“To examine this whole theology of cessationism we only have to establish one fact – does ‘that which is perfect’ refer to the Bible, which we now have, or to something else yet to come?”
What Is “That Which Is Perfect”?
In chapters 12 and 14 of 1 Corinthians we are given a long discourse on the subject of spiritual gifts and their proper use in the Church. In between these two chapters comes, of course, chapter 13. Chapter 13 is well known as that great chapter on love. The fact that it comes where it does (between the other two) to my mind suggests in itself that love is central to the ministry and operation of God’s Holy gifts in our midst. Yet strangely enough it is from this chapter that some teach that all such spiritual gifts have ceased and have no place in the Church of today. If that is what is being taught here then by all means let us not seek that which God doesn’t want us to have. But such a view does leave a few questions to be answered, not least of all: why did the apostle under the guidance of the Holy Spirit choose to use up such a huge chunk of Holy Scripture (which I believe is intended for ALL churches at ALL places at ALL times) on something that God was about to completely do away with?
That aside, I would like to examine a little more closely the passage of Scripture, which is supposed to show that these gifts are definitely not for us today…
“Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” [1 Cor. 13: 8-13]
We read here about a time when prophecies and tongues shall cease. From this word ‘cease’ is derived the term ‘cessationist’. A person who believes that all spiritual gifts of the kinds listed in chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians have ceased already is known as a ‘cessationist’, or, one who holds to ‘cessationism’. It is verse 10 of this passage in particular that is used to make the case for spiritual gifts having been already abolished from the Church age – “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”
The case is simple enough. “That which is perfect” is said to be the completed canon of Scripture – the Bible. Depending on how precise a view one takes that could mean by the end of the first century when all of the New Testament writings were complete, or sometime during the next century when the manuscripts were gathered together and in regular common use by the churches, or even some while later when a ‘Church council’ agreed to what should be considered the whole canon of Scripture. Anyhow, whichever way you work it the position being that the genuine gifts of the Spirit ceased to be a part of God’s plan for the Church a long time ago.
So, to examine this whole theology of cessationism we only have to establish one fact – does “that which is perfect” refer to the Bible, which we now have, or to something else yet to come? I am not about to demean the Bible one whit. I shall simply say that the Bible is most certainly The Word of God and in the sense of its inspired message it is most certainly perfect and complete – not to be added to and not to be taken from. Anything that might be considered a ‘revelation’ to us must therefore be in complete accord with it. But that doesn’t mean to say that there is nothing else, which could ever be referred to as ‘perfect’. Does not the person of our Lord Jesus Himself immediately come to mind when you hear such a description?
Now, our passage in hand does say “that,” which would normally imply something rather than someone. Well, let’s see what the whole passage is saying taken in context with what is said both before and after concerning spiritual gifts. To illustrate what I believe to be the real picture here I would like to offer a simple allegory…
…A young woman is betrothed in an arranged marriage. She has never met face to face with the man to whom she is to be wed. Her beloved one lives a long way from her, let’s say in a distant land, and will continue to do so until the time of their wedding day. She does know him to some fair extent because they do have contact, very fruitful contact at that, but they both eagerly await the day of their fuller union. They communicate at various times through various means. They send letters, emails, occasionally phone one another and they sometimes pass on a greeting or two via some mutual friend whose journey connects them both. Their communications, through whichever means they come, give them so much delight and encouragement. She further comforts herself with words from the Bible, such words as: Proverbs 13:12 “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life!” How she longs for THAT day to come.
Finally the desire does come, the day of the marriage arrives and in that day, THAT PERFECT DAY, finally they see each other FACE TO FACE. At last they have a more PERFECT union. There is no more need to send one another emails or those lengthy love-letters, which could never fully express how they felt about one another. On that day they immediately cease all communications by these other (comparatively) inferior means. Such means were good, yes necessary and highly beneficial to her when as yet the two of them were not bodily present together, but how ridiculous it would be to continue to communicate in these ways as they stand in the same room together gazing upon one another lovingly. He wouldn’t look into her eyes and say, “darling, I’m sending you an email!!!” No, no, no! That’s not the way to do it now. Now they have something much better. Those previous methods of communication were OK for the more infant stage of their relationship, when they were held in reserve for one another, but now they have the fullness.
Through their former communications she caught a glimpse of what her beloved was like. She only possessed a comparatively vague picture in her mind’s eye of how he looked and of his character and ways. It was like “seeing through a glass darkly” (a reflection in a poorly manufactured mirror). But now THAT DAY has come things are very different. What day? The day when “that which is perfect is come” – their fullest union, the day when they see one another “face to face”. Formerly she only saw (and communicated) “in part,” but now that day has come she begins to know him in a deeper and more intimate way than ever before.
There is a strange, yet lovely anomaly to this relationship. In their former days of betrothal he seemed to know so much more about her than she did about him. In fact, he somehow knew her intimately then – in every detail. What she knew was this, that when that day should come, then she would know him even as she was also known by him – “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” And thus she begins to know him ever more fully as each day passes in his presence. And they live happily ever after – the end!
Not all that purports to be ‘spiritual gifts’ is the real thing of course. No more than all that purports to be spiritual in any sense is necessarily the genuine article. But a misuse of anything does not prove that the genuine article does not exist. On the contrary, God’s work will always be counterfeited by satan (adversary). The fact that a counterfeit exists should alert us to the reality that the real thing also exists. Counterfeit gifts are another subject, but please re-read these words of 1 Corinthians 13 and consider them again. Is not “that which is perfect” talking of a time when we shall see our beloved Jesus face to face. If so, then we must be not only willing to merely accept God’s communication to us still today through these diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit but we must actively seek such blessings as Paul goes on to teach us:
“Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts”
Related Reading ~ Bible Study: Baptism in The Holy Spirit