Now, About Those Differences, Part Eleven

NickOfTimeRead Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, and Part 10.

Weighing Cessationism

Among other things, fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals differ over the question of miraculous gifts. Nearly all fundamentalist leaders insist that miraculous gifts ended with the apostolic age. Several prominent conservative evangelicals have argued for the continuation of those gifts. Just as importantly, fundamentalists do not pursue public ministry or cooperation with continuationists. Many conservative evangelical leaders, however, are willing to downplay their differences over miraculous gifts in order to perpetuate certain forms of public cooperation.

Doctrines and practices differ in their importance. Therefore, errors differ in their gravity. In the debate between cessationists and continuationists, one party must be in error. The question is, How serious is the error?

To put it a different way, fellowship centers upon something that is shared or held in common. Continuationists and cessationists clearly do not hold certain things in common, which means that they do not have fellowship in those areas. Given that their fellowship has been limited objectively by those differences, how far-reaching are the implications for public cooperation?

Of course, I ask these questions from a cessationist perspective. The answers are complicated by the fact that continuationism is not all one thing. Commonly, the Pentecostal-charismatic movement is viewed in three waves, and the Third Wave is theologically distinguishable from the first two. The Third Wave also displays differences among its own theologians. And, of course, some mild continuationists cannot rightly be classified under any of the three waves. Cessationists think that all versions of continuationism are in error, but the errors are not equally serious.

Errors are to be judged in at least three ways. First, errors that come closer to the gospel tend to be more serious than errors that are remote from the gospel. Second, errors that change large sections of the system of faith are more serious than errors that affect only isolated areas. Third, errors that lead to division among believers (usually because of the actions that they imply) are more serious than errors over which believers can simply agree to disagree.

The older versions of charismatic theology must be classified as quite seriously in error. An example can be found in the theology of the Assemblies of God. According to the Assemblies website, the “Statement of Fundamental Truths” contains sixteen doctrines that are “non-negotiable tenets of faith.” One of them is that “Divine healing is an integral part of the gospel. Deliverance from sickness is provided for in the Atonement, and is the privilege of all believers” (section 12). By locating healing in the atonement and making it part of the gospel, the Assemblies of God automatically elevates the importance of this difference.

The Assemblies’ articulation of tongues-speaking is also bothersome. According to the “Statement of Fundamental Truths,” the “baptism in the Spirit and in fire” is an experience “distinct from and subsequent to the new birth.” All believers should “ardently expect and earnestly seek” this experience. The baptism in the Spirit is what leads to “enduement of power for life and service,” and further of “bestowal of the gifts and their uses in the work of ministry” (section 7). The initial, physical evidence of this baptism in the Spirit is speaking in tongues, which is “the same in essence” with the New Testament gift of tongues (section 8).

What areas of doctrine are affected by this articulation? Obviously, the ministry of the Holy Spirit tops the list. Along with that, however, is a distorted version of the Christian life, as well as a skewed understanding of enablement for ministry. Also, this statement denies spiritual gifts to all believers who have not spoken in tongues. More obliquely but just as veritably, it contains implications for eschatology: the “baptism in fire” that Assemblies members are supposed to “ardently expect and earnestly seek” is, in the context of its scriptural occurrences, an eschatological outpouring of divine wrath.

I think that cessationism is correct and the Assemblies statement is wrong. If it turns out to be the other way around, however, one thing will remain clear. The difference is not incidental. It is very important, indeed.

The theological basis for continuationism shifts in Third Wave theology, but the consequences can be even stranger. Granted, the Vineyard movement eventually repudiated the laughing, barking, and vomiting revivals. These were not much more bizarre, however, than the prophesying, spiritual mapping, and strategic level spiritual warfare in which some Third Wavers have become embroiled.

The weirdness is not difficult to find. Jack Hayford endorses C. Peter Wagner as an expert on spiritual mapping, and Wagner speculates that the emperor of Japan actually had intercourse with a female sex demon. Jack Deere tells of seeing a counselee’s sins written out in blinking letters, then of God driving the car while Deere received a vision on the interstate highway.1 Such tales are manifold in the Third Wave.

Of course, continuationists who are conservative evangelicals are more moderate. For example, Wayne Grudem argues that the gift of prophecy is in operation today, but he defines prophecy as a human report of a revelation, with revelation being understood simply as something that God brings to mind. That being so, prophecy operates at a lower level of authority than either Old Testament prophecy or New Testament Scripture. It can be evaluated, ignored, and even sometimes disobeyed.2

Another conservative evangelical continuationist is John Piper. While he agrees with Grudem’s understanding of prophecy, Piper insists that it is not the usual method for knowing God’s will. He expresses misgivings about the ministry of Third Wave leader John Wimber. He claims never to have personally spoken in tongues, though he certainly allows for it and even wishes that he could. Piper’s stance is obviously a very restrained continuationism.

Both Piper and Grudem are to be commended for their desire to exalt God, center upon the gospel, and discipline their faith and practice by the Word of God. They handle Scripture more carefully than is typical of many charismatics. I value these men for their contribution to the faith, and I would like to give them a pass on this issue if I could.

The problem is that the continuation of miraculous gifts is not simply an incidental difference. If nothing else, Grudem and Piper (joined by others) argue for definitions of prophecy and revelation that are seriously flawed. Oddly, cessationists and some mainstream charismatics agree on this point.3 If we are tempted to dismiss this difference as a quibble, then we need to ask ourselves how important concepts like revelation and prophecy are. Even a cursory reading of Scripture shows that these certainly are very important notions.

Furthermore, the arguments justifying miraculous gifts represent something of a slippery slope. Even the modest continuationism of conservative evangelicals is grounded in the notion that, if the Kingdom has been inaugurated (a point with which some cessationists would agree), then some element of Kingdom authority must be at work in the world today. The presence of the Kingdom is supposed to have implications in relation to physical misery and healing, in relation to death and resurrection, and in relation to demonic oppression and deliverance. All of this is Third Wave boilerplate.

The difference between cessationists and those continuationists who adopt this argument entails a difference over the timing and nature of the inauguration of the Kingdom. Having made the assumption that healings, exorcisms, and even resurrections are manifestations of Kingdom authority, however, Third Wave charismatics find it difficult to say just how far this putative Kingdom authority is supposed to extend. Conservative evangelical continuationists may prefer a more restrained assertion of Kingdom authority, but it is not surprising to find others who carry the same arguments much further.

The same can be said about the gift of prophecy. Once an allowance is made for the continuation of prophecy, how can anyone say whether any particular prophecy is actually from God, short of its explicitly contradicting Scripture? This is not merely a hypothetical question. In 2009, David Wilkerson prophesied that an earth-shattering calamity was about to engulf New York City, spilling over into New Jersey and Connecticut. In response, John Piper opined that Wilkerson’s prophecy “does not resonate with my spirit,” that it doesn’t “smell authentic,” and that elements of it seemed “too prudential.”4

These words exhibit the kind of dilemma in which some continuationists find themselves. On the one hand, they cringe from crediting this kind of prophecy. On the other hand, they cannot simply dismiss it. The result is that their criteria for judging prophecies give every appearance of being made up for the occasion.

Of course, a short essay like this can give neither a full exposition nor a full refutation of the arguments. That is not the point. The point is that the difference between cessationism and continuationism (even the more restrained continuationism of the conservative evangelicals) is a significant difference. It involves more than an argument over whether anyone should ever speak in tongues. The difference involves disagreements about the nature of revelation and prophecy, about the nature of Kingdom authority during the present age, and about the ability to distinguish legitimate exercises of prophecy or Kingdom authority. These disputes may not matter as much as a disagreement over the virgin birth. They may not even matter as much as the question of whether healing is in the atonement. They are nonetheless important.

If this difference is important, at what levels should it limit fellowship or cooperation between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals? That question depends upon a number of considerations. We shall address some of them in the next essay.

Notes

1 Jack Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 14-16, 143-144.

2 Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, revised edition (Wheaton, Crossway, 2000). See also Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock, 1999).

3 David H. Oldham, “A Biblical Model for New Testament Prophecy in the Local Church,” (D.Min. Diss.: Fuller Theological Seminary, 2000). Oldham is a Third Wave charismatic who writes specifically to refute Grudem’s bifurcation between two different levels of prophetic authority.

4 Piper also expressed concern that Wilkerson’s prophecy handled certain Scriptures in a non-contextual fashion. If, however, Wilkerson’s prophecy actually was from God, then his use of Scripture would fall into the same category as those Scriptures over which exegetes puzzle when they ponder the New Testament’s use of the Old.

Brethren, Let Us Join To Bless
John Cennick (1718-1755)

Brethren, let us join to bless
Christ, the Lord our righteousness;
let our praise to him be given,
high at God’s right hand in heaven.

Son of God, to thee we bow;
thou art Lord, and only thou;
thou the blessèd Virgin’s seed,
glory of thy Church, and head.

Thee the angels ceaseless sing;
thee we praise, our Priest and King;
worthy is thy name of praise,
full of glory, full of grace.

Thou hast the glad tidings brought
of salvation by thee wrought;
wrought to set thy people free,
wrought to bring our souls to thee.

May we follow and adore
thee, our Savior, more and more:
guide and bless us with thy love,
till we join thy saints above.


Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

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There are 8 Comments

Don Johnson's picture

I don't know how Piper argues for a redefined 'prophecy', but if he agrees with Grudem, he agrees with abominable argumentation. Grudem says that Agabus erred, even though Luke says that Agabus and the others warning Paul of bonds in Jerusalem were speaking 'by the Holy Spirit'. If Grudem is right, then Luke is wrong, and there goes inerrancy.

On another point, "baptism with fire", I think Bauder is wrong here. The phrase occurs only two times I can see, in Matthew's and Luke's record of John the Baptist's preaching (Mt 3.11; Lk 3.16). The nouns are all anarthrous, they all seem to be governed by the same preposition (en) and they are connected by a kai, not an h. It is "He will baptize you in Holy Spirit and fire", seemingly applying both baptisms to the same people. It isn't "Holy Spirit OR fire" but "AND". So I think the fire here is the fire of Pentecost, not the fires of wrath.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Brian Ernsberger's picture

Dr. Bauder posits an interesting paragraph here,

"Errors are to be judged in at least three ways. First, errors that come closer to the gospel tend to be more serious than errors that are remote from the gospel. Second, errors that change large sections of the system of faith are more serious than errors that affect only isolated areas. Third, errors that lead to division among believers (usually because of the actions that they imply) are more serious than errors over which believers can simply agree to disagree."

Does it really matter the degree of error? An error is an error, and "errors over which believers can simply agree to disagree." Just what is that supposed to mean?

I'll take Romans 12:9b "Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good." Yes, it is a lifelong endeavor but one which is filled with fruitfulness in our walk with God.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Brian, what do you make of Revelation 20:12?

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Shaynus's picture

Dr. Bauder,

What do you think of those who hold to a modified cessationism where they would say, in general the "miraculous" gifts are not for today, but that doesn't mean God couldn't work that way in certain contexts infrequently, especially in missionary contexts. Are these non-cessations in the same category? I remember Dr. Minnick preaching one time in a message called "Theological Accountability" on a discussion of biblical theology where he could not say to his people "Gifts have ceased this I know for the Bible tells me so." It sounds like to me that he was putting this particular position in a different category than many positions. This one requires an amount of interpretation to the point where I would both believe in my cessation position, yet not want to limit God.

Shayne

Brian Ernsberger's picture

Chip,
Where are you trying to go with Rev. 20:12? Are you stating the case for degrees of punishment in the lake of fire? I find it hard to equate that with Bauder's paragraph. Even the most "minor' of sins committed places one in the lake of fire to suffer eternal torment. Somehow I don't think anyone there is going to be rejoicing that their torment is less than, say, Adolf Hitler, because their sins were less grievous than his.

Again, an error is an error, regardless of its perceived degree. Has someone who murders another person broken the ten commandments worse than someone who shoplifted some penny candy? Don't think so, they both stand just as guilty before God for breaking His law. Will one suffer more punishment for his crime than the other? Sure, but that is not the point.

Bauder would seem to be trying to make the case that somehow some "errors" are more acceptable than others. As an example (my example not Bauder's), Mormonism and Arianism. By his standard we would assess Mormonism to be the more erroneous since it is farther from the truth than Arianism is. They both are in error, end of sentence. I don't buy his line of reasoning.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
Does it really matter the degree of error? An error is an error, and "errors over which believers can simply agree to disagree." Just what is that supposed to mean?
Hey Brian,

Let me take a stab here.

Consider two sets of issues:(1) Salvation by grace vs. salvation by works; (2) Calvinism vs. Arminianism (not Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism). The first is an error of gospel magnitude. It denies the gospel itself. The second is an error about which true and faithful believers have historically agreed to disagree because it does not deny the gospel itself. The first necessitates separation. The second does not necessarily require separation, though it may limit participation to some degree.

Or take another issue: Millennialism. True and faithful believers take all three major positions (pre, post, and a). We agree to disagree about that, and still find much to fellowship over because it is not a gospel issue. Being an amillennialist is not the same as denying the literal return of Christ. While being an amillennialist is in error, I believe, it is clear that denying the physical return of Christ is an error of far greater magnitude and seriousness. Add in the notion of a present form of the kingdom vs. a completely future kingdom and you have another twist of even less magnitude. But it's not both present and entirely future. It is one or the other, and one is in error.

Or take one last issue: Baptism. It is either immersion only or multiple modes. It is either believers or anyone. In the Bible, it isn't both. There's no kind of middle ground here, so far as I can see. But it is not a gospel issue (provided we are not talking about baptismal regeneration). So true believers disagree about it, and we grant some latitude for fellowship and participation. If someone sprinkles infants as a sign of the covenant, I think they are dead wrong. But I don't think they have denied the gospel over it. They still believe that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Quote:
Again, an error is an error, regardless of its perceived degree.
Correct, but not all errors are of the same seriousness, are they?.

Quote:
Has someone who murders another person broken the ten commandments worse than someone who shoplifted some penny candy? Don't think so, they both stand just as guilty before God for breaking His law. Will one suffer more punishment for his crime than the other? Sure, but that is not the point.
Actually, I think that is the point, at least to some degree. Not all errors necessitate the same response. The OT Law makes this clear.

Furthermore, here you have two things that are clearly wrong. Most of the things that believers have historically "agreed to disagree about," are things about which God's revelation is not entirely clear. Amills make some good arguments; premills make some good arguments (postmills, not so much, IMO). In the end, we have to weigh them and the side we come down on will depend on a number of factors, none of which involve denying the gospel.

The fact is that either amills, postmills, or premills are correct. It is one of the three. Either Calvinists or Arminians (or pick some third way) are correct. But God's revelation is not as clear on these issues as it is on something like salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, or the physical return of Christ. So our degree of confidence and our degree of exposure/marking/separating needs to take into account not just our disagreement with someone, but the clarity to which God's word speaks to the issue.

Historically, believers have never disagreed about salvation by faith alone because of the clarity with which the Bible speaks. But all through history there have been disagreements about other issues because of a lack of clarity in revelation and a lack of clarity in our thinking.

Quote:
Bauder would seem to be trying to make the case that somehow some "errors" are more acceptable than others.
Isn't he making the case that not all truth is equally clear in Scripture? Some truth is more clear than other truth, and we should recognize that in our fellowship and separation. I also think he might be saying not that some errors are more acceptable, but that some errors do not require the same censure. Granted, that's perhaps just a different way to spin it, and I don't want to speak for Bauder, but that's the way I would put it. I would not treat a Amillennialist the same as I would an Arian. They are both in error, and both are unacceptable, but both are not the same kind of error.

Quote:
As an example (my example not Bauder's), Mormonism and Arianism. By his standard we would assess Mormonism to be the more erroneous since it is farther from the truth than Arianism is. They both are in error, end of sentence. I don't buy his line of reasoning.
Both of these go to the heart of the gospel, and both are serious error. Once you have denied the deity of Christ (as both do), whatever else you tag on the end is really irrelevant.

Quote:
I'll take Romans 12:9b "Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good." Yes, it is a lifelong endeavor but one which is filled with fruitfulness in our walk with God.
I think we would all take this, would we not? I don't sense that Bauder would disagree with you on this (which is, incidentally, why I think this type of statement may be not the most helpful way to think about it ... Trying to paint the issue as if you agree with Romans 12:9b and that is the difference between you and Bauder is probably not entirely accurate).

I think the binary type thinking in regards to truth and error is certainly right, but we need to be cautious because while we all desire to hold to the truth, the noetic affects of sin still hinder us making our thinking and processing not as clear as it might be otherwise. In addition, some people are just smarter than others and our drawing of the line might be wrong because we are not thinking correctly and because we do not have the mental/intellectual tools for it. So I am as black and white as anyone. I am willing to say that I think amillennialism is sin, and infant baptism is sin, and arminianism is sin. But I realize that I may be the one with deficient thinking, so I want to hold those with some humility and grace towards those who disagree.

To bring this directly to the issue of cessationism, I am a cessationist. Wayne Grudem is not; Benny Hinn is not. I disagree with both. But isn't it indisputable that Hinn's error is of a far greater magnitude than Grudem's? I think it is. I can't even imagine an argument that Grudem is somehow equal to Hinn, though I think both are wrong.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Brian Ernsberger wrote:
Chip,
Where are you trying to go with Rev. 20:12?

Yes Brian, that's where I was headed.

Brian Ernsberger wrote:
Bauder would seem to be trying to make the case that somehow some "errors" are more acceptable than others.

I would suggest perhaps that some errors are not more acceptable but are less egregious. I admit I struggle with this. However, the early fundamentalists were able to unite against modernism despite at least one of them being wrong about baptism - in essence, practicing ongoing disobedience to Scripture. I think these are the kinds of issues KB is referencing. As Larry said, not all errors necessitate the same response.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Brian wrote:
Does it really matter the degree of error?

Two preachers read the account of how Jacob came to have Rachel for his wife. One declares that he did not get to have Rachel until after working the full 14 years. The other declares that he received Rachel as a wife right away but then had to work 14 years more to "pay" for her.
One of them is in error.

Does anyone really believe this error has the same "degree" as, say, the error of the Watchtower Society in denying that Jesus is fully and truly God or that the difference in degree is unimportant?

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

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