Saturday, November 12, 2005
Cessation #1: the Perfect Has Come
However, there is a sense in which I've already grown up, for I attained the state of maturity over twenty years ago. No, I don't mean to say that my degree of maturity reached its peak way back then. In fact, I've matured a great deal since I first moved out of my family's house and set up a household of my own. Nonetheless, the fact remains that I attained maturity when I was no longer dependent on my parents to care for me and was able to take care of myself. At that time, I put aside childish things and became a grown man.
Although no analogy is perfect, I think this one can be used to shed considerable light on the history of the church of Jesus Christ. The church was born, as all agree, on the day of Pentecost with the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and their cohorts. With the church's birth began the period we might call the childhood of the church. Many Christians have looked back on the early church with a nostalgic eye, thinking of its early history as something of a golden age. Although this thinking is not altogether unfounded, there remains a real sense in which the early church was immature. No one blames a young child for his immaturity: he is expected to be immature. Likewise, when I point out the immaturity of the early church, I do not mean to lay blame but merely to point out a self-evident fact. The early church, like a young child, had a great deal to learn, and needed much special teaching and guidance in shepherd it through to maturity. Through the ministry of the apostles, prophets, and other gifted men, many of whom possessed mighty spiritual gifts, God taught the church everything it needed to know in order to stand on its own two feet. In due time, once the church had reached the stage of maturity, He withdrew these gifted men and left the church to fend for itself with the twin aids of the completed Scriptures and the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit.
Paul, like all of the apostles, functioned as a prophet, and it is in this office that he provided the young church of Corinth with a prophetic nutshell history of the early church. This prophecy is found in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 (NKJV):
8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
One thing is clear about this passage right at the beginning: the gift of prophecy is going to cease along with all of the other extraordinary spiritual gifts that were so abundant during the childhood of the church. As for when the gift will cease, a casual reading of verse 10 might encourage the answer, "Why, with the return of Christ, of course. Surely the church won't enjoy perfection until He comes again." However, this reading of the word "perfect" falls short of doing justice to Paul's original language in Greek. Walter Chantry addresses this issue in his book, Signs of the Apostles (pages 50 and 51):
When and why they [the spiritual gifts] must disappear from the church is clearly stated in verses 9-12. Knowledge and prophecy were only partial and imperfect forms of revelation. But there is something 'perfect' coming. At once our minds think of heaven. That is the perfect state. But the word translated 'perfect', in its New Testament usage, does not always mean ideally perfect. The very same word is used again in 1 Corinthians 14:20, where it is translated 'men'. The idea is 'mature' in contrast with 'childish'. That this meaning of the word is intended in 13:10 is quite clear from the continuation of the contrast with 'childish' in verse 11. When fully-matured or adult revelation comes, then the partial revelations of a childish state will be put away.
The amazing gifts catalogued in chapter 12 would only serve for an inferior situation. There partial usefulness consigned them to a temporary state. But there is no need to cling to these gifts. Does a full-grown man cling to childish speech, understanding, and thought [v. 11]? When the man is mature he puts away childish things. Similarly the manly words, thoughts, and satisfying insights of a completed Scripture will cause the church to outgrow the childhood of charismatic revelations.
Regarding verse 12, Chantry goes on to explain that Paul is continuing to contrast the "now"--the childhood of the church--with the "then": the church's coming maturity. Given the context provided by the verses immediately preceding, Paul is talking about the near-future falling away of the gifts and not of the final heavenly state. According to Chantry, Paul is saying that the revelation that's imparted through the charismatic gifts is like "seeing through a glass darkly" compared with the knowledge that would be had once the Scriptures were completed and the need for prophecy done away. He writes (page 52):
In the Old Testament, Moses stood as the great prophet who spoke to God 'mouth to mouth, even apparently'. Other prophets received 'dark speeches' and 'similitudes' by the obscure means of 'visions' and 'dreams'. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ stands as the great prophet who dwelt in the bosom of the Father and has declared him. His full and complete revelation of the Father was inscripturated by the apostles. Other 'charismatic' revelations were the equivalent of seeing through a glass imperfectly transparent (like Old Testament dreams and visions). They gave only partial disclosure, 'darkly' (that is, 'in a riddle'). By comparison, receiving Scripture was coming 'face to face' with God. It is the 'familiar' approach to God by his Son, Jesus Christ. Verse 12 summarizes the necessity for miraculous gifts to cease!
This reminds me of Hebrews 9:1-10:18, which reveals how Christ is the fulfillment of the types and shadows of the Old Testament. Whereas the message of the Old Testament prophets revealed Christ through types and symbolic language, the completed New Testament reveals Him plainly in all His Glory. Thus, in the revelation of Christ we have come face-to-face with God!
I believe that Chantry has stated the case quite clearly. If in fact Paul used the Greek word translated "perfect" in 13:10 in the sense of "mature", then he was foretelling that the charismatic gifts would cease with the church's attainment of maturity. Paul's comparison of the 'types and shadows' of the OT with the clarity of NT revelation further confirms that prophecy was no longer needed once Christ was fully revealed. The history of the church shows that no further Scripture was written after John completed Revelation. By that time, the charismatic gifts had fallen out of use. Thus, history confirms that the maturity of the church took place with the completion of Scripture. The perfect has come, so the gifts have ceased.