Cessationism vs Biblicism -
Cessationism under the biblical spotlight
Part 2 in a series By Philip L. Powell in which he asks the question:
Can the Cessationist and the moderate Pentecostal reach agreement over spiritual gifts?
[Erratum: In my article entitled Fellowship around the World, CETF # 49 (September 2009 p. 8) I wrongly referred to Cessationism as a heresy. I do not believe that. It was a slip and contrary to the intent of this series viz to facilitate agreement between the moderate Pentecostal and the cessationist over spiritual gifts.
I unequivocally appologise for my mistake. I should have said something like “from my perspective Cessationism is biblically untenable.”
see Letters to editor] An article with the above title was first published as an addendum in the book entitled Gathering the Faithful Remnant © 2002 CWM pages 355-397. Part one is contained in CETF # 49 Vol. 15.3 (September 2009) pages 14-16 and may be downloaded in PDF format @ www.cwm.org.au by selecting CETF Archives. It explains how the matter arose and provides definitions and perspectives of the topic.
The intent of the series is to open the subject and give a reasonably comprehensive overview. Your comments are invited. Is Cessationism Biblical? Here we must once more emphasise the fact that there are degrees of Cessationism as was explained in Part 1.
To say, as was common among a number of branches of conservative evangelicals several decades ago, that supernaturalism ended with the passing of the original apostles is without any biblical support. Statements such as, "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8), whether interpreted solely in relation to the context or taken as a great principle of the gospel, clearly deny the idea.
There are many biblical statements that teach the same thing. For I am the LORD, I do not change; therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed. - Malachi 3:6 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. - James 1:17 What we are discussing here is what theologians call the immutability of God.
The extreme cessationist view is so clearly contrary to the doctrine of the changelessness of God as taught in scripture that we would only labour the point if we quoted more passages from the Bible against it. The more moderate view is not so easily dismissed as it impinges upon another equally important theological truth, which we call the sovereignty of God and which needs to be held in tension with God's immutability.
Cessationists tend to focus on the former whereas most Pentecostals and charismatics focus on the latter. Correct teaching about each will not deny or undermine either. This is where the art of rightly dividing the Word of Truth by comparing scripture with scripture, is so important.
Sovereignty says that God can choose to withdraw the displays of His supernatural powers. Immutability says that He will only do so in accordance with His nature and character as revealed in His Word, the Bible. Far from sovereignty denying and undermining immutability, the fact that God is Sovereign means that He is able to maintain the changelessness of His ways and works.
Now this is the principal part of the premise on which we must build our argument in respect of our topic. Cessationism affirms that God in His sovereignty has determined to cause certain things that He gave to the early New Testament church to cease or come to an end. We say that such a position must not be arrived at arbitrarily by conjecture, nor simply on the basis of history as we perceive it, but by scripture.
Does the Word of God establish (prove) it? To those in the Pentecostal and charismatic camps we would issue the same challenge. Let the Word of God decide and let history and experience illustrate what the Bible teaches. To the one we say, "Take out your Bibles and show us clearly where scripture teaches that the supernatural displays of God, including the nine gifts (manifestations) of the Holy Spirit and the five ascension ministry gifts of Christ, are said or prophesied to cease and we will support your view. Do this before you make your appeal to church history." To the other we say, "Take out your Bibles and show us clearly where your strange and sometimes bizarre so called manifestations of the Holy Spirit find support. Do this in a reasonable and convincing manner before appealing to experience or history and we will go along with you".
At the risk of labouring the matter I suggest that this is where some who have already spoken or written on this topic have been in error. I have read a number of Cessationists, of varying degree, who have started out by attacking their opponents, not on the basis of Bible doctrine but on the basis of what is perceived to be their bad record or suspect origins. This is a false starting point and will inevitably result in misleading conclusions, especially when men make huge leaps of logic purportedly based on scripture.
For example several opponents of those who are of a Pentecostal persuasion have started their discussion by pointing to the extremes of Azusa Street and W.J. Seymour or of Charles Parham at the beginning of this century.
Or they have attacked prominent Pentecostal ministers, such as Smith Wigglesworth, on the basis of the alleged extremes, which no sensible Bible-believing person would endorse. Others who are anticharismatic have begun by exposing the pro-Roman Catholic leanings of the leaders of the socalled Charismatic Renewal of the 1950s and 1960s, such as David du Plessis, who took "charismania" to the Roman Catholic Church (RCC).
They ignore the fact that du Plessis' action was condemned by a number of his Pentecostal colleagues at the time. Bible-believing Christians from both camps cannot justify these extremes or the actions, which have contributed to ecumenism. BUT I say that this whole approach of starting with history instead of with scripture is wrong and will inevitably lead to suspect conclusions. The argument is founded upon a wrong premise. Sadly, some good people who were committed to the immutability of God in respect of the present day reality of the Holy Spirit in fruit and gifts have cast away their first love and their faith and now wander in the wilderness of doubt. Both sides do it and both are equally wrong. Pentecostals and charismatics, in some regards are worse than those in the Cessationist camp, for they frequently revise history and claim or imply that many of the great heroes of the "church" support their position.
All too frequently they do this on the basis of very flimsy evidence and in some cases no evidence at all. These are the sorts of consequences that inevitably flow out from an argument that is built on history and not on scripture. Let us appeal to history and to experience, by all means, but let us do so only after we have established our case clearly on the Word of God. To illustrate my point I refer to two cases:
One of my former colleagues appealed to Charles Wesley's great hymn, "Oh For A Thousand Tongues To Sing My Great Redeemer's Praise" as evidence that John and Charles Wesley and the early Methodists supported speaking in tongues as taught by Pentecostals. He said that the thousand tongues of the hymn were "diverse kinds of tongues" referred to in 1 Corinthians 12:10. On another occasion a former associate in that particular camp suggested to me that the late Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones (MLJ) would support the bizarre happenings of Toronto and Pensacola. He based his assertion simply on the doctor's many spoken and written statements in support of revival.
Having known MLJ to some extent during my time as a preacher in Great Britain and being aware of his great suspicion of the charismatic movement, I of course knew that my friend was quite wrong in his conclusions. Despite his well-known criticisms of the extremes of both Pentecostalism and charismania, it is worth noting that MLJ was still very friendly with well-known Assemblies of God leaders including the late WTH Richards and the late David Powell, my uncle. Maybe Jack Deere puts his finger on the problem, When Christians from the Western world hear stories like this [Corrie ten Boom's vitamin bottle that did not run out], they sometimes ask, 'Why don't we have more supernatural revelation in our churches?' I think it's because the Western church often has more in common with the Laodicean church than with the faith of those like Corrie ten Boom. "Why should we expect God to speak to us when we spend so little time with Him? The question is not, 'Why don't we see more miracles and have more supernatural revelation in the church today?'
Rather, given the apathy and the lack of godliness in the church today, the question is, 'Why do we have any supernatural experiences at all in the western church?'”1 To the LAW and the TESTIMONY Isaiah's appeal to the Word of God in terms of His law on the one hand and the record of His acts on the other (cf. Isaiah 8:20 explained above) finds a counterpart in DOCTRINE (mainly the epistles) and HISTORY (mainly the four gospels and the book of Acts) in the New Testament. Isaiah actually implies what will happen to those who depart from a Sola Scriptura position — dead formality i.e. a religious experience and practice, which lacks the supernatural element that is essential to make God's people "signs and wonders" (Isaiah 8:18) on the one hand; or on the other hand an occult situation among the "mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter" (Is 8:19). This is precisely what is happening. John MacArthur gives an example, I talked to a man who is a leader in the modern Pentecostal movement, and he said to me, 'You cannot deny my experience.' I responded by saying, 'Well, let me ask you this. When an experience occurs, do you always, without question, know that it is of God? Be honest.' He answered, 'No.' 'Could it be of Satan?'
I asked. He reluctantly replied, 'Yes.' My charismatic friend had no answer. This is exactly where the Corinthians were. They did not know what was of God and what was not. The work of the Spirit was confused with pagan ecstasies. They needed help.
MacArthur is of the view that "only what is valuable is counterfeited". He explains, It seems obvious that if people in the Corinthian assembly were calling Jesus accursed, the gifts they claimed to have received from the Holy Spirit were counterfeit. My father had a saying, 'No one counterfeits what isn't valuable. 'One never hears about counterfeit brown paper. People do not counterfeit trash. But they do counterfeit money, diamonds, and jewellery. Counterfeits copy what is valuable because that is the only point in counterfeiting. Satan was busy in the Corinthian church imitating spiritual gifts, and he is busy doing the same thing today. Wayne Grudem on the other hand warns about associating tongues speaking with the demonic, Paul says, 'I want you all to speak in tongues' (1 Corinthians 14:5 RSV).
He gives no warning that they should beware of demonic counterfeit or even think that this would be a possibility when they use this gift." On balance I favour MacArthur here as 1 Corinthians 12:3 implies the possibility of a demonic counterfeit. However I think that his implied claim that the Corinthian assembly were calling Jesus accursed is a “bridge too far.” Paul doesn't say that.
This could have been the apostolic answer to one of the questions raised by the Corinthian church in their communication with Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1) and was intended to provide the basis for a test and to put their minds at rest on the issue. NEXT - Spiritual Gifts & Callings Footnotes 1) Jack Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God. pp88-89 2) John MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos, pp202-203. 3) Ibid., pp205-206. 4) Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p1077.