Continuationism

Reflections on Strange Fire and the Problem of Continuationism

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John MacArthur proved once again why his ministry has endured and has the kind of influence that few men ever attain. Last week the folks at Grace held the Strange Fire conference. Unfortunately I was not able to attend and I heard only bits and pieces of the live stream. I hope to listen to the entire conference as I travel to Romania this week for a graduation next Sunday. Some may think that posting a piece on the conference without having heard much of it is premature. But let me say thank you to John and the men and women who endured the opprobrium of the Charismatics to bring some needed criticism to a movement that has created no small amount of international controversy. Most American Christians are only familiar with the Charismatic movement’s American permutations. As pernicious as some of these are, the international manifestations are far worse. For this reason, the conference was a necessary warning. Let me explain.

In recent years, I have made 18 trips abroad to countries as diverse as Zambia, India, Romania, Russia and the Ukraine. Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement have reached all of these places, with some very devastating effects. It should be noted that from a historical standpoint, nearly all world Charismaticism is rooted in early American Pentecostal sources that have been exported around the world. Modern international developments may be indigenous, but most of the early ideas came from early 20th century American Christianity. Read more about Reflections on Strange Fire and the Problem of Continuationism

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Signs? Prophets? Miracles?

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Reprinted with permission from Baptist Bulletin Sep/Oct 2013. All rights reserved.

Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics meets

CLARKS SUMMIT, Pa.—“Traditional dispensationalists do not have a place where we can go to talk to each other,” says Mike Stallard as he welcomes the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, meeting on the campus of Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, Pa.

Stallard, the seminary dean, is explaining why the council was formed in 2008, and why the steering committee has planned two days of talk. Lots of talk.

Thirty theologians sit at the front of the room at long tables, members of the council. Most of them have their laptops open, looking at papers while the author reads them to the group. The wonky presentation style is familiar to anyone who has attended an academic conference, except the schedule leaves plenty of time for questions. Stallard describes it as “more of a discussion group than a presenter group.” Read more about Signs? Prophets? Miracles?

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Miraculous Gifts: If They Ceased, Why?

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So far in this study of cessationism (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), we have considered the what question and the when question. Per the what question, cessationists conclude that what took place in the New Testament (with regard to the miraculous gifts) is not happening in the church today—even if charismatics are using biblical terminology to refer to non-biblical practices.

Per the when question, cessationists conclude (on the basis of passages like Ephesians 2:20) that the miraculous and revelatory gifts were intended only for the foundational (apostolic) age of the church. Thus, they should not be expected to continue after the time of the apostles.

But this raises the why question: Why were these gifts given, such that they are no longer necessary after the foundation age ended?

At least three purposes are designated in Scripture.

Purpose 1: a sign.

The miraculous gifts were given as a sign by which God authenticated His messengers during a time of transition from Israel to the church. That purpose was no longer necessary once the transition was complete and the church was firmly established.

A primary purpose of the miracles and healings that Jesus performed was as a sign to authenticate his claims (cf. John 2:11, 23; 3:2; 4:54; 6:2, 14; 7:31; 10:37–38; 12:37; 20:30). As Peter told the Jews at Pentecost: “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22).

The disciples were given power by Christ to perform similar signs (cf. Matt. 10:1, 7; Mark 6:12–13; 16:20). The record of Acts depicts the apostles performing miracles and healings as signs that authenticated their message (cf. Acts 2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 8:6, 13; 14:3; 15:12).

Extraordinary experiences were shared by ordinary, Gentile converts (like Cornelius in Acts 10). This was also a sign that God was working through the church. Thus, Paul can tell the Corinthians that their ability to speak in tongues was a sign to the unbelieving world (1 Cor. 14:22). He then quotes from Isaiah 28:11, indicating that it was specifically a sign of God’s judgment against unbelieving Israel. Read more about Miraculous Gifts: If They Ceased, Why?

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A Case for Cessationism

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With all of this as a backdrop (see part 1 in this series), the question is reduced to this: Is God giving authoritative revelation on par with that which He has given in the past, much of which has been inscripturated, or is He not? If He is, then the church of Christ needs to take note and come into compliance with the modern prophecy movement, following its revelations as it would Scripture. But if the Lord is not revealing His inspired word today, then we need to reject the claims of the modern prophets and expose these supposed revelations for what they are. This means the position taken by most on prophecy—cautious but open—is untenable. The cautious but open crowd is skeptical of the claims coming from the prophetic movement and they are suspicious of the many “words from God” that so many evangelicals are claiming. Still they hesitate to embrace cessationism. They are concerned about limiting God or, as it was mentioned above, “putting God in a box.” To this let me make two replies:

  • It is okay to put God in a box if God, in fact, is the One who put Himself in that box. In other words, God can do anything He wants to do, but we expect God to do what He says He will do. If God has put Himself in the cessationist box we can embrace and proclaim it.
  • Taking the open but cautious view really does not hold up. Either God is speaking today apart from His Word or He is not. If He is speaking, how do we determine which of the multitude of messages people claim are from Him and which are bogus? If, with Grudem, we have eliminated the tests of Deuteronomy 13 and 18, how are we to evaluate all these revelations? How do we know to whom we should listen and whom we should ignore?
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Cessationism, Revelation & Prophecy

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From Voice, Nov/Dec 2012. Used by permission.

Despite the fact that the majority of conservative evangelical Christians since the Reformation have held to a cessationist position with regard to divine revelation, true cessationists are rapidly disappearing. In the articles and books I have written nothing has evoked as much criticism and anger as my position that God is speaking to His people today exclusively through Scripture. Due to the influence of a multitude of popular authors, theologians and conference speakers, cessationism is barely treading water, even within the most biblically solid churches and organizations.

As a matter of fact, among those who claim to be evangelicals there are five identifiable views prevalent today on the matter of revelation:

Pentecostal/Charismatic/Thirdwave

All miraculous gifts exist today, including the gift of prophecy. God speaks through prophets and to His people both audibly (through dreams, visions, words of knowledge), and inwardly (inaudibly in the mind or heart). Representatives of this position are Jack Deere, John Wimber, the Kansas City Prophets, the Assemblies of God and the Word of Faith movement. Charismatic author Tommy Tenney, in his popular book The God Chasers, writes,

God chasers…are not interested in camping out on some dusty truth known to everyone. They are after the fresh presence of the Almighty… A true God chaser is not happy with just past truth; he must have present truth. God chasers don’t want to just study the moldy pages of what God has done; they are anxious to see what God is doing.1

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The Wonderful Gift of Tongues

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Where do you stand on the gift of tongues? Many committed Christians believe one of two views, cessationism or continuationism. Others aren’t exactly sure what to believe about this oft-debated gift. Is there a way to bring the two views together while at the same time explaining New Testament tongues simply and convincingly? I believe there is, and to get there all we need is take a fresh look at the gift as described in 1 Corinthians 14.

Cessationism

What do cessationists believe? Cessationists are convinced the gift of tongues is no longer available to believers today. To support their case they often assert that tongues were for the most part unhelpful if not downright dangerous in the First Century Church. To support their case, cessationists typically disparage the gift and even claim that Paul’s expresses his own discomfort and frustration with it in 1 Corinthians 14.1 Such denunciations only drive a further wedge between them and the other camp in the body of Christ, continuationists. Continuationists are impressed with the gift of tongues described in 1 Corinthians 14 and defend it as an important gift that God is still giving to Christians today. For many continuationists the negative claims of the cessationist camp are seriously out of touch with both the Scripture and the Spirit as He expresses Himself among the majority of believers and churches today.

Where do I stand? You’ll have to read to the end to find that out, but I hope to show you that neither camp takes tongues seriously enough. Cessationists are wrong because they all too often disparage the tongues they read about in Scripture. Fact is the gift is so prominent that Paul mentions its activity more than any other spiritual gift in 1 Corinthians. Average every-day Christians just like you and me spoke God’s word in languages unknown to them. It was a miracle every time it happened, and it happened a lot. That’s why cessationists need to rethink their entire approach to their position.

On the other hand, if you are a continuationist and are grateful for the tongues in use today, I’d like you to read this article because, well, you too have a problem. Your continuationist brethren who write and speak favorably about tongues today are claiming far too little about it. As I’ll explain, people in your camp are disparaging tongues and discounting its spectacular powers from those Paul ascribed to it in 1 Corinthians 14. Read more about The Wonderful Gift of Tongues

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