Dluxe's World

Monday, September 25

Discontinuing cessationism: The End

I can't wait 'til I can do this kinda stuff full-time. There are nothing that I find more exciting and challenging that diving into Scripture and trying to understand what it has to say about some particular topic.

As I close this series on Cessationism versus Continuationism, I thought it'd be helpful [to me] to post a summary on where I've landed. In a couple areas, I know that I've moved rather significantly (in both directions) from my starting point. My hope is that these posts have been an honest, relatively unprejudiced, and responsible analysis of 1 Corinthians 12 - 14. I'd be happy to hear your thoughts and respond to any comments you'd like to offer. You can read the original posts here:


What should be our attitude when discussing topic like the Continationist vs. Cessationist debate?

Any discussion like this must be tempered by grace and humility. Whatever understanding or insight we have that escapes other people should cause us to marvel at God's grace in disclosing such truth to us. If we find ourselves being countered by solid, Godly men, we should also carefully and respectfully reconsider our position... That anything should be revealed to us should break our hearts for those who do not know the truth. Increasing knowledge of God in any sphere should not bring pride and self-righteousness, but humility and tear-stained cheeks.

There are positions relative to the operation of the Holy Spirit that are worthy of condemnation: God is not giving new scripture, nor has every gift of the Holy Spirit ceased. Let's save our vitriol for these errors* while continuing to plead our case personally, humbly, and prayerfully for those who hold a 'reasoned middle' view that varies from our own.

Understand I am not saying we can't vigorously argue for or defend our position... We absolutely must contend for the truth! However, we need to keep our 'holier than thou' attitudes in check.

Are you a continuationist or a cessationist now?
I can say, with conviction, that I would now call myself a 'Reformed Charismatic'. This phrase seems to accurately sum up the convictions of my heart: God is sovereign and Holy, our sin is infinitely offensive, the grace of the Cross is a treasure beyond words, and God has willed to glorify Himself through a sovereignly-gifted church until Christ returns.

In this investigation, I have found the scriptural case for cessationism to be lacking:
  • Paul gives thanks for the gifting of the Corinthians in chapter 1.
  • Paul may very well be rebuking the Corinthians with his statement "But [you] desire the greater gifts" in 12:31. However, it is clear that he is rebuking their behavior and stewarship of the gifts. They are behaving in a way that lacks love and they are desiring the gifts they think are cool rather than seeking to edify the Church and glorify Christ. Paul corrects both errors firmly but continues to urge them, through it all, to seek the spiritual gifts provided they are sought with proper motives (love and edification).
  • The classic proof-text for cessationism, 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, certainly does show that tongues and prophecies will disappear "when the perfect comes." However, I think that the clear implication of the text is that the "the perfect" is either Jesus Christ or His historic return. The further support to this view is given in 1:7 and by noting 13:12's use of "face to face", etc.
When I finished the last Bible post, I spent a fair chunk of time looking at the arguments posed by several cessationists on the web (John MacArthur being the most famous). It strikes me that their position is largely born out of dislike or even fear of the charismatic gifts, particularly the danger that people will claim new revelation which [they will declare] supercedes Scripture. While I respect this position on Biblical authority and admit the danger exists, we should not let the potential for error invalidate the good and true operation of the gifts.

There are many who misinterpret/misapply Scripture all over the place. Yet no one would suggest that we cast Scripture aside because sinful people distort it. In the same way, we should not bridle the Holy Spirit's sovereign actions simply because we know some will take license with it. We must hold fast to the Bible and acknowledge the Spirit's work.

So, I am a Reformed Charismatic.

How do we tell the real thing from something counterfeit or wicked?
Some people express that, by opening ourselves to the more miraculous spiritual gifts, we risk opening ourselves to delusion and even demonic attack. It strikes me that this is no more true of charismatics than any other group.

Given the rampant pagan worship in Corinth, you would suspect that the Corinthians would be especially susceptible to attack. While Paul does address food sacrificed to idols ("You can eat it!") and participating in pagan worship ("Don't do it!"), he never makes any similar, "Beware unholy influence"-type statements re: the miraculous, spiritual gifts.

Students where I work recently experienced an unsought, 'charistmatic outburst'. It's fair to say those events prompted this study. However, way back at the beginning I wrote this trying to collect my thoughts:
The fruit that is born from these events will bear witness to the source. If Scripture is not violated, if people are driven to the foot of the Cross, if people are genuinely repenting of sin, if they lean on Christ's righteousness alone for salvation, if they are driven to pray/study about or testify/witness to the God and Savior of the Bible, and if they seek His glory and not their own, then it's hard to attribute such an outpouring to either the enemy or our sinful dillusion (see 1 Corinthians 12:3).**
I think that is the measure to use... The fruit of a tree will testify to the condition of the roots.

How do seek and exercise the gifts?
I've been batting this one around with Deef in a couple emails. My take is this:

Paul tells the Corinthians, in 14:1, that they should "[p]ursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy." I think that pursuit should look something like this:
  • Love God, His glory, and His people. Our ability to love and minister to each other is critically linked to, and will never surpass, our devotion to Christ.
  • Ask God to help us to discover and use the gifts He has already given us. God's word tells us we are already equipped for ministry. Are we stewarding those gifts well?
  • Seek increasing capacity (gifting) for ministry. Where we have gifts, ask God to help us use them. Where we lack, ask God to fill those gaps in us for His name's sake. Note: I think we should seek after the gifts (plural), particularly those that are focused on the teaching and proclamation of the Word. I think that seeking after one, specific gift ("Oh God, give us tongues!") risks our limiting God's freedom to gift us according to His purpose and our real - rather than perceived - needs... Sometimes satire hits at the heart of the issue, and I think this joke gets it right.
  • Trust and Thank God for His grace. God loves His people, and desires to care for them. If our hearts are right, God will supply our needs and the church will be edified.
Wow... I just came up with my first pastoral mnemonic - LAST. Now I just need to come up with a witty phrase to make it memorable. How's about, "Built to LAST"?

OK... But practically speaking: How do we exercise the gifts?
I addressed this fairly exhaustively (until I got too exhausted) in this post, so I won't write much here.

The final rule and authority MUST be the Bible. Everything that we do should be subjected to the scrutiny of God's Word. I indicated above that the fruit tells us a lot about the source. While that is true, we only know the fruit to be looking for because of Scripture. The Bible is the beginning and end of every theological question.

With that in mind, the big shifts/take-aways were:
  • Tongues seems to operate in three 'spheres': Proclamation, prayer, and song. When a message is given in tongues (proclamation), it must be accompanied by interpretation. Otherwise, the speaker should remain silent. However, I have become convinced that a person can pray/sing in tongues quietly and still be in line with Biblical guidelines.
  • I would submit that no matter the setting, tongues must be an earthly/human language. I have not read a compelling Biblical case which allows 'angelic tongues'. In fairness, there's no clear scripture to absolutely rule out such languages either. Until a compelling case is made to me, I'll hold that Acts 2 is normative at least as it pertains to language. Even so, this is very much an 'open hand' issue to me.
  • Similarly, prophecy is given to convict, encourage, or console the hearers. In pre-Scripture times, prophecy was judged to be from the Lord if it came to pass (Deut 18). In the New Testament time, prophecy also could not violate the Old Testament scriptures. Therefore, today we must test prophecy by first assuring it conforms to the full Canon of Scripture and then judging it's truthfulness (Did it happen? Was it true?).
  • I believe that, looking at the story of Agabus, we can see that prophecy can have minor errors in details. However, the overall, underlying message must be clearly true for the prophecy to be deemed as 'from God'.
Now what?
Ummm... Good question. If you agree with my position, then we should be praying and studying a whole lot. Ask God to soften our hearts so we'd be open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Pray that the same Spirit would illuminate the Bible so we'd correctly test our 'knowledge' and gifts - both present and future - against the true standard.

If you disagree, I think you should be praying and studying a whole lot. The goal here, again, is not for 'us' to be right and 'you' to be wrong... The goal is that we would all grow in knowledge, devotion, and service to our Savior (Ephesians 4). I welcome your challenges to my understanding of the issue and the Scriptures so we can all grow handle God's Word well (2 Timothy 2:15).

As far as everything else goes, I have a lot of class reading to do (2 weeks behind)... Expect this blog to be a little dull 'til I catch up. And expect the next couple posts to be about things we'll all agree are wacky! I wanna find someone we can unite against and we can bash into oblivion.

With love and grace, of course.... :-)

Thank you for reading. Now, let's hear from you!

* We should remember (and I say this to myself as much as anyone) that our righteous indignation should be directed at the errant position rather than the errant people. I'm not saying we give false teachers a 'pass', but I am saying that we need to adopt what Josh Harris has termed "Humble Orthodoxy" (video here). We'd be where they are, but for God's unmerited grace on us.

**I only saved this little snippet because it struck me as one of the most profound things that's ever crossed my mind. That such knowledge would pop into my head is, in itself, a sign that God still graciously works through His Spirit in the lives of those who seek Him.

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  • Aw, come on, grace and humility? How about alienation and arrogance? Much more dramatic, don't you think? ;)

    (that was sarcasm)

    I appreciate your diligence and meekness in pursuing the meaning of this part of God's word.

    By Blogger Eva, at 1:50 PM, September 27, 2006  

  • I appreciate your diligence and meekness in pursuing the meaning of this part of God's word.

    Thanks, dear! Though you carefully skirted around whether or not you agree with me...

    By Blogger HeavyDluxe, at 1:51 PM, September 27, 2006  

  • Admittedly, I haven't read much of this series, but am looking forward to doing so soon. Haven't seen a lot of rational minds discussing the topic, so I'm eager to see what you have to say (in contrast to the irrationality out there).

    But I have to say that I was a bit disappointed that you didn't title this post, "Discontinuing cessationism: The Cessation".

    By Anonymous Brendt, at 2:23 AM, October 01, 2006  

  • Brendt,

    But I have to say that I was a bit disappointed that you didn't title this post, "Discontinuing cessationism: The Cessation".

    And, now that you mention it, so am I. ;-)

    Hope you enjoy the posts... I'll be interested in your feedback.

    By Blogger HeavyDluxe, at 9:43 PM, October 01, 2006  

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