Continuationism

"Phonity. noun: superficial unity for which fundamental differences are ignored."

“As long as Reformed—which I assume to be cessationist*—and Charismatic Christians continue to pretend the differences between them are minor and sweep them under the couch, their unity is fake, false, phony, fraudulent, and fraught with failure.” Phonity

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Miraculous Gifts: If They Ceased, Why?

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.

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A Case for Cessationism

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

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

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.

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Are Tongues for Today? Part 4

Originally published as a single article: “Tongues—Are They for Today?,” DBSJ 14 (2009). Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

The argument from the biblical function of the tongues as edifying the church

The following is not so much an argument against tongues per se, but a collection of snipes at the practice of tongues in the broad church today. In short, they argue collectively that if speaking in tongues continues in the church today (which I grant only for sake of argument), most of what passes for glossolalia today does not fit the biblical criteria for tongues as set down in 1 Corinthians 12–14. Specifically, the following four expressions of “tongues” in the church today fail because they do not fulfill the primary function of spiritual gifts—the edification of the church.

Tongues as incoherent, inherently meaningless utterances

Great debate swirls over the identity of the use of glōssa (γλῶσσα) in the NT. Poythress reduces the options to the following five:

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Are Tongues for Today? Part 2

Originally published as a single article: “Tongues—Are They for Today?,” DBSJ 14 (2009). Part 1 explained the need for revisiting the tongues issue, defined key terms, and summarized the history of tongues-speaking.

An argument for cessationism

How, then, is this new, more careful continuationist to be answered? There are, after all, many descriptive texts in favor of tonguesspeaking in the NT, and even prescriptive texts that detail the proper practice of tongues in the church. Could it be that the continuationist who allows his experience to skew his exegesis has a counterpart in the cessationist who allows non-experience (or perhaps better, his rationalism) to skew his exegesis?1 Those who argue thusly are not without some warrant, and the cessationist does well to hear them. The dismissal of glossolalia because it is not “normal” to our postenlightenment sensibilities proves too much,2 and certainly cannot substitute for careful theological argumentation. This being said, however, I do believe that a careful theological argument for cessationism can be mustered.

The quest for an elusive proof text

Perhaps the easiest way to argue a point of theology or practice is to cite a concrete text or set of texts that unambiguously affirms the point to be made. Some, in fact, will accept nothing less than such a proof text. For cessationists in this category, 1 Corinthians 13:8–13 reigns as the end-all argument for cessationism. I do allow for the possibility that this passage argues for cessationism in the present age; however, I am also keenly aware that the two interpretations that argue thusly are minority positions that must compete with a formidable alternative interpretation that is held by the majority. To be specific, the point of cessation in this text, viz., the arrival of the “perfect” (v. 10)3 may possibly be the completion of the canon4 or the maturation of the church,5 but more probably refers to the state of affairs that accompanies the revelation of Jesus Christ to the believer either at the point of physical death or at the Second Advent—a revelation that immediately renders all lesser forms of revelation unnecessary. This final view is the majority view among modern commentators and the virtually unanimous understanding of continuationists;6 further, it is the preference of not a few cessationists.7 The latter would argue that the revelatory gifts will finally cease at the revelation of Jesus Christ, but are presently in a state of suspension (as is the case in much of biblical history) due to theological factors other than the message of 1 Corinthians 13.

In short, despite the great furor that surrounds this passage, the argument for cessationism does not rise or fall on the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13 alone. Further, the formidable exegetical case against this “proof text” for cessationism virtually guarantees that this passage alone will not convince skeptics. So while I allow the possibility that this passage might argue for the cessationist position, I am convinced that the more prudent course of action for the cessationist is to pursue a more robustly exegetical-theological argument for cessationism. This concession will no doubt scandalize some, but broad appeal to the analogy of faith instead of a single text does not, in my opinion, weaken the cessationist argument; instead, it deepens and strengthens it.

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