Poor Jesus sounds like an oxymoron. But it was an expression that Alva and I used frequently throughout our 58 years of ministry at the Chapel. It would be elicited by some words, actions or situations unbecoming to a Christian or group of Christians: some times in our own family; sometimes in the Chapel family; sometimes in the Church at large.
Such unbecoming things within Christianity are not new. They started in the New Testament record of the Church’s birth and continue to this day. Samuel J. Stone, 1839-1900, expressed it well in the third verse of his hymn, The Church’s One Foundation Is Jesus Christ Her Lord: “Though with a scornful wonder, men see her sore oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed. Yet (some) saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, ‘how long?’ and soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.”
One of the schisms (divisions) of import these days is that between cessationism and continuationism (fancy theological words about which more later). This division became significant during the Pentecostal revival at Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906, and really hit the fan around 1960 with the rise of the Charismatic Movement.
So what are we talking about? It has to do with the Charismata (Gifts of the Holy Spirit). The teaching that they are not for today is called cessationism (the gifts have ceased), particularly signs, wonders, miracles, healing and deliverance. The teaching that they are still for today is called continuationism (the gifts have continued).
So which is correct? I will address this because it is important to us at the Chapel. But before I do, I want to emphasize that this is just one of many “Poor Jesus” defects in the Church. The Church consists of every male and female human who has been born again when he or she has believed (put their faith) in Jesus Christ. A defect in any of the following instructions to the Church constitutes a “Poor Jesus:”
• In John 13:35 Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (group identifier before the world);
• In Titus 2:11, 12, Paul said, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (personal identifier before the world);
• In John 17:11 Jesus prayed for the Church, “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are” (Jesus’ desire and expectation for His Church, one day to be His bride).
But what about the case in point, cessationism vs continuationism? At what point did the proper use of the charismata cease, and the continuation of them become heretical? The cessationists claim that it was the date on which the Christian church established the canon of scripture (officially recognized as divine) which we call the Holy Bible. This occurred at the council of Carthage in 397 A.D. Their rationale was that after the Church had the whole Bible it did not need the charismata any longer to carry out the Lord’s work! Can you believe that?
There is absolutely no scripture on which such an assertion can be based. None! They attempt to get scriptural proof from the great love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, “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. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.”
They contend that “what is perfect” refers to the complete canon of scripture, the Bible. Let’s plug it into verse 10 and see what it looks like: “But when the (completed) Bible has come, then that which is in part (the incomplete Bible, including this letter by Paul) will be done away.” It doesn’t fit at all. Paul is actually talking about the contrast between life on this earth and life in heaven, as verse 12 makes plain: “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.”
Some random observations about the whole idea of the cessation of the charismata:
• In verse 8 it is said that prophesies would fail, and that tongues would cease. Nothing was said about the rest of the charismata ceasing or failing, like word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, miracles and discerning of spirits. They must still be continuing;
• Also in verse 8 along with prophesies failing and tongues ceasing, it says knowledge will vanish away. Did that happen in 397 A.D.? Hardly;
• It wasn’t until the mid 1800’s that Louis Pasteur pushed the germ theory of disease. How come the gifts of healings were not needed during the 1500 years between the Council of Carthage and the advent of modern medicine? And even today where much of the world’s population has little or no access to medical treatment? And why hasn’t the discerning of spirits and deliverance been needed on this still demnonized earth?
On the positive side, look at some pretty plain statements from scripture:
• Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever;”
• John 14:12 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father;”
• Acts 4:23-31 “And being let go, they (Peter and John) went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24 So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the mouth of Your servant David have said, Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? 26 The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the LORD and against His Christ. 27 For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. 29 Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30 by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus. 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”
• Mark 16:15-20 “And He said to them, Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues;18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. 19 So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.”
It is obvious that signs, wonders and miracles are intended to confirm the gospel as it is preached throughout the world to every creature even as the sick are healed and those oppressed by the devil are delivered (to name just two of many such benefits).
If God didn’t cause the charismata to cease, why has this division occurred? That is a big question, and we will address it in Poor Jesus II, Lord willing.