I grew up in a cessationist church. Cessationism is the belief that the miraculous sign gifts of the Spirit ceased within the first 100 years of the church. The opposing viewpoint is continuationism which is the theological belief that the sign gifts of the Holy Spirit have continued to the present day. The church I grew up in was full of gracious people and the gospel was preached. I assumed most good churches believed in cessationism. I heard horror stories of ridiculous preachers doing comical sign gift routines with their churches that we attributed not to the Spirit but to Satan. I was taught that in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 when this passage says that prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will pass away when “the perfect comes” which my teachers saw as the completion of the scriptures.
Eventually I met some Christians who believed in the sign gifts and they seemed normal. They laughed at some of the funny YouTube clips of weird sign gift preachers as well. I came to realize that lumping all continuationist Christians with some of the crazier teachers was a straw-man; and this thinking allowed me to not honestly engaging the scripture. This opened the door for the first time in my mind to look back at the scriptures and draw out of them what they were trying to say without my biased background affecting my thinking. Here is how I think through the passage today.
"Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." I Corinthians 13:8-12 ESV
The passage states that prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will pass away and are partial in nature. It then explains that when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. At this point, instead of finding and connecting meaning to a verse in the bible that also has the word perfect (which is what I used to do), I kept on reading the passage. Paul, instead of defining what is perfect, illustrates the concept with Childhood. Kids grow up when they stop thinking and acting like children and mature in their ways.
Paul explains the illustration in verse 12. He says the church sees in a mirror dimly (when they use the sign gifts of the Spirit), but at some future point will see face to face. The phrase “face to face” is key because that insinuates seeing God face to face which can only happen in the next life. So, the next life is that point of maturity that Paul is talking about when we will not need the gifts. This is backed up by the very next phrase that says, “now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” That phrase tells us that our bits of knowledge now (a sign gift of the Holy Spirit) will be as full as God knows us (God knows us pretty well). This is exciting because for eternity future we get to know God better and better! It is a promise and task that is well suited for eternity.
This shift theologically from what I once was has made me into a cautious continuationist today. That is the way it is with any doctrine of God, search the scriptures to see whether they are true. It is good to still make sure that the gifts are used in accordance with the way God wanted them to be used. But that leads to a post for another day…