well, that is such a tragedy, that kind of thinking, that I recently did a, I don’t know, how many part? 13 messages or something trying to bring honor to the Holy Spirit because of the horrible dishonor that is being heaped upon Him? The Holy Spirit is accused of all kinds of satanic things, all kinds of human things. To understand the ministry of the Holy Spirit, you go to the New Testament. And the Holy Spirit is the source of divine revelation, He is the author of Holy Scripture, He is the one who illuminates the believer. We have been given the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. We have an anointing from God. It’s an amazing gift that the Holy Spirit is to us for the understanding of Holy Scripture. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, internally. The Holy Spirit drives us to Christ. The Holy Spirit helps our prayers, with groanings that can’t be uttered. The Holy Spirit secures us and gives us assurance so that we cry, “Abba Father.” The primary work of the Holy Spirit, the wondrous work, is to conforming us to Christ, making us more and more like Christ, 2 Corinthians 3:18, “from one level of glory to the next, as we gaze at Christ.” We look at the Bible, we see Christ revealed. The Holy Spirit illuminates Christ as revealed in Scripture, and then changes us into His image. These are the things the Holy Spirit is really doing.'
  • 5 Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith, Doctrines to be Rejected, article 6: 'We reject the doctrine - that the Holy Spirit is a person distinct from the Father.'
  • 6 Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith, used as a basis of fellowship by the majority (but not all) of Christadelphians worldwide.
  • 7 BASF, DTBR, article 25.
  • 8 BASF article 1. Note that 'the Spirit' here may be intended to denote an entity distinct from 'the Holy Spirit', since traditional Christadelphian theology distinguishes between the two.
  • 9 BASF article 2 acknowledges the Holy Spirit's role in the Virgin Birth and anointing of Jesus Christ, while article 10 acknowledges the 'indwelling of the Holy Spirit' in Jesus.
  • 10 In fact, the BASF's main articles do not even mention the Ecclesia/Church! A casual reader might be forgiven for concluding that Christadelphians have no ecclesiology.
  • 11 This is not to say that Christadelphians would, in practice, accept one who held such a position. However, it remains telling that the author(s) of the BASF did not deem it necessary to safeguard the Christadelphian community against even the most extreme minimalist pneumatology, at least with respect to the life of the Ecclesia/Church.
  • 12 This term is not of my own coinage, but has been used by scholars in historical study of the Restorationist movement - of which Christadelphians are a product. See below for more on this history.
  • 13 The full context of this passage is as follows: ‘As to the work of the Holy Spirit, we believe it to its fullest extent. It is a work which has been elaborated on a most magnificent scale. All nature around is a part of His stupendous work. By Him was a place appointed for the sun, the moon, and the stars; by Him were the heavens constituted, and peopled by the hosts thereof; by Him, man lives and enjoys the life that is; by Him, is he indebted for all: for it is by God, who is Spirit, that we are saved with a temporal and an eternal salvation.’ [Having objected to the Calvinistic doctrine of total depravity, he continues:] ‘Now you will observe the tendency of these Presbyterian dogmata. If man has no ability to obey God’s commands, it is necessary that God should operate upon him in some physical manner by His Holy Spirit, in order to enable him to believe; and if this be received, the machine can work comfortably enough. For God commands men to obey Him; but they cannot unless He enables them; it is therefore, not man’s fault if he continues in disobedience; for he is willing, but unable to do his duty. Hence God is made responsible for the disobedience of every one who does not obey Him. Again, some men want to be saved; the clergy are also anxious that they should be saved, because it will increase their flocks and so enlarge the fleece; they therefore besiege heaven with their prayers: but some of these are not saved – why? Because God has not given them His Holy Spirit to enable them to obey, and therefore, it is God’s fault, and not the clergy’s, that sinners are not converted. This is the gospel according to Presbyterianism.’... ‘But, my friends, as I said before, so now I reiterate, that though I reject the traditions of men concerning the work of the Holy Spirit, yet I do most heartily believe in the Scripture account thereof. And here permit me to observe that you should always make a distinction between things that differ – between the opinions of a thing, and the thing itself. The work of the Holy Spirit is the thing; Presbyterian and popular views of this work are the opinions of the thing. Now the self-complacent critics of orthodox communities anathematize us, because we do not agree with them in their opinions of this work; and denounce us blasphemers of the Spirit; thus making our rejection of their dogmata tantamount to a rejection of the Holy One Himself. But this is not to be wondered at, for it has been the spirit of Antichrist through all ages; and it was this spirit of proscription which conferred the crown of martyrdom upon the victim of Geneva tyranny. 
    For myself, I believe that the Holy Spirit is the only authoritative, infallible, efficient, and sufficient teacher of the Christian religion, in all its parts. If I be asked what is the manner in which he teaches this religion, I reply in the same way that all teachers convey instruction to their pupils; by words, either spoken or written. Hence, it is by the sacred Scripture that he convinces men of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come in these times, and indeed, in all times subsequent to the apostolic age. God is simple in all His plans. He appears never to use intricate means, when the end to be effected can be produced by simple ones. Simplicity is the characteristic of all that he performs. He rules the heavens, he regulates the seasons, and he saves men upon few, but powerful principles. If one means is able to make man wise, we need not expect to find any other institution than that one to effect the same end. Now Paul, the author of my friend’s text, says that the sacred Scriptures are able to make us wise to salvation, by the faith (or gospel) which is through Christ Jesus. What more do we want than wisdom in relation to this matter? If the sacred Scriptures are able to make us wise, we need no other instrumentality. The Holy Spirit by the word, without infusing a single idea into it more than it actually and ordinarily contains, and without any collateral influence, teaches us all wisdom and knowledge that is necessary. It instructs man concerning his origin, his constitution, his sinful state, and how he may, though mortal, absolutely and unqualifiedly mortal, yet attain to life and incorruptibility; it informs him concerning the attributes of God, the creation, and the destiny of the earth and the race by which it is inhabited. Why, then, my friends, can we not be content with the means within the grasp of every one who owns the volume of inspiration? If the ecclesiastical world were content to learn the truth from “the Bible alone,” and it honestly desired to obey the Messiah, there would soon be an end to Presbyterian and every other ism, by which “Christendom” as it is called, or “anti-Christendom,” as it should be termed, has been for ages desolated. But the world loves not the truth; because therefore, they have “not embraced the love of the truth that they might be saved, God has sent them strong delusion that they might believe a lie; that all might be condemned who have not obeyed the truth.” The sacred Scriptures are not a dead letter, as the clergy teach you; they are “living and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword:” this is Paul’s testimony and ought therefore to be received as true by all believers.’ (Roberts, R. (ed.). (1872).The Apostasy Unveiled: Being a Debate between John Thomas, M.D., and a Presbyterian Clergyman, thirty-four years ago, on the popular doctrines of immortality, heaven, hell, election, and kindred topics. London: George John Stevenson, pp. 19-22).
  • 14 Bryan Wilson notes that this work was published in 1877 but had been previously published in 1850 under the title The Wise Taken in their own Craftiness (Wilson, B.R. (1961) Sects and Society: A Sociological Study of the Elim Tabernacle, Christian Science, and Christadelphians. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, p. 219 n. 3).
  • 15 The saying in its entirety reads thus: 'He also says, we are renewed by knowledge” (Col. iii. 10). In this, however, he does not contradict himself, but rather makes the one phrase explanatory of the other; as if he had said, “we are renewed by the Holy Spirit through knowledge.” The Holy Spirit renews or regenerates man intellectually and morally by the truth believed. “Sanctify them by thy truth,” says Jesus; “thy word, O Father, is truth” (John xvii. 17). “Ye are clean,” said he to his apostles, “through the word which I have spoken to you” (John xv. 3). God’s power is manifested through means. His Spirit is His power by which He effects intellectual, moral, and physical results. When He wills to produce intellectual and moral effects, it is by knowledge revealed by His Spirit through the prophets and apostles. This knowledge becomes power when received into “good and honest hearts”; and because God is the author of it, it is styled “the Knowledge of God” (2 Pet. i. 2), or “the word of truth” (James i. 18), by which He begets sinners to Himself as His sons and daughters. “The word of the truth of the gospel,”” the gospel of the kingdom.” “the incorruptible seed,” “the word,” “the truth as it is in Jesus,”” the word of the kingdom,”” the word of reconciliation,” “the law and the testimony,” “the word of faith,” “the sword of the spirit which is the word of God,” “the word of Christ,” “the perfection of liberty,” etc.-are all phrases richly expressive of” the power of God” by which He saves His people from their sins, and translates them into the Hope of the kingdom and glory to which He invites them. The truth is the power that makes men free indeed (John viii. 32, 36). Hence Jesus says, “My words are spirit, and they are life.” The prophets, Jesus, and the apostles were the channels through which it was transmitted to mankind; and the spirit the agent by which the knowledge was conveyed to them. Hence, the knowledge or the truth being suggested to the prophets by the spirit is sometimes styled “the spirit” (Rom. ii. 20). The spirit is to the truth as cause and effect; and by a very common figure of speech, the one is put for the other in speaking of them relatively to the mind and heart of man. So that the phrase “renewed by the holy spirit” is equivalent to renewed by the belief of the truth testified by the Holy Spirit (John xv. 26: xiv. 13-14).'
  • 16 Similarly, in Elpis Israel, Dr. Thomas wrote that the 'effects of the word believed are attributed to the spirit' because 'the "testimony of God" came by the Holy Spirit, by which God testified in His prophets...and, in the last days...spoke through His son...and the apostles' (Thomas, J. (1866). Elpis Israel (4th ed.). Findon: Logos Publications, p. 53. The elliptical words are scripture references.)
  • 17 ibid., p. 53. In context, Dr. Thomas is here concerned to argue against infant baptism by showing that the spiritual renewal associated with baptism is inextricably tied to knowledge. He does not directly interact with the idea that man requires more help than the written Word alone to overcome his intellectual and moral fallenness.
  • 18 In ibid., p. 31, Dr. Thomas condemns 'the Romish conceit of the rhantismal regeneration of infants by the Holy Spirit in the scattering of a few drops of water upon the face, and the use of a certain form of words.' On p. 167, he rebukes men who 'pray for the Holy Spirit; profess to preach under its guidance; and often in a very bad spirit, protest that they received it when converted.' While he does not explicitly condemn these practices here, he opines that those 'sincerely desirous of the spirit of God' ought to renounce unscriptural human traditions, 'search the scriptures' and so 'believe the truth and obey it'.
  • 19 Both on ibid., p. 53, which is discussed above.
  • 20 ibid., p. 34ff.
  • 21 Roberts, R. (1884). Christendom Astray. Birmingham: Christadelphian Publication Society, pp. 143-144.
  • 22 ibid., pp. 144-145.
  • 23 ibid., p. 145.
  • 24 '11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;' (NASB; Roberts, of course, quotes the AV)
  • 25 Roberts, op. cit., pp. 148-150; italics original, boldface added.
  • 26 Remember that Roberts distinguishes the Spirit of God from the Holy Spirit - see above.
  • 27 Mansfield, H.P. (1968). Key To The Understanding of The Scriptures. Findon: Logos Publications, p. 114; emphasis added.
  • 28 It is surprising that Mansfield cites 1 John 5:7, since it is universally agreed by textual critics that the Trine formula found here in Textus Receptus is not part of the original text.
  • 29 Thomas, J. Eureka, vol. 1, 3.1.3. Notice how Dr. Thomas reverses the subject and predicates in his translation and capitalizes the second 'Spirit' so that the text appears to identify 'Spirit' as 'the words that I speak to you'.
  • 30 Thomas, J. Eureka, vol. 2, 6.5.2.
  • 31 Thomas, J. Eureka, vol. 1, 1.2.3.
  • 32 My search was not very extensive, so further research is needed in this direction.
  • 33 Kurka, R.C. (2002). The Role of the Holy Spirit in Conversion: Why Restorationists Appear to be Out of the Evangelical Mainstream. In William R. Baker (ed.), Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement (pp. 138-151). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p. 138.
  • 34 ibid., p. 140.
  • 35 ibid.
  • 36 ibid., p. 141.
  • 37 ibid., p. 142.
  • 38 ibid., p. 144.
  • 39 Or 'perspicuous' to use a more technical term.
  • 40 ibid., p. 145.
  • 41 Hughes, R.T. (1991). Are Restorationists Evangelical? In Donald W. Dayton & Robert K. Johnson, The Variety of American Evangelicalism (pp. 109-134). Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, p. 115.
  • 42 Kurka, op. cit., p. 147.
  • 43 ibid., p. 148.
  • 44 Hughes, op. cit., p. 117.
  • 45 ibid.
  • 46 Campbell, A. (1839). The Christian System. Pittsburgh: Forrester & Campbell, p. 93.
  • 47 Hughes, op. cit., p. 117.
  • 48 Campbell, op. cit., p. 93.
  • 49 ibid., pp. 94-95.
  • 50 Kurka, op. cit., p. 149.
  • 51 Kurka, op. cit., p. 151.
  • 52 Wille, E. (1975). The Holy Spirit: An exploratory survey of Scripture Teaching. Accessed at http://welivebythespirit.org/Holy_Spirit_Exploratory_Survey/Holy_Spirit.pdf.
  • 53 ibid., p. 32.
  • 54 ibid., p. 41.
  • 55 ibid., p. 62.
  • 56 ibid., p. 88.
  • 57 For instance, he writes that 'The gift of healing is not recognised among us in the "miraculous" sense' (ibid., p. 50). This is a much less dogmatic statement than a strict cessationist might have made, such as, 'The gift of healing is not available today in the "miraculous" sense.'
  • 58 It is, however, interesting to note that the author of the review, Fred Pearce, appears to step guardedly back from hyper-cessationism. While maintaining the exclusive role of the written Word in drawing people's minds to God, he adds: 'When the mind is prepared by intimate contact with the "sacred Scriptures, inspired of God, profitable for... instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete" (2 Tim. 3: 16-17, RV), then God will surely add, according to His promise what blessing is needed and appropriate, and He will do it by His Spirit.'
  • 59 Schwartzkopf's book does not directly challenge traditional Christadelphian pneumatology, but is willing to grant a broader scope to the present work of the Holy Spirit than the traditional view would allow, in language that sounds close to Evangelical cessationism. For him, 'God’s Spirit acts in all sorts of diverse ways: By the effect of the Word of God in the minds of believers, By the actions of other believers, By the answer to prayers with God using miraculous and non-miraculous means, By God intervening in a multitude of ways in peoples lives to bring about his purpose even if they have not prayed for the intervention… The Spirit of God is received when people believe the gospel. All true believers will have the Spirit. It is a down payment on who we will be when immortal. Its indwelling indicates that a person belongs to God. Its indwelling marks out a person as destined for salvation. The role of the Spirit is to both sanctify and transform us into the sort of people God wants us to be.' (Schwartzkopf, P. (n.d.). The Spirit of God, p. 39).

Sunday 4 May 2014

1 Corinthians 13:8-13: Have the Holy Spirit gifts ceased?

A cessationist is a Christian who believes that the Holy Spirit gifts (e.g. speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, etc.) are not presently available to the church because they ceased soon after the death of the apostles. This is in contrast to a charismatic, which is the term for a Christian who believes that these Holy Spirit gifts are presently available to the church. The term charismatic is taken from the Greek word for gifts, charismata. The charismatic position is often associated with the Pentecostal movement whereas churches in the Reformed tradition tend to hold to cessationism.

Many Christadelphians hold to a position that might be called 'absolute cessationism.' Evangelical cessationists generally do believe in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer. That is to say, they believe the Holy Spirit is presently at work in the church; it is only the visible manifestations of the Spirit gifts which are not available. By contrast, some Christadelphians teach that the Holy Spirit is totally inactive in the church at the present time. The term 'Spirit-Word' was coined to convey the idea that the only access we have to the Holy Spirit today is through the Bible, the Word of God which was inspired by the Holy Spirit.

I want to focus on a particular passage which has served as perhaps the cornerstone of the biblical argument for cessationism: 1 Corinthians 13:8-13:
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13 NRSV)
Some have interpreted Paul to be saying here that the spiritual gifts of tongues, knowledge and prophecy would come to an end in the near future as part of the maturation process of the early church. Indeed, it appears that the term 'cessationism' takes its name from the word "cease" in v. 8.

One can first observe that even if this interpretation is correct, it provides no support for the Christadelphian position of 'absolute cessationism', since Paul only states that these outward manifestations of the Holy Spirit will cease and not the Holy Spirit per se. I have argued elsewhere that Paul's use of the Greek term for a 'down payment' for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers rules out the possibility that the Holy Spirit could be withdrawn, since (in terms of Paul's financial imagery) this would constitute a breach of contract on God's part.

However, most scholars agree that 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 provides no support for cessationism of any kind. Read in the context of Paul's eschatology, as well as the explanation provided in v. 12, it is apparent that what Paul meant here was not that the spiritual gifts would fade away gradually, but that the spiritual gifts would stop at the Second Coming of Christ which would render them obsolete because "now we see in a mirror, dimly; but then we will see face to face." Let's look at what some recent commentaries have to say about this passage.

Garland writes the following on 1 Corinthiand 13:8:
"On the day of the Lord their assignment will be finished and they will be scrapped as functionless. Paul’s choice of which gifts to contrast with love is directly relevant to the situation in Corinth. The Corinthians treasure tongues and knowledge. Paul adds what he considers to be the most beneficial for building up the church: prophecy. All three are transitory and suitable only for ‘between the times’ – between the inauguration of the end, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the consummation of all things, when God will be ‘all in all’"1
On v. 10, Fitzmyer comments:
"To what ‘the perfect’ refers is much debated. It is scarcely related to the completion of the NT canon, as some have tried to take it; such an extraneous meaning is foreign to this context. To teleion has been understood as Christian maturity, as in 2:6 (so in ancient Montanists, Mani; among modern interpreters, Salvoni, ‘Quando sara venuto’). It seems, however, to express rather some sort of goal; it has undoubtedly something to do with the eschaton or what Paul calls ‘the Day of the Lord’ (1:8; 3:13; 5:5) or with the telos, ‘end’ (of the present era), as in 15:24."2
Commenting specifically on v. 11, Ciampa and Rosner write:
"The point is not to insult the Corinthians and suggest that they are immature (although he does that elsewhere) or that the gifts themselves or their use in Corinth or elsewhere is immature. They are perfectly appropriate for this time in the church’s life. But when we go through the final transition at the end of this age, from this old creation to the fullness of the new heavens and the new earth, we will leave behind many of the things that were natural, good, and healthy in this world as being unsuitable for the world into which we are introduced at that point."3
Fee summarizes Paul's point regarding the spiritual gifts in the whole passage:
"These gifts have to do with the edification of the church as it ‘eagerly awaits our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed’ (1:7). The nature of the eschatological language in v. 12 further implies that the term ‘the perfect’ has to do with the Eschaton itself, not some form of ‘perfection’ in the present age…At the coming of Christ the final purpose of God’s saving work in Christ will have been reached; at that point those gifts now necessary for the building up of the church in the present age will disappear, because ‘the complete’ will have come. To cite Barth’s marvelous imagery: ‘Because the sun rises all lights are extinguished.’"4
Thiselton sums up the significance of this text (or lack thereof) for the cessationist debate:
"Similarly, ‘if it be tongues, these will cease’ hardly addresses the debate between Reformed and neo-Pentacostalist writers about ‘tongues will cease’ after the close of the canon or at a given stage of individual or historical maturity. Here Paul states that, like prophetic preaching and ‘knowledge,’ they will become redundant at the last day. As Carson observes, too much discussion of this issue directs us away from Paul’s main point. This issue must be determined on other grounds than exegetical discussions of this verse.”5
The problem in Corinth that Paul is addressing is an 'over-realized eschatology': the Corinthians seem to have thought that they had arrived at their ultimate spiritual destination through the manifestations of the charismata, and had lost sight of the fact that the present reality was just a shadow of what was to come - the very point Paul addresses at length in chapter 15. Furthermore, because of their preoccupation with the spiritual gifts they had lost sight of something much more important: love (which will not cease at the last day but will endure for eternity). For Paul, the spiritual gifts themselves were not the problem, or the cause of the Corinthians' spiritual immaturity; it was the Corinthians' attitude that needed correction.

In conclusion, 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 does not state or imply that the spiritual gifts would come to an end prior to the day of the Lord. Indeed, the language of 1 Corinthians 1:7, "so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ", suggests that Paul thought the spiritual gifts would remain until the return of Christ. This is an event which Paul probably expected to occur in his lifetime (1 Corinthians 15:51, 16:22, Philippians 4:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). He had no way of knowing that 'this present world' would continue for another two millennia.

Anyone who claims that the Holy Spirit gifts have ceased, or that the Holy Spirit is currently inactive in the church, must do so on grounds other than what Paul wrote here.

1 Garland, D.E. (2003). 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, p. 621.
2 Fitzmyer, J.A. (2008). First Corinthians: A New Translation and Commentary. New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 498
3 Ciampa, R.E. and B.S. Rosner. (2010). The First Letter to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 657
4 Fee, G.D. (1987). The First Letter to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 646.
5 Thiselton, A.C. (2000). The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 1062.