Paul said in First Corinthians 13:12, “we see in a mirror dimly.” Paul is referencing the fact that there some things in this life that are difficult to understand. Evidently, speaking in tongues is one of them.
Thirty years ago the neo-Pentecostal or charismatic movement was in full swing and fraught with controversy. The movement was schismatic causing division among a host of mainline denominations, and at that time was considered a threat to the church. I think it was more of a threat to the status quo of the church than its demise, but that was not an accepted view by some then or now.
The doctrine of cessationism, the teaching that the gifts of the Holy Spirit enumerated in First Corinthians chapter twelve ceased with the completion of the biblical canon, had fallen into desuetude because it was unconvincing. For some reason pastor and author John MacArthur has decided to reignite the debate between cessationism and continualism, the view that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still in operation in the church.
MacArthur does so even when reputable reformed theologians like him do not embrace cessationism. Matt Chandler believed in cessationism until he encountered the gifts of the Spirit on a mission trip to India. Marc Driscoll believes the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still in operation in the church and the venerable pastor John Piper does not think they have ceased to operate in the church either.
So what has MacArthur all stirred up? To be honest, I do not know, and do not care. I care nothing for a silly insistence that the Spirit of God cannot do today what He did then in the early church. I am not trying to be mean or disrespectful. I just do not understand those who claim to be believe in the sovereignty of God, and in the next breath deny His ability to act sovereignly in accord with what He has declared in His Word and He has done historically.
Biblical truth is derived from a proper interpretation of the Scriptures. Hermeneutics is the area of theology devoted to the study of interpretive principles. Understanding the historical and grammatical context of a passage of Scripture teaches us how we should live our lives. I have said experience alone is a poor hermeneutic, but experience predicated on the practical application of the historical and grammatical context of Scripture is invaluable.
When I took hermeneutics we were told one of the things we should try and determine in the Bible were those passages that were descriptive and those that were prescriptive, what the norm is and what the exception is. We need to be careful here because that is a wide open door to subjectivism.
The Bible in one respect is the story of God’s relationship with man, how that relationship was lost, and how God by His grace has sought to bring man back into a relationship with Him. In short, the Bible is history and is by definition descriptive. Does that mean we can ignore the examples in Scripture as being merely descriptive?
Paul warns the Corinthians that those who perished in the wilderness for disobeying Moses were an example. “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction” (1 Corinthians 10:11). If those who were faithless in following Moses were considered by Paul to be instructive examples of what we should not do, why would we think that the instructive example of those in the early church is something we can ignore and expect the same results?
The book of Acts is a record of the early church. The “acts” recorded in it are not the Acts of the Apostles; they are the acts of God’s Spirit (Acts 19:11). It is a description of the moving and manifestations of the Spirit of God. People got saved, healed and anointed with the Holy Spirit. The first disciples waited ten days in the upper room praying for “what the Father had promised.” That was the norm then. The norm today is you cannot get people who claim to be Christians to pray for ten minutes.
To claim the accounts in Acts are merely descriptive is to relegate them to mere history, when they are a history lesson. Discounting the example of the early church fathers is probably why there is no “family resemblance” to those who were “first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26).