Cessationism and Charismaticism

Jollyblogger is as much a hero to me in the blogdom as C.J.Mahaney is as a preacher! He is much wiser than I am, much more measured in his comments, and brings out the best in me. It is fantastic to have a great conversation going on between two very different schools of Christian thought – even if on most points he and I would definitely agree!

At risk of boring some of you, I intend to carry this on in our fast becoming inimitable style- measured, relaxed, often with a day or two in between posts to allow for time to reflect, and with liberal smatterings of kindness to one another. This is still a place for godly debate in Christian circles!!!

What I also love about this is it is an example of people from rather different backgrounds moving closer together, and approaching the truth from different vantage points.

There is no doubt that we have clearly demonstrated two things, just in the nature of this conversation. Firstly not every cessationist denies the validity of any experience of God. Secondly not every charismatic denies the primacy of biblical authority over subjective impressions.

What I mean by that is, people can believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have stopped, but still either long for or actively experience the presense and power of the God who acts. People who claim to experience the gifts of the Holy Spirit can also be bible scholars.

So yes, there is much agreement. Agreement that Spurgeon is an amazing character, and recognition that “if Spurgeon was a Cessationist he was far more open to supernatural manifestations than are the cessationists of today are.”

But perhaps where I might differ from Jollyblogger is that I would advocate the seeking after an experience of the supernatural God.

To quote the Doctor again “We must not be content until we have had some manifestation of the activity of God. We must concentrate on this. This is my plea, that we concentrate on this, because it is the great message of the Bible……. Let us put it like this: Do we really believe that God can still act? That is the question; that is the ultimate challenge. Or have we, for theological or some other reasons, excluded the very possibility?”

You see, I would advocate the need to consciously receive the Holy Spirit, and whether the cessationist Matthew Henry means quite the same thing as this or not when he says “many are deceived in this matter, thinking they have received the Holy Ghost when really they have not.”, the sentiment is clearly there.

It is as we know the communion of the Holy Spirit that our Christian lives can be transformed. Right now, I feel that there are many in the church- myself included- who could use some more of the Holy Spirit. In fact who couldnt? Please pray for me that I might be full of the Holy Spirit.

In terms of what the Holy Spirit does, I was actually rather confused by an article Dave refers to which asks Does God Speak Today Apart from the Bible?

“We need to ask ourselves, first, what does it mean to say that ‘God speaks today’? Keeping in mind the traditional meaning that ‘God speaks today through the Bible,’ the phrase has come to be used in two other senses. For some, the words ‘God speaks today’ are simply a popular, if misleading, way of describing the fact that God guides and directs His people by His Spirit in the application of His written word through promptings, impressions, insights, and the like. Most non-Pentecostals and noncharismatics have explained these (more or less) intuitive experiences in terms of the Spirit’s works of illumination, leading, and conviction. A few would even acknowledge that, among those who fit a given psycho-spiritual profile, these experiences might be accompanied by things seen or heard. All of these experiences are, however, carefully distinguished from the Spirit’s work of revelation.6 Hence, though the Spirit’s illumination and guidance may sometimes focus on phenomena such as promptings or impressions, those phenomena are not specifically interpreted as involving the biblical ministry-gifts of revelation, such as prophecy and tongues or their correlates (e.g., visions, dreams, auditions).”

Now this seems to me to be having your cake and eating it! Either God doesnt speak today at all, or he can speak through impressions which are equivalent to the New Testament gifts. What exactly is this third way that is being suggested? I velieve that what is happening here is that people are nervous of identifying fallible modern impressions with those that we are assuming are infallible in Scripture.

In the article that Dave recommends (Which I have in libronix form) in the Journal of Evangelical Theology, (39/1) of March 1996, by Vern Poythress of Westminster Seminary, called Modern Spiritual Gifts As Analogous To Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works Of The Spirit Within Cessationist Theology, Vern Poythress is clearer in what he is saying.

I maintain that modern spiritual gifts are analogous to but not identical with the divinely authoritative gifts exercised by the apostles. Since there is no strict identity, apostolic teaching and the Biblical canon have exclusive divine authority. On the other hand, since there is analogy, modern spiritual gifts are still genuine and useful to the Church. Hence there is a middle way between blanket approval and blanket rejection of modern charismatic gifts.

But I dont believe that New Testament gifts were always authoritive, nor do I believe that they were only excercised by the apostles. 1 Corinthians is proof enough of both ascertions!

A fundemental question for me which cuts right to the heart of this issue is ‘When were biblical apostles and prophets infallible?’ Was it only when writing scripture or was it at all times? Well clearly the apostles made mistakes- they are documented in the bible. I also remain unconvinced that Agabus prophecy about Pauls capture was 100% accurate in all its detail- and certainly the application sought by many ‘Don’t go’ was not correct!

Lets put my question another way. Suppose we could identify a letter from Paul to one of the churches that had been lost since biblical times. Suppose we could prove 100% that it was from him. Would we add it to the bible? Would we treat it as authoritive? Or would we see it as an interesting example of literature that might illumine the rest of the bible, but is clearly not inspired or else it would have been in the bible. Could it have contained a mistake and therefore God arranged for it to be lost? I think our answer to a question like this reveals much about our attitude to apostles in the bible.

Dare I say it I dont believe that apostles were always infallible- only when writing scripture. Thus it is entirely plausible for me that ministry gifts and even the offices of apostle and prophet could exist today in a fallible way. I believe that we should not make biblical gifts into something they were not intended to be.

And Dave, let me say, I dont blame you for wheeling out the dodgy examples of charismatic folly- I could share loads! But what I would say is lets be careful not to advocate not using real money just because we found a few counterfeit notes.

I would argue that the apostles, prophets and others mentioned in Ephesians 4 are all ongoing fallable gifts given to the church throughout all ages UNTIL we are all perfect and mature. Since we havent got there yet, they must continue. Actually I am not convinced even that Ephesians 2 is talking about something that happened in the past to all the church- what is true of The Church as a whole is usually true of local expressions of it in my view.

Matthew Henry in my view clearly fudges this issue, but does so in a most illumining way. He is quite clear that in his view some of the Eph 4 gifts continue to today. But who is to read into Eph 4 which of them continue and which stop? And just where in the passage does this idea of some of these gifts stopping come from? To me Eph 4 is quite clear if read without our traditional spectacles on, all of these gifts are there for all of our good for all time in the church.

I do believe we need to see more of the gifts that God gives us, and more of the filling of the Holy Spirit in this day. Why not pray now for an outpouring of God’s Spirit on his church at this time!

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