Ready to “scissors-surgery” 1 Corinthians 12? Previous posts (“Gifts to Love” and “When the Perfect Comes”) hopefully make us hesitate. But, if you’re still a cessationist (one who believes the gifts of the Spirit ended with the apostles) you have no other choice. Cut the Body of Christ from 1 Corinthians 12!
But holster your scissors for a bit there, partner, and get comfy. We’re going to take a round-about route to answer why cessationism logically compels cutting.
CONTEXT. Paul’s subject in chapter 12 is spiritual gifts—not a full theology of the gifts, though. Paul wrote to address the Corinthians’ abuse of one gift—speaking in tongues. To them that gift was the supreme sign of “spirituality.” In chapter 12 Paul lays the theological groundwork for correcting their error.
CONFESSIONAL CONTENT: JESUS IS LORD (12:1-3). (For the sake of space, I can quote only portions of the text throughout. Reading it all would be helpful.) Here’s the last clause of this paragraph: ” . . . no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (12:3b). “Jesus is Lord!”—that was the early church’s supreme confession of faith. It was also the test to determine if a person was speaking “by the Spirit” or some other spirit. Because only the Holy Spirit can transform a self-allegiant heart to confess absolute allegiance to Jesus. Therefore, any speaking that demeans or detracts from the supremacy of Jesus is not of the Spirit.
UNITY WITH DIVERSITY IN THE BODY OF CHRIST (12:4-11). “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (12:4-6). God is three persons in one person. In this paragraph Paul calls God “Spirit,” Lord” and “God.” In God there is diversity (three Persons) in unity (one Person). So there is unity with diversity in God. Accordingly, there is unity (the church is one Body) with diversity of gifts. (“Gifts”, “service”, and “activities” are nuanced ways of referring to the Spirit’s gifts or “manifestations”.) Therefore, to elevate one gift as the sign of “spirituality” contradicts both the nature of the gifts in the Body of Christ and the Triune God himself. Furthermore, each “manifestation” (a “going public”) of the Spirit is “for the common good” (12:7)—that is, for the whole Body of Christ.
Paul lists (representative not exhaustive) the Spirit’s manifestations or gifts—the utterance of wisdom, the utterance of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, the ability to distinguish between spirits, various kinds of tongues, the interpretation of tongues (12:8-10). Who gets what? That’s up to the Spirit. “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit (unity of source with diversity of manifestation), who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (12:11).
THE HUMAN BODY AND THE BODY OF CHRIST (12:12,13). “For just as the (human) body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” The human body is “one” (a single unit made up of many members). So the Body of Christ (the church) is “one” (a single unit made up of many members). What makes the diverse church “one Body”? All members were baptized “in one Spirit” and “were made to drink of one Spirit.” We ask, “Are you a believer?” For Paul, the question was, “Do you have the Spirit?” To him, the Christian life begins with and is marked by the transforming work of the Holy Spirit—a work evidenced one way by the gifts of the Spirit.
AN ANALOGY: THE HUMAN BODY (12:14-26). ” . . . the (human) body does not consist of one member but of many” (12:14). The foot is as much a part of the body as a hand; the ear belongs as much as the eye. “God arranged the members in the (human) body, each one of them, as he chose” (12:19). Many parts, one body (12:20) according to the Creator’s design. Furthermore, each part is needed—eye, hand, head, feet, etc. The “parts-connection” is so tight, in fact, that when our stomach is sick, we often say, “I’m sick” or we actually feel sick all over (12:21-26).
THE BODY OF CHRIST (12:27-31). Paul moves from analogy (the human body) to reality: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (12:27). But don’t miss who these members are and what they have been equipped with: “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues” (12:28). In the one Body of Christ God has established a diversity of gifts.
CONCLUSIONS (finally!). If cessationists are correct, if the gifts of the Spirit ended with the death of the apostles or the close of the biblical canon . . .
- the very nature of the Body of Christ as Paul describes it here has died too.
- This is because the gifts of the Spirit empower individual members of the body to serve as a means of good for the body.
- If the Spirit no longer manifests himself by gifts through the members, the means of the members’ ministry to one another as the body no longer exists.
- If continuationism is biblical, the cessationist church is missing out on a veritable cornucopia of the Spirit’s gifts for the church’s good.
So which will it be? Cut 1 Corinthians 12 from our Bibles? If you believe the Spirit’s gifts are gone with the apostles, you have no choice. Logically you have to don your surgical gown and remove the Body of Christ as Paul describes it. Or you can review the evidence in these blog postings, put your scissors back in the desk, take the risk, and “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (14:1).
(One more thing: For whatever it’s worth, I doubt God would look kindly on anybody cutting out any part of his Word.)