Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Practical Cessationism


I have been writing for a while now on the subject of the Charismata in support of John MacArthur’s conference and soon-to-be-published book, Strange Fire. The debate that has raged over this issue has been confused and convoluted on many points from my perspective. Recently, while reading Thomas Schreiner’s review of the book, Strange Fire, someone in the comments section of the review used the expression “practical cessationist” to characterize they’re position. I liked that term so much and felt like it did such a good job of capturing my own view that I thought it fitting to write a few things about it.

First of all, I continue to hear charismatics and continuationists miss a very basic point in our argument. Namely, they continue to presume that what they call supernatural gifts are the same gifts experienced by Jesus, His disciples, and the early church. Men like Steve Hays continuously extend to Charismatics the courtesy of that assumption. I, on the other hand, respectfully disagree with the view that the modern phenomena witnessed among Charismatics are in fact the very same supernatural gifts we see in the NT Church. In order for the Charismatic claim to prove true, it must be verified that what is actually being claimed today is true, and that it actually corresponds with the amazing, indisputable miracles of the first century church.

It is astonishingly easy for Charismatic claims of miracles to be defended as legitimate. First of all, there are literally thousands of people supposedly being cured of all kinds of diseases if we are to believe the Charismatic movement. These healings are purported to be the result of miracle workers and faith healings exercising the very same gifts of the apostles and they’re associates in the first century church. Since these claims are being published in the name of Jesus Christ, a name we all care deeply about, and since there are skeptics who deny that Jesus Christ is Lord, it is only prudent for us to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt, that these miracles are authentic. It would be absurd for anyone to expect any intelligent person to simply take our word for it. After all, if we are claiming that Jesus Christ sent the Holy Spirit into the world and that the Holy Spirit is present in the body of Christ, performing miraculous deeds, then we should be able to provide certified documentation sufficient to prove our claims. Moreover, supplying such proof in an age such as ours with all the technology we have at our fingertips should be incredibly easy. Why would any reasonable person think it perverse in our day and our culture for someone to investigate the kind of miraculous claims being propagated in Charismania? The very suggestion that such behavior is related to atheism or skepticism or is somehow not in keeping with biblical faith or the Christian ethic is utterly ridiculous. Yet, men like Steve Hays continue to accuse cessationists of adopting a method of reasoning aligned with atheistic or skeptical thinking. There is no place in the Christian community for such nonsense.

I continue to be amazed that non-cessation adherents accuse the cessation view of not remaining faithful to the principle of sola scriptura. The argument is rather elementary and if framed in the wrong way, I can see how they might arrive at their conclusion. The first thing we have to understand is that Scripture is what defines the phenomena in question. When we allow Scripture to set the definition we are then in a much better place to evaluate the modern claims of Charismatics. Are the miracles we see in the New Testament the same kind of phenomena we see among Charismatics? As I said above, it would seem to me that modern conditions, with Facebook, You Tube, Twitter, etc. would make authentic miracles impossible to hide, let alone hard to find. When was the last time you heard about someone losing their disability because they failed the doctor’s certification? If Jesus healed you in that way, wouldn’t you plaster it all over Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube? Wouldn’t you go on Fox News to show the world what the Holy Spirit has done? Where are all the certifications? If I were a miracle worker I would demand validation for that very reason. I would want people to know that I am not a hoax. I would want nothing left to question. But apparently the Charismatic miracle workers prefer to be insulted by examination than glorify Christ by taking the initiative to offer such proof.

The truth is that modern claims of the miraculous seem to be either nebulous, generic, or in one way or another, unverifiable. This does not ipso facto prove that they are not happening. But that burden of proof is not on the cessationist. The counter-claim to the argument that miracles seemed to have ceased requires empirical proof to the contrary. After all, it is the absence of empirical evidence upon which the cessationist rests their argument. Abstract arguments only serve to muddy the waters and cloud the issue. If you don’t think this is so, check out the haze manufactured by Steve Hays over at Triablogue. Steve offers nothing of any substance to support the claim that genuine miracles are still taking place in the church. Instead, he has latched onto what he considers to be an inferior argument from cessationism and like a Pit Bull, he refuses to let go. Somehow, Hays thinks this argument is confined to the abstract. It seems to slip his notice entirely that even if he were to construct a superior argument in the abstract, he still faces the uncomfortable and in my opinion, the unsurmountable burden of authentic documentation and evidence in support of his claim.

Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument that the non-cessation argument is correct. Let’s suppose that miracles, according to Scripture should continue until Christ returns. It seems to me then, for the sake of the credibility of Scripture, that our non-cessation friends should be eager to validate their claims in an effort to vindicate Scripture. The argument goes like this: the Bible says that miracles will continue until Christ returns. Here are those miracles! Therefore, the Bible is true. But what happens if we are unable to validate such miraculous claims? It seems to me that the Bible would experience an extreme crisis of credibility. If the Charismatic exegete is correct, however, and the Bible teaches that miracles will continue to the end of the Church age, we must ask what are the consequences for the credibility of Scripture if we are unable validate these miracles, and vindicate the claims of Scripture. This would lead us to believe that the Bible is not true after all. Therefore, if we are to accept the hermeneutics of the Charismatic, then had better provide concrete empirical evidence for miracles. Christianity depends upon it.

The miracles of Scripture were beyond reasonable doubt and were all verified or verifiable. There was never a question about whether or not someone had been healed, cured, delivered, or raised from the dead. Modern claims dodge verification better than the national dodge-ball champion. Ancient tongues were real languages while modern tongues are not. Modern tongues are gibberish. Can God understand gibberish? Let’s examine this idea. Supposedly, the Holy Spirit prays gibberish through us back to God for us and somehow, even though we have no idea what is being said, we are edified. And there is supposedly something miraculous about it all. Really? What is miraculous about it? Why is it such a sign? Anyone can do it. Anyone can fake it and you can’t tell the difference. This means we have no mechanism for being able to know what is a true tongue and what is a false one. Does this sound like the work or mark of God? If the devil can copy it, how can we be sure that what we have is God’s genuine gift and not the fake copy offered up by Satan? Would Simon offer up boatloads of money in order to speak gibberish? He could do that without offering up big bucks. This makes no sense whatever. What, do we test it by some feeling or sensation inside us? Is that what it comes down to? Even if this made sense, it would mean we could only know that our personal gift of tongues was real and we could never ever know if the other person had the real thing or the fake gift. Paul Cain comes to mind, along with all the other charlatans. The Catholics, Oneness, Word-Faith, and other heretics sound exactly the same when they speak in tongues. Are they really Spirit-Filled? Does the Spirit fill men who deny the trinity? Are Catholics who deny the gospel really Spirit-Filled? Is Benny Hinn really filled with the Spirit? He speaks in tongues and claims to work miracles. He offers us the same evidence that every other charismatic holds up as authentic. How are we supposed to know?


Practical cessationism argues that the miracles of Scripture were radically superior to what we see in modern claims. They were and are indisputable. Their credibility is beyond any reasonable doubt. The tongues of Scripture were real languages. All one has to do is read Acts 2 and interpret the rest of Scripture in light of that very clear text. That is the hinge upon which biblical interpretation turns. The idea that prophets can speak for God but be wrong a certain percentage of the time is totally foreign to Scripture. There is nothing remotely resembling such irresponsible teaching anywhere in Scripture. Therefore, based on what Scripture teaches regarding revelation, healings, miracles, tongues and prophecy, we must conclude that God is no longer working like this. Moreover, this should come as no surprise to us. God has never, in redemptive history worked in creation for an extended period of time in such a fashion contrary to modern Charismatic claims. 

3 comments:

  1. The miracles of scripture were doubted by some who were not eyewitnesses. See John 20, Luke 24:11, John 9. The Bible also says that God could raise the dead and people not believe, Luke 16:31. One important case of a man who did not believe miracle accounts initially was a man named Saul.

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  2. There is also the problem of definition. Paul speaks of some who have a gift of miracles and some who have a gift or gifts of healing. A miracle is usually considered to be a type of action sufficiently clear that it establishes the action of a supernatural power. Some healings are miracles of this type and some are not so obviously miraculous. . .

    Michael Brown has taken calls from cessationists, but one day, he says, cessationists did not call, and his calls chiefly or all came from those who wished to report a miracle. Your not being an eyewitness and other factors puts you in a position to doubt if you wish.

    There is a church in the Seattle vicinity called Cedar Park Assembly which has for years prayed for couples who desired to conceive. There have been many reported accounts of medically impossible conceptions, so much so that the church and the results of its prayers have been featured in local secular media outlets repeatedly. You can choose to act like Thomas if you wish . . . Your doubt does not change the fact that it has repeatedly happened that women have conceived after being told that it was medically impossible for a variety of medical reasons.

    David Kelton in his biography tells of being healed of one of his legs being shorter than the other.

    You apparently take the point of view that a miracle is not a miracle if someone who is not an eyewitness or earwitness can doubt its being a miracle. On that basis, the Bible tells us of many miracles that were not miracles. On that basis, the resurrection of Jesus was not a miracle.

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  3. I cannot help but wonder if part of the requirement to be a continuationist is the inability to accurately represent the opposing viewpoint. I do not deny that God can work miracles, even today. I do not believe there are miracle workers today. I also insist that modern claims not be equated with Scriptural accounts. Scriptural accounts are within the content of divine revelation and not subject to doubt, unless one wants to sin. Modern claims by Hinnites are empirical in nature and therefore, any reasonable Christian will scrutinize accordingly, as they should.

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