A Case for Cessationism, Part 1

From Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal, Vol 3, No. 2, Fall 2013. Reproduced with permission.

The issue of whether revelation from God and the supernatural gifts of the Spirit have ceased is an issue of intense debate in the Christian world today. Perhaps the beginnings of the modern discussion can be traced to 1956 when Christian Life published the article “Is Evangelical Theology Changing?”1 Prior to that time the Pentecostal movement was seen as an evangelical “fringe” movement. The article listed one of the subjects that evangelicals were discussing as “A willingness to re-examine beliefs concerning the work of the Holy Spirit.”2 At that time the discussion was between the Evangelicals and the Pentecostals. The ensuing years have seen the rise of the Charismatic Movement and the Third Wave.

Today the Charismatics are a part of mainstream evangelicalism. And some Evangelicals who embrace otherwise traditional theological positions are also identifying themselves as Charismatics. Several of these influential leaders affirm that at least some of the sign gifts of the Spirit are at work in the churches today.

We find at least two groups of continuationists. There are those, whether Roman Catholic, cults, or some who simply promote an aberrant bibliology, who advocate some sort of continuing revelation that is authoritative today. There are others who hold that the canon of Scripture is closed, and yet they believe that the New Testament sign gifts still operate in ministry.

Claims for Continuing Revelation

Mormonism

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims that “the Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible.”3 Mormonism clearly asserts that the Book of Mormon is revelation that God added to His Word. This group’s “Articles of Faith” also affirms a commitment to continuing revelation. The seventh statement reads, “We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.”4

Seventh-day Adventism

The Seventh-day Adventists make a similar claim.

The church of the living God is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15, NIV). It is the depository and citadel of truth, protecting truth from the attacks of its enemies. Truth, however, is dynamic, not static. If members claim to have new light—a new doctrine or a new interpretation of the Scriptures—those of experience should test the new teaching by the standard of Scripture (see Isa. 8:20). If the new light meets this standard, then the church must accept it; if not, it should reject it.5

This statement subtly makes the Seventh-day Adventist Church the final authority in determining truth. This is how the Adventists justify Ellen G. White’s writings as authoritative. Lest anyone think we are reading too much into this, note that the Adventists affirm that the gift of prophecy is active in the church today. In the middle of the same section they claim, “The gift of prophecy was active in the ministry of Ellen G. White, one of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. She has given inspired instruction for God’s people living during the time of the end [emphasis mine].”6

The Adventists try to “have their cake and eat it too.” The chapter cited tries to set the Scriptures apart as unique, yet claims at the same time that Ellen G. White’s writings are prophetic and inspired.

Roman Catholicism

The Roman Catholic Church adds tradition and the authority of the church to the Bible.

The Second Vatican Council stated without equivocation that the Word of God is qualified by tradition and the teaching of the church. We must cite three lengthy passages, for we need to see Rome’s teaching clearly.

But in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, “handing over” to them “the authority to teach in their own place.” This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face (see 1 John 3:2) [emphasis mine].7

The Vatican II statement makes a clear distinction between tradition and Scripture. It continues,

Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end.… Consequently it is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence [emphasis mine].8

Vatican II leaves no question about the issue of her authority. Chapter II, “Handing on Divine Revelation,” concludes with this statement:

It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.9

Rome’s position is that the Scriptures, tradition, and the teaching authority of the Church combine to give God’s revelation to men and provide for man’s salvation. In this system both tradition and new pronouncements from the church occupy a place of authority with Scripture.

These various pronouncements are diametrically opposed to clear statements of Scripture. We will later look at the statement in Jude where the servant of the Lord said:

Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints (v. 3).

For now, it is sufficient to understand Jude’s statement is both an exhortation to earnestly contend for the faith, and also an affirmation that the faith is a completed revelation. It has been “once for all delivered to the saints.”

The Charismatics

Jack Deere represents the position of many, if not most, Charismatics today. His book, Surprised by the Voice of God, bears the subtitle “How God Speaks Today Through Prophecies, Dreams, and Visions.”10 Deere contends that God speaks to men today outside of His Word. He advances the theory that God uses special revelation today and that the revelatory gifts have not ceased.

We do not mean to belittle those with whom we disagree; but the Charismatic position is untenable, and Deere makes claims that leave the thinking reader incredulous. Let him tell his own story and make his own claim.

The other day I was running on a treadmill and listening through headphones to a portable CD player. I wish I could say it was Beethoven or Bach I was listening to. It wasn’t even contemporary Christian music; it was plain ol’ country western. A love song came on, and the voice of God came through the words of the ballad. How did I know it was God? Because a sharp, clean edge of conviction slit an opening in my heart. I had been insensitive and ungrateful to the woman I love. Leesa never said anything. Maybe she didn’t notice it, or maybe she chose to ignore it. I was certainly oblivious to it—until the song came on. When it did, the lyrics laid bare my sin in such a specific way that it not only shamed me but humbled me to repent.

Still not sure it was God speaking to me? Scripture says it was, for the Holy Spirit is the only Person powerful enough to break through the darkness of the human heart with a conviction of sin which leads to repentance (John 16:8). If you’re wondering of what particular sin I repented, keep wondering—I’m not telling. All I can tell you is this. The words may have been from Nashville, but the message was from Heaven. And it was a message for me. A message that moved me to bring my life in harmony not only with the Word of God … but also with my wife [emphasis mine].11

But Deere’s claim overlooks the truth that God’s revelation is sufficient for all the believer’s needs. Paul tells us that the inspired Word “is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Peter states that God’s power has “given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3) and that these “things” are in the “exceeding great and precious promises” of Scripture (2 Pet. 1:4). Deere’s statement is a tacit statement that Scripture is not sufficient and that God was forced to turn to a worldly Nashville singer to accomplish what the Word of God could not do. That is an illogical conclusion.

Beyond this, does not the Scripture tell us that it does a convicting or reproving work (2 Tim. 3:16) because it is a revelation from God? Therefore fresh revelation is not needed for each convicting work God does. It appears that at the very least Deere has confused conviction and revelation.

Peter Ruckman

Peter Ruckman is the leader of a cult-like movement that popularly claims inspiration for the King James Version of the Bible. He advocates “the A.V. 1611 as the final authority ‘in all matters of faith and practice.’”12 The purpose here is not to examine or dispute Ruckman’s approach to the debate over manuscripts and translations. Ruckman takes his position to an illogical conclusion in chapter 8 of his book, entitled “Correcting the Greek with the English.” After dealing with eleven passages in the New Testament that reflect textual variations in the manuscripts or problem translations (e.g., “robbers of churches” rather than “robbers of temples” in Acts 19:37),13 Ruckman comes to this astounding conclusion: “Moral: ‘Mistakes in the A.V. 1611 are advanced revelation!’” [emphasis Ruckman’s].14 The conclusion is obvious that in his zeal to defend a particular approach to the text of Scripture, and particularly a certain English version of the Bible, Ruckman has fallen into the trap of subjecting the Scriptures to his own supposedly “enlightened reason,” as B. B. Warfield would have called it.15 Thus he advocates an advanced revelation beyond what God spoke through the writers of the Scripture.

Notes

1 “Is Evangelical Theology Changing?” Christian Life (March 1956): 16-19.

2 Ibid., 17.

3 “lntroduction,” The Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981).

4 “The Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1988).

5 Seventh-day Adventists Believe … (Washington, DC: Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1988), 140–41.

6 Ibid., 224.

7 Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation DEI VERBUM Solemnly Promulgated by His Holiness, Pope Paul VI on November 18, 1965 (Rome: Vatican Web Site, http://www.vatican.va), chapter II, 7.

8 Ibid., chapter II, 9.

9 Ibid., chapter II, 10.

10 Jack Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God: How God Speaks Today Through Prophecies, Dreams, and Visions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 3.

11 Ibid., 128–29.

12 Peter S. Ruckman, The Christian’s Handbook of Manuscript Evidence (Pensacola, FL: Pensacola Bible Press, 1970), 7.

13 Ibid., 125–26.

14 Ibid., 126.

15 B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1948), 113.

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There are 3 Comments

G. N. Barkman's picture

Thanks for a helpful listing of many who espouse an extra-Biblical revelation position.

G. N. Barkman

Fred Moritz's picture

Thanks for the statements on the Ruckmans.  I knew the patriarch had died, and just hadn't updated the article.  I'll make sure to do that.

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