Friday, July 29, 2016

Contra Don Codling on spiritual gifts: Spiritual gifts and edification

On the topic of the spiritual gifts, I was informed that Don Codling has written the best book on the topic from a continuationist perspective. His book is entitled Sola Scriptura and the Revelatory Gifts: How should Christians Deal with Present Day Prophecy? (Rice, WA: Sentinel Press, 2005). The book is an apology for the continuationist position that present-day revelatory gifts are still present in the church today, and the author claims in the foreward that "no one has made any visible attempt" to respond to his argument (p. 11). I suspect part of the reason why that is the case is less about how sound his arguments are and more about how little known this booklet is and how little effort has been put into trying to refute it. Since he asserts the invincibility of his position, I would think he would certainly welcome anyone taking a shot at his arguments.

This book by Codling sets forward his position that special revelation is still present in the church today but it is non canonical. Codling does a decent job summarizing the current cessationist arguments (pp. 49-60), then the rest of his book he goes around trying to refute those cessationist arguments. The first rebuttal is to an argument that all special revelation is canonical, which is fine since we don't hold to that position. But we will look at the other arguments because that is where he stumbles.

Spiritual gits and edification

The second cessationist argument that Codling would like to address is "Scripture is sufficient for our needs," and he does this with the title "Grace beyond what is sufficient." Codling expresses his main objection to this argument as follows:

If the gifts are for edification ..., then the church which lacks them is impoverished by that lack. To deny this is to presuppose that the gifts have no value. Assertion of the sufficiency of Scripture does not demonstrate that the gifts have no value, because there was a sufficient Scripture in Paul's day, but the gifts abounded for edification. The point can be illustrated in terms of the sacraments. The church which has the Bible, studies it diligently and applies it, but does not celebrate the sacraments, is an impoverished church. Yet it has the sufficient Scriptures. The point is that while the Bible is sufficient, that church's application of the Bible is not sufficient. The sufficiency of the Bible does not deny the place of the sacraments, rather it established their place. Similarly, the sufficiency of the Bible does not deny a place to the revelatory gifts. (pp. 73-4)

What should we make of this argument? First of all, the analogy with the sacraments is invalid. The sacraments are not word-revelation, but word-act drama. Sacraments do reveal God and the Gospel, BUT only in conjunction with the Word. The sacraments do not work ex opere operato, as what Rome believes. Sacraments are divine sanctioned holy acts, not word-revelation, and thus the analogy does not work.

Secondly, there was NOT a sufficient Scripture in Paul's day. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is not speaking just about the Old Testament Scripture, as Codling thinks (p. 75), but rather everything that is Scripture (πασα γραφη). It is not a quantifiable term, but a qualifiable term, viz, everything that fits the genus "Scripture." At the coming of the New Covenant, the current Old Testament revelation is insufficient, thus the creating of a new covenant necessitates a new canon.

The main error of Codling here, which is a common one among charismatics, is that he assumes that no prophecy given today means that there are no prophecies for the edification of the church. We need to take a step back and ask ourselves what era we are living in, and we are living in the New Covenant era. Therefore, the treasures of the apostolic church are ours, for our edification. Therefore, is there any church that lacks the apostolic spiritual gifts for edification? NO, for we have the fruit of their prophecies — the Scriptures. We who are cessationist have the spiritual gift of prophecy, in the apostolic church, for our benefit. We have the spiritual gift of tongues, in the apostolic church, for our benefit, and so on. The church is one and apostolic, and we partake of the benefits of the apostolic church, which are the fruit of the revelatory and sign gifts in the covenant making period of the apostolic church.

Codling follows us with a charge that God withdrawing the gifts because Scripture is sufficient is an act of stinginess, but God is a God of over-abundant blessing (p. 76). That would be true if the sign and revelatory gifts are meant to edify us in the same way as it edifies the apostolic church, but they do not. These gifts edify us best by giving us the fruit of their workings — the Scriptures. So the counter question ought to be: Why should God give us baby gifts when He has already produced from these the complete and mature gift of the New Testament Scriptures for us?

[to be continued]

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