Expansionism: A Gospel Manifesto

Cessationism is a counter-Christian religion. It is the anti-gospel. It must be condemned with extreme force without mercy. However, it is aggravating that the debate has been set up between cessationism and continuationism, because this arrangement diverts attention away from the actual biblical doctrine about this topic of spiritual gifts and powers. The need to even entertain the discussion shows that the church is so far behind the biblical standard that we are wholly missing the thrust of the gospel, with no intention to catch up.

Continuationism as such is not the Bible’s concern. Indeed, the Bible teaches that the spiritual gifts would continue until the coming of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:7). It also specifies the exact conditions for the cessation of these gifts. It indicates that by then, we will have received the maximum effects that the gifts could bring, including knowledge, healing, and so on — not potentially, but actually in our experience — such that there will be no more room for them to function (1 Corinthians 13:8-12). This is the only reason for any gift to cease. Healing is meaningless when we are invincible and indestructible, and there is no sickness. Prophecy has no purpose when we know fully, even as we are fully known. In fact, a special mode of revelation would be a setback when we can tap Jesus on the shoulder and ask him what we want to know “face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Tongues would be impossible when we comprehend all languages. The fact that the cessationism debate exists is proof that we have not reached that stage, or else everyone would know that the gifts have ceased. Thus God’s gifts and powers continue in us. Nevertheless, Scripture only assumes this continuationism or mentions it in passing when it discusses other things. It does not receive its own place or emphasis.

Expansionism is the Bible’s explicit doctrine on the subject of spiritual gifts, powers, and miracles. This is the only biblical perspective. I am unaware of any official recognition of the doctrine, so I have selected the term for it. The word is sometimes used in a political sense, but I mean it in a spiritual sense. It is applied to every aspect of the advance of the gospel, but in this context we will focus on the supernatural powers and miracles that God works in association with his people. This is the biblical doctrine that supernatural powers and miracles are to increase in God’s people beyond what Jesus Christ himself exercised. They are to multiply exponentially in quantity and frequency, in intensity and magnitude, in the diversity of representation, and in the scope of jurisdiction. There should be an accumulated momentum, so that compared to Jesus and the apostles, and compared to each previous generation, the church should demonstrate more miracles, greater miracles, miracles performed by more kinds of people, and miracles performed in more areas of the world.


The Prophets

The biblical basis for expansionism is so pervasive in revelation and so integral to the gospel that we must be selective in our discussion. I could start with Abraham, but then I would have to explain how God promised to bless all nations through him (Genesis 12:3), how this promise culminates in the Spirit (Galatians 3:14), and how the Spirit entails miraculous powers and experiences (Acts 2:17-18, Galatians 3:5), so that the doctrine of expansionism had been established since the beginning. This should be sufficient to turn any Christian into an expansionist, but the argument from Abraham might be too intricate for the obstinate, for if they have a sufficient grasp of the gospel in the first place, they would not be cessationists or mere continuationists.

Moses offers us something more direct. When some men received the Spirit and prophesied for a while, seemingly in a context that Joshua disapproved, he told Moses to stop them. But Moses said, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29). Are religionists worried that we would rob Jesus of his honor? When the disciples urged Jesus to stop someone who performed miracles without his authorization, the Lord replied, “Do not stop him. No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:39-40, also Luke 9:49-50). Like Moses, Jesus wanted an expansion of the ministry of miracles, not a restriction. Their wish would be fulfilled soon enough.

The prophets continued to preach a doctrine of expansionism. They predicted an increase of power and an increase of scope. Of course, they were not always focused on miracles, but stressed the progress of the gospel. We maintain that the miraculous is integral to the gospel, so that it is not an optional or temporary part of it, but that it is the gospel — along with every other thing that is the gospel. Still, the prophets declared the doctrine of expansionism specifically for the miraculous. As Joel said, “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29).


The Messiah

Jesus was even more explicit about it. He literally, physically, cursed a tree to death, and then he announced, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done” (Matthew 21:21). In other words, if you have faith, then you can perform a similar miracle, and you can perform a greater miracle. But you are so bothered about whether the thing even continues! And you claim that you are Christians. How many times did he say something like this to his disciples? It is recorded again in Mark 11:23. In another place, he cast out an evil spirit, and then said, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). If you have faith, a similar miracle is possible, like removing a demon. If you have faith, a greater miracle is possible, like removing a mountain. If you have faith, “nothing will be impossible for you.”

Jesus would perform a miracle, and then he would say that the one who has faith can perform the same miracle, and even a greater miracle — a greater miracle than the one he did. It was as if he wanted to erase every doubt and condemn every excuse. He emphasized this doctrine again and again, and he formulated it in explicit terms. He referred to his miracles (John 14:11), and then he said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (14:12). This leaves no room for cessationism, but it is much more than continuationism. It is expansionism.

The Bible contains statements that promise us the ability to perform specific kinds of miracles by faith. For example, James 5:15 is a promise for miracles of healing. In fact, it is a command to perform miracles of healing as much as it is a promise. However, even before we learn about these promises, or even without them, John 14:12 guarantees the continuation and expansion of the miracles that Jesus performed. Even without Matthew 17:20, Matthew 21:21, Mark 11:23, and every other passage like these, the one who has faith possesses an irrefutable and permanent basis to perform the same kinds of miracles, such as to command a sickness to leave someone, or to command the restoration of a damaged or missing organ. John 14:12 encompasses all the miracles of Christ, so that miracles of prophecy, miracles of nature, and all other miracles, are also included and promised to those who have faith. That said, we indeed have Matthew 17:20, Matthew 21:21, Mark 11:23, and many other passages that dictate the doctrine of expansionism. It is inescapable.

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). This expansionist manifesto is often repeated by self-righteous religionists, but the mandate is to teach the nations the doctrines of Christ, not the traditions of men. Therefore, to preach the gospel must involve telling people about the miracles of Jesus, and that if they have faith, they can perform similar miracles and even greater miracles. This is the doctrine of expansionism. This in turn means that those who do not teach expansionism disobeys the Great Commission. They either do not preach the gospel, or they preach a different gospel. Although our focus is on miracles, this doctrine embraces everything Jesus did, and not only his miracles. Christians must do the same, and then do even more. Thus they must preach the gospel to all the nations, beyond the territory that Jesus covered. This makes the doctrine of expansionism even more significant and necessary. This makes it even more inexcusable to overlook it, to reject it, or to be selective about it.


The Disciples

Before Christ ascended to the throne of God, he declared that the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples, and they would receive the same power that he exercised in his ministry (Acts 1:8). Keep in mind that he had already promised that anyone could perform the same and even greater miracles by faith, and the disciples had already been performing miracles by faith, healing the sick and casting out demons in his name. Jesus did not want this to merely continue. He wanted more, much more. This would add still another dimension of spiritual power to their lives — faith upon faith, power upon power. Jesus was not satisfied until his followers had attained an excessive and ridiculous level of charismatic endowments. He refused to accept a mere continuation of his ministry, but he demanded an expansion, an escalation. He wanted the power they demonstrate to be outright absurd. He told them not to leave the city until the Spirit arrived. Then they were to expand, and carry this power “to the ends of the earth.”

When we come to the events after the ascension of Christ, we need to move quickly, because too many things happened for us to consider them in detail. The disciples were no longer just talking about it, but they were doing it. Expansion in every aspect was happening — the quantity of the miracles, the quality of the miracles, the diversity of believers, and the immensity of territories. There was an explosion of supernatural power, and miracles splattered all over the place.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit arrived in a spectacular fashion upon the group of believers. Only ten percent of them were apostles (Acts 1:15), but all of them were directly infused with the same power to receive revelations and to perform miracles that infused Jesus Christ (Luke 4:14, 24:49, Acts 1:8, 2:4). Since the first day, the overwhelming majority of those who had prophetic gifts and miraculous powers were not apostles. Peter explained that it was exactly what was supposed to happen. He referred to the prophet Joel: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18). The anointing of the Spirit had spread beyond a few kings and prophets, to Christ and his disciples, and now it would expand in power and scope to all kinds of people, penetrate all levels of society, invade all areas of the world, for all times in the future.

As long as a person has faith in Jesus Christ, then that person can receive the Spirit, and thus the power to receive and perform the miraculous (Acts 2:38-39). The dream of Moses, the oracle of Joel, and the charter of Christ were now being fulfilled. Almost all of those who received power to work miracles were not apostles, even though the Book of Acts highlights the ministry of the apostles. Nevertheless, the Bible leaves us with sufficient testimony concerning the feats of faith and power by this majority group of miracle workers. There is an extensive account of Stephen, a man who was called upon to “wait on tables” (Acts 6:2). He performed “great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). When unbelievers challenged him, “they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke” (Acts 6:10). So they made false charges against him and brought him to trial. As the members of the Sanhedrin looked at Stephen, “they saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). Was this an apostle, or perhaps two or three apostles combined? Or was this Christ himself? No. He was someone who waited on tables, filled with faith and the Holy Spirit.

He was not an apostle, but God chose him to confront the religious elite. Saul, who would later become Paul the apostle, was also in the audience (Acts 8:1). Can we say that Stephen left no impression on this hardened Pharisee? Can we say that the legendary preacher owed nothing in his travels and writings to this one who waited on tables? It is inconceivable that Paul never remembered Stephen or never attempted to honor the martyr’s memory as he pursued excellence in his ministry and endured severe persecution. There is no need for speculation. Let us talk about what we know. We know that the apostles experienced trances and dreams, and sometimes even visitations. Angels visited them in prison and set them free. The Lord Jesus even appeared to them. Impressive. Yet here we see that Stephen, this man who waited on tables, who was never an apostle, received such prophetic powers from the Spirit that he penetrated the heavens of heavens, even to the throne of God, so that without a trance or a dream, wide awake in his body and standing in public before the religious elite, he looked up and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56). More than impressive. Then as they stoned him to death, Stephen prayed for them (7:59-60). He was not an apostle, but a first-class hero of faith.

Stephen was killed, and persecution broke out against the church. The Bible says, “All except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria….Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:1, 4). At this turning point, the gospel expanded beyond Jerusalem by Christians who were not apostles. They preached the gospel, and they performed miracles. For example, Philip also waited on tables (Acts 6:5), and he went to Samaria when the disciples scattered. And the Bible says, “When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:6-8). Then an angel told Philip where to go, and the Spirit told him who to meet (Acts 8:26-29). After preaching to an Ethiopian official, the Spirit of God physically took him away and transported him to another location (Acts 8:39-40). We have no record that any apostle experienced something like this. The supernatural works of the Spirit expanded through him to the next generation, for he had four daughters who prophesied — not one, but four; not sons, but daughters; not proselytized, but prophesied (Acts 21:9).

When Jesus eventually apprehended Paul, he did not send the Christian elite to initiate him, but he sent Ananias. The Bible simply calls him “a disciple” (Acts 9:10). He was an excellent disciple, but still not called an apostle or prophet, or someone with a commanding religious title (Acts 22:12). The Lord spoke to him in a vision, and revealed the street and even the house he must visit, and what he must say once he arrived (Acts 9:11). Ananias wondered about this, knowing what kind of person he was sent to address, so the Lord offered an explanation (Acts 9:13-14). As a mere disciple, he carried a prophetic conversation with the Lord about the most defining apostolic ministry in history. By the hands of this disciple, Paul received his sight again and was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17).

Later, Paul the apostle would write, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good….What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation” (1 Corinthians 12:7, 14:26). To the Corinthians, he said, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:5). People are so eager to undermine tongues that they fail to notice what he really said. To these Christians who supposedly misused speaking in tongues, he still insisted, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues.” He did not only say, “I want you to keep allowing it.” No, he said, “I want ALL of you to speak in tongues.” Keeping in mind that he wanted all of them to speak in tongues, he added that he wanted even more for them to prophesy. He meant that they ought to prefer prophecy only “in the church” or public assembly (1 Corinthians 14:19), and when there was no interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:5). Then he said that they could allow even up to three messages in tongues if someone could interpret (1 Corinthians 14:27), or two or three people could prophesy, “for you can all prophesy one by one” (14:31, ESV)! The supernatural was expected, and participation was encouraged. The apostle refused to permit the expansion of miraculous operations to retreat one step, even in the face of misuse and disorder. He dictated guidelines for them to regulate their meetings and urged them to go right ahead and continue with the gifts. He insisted on increase and expansion.


The Apostates

The debate between cessationism and continuationism is like the debate between atheism and theism. It is not entirely useless, but even when the theist wins, there is only slight progress. Christians cannot be satisfied until the opponent submits to the whole faith of Jesus Christ. The Christian should feel misrepresented if others were to consider him a mere theist. This is how I feel when I am labeled a continuationist, even when there is no malicious intent. I would endure it to keep the interaction simple, but it is in reality so much weaker than what I believe that I take it as slander. It provokes self-examination, and then a familiar realization: “Am I still too restrained in my exposition of the supernatural, or are these people complete morons?” Just because you do not believe the Scripture does not mean that I cannot. I am an expansionist. Mine is a doctrine of the expansionism of the gospel, in every sense specified by Scripture, including the increase of miraculous powers, blessings, and experiences in quantity, in magnitude, in the diversity of believers, to the ends of the earth. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ. You can keep fighting it and damn yourselves to hell, but I will not surrender an inch of this.

Christians have retreated from the doctrine of the gospel. Cessationism is heresy. It is demonism and heathenism, and a declaration of war against the gospel. Continuationism as such is still not the biblical doctrine. It is flaccid. It lacks the spiritual ambition that is inherent in the faith of Jesus Christ. It overlooks the promise and command of the gospel. Expansionism is the only biblical doctrine, and it is the only acceptable view. This elementary revelation is somehow a revolutionary religion even to Christians. You do not need ordination from men to preach the gospel. You do not need training in seminary to heal the sick. You do not need to be male, or young, or popular to receive visions and dreams. You do not need to be wealthy or educated to prophesy. Teaching is good — the more the better — not from the traditions of men, but from the word of God. He can use faithful men to build you up in knowledge and character, but do not follow just anyone, because not everyone has faith. For what good is it, when you receive men’s training and approval, they make you twice a son of hell as they are? Have faith in God. Believe the gospel. Then you will receive his Spirit, and you will do these things. Jesus himself will perform the same miracles and even greater miracles through you (John 14:13-14), because if you have faith, he will be your partner in the gospel ministry (2 Corinthians 6:1).

Expansionism should be declared in Christian creeds and prescribed as a test of orthodoxy. Certain aspects of the Christian faith might be as much “gospel” as this doctrine, but none more. As for the debate between cessationism and continuationism, it will persist as long as there are those who resist the gospel, and who love their own theories and excuses. Just as we engage unbelievers with the gospel, although we will not allow them to hold us back from advancing in the faith, we condemn cessationists by the gospel, but we will not allow them to hold us back from moving forward from faith to faith, from glory to glory. At one point, Jesus said to his disciples, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” (John 16:12). Even though some people ought to be teachers by now, they still cannot bear what we have to say (Hebrews 5:11-12). Even elementary gospel doctrines are too much for them. There is no reason to accommodate them or to remain with them in a prolonged struggle, when we perceive that there is so much more for us to attain. We must not legitimize a perversion of the gospel by accepting the way this topic has been framed. We make no progress by winning the debate that the power of the gospel merely continues. We ought to feel like chumps for every minute that we are stranded at this level in our conversation. Even continuationism as such is a compromise until we move beyond it to strive for increase and expansion.