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Written Debate: Jackson -V- Preston: The Cessation of the Charismata– Jackson's First Affirmative

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Don K. Preston

 

Jackson- V – Preston Formal Written Debate

‘Now concerning spiritual gifts brethren, i would not have you ignorant’…(1 Cor. 12:1 ASV)

Christian greetings to the debate moderators, the reading audience, & to my friend & opponent in this debate… Mr. Don Preston.

I assure each of you that i am deeply grateful for the opportunity to come back to this forum, & be in the affirmative of a proposition which i have come to believe to be the absolute truth relative to the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit to the church.

There was a time in my life & ministry when i pressed for a theory which could explain why the proclamation of the gospel was sufficient in word alone without the accompaniment of divine demonstrations of power, & why the church community should not anticipate the ministry of the Holy Spirit in spiritual gifts. I had been taught by good & godly men that healing & spiritual gifts had fulfilled their purpose(?)…they were no longer needed(?)…& all signs & wonders associated with gospel proclamation ceased with the apostolic age.

I was wrong.

‘THE SCRIPTURES TEACH THAT MIRACLES & SPIRITUAL GIFTS ARE FOR THE CHURCH OF CHRIST TODAY’.

DEFINITION OF PROPOSITION…

By ‘scriptures’ i mean the protestant Bible, all 66 books & a correct translation of the same, by ‘teach’ i mean to set forth by direct statement, necessary inference, or approved example…that ‘miracles & spiritual gifts’, & by this i mean simply supernatural manifestations of God the Holy Spirit which were granted & operating in the early church…are, ‘for the church of Christ today’… meaning i hope to show that we the church of today have a scriptural obligation to seek, & a right to receive all that God wishes to give to His church by way of inner transformation & supernatural empowerment(Jn. 3:3, 1 Cor. 12:4-7).

It is my contention that the church of Christ may pray for the appearance of the Holy Spirit with the anticipation that He will minister to God’s people through God’s people by means of the full range of charismata as outlined for the church in the New Testament scriptures(1 Cor. 12-14).

This has not always been my belief. This debate will at once be both a biblical presentation, & a personal testimony relative to miracles & the gifts of the Holy Ghost.

HEALING & SPIRITUAL GIFTS…A PRIMER
One of the difficulties defending the perpetuity of divine demonstrations of God’s supernatural power is because it’s continuance throughout the christian age is assumed in scripture, & thus finding a direct statement so stating would be rare. It would be difficult indeed to argue for the continuance of baptism in water by immersion…simply because it is assumed by the writers of scripture that this experience is a necessary part of conversion until the end of time. Or to argue for the continuance of communion as an obligation upon the church, because the scripture writers again assume it’s relevance to the church throughout the age which now is, & until the end.

The apostle’s who instructed sinners to ‘believe & be baptized'(Mk.16 15&16)told these same persons to ‘Follow after love; yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy'(1 Cor. 14:1).

Mr. Preston will demand of sinner’s the obedience of baptism…but he will despise prophesying in the church(1 Thess. 5:19&20), & forbid speaking in tongues(1 Cor. 14:39)…even if it is THE HOLY SPIRIT which gives the utterance(Acts 2:4)!

With this in mind, & because i believe that the New Testament sets forth the authorized pattern for Worship, Doctrine, & Practice…i will proceed with my affirmative arguments from the standpoint that GOD BEARING WITNESS TO THE GOSPEL & BLESSING HIS CHURCH WITH SIGNS & WONDERS, MANIFOLD POWERS, & GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT were not only essential to the first generation of believers…but their place, function & purpose allow for their continuance ‘until the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ'(1 Co. 1:7).

OLD TESTAMENT ANTICIPATION OF SPIRIT’S FUTURE WORK…

The Old Testament clearly prepares the way for a period of time classified as the ‘Last Day’s, when the Spirit’s charismatic power will be universalized God’s people. Unlike the Spirit’s activities under the Old Covenant which restricted the miraculous to a select few…the future age of fulfillment will allow for every member of the Kingdom to receive the Spirit as prophetic anointer.

The Prophet Moses is the first to express such a hope(Num. 11:29). This wish of Moses becomes a prophetic reality in the words of the Prophet Joel & takes on specific form in that someday, in the ‘last days’…ALL WILL PROPHESY(Joel 2:28-32)).

The Old Testament recognizes two future functions of the Spirit…one of empowerment for service(Joel 2: 28-32), the other of inner transformational(Eze. 36:26&27). Many accounts describe the Spirit’s empowering work to energize selected individuals to be & to do supernatural activities such as prophecy, the working of miracles, spiritual power in leadership, etc(Num. 11:24-27, 1 Sam. 10:6, Judges 14:6, 19, Judges 3:10, 1 Sam 16:13). The Old Testament anticipates a coming age when this operation of the Spirit will be(available)& universalized among God’s people…& will continue to be characterized by charismatic manifestations. This predicted presence of the Spirit upon all God’s people for empowerment is closely associated with that other promised feature of the Spirit’s work of inner renewal & actual indwelling(Jer. 31:31-34). A covenant made primarily with natural Israel, but Gentile participation made possible through the gospel(Rom. 11: 17).

These two predicted & primary functions of the Spirit are spiritually realized in Christ & in the church during this present age.

ARGUMENT #1…IN THE LAST DAYS THE SPIRIT EMPOWERS ALL BELIEVERS WITH MIRACULOUS MANIFESTATIONS IN FULFILLMENT OLD TESTAMENT HOPE.

Mr. Preston, is the church now living in the ‘Last Days’? Before looking more closely at Peter’s sermon in Acts 2…please bear in mind that the term ‘Last Day’s’…is a scriptural time period commencing at the first coming of Christ, & will continue until the RETURN OF CHRIST FROM HEAVEN FOR HIS CHURCH. The last days as a Bible term is a reference to that period of time between the two advents of Christ.

Johnny Ramsey in a debate with Marvin Hicks(a Unitarian Pentecostalist)affirmed during their debate on ‘miracles’ that, & i quote, ‘THE LAST DAYS BEGAN ON PENTECOST & THEY WILL BE CONSUMMATED WHEN THE LORD COMES’ He also stated that ‘THE ERA OF THE LAST DAYS CAME WITH CHRIST(JR). I would agree with this church of Ch
rist evangelist on the time of termination for the ‘Last Days’, although we differ as to it’s precise inauguration. No matter. The church of Christ is now living in that time period identified in scripture as the LAST DAYS. The apostle Luke in Acts two presents the church as a charismatic community, called by God to bear witness to the Lord Jesus Christ during the last days & empowered to accomplish this task by the Holy Spirit.

The apostles often identified those characteristics which mark out & distinguish this age(1 Tim 4:1-5, 2 Pet.3:3). For the purpose of this discussion…let us briefly review a portion of Peter’s pentecostal sermon in Acts chapter two.

The age of the Spirit is described by Peter as fulfilling both the promised permanent indwelling of the Spirit by all God’s people, & His presence in charismatic power upon & within the same(Acts 2:16).

What was the significance of the Pentecostal infusion of the Spirit in Acts chapter two?

That which began at Pentecost was only the first stage..the inauguration of the last days…it was not the last day of the church of Christ, but the first! This outpouring of the Spirit upon the waiting disciples & it’s resultant supernatural phenomena presents the church of Christ as personally redeemed & anointed for service.

Was the outpouring of the Spirit limited to the apostles? No. Were the apostles only equipped as powerful witness to Jesus & His message? No. Were women not allowed to preach & prophecy under the influence of the Spirit? No. Could non-apostles do the extraordinary by the Power the Spirit, acting in Christ’s Name? Yes. Stephen Acts 6&7, Phillip Acts 8, Ananias Acts 9, church members at Antioch 13:1, converts in Eph. 19:6, women at Caesarea 21:8&9, unnamed brethren of Galatians 3:5…more Don?…believers in Rome Rom 12:6-8, believers in Corinth 1 Cor. 12-14, & christian in Thessalonica 1 Thess. 5:19-20.

This outpouring of the Spirit upon believers in the last days at the beginning of the church forms the church of Christ into an anointed community in which prophetic speech, visions, dreams, signs, & wonders, are present to witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even the ‘tongues of fire’ in the upper room symbolized God’s own sanctioning of the church’s prophetic activity.

My argument is that Acts chapter two, & the Acts in general records the historical realization of the predicted coming of the Spirit in moral transformation, & empowerment for testimony. This twofold function of the Holy Spirit is available to all converts in the gospel age(Jn. 7:37-39).

Can Mr. Preston really prove that we are not now living in the last days? Will he continue to insist that the world in which we now live…is as ‘GOOD AS IT GETS’? Has the curse of sin been lifted from the universe? Do we not need the direct operation of the Spirit upon the sinners heart as the word of God is preached with convicting power… Christ Himself working with us confiming His message of redeeming grace by the cross with signs following(argument #3)

Miracles & spiritual gifts are for the church today because this present age is the ‘last days’…fulfilling prophetic predictions of a time period in which the Spirit’s charismatic power is universalized among God’ people.

ARGUMENT #2…SIGNS & WONDERS SHALL FOLLOW THEM THAT BELIEVE

One of the greater lights in the denominational churches of Christ, James D. Bales, felt at one time that the miraculous signs mentioned by Christ in the latter part of Mark’s gospel would be fulfilled in the apostles alone. He preached & taught that the promises of Mark 16: 17-18 applied to the apostle only. James Bales later changed his position on Mark 16:17&18. The promise of miraculous powers, he came to see, was extended to baptized believers…& could not be confined to the apostles alone. It is my contention that it is never dishonorable to desert error.

The commission given to the apostles was twofold. It contained both salvation instructions & the assurance of Christ’s presence & unchanging power in supernatural demonstrations through believers & to the world. Don wants to consign them to an obsolete past.

“AND THESE ATTESTING MIRACLES WILL ACCOMPANY THOSE WHO BELIEVE THESE THINGS”(An expanded translation)

Signs & wonders were never limited to the apostolic office. Miracles & spiritual gifts were given by the Sovereign Spirit to various individuals in the church for manifold purposes. Certainly, it is not denied that specialized ‘powers’ are clustered around the apostolic company because of their peculiar foundational function & ministry in the original church. Furthermore, the ‘manifestations of the Spirit’ to the early christian communities were no doubt different in degree & intensity in comparison to that of an apostle. But Mr. Preston cannot deny that the original church of Christ was an effective charismatic community of baptized believers.
Follow the actions of the young church & what do we find? We find a community in which signs & wonders…miracles & gifts of the Holy Spirit… according to His own will… are manifest in every church for the purposes for which they were appointed. Special manifestations of the Spirit’s power to the apostles & to the believers are referred to time & again in the letters to New Testament congregations. Don will search in vain for a text in which the charismatic & supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit that attended the expansion of the gospel, & subsequently the life & ministry of the churches that were planted, was not meant by God to continue with the expansion of the gospel into the rest of the world…& into subsequent generations of believers.

Hence this debate.

The signs & wonders which were to follow Christ’s believers(Mk. 16:17-20), together with the promised blessings associated with the Spirit’s outpouring upon the church at Pentecost(Acts 2)set the stage for the Spirit’s active presence associated with gospel proclamation & subsequent church life. Mr. Preston retired the Holy Ghost to Heaven after the establishment of the christian church in the first century…& turned the Bible into a Sears & Roebuck catalog filled with unavailable items. It is a joy indeed to set him right…& present to this reading audience the truth about miracles & spiritual gifts relative to the church of Christ, then & now.

Miracles & spiritual gifts are for the church today because they are promised by Christ to those who believe the gospel.

ARGUMENT #3…MIRACLES & GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT ACCOMPANY THE PROCLAMATION OF THE GOSPEL…

New Testament evidence shows that miraculous healing, signs, wonders, manifestations, of supernatural power regularly accompanied preaching as the standard form of evangelism practiced by our Lord, by His apostles, & early church laity(see above). Professor F.F.Bruce, the well known British New Testament scholar, considered the healing ministry of Christ an essential part of the message Jesus preached…
“While the miracles served as signs, they were not done as signs only. They were as much a part & parcel of the ministry of Christ as was His preaching—not…seals affixed to the document to certify its genuiness but an integral element in the very text of the document”(Bruce).

Professor Gerhard Friedrich(German New Testament scholar)…insists that the New Testament of preaching the gospel is MORE THAN VERBALLY COMMUNICATING THE RATIONAL CONTENT OF THE GOSPEL—that it includes demonstrating the power of the gospel through healing ministry. These men are not wild eyed, wild fire Pentecostalists. They merely point out that the gospel of Christ was never intended to be proclaimed merely in the wisdom of words(1 Cor. 2:4).

My argument is that the gospel of salvation, which at the firs
t was spoken through Christ & which MESSAGE WAS CONFIRMED by those who heard…God also bearing witness NOT TO THEM…but to Jesus & the message about Jesus with supernatural demonstrations is normative New Testament evangelism. Jesus came teaching…preaching…healing(Matt. 4:23). The apostles & others continued this model of evangelism(Acts 4:29-31). The gospel of Christ provides salvation in it’s fullest sense which includes spiritual healing for soul & body. Mr Preston knows that Christ & the early church proclaimed the good news to the poor not only in words but in mighty deeds, in healings & exorcisms. The latter indicated the end of Satan’s rule in the lives of those who through the gospel turned from darkness to light, & from the power of Satan unto God(Acts 17:18).

Signs & wonders were never to be detached from gospel proclamation. We see on every hand a unity of WORD & DEED in New Testament evangelism. It is not as though the church seeks such confirmations…they are granted in association with gospel preaching because the gospel WAS NEVER INTENDED TO BE A VERBAL PROCLAMATION ALONE.

There is an abundance of evidence to suggest that the power of Christ demonstrated through healing & gift-based ministry is, according to scripture, an integral part of the proclamation of the gospel & a manifestation of the power of Christ & His cross to save sinners.

I anticipate Mr. Preston’s notion that there is no need in the world, or in the church for the presence of the supernatural in confirming signs & wonders today. He will do his best to perform his magic ‘thus & therefore’ in an attempt to teach what his elders taught him…that the miracles of Christ & His apostles were designed to establish the facts & doctrines of Christianity; we do not need their continuance. Bosh!

Miracles & spiritual gifts are for the church today because scriptural evangelism is to be word & deed…by the power of signs & wonders, through the power of the Spirit. This is proclaiming the gospel of Christ in it’s fullness(Rom 15:17-19). All Word & no Spirit makes Don a dull boy. Just kidding Don(smile).

To summarize…

1. The church of Christ which began at Pentecost was the beginning of the fulfillment of an Old Testament hope regarding the twofold future work of the Spirit in the last days resulting in inner transformation & outward empowerment for all God’s people. The term ‘Last Days’ is a biblical time period beginning with the first coming of Christ & extends throughout this present Age, & is terminated only by the coming of Christ a second time & the events associated with that coming. The Last Days is to be characterized by an outpouring of God’s Spirit upon his people in charismatic power. New Testament congregations were blessed with this ongoing supernatural ministry of God the Holy Spirit & received instructions as to their proper function in the local church. No divine discontinuance is anticipated during this age.

2. Believers are promised supernatural & specialized abilities in connection with effectual testimony to the gospel, for the blessing & edification of the spiritual community the church, & for personal enrichment(Mk 16:15-20). New Testament congregations were fully functioning charismatic communities & are the pattern, & not the exception, for the corporate worship of God through Christ in the church today. The apostle encouraged congregations to ‘desire earnestly spiritual gifts’, & that ‘ye all can prophesy one by one, that all may be learn, & all may be exhorted'(1 Cor. 14:1, 30&31). Miracles & spiritual gifts were never a substitute for the written word of the the apostles. The apostles taught the same things they later wrote. The canon of scripture as we know it was not even anticipated by the apostles of Christ…& thus i will prejudge Don’s view on this matter of miracles & spiritual gifts vs. the scriptures as a form o f ‘biblical idolatry’. Apostolic insripturated revelation is distinct from the ‘prophetic utterance’ in the church, which was never considered equal to apostolic(& prophetic) revelation whether oral or written. Hence said Paul…’all may prophecy’ & let the others discern. This qualification would not apply to the appointed Apostolic company whose authority & ministry was unique to the original church.

3. The gospel is to be proclaimed with signs & wonders to all generations…not to the first generation of believers only. In the name of all that is Holy…what disadvantage did that generation have which required signs & wonders, miracles of healing, etc to be associated with the word of the gospel? If there was ever a generation of skeptical disbelief due to the hardness of the human heart…it is NOW. Faith indeed comes by the hearing of the Word of God(Rom. 10:17), but the same man says his preaching was not with ‘persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit & power: that your faith(by the word)should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God'(1 Cor. 2:4)). Why would God not bear witness to the testimony of Jesus Christ His Son today ‘with signs & wonders, by manifold powers(miracles), & by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will’? Let Mr. Preston attempt to show there is no need for miracles & spiritual gifts today. Then let him go forth into this world of increasing spiritual darkness & say that a verbal proclamation of the facts of the gospel without a demonstration of those facts is sufficient to evangelize this world for Christ & His gospel.

Having read this, my first affirmative presentation on ‘Miracles & spiritual gifts’, i ask the reading audience to consider carefully my opponents first negative response.

May God bless you all,

R. Jackson

 

Topic: The Cessation of the Charismata

Richard Jackson’s First Affirmative