CHARISMATIC DEBATE – Responding to Dan's Objections

CHARISMATIC DEBATE – Responding to Dan's Objections September 10, 2006

Last week I began my response to Dan Phillips by focusing on the importance of authentic relational Christianity. I had hoped that cessationists would have rallied to say something like, “Adrian, you are right about this bit — keep your tongues and prophecy to yourself, but we are as much in favour of a real emotional relationship with God as you are!”

Sadly, this was far from the case. Even David Wayne begged to differ. John Piper, on the other hand, even seemed to take this a step further than I had by claiming, in effect, that it is impossible to over-emphasise the place of emotions in the Christian walk! I fear for the spiritual vitality of anyone who calls themselves a Christian, but cannot say “Amen” to Spurgeon’s passionate cry for a relationship as described in this quote Scotty B found:

“I would not think of closing my eyes in sleep unless I had some sense of His love shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Ghost. “Oh!” says one, “I have lived fifty years, and I have never felt anything of God.” Say that you had been dead fifty years; that is nearer to the mark. But if you had been quickened by the Holy Spirit fifty minutes, this would have been the first fact in the front rank of all facts — God is, and He is my Father, and I am His child. Now you become sentient to His frown, His smile, His threat, or His promise. You feel Him; His presence is photographed upon your spirit; your very heart trembles with awe of Him, and you say with Jacob, “Surely God is in this place.” That is one result of spiritual life.”

Do YOU feel Him? Does your heart tremble with awe? Perhaps it doesn’t. I think it should, and that we should seek after an experience of God that is Bible-based. That is, if you like the first point that I would like to emphasise, and it is explored more completely in the first post.

The second point that I would like to make about my charismatic theology is that the doctrine of a “receiving” of the Spirit that is distinct from conversion is in place precisely to protect my brothers and sisters who do not claim these experiences. Spurgeon’s quote could almost imply that someone without great spiritual experiences is not saved. Indeed, the Puritan approach to salvation seems to have emphasised experiences so much that until the sinner had felt his sin and wept for a while, he would not normally be led to believe that he had been forgiven. There was also a search for an assurance of salvation that seems to have been almost identical with what I call the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

For sure, one of the functions of what the Apostle Paul calls the sealing with the Spirit is to bring assurance — as Lloyd-Jones admirably expounds. But, I am not one who says that such an experience is essential for salvation. Some can receive Christ by faith with little or no spiritual experience associated with it. It simply isn’t true that every new believer is suddenly overwhelmed with either a sense of their own sinfulness prior to conversion or subsequently with joy at being forgiven. Now one approach to the emotionally unaffected Christian is to say that they are not saved — at times the Puritans and Piper seem to get pretty close to that. For me, I would rather say they are not living in the experiential goodness of what God has done for them. They are, however, also missing out on one important element of the assurance God intends them to have – that their own salvation really is genuine.

To many cessationists today the receiving of the Spirit is seen as something that automatically happens when you become a Christian and is not at all dramatic. But, as Lloyd-Jones points out in this post, it was the power to impart the Spirit for which Simon was willing to pay money — rather than the power to perform miraculous healings (Acts 8). Thus here, as elsewhere in the New Testament, the receiving of the promised Holy Spirit is a powerful experience. It was the promise of Acts 2, and according to Galatians 3 the very goal of the Gospel is that we might receive the Spirit — which is for me a foretaste of heaven. There are a number of verses that seem to agree with this notion that in a sense the reason Jesus died was so that we could taste of the Holy Spirit:

Galatians 3:13-14
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

Matthew 3:11
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

John 3:34
“For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.”

John 7:39
“Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

Acts 2:38-39
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

To me, the meaning of this astonishing emphasis on the pouring out of the Spirit is this — Jesus died in order that we might taste heaven. The role of the Spirit is nothing less than that we might begin to taste heaven here on earth. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

It seems to me that the logical conclusion of the cessationist is that Jesus has in some sense withdrawn the Spirit — at least in terms of our relational sense of His being with us. This seems to directly contradict the words of the following Scripture: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)

We cannot over-emphasise the importance of the Spirit in the life of the Christian. Jesus says to His disciples: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7). It simply cannot be true that if the Spirit is in some sense withdrawn, it is to our advantage not to have Jesus with us. This challenges even the most avid charismati
c — is MY experience of the Spirit such that I would prefer that to having Jesus Himself here in the flesh with me?

This all brings me neatly to the very beginning of Phillips’ original reply to me. He took issue with my use of Jesus’ parable in Luke 11. Dan makes a typical mistake in arguing that there is nothing in that passage to link the Holy Spirit with gifts. The Bible must be allowed to interpret itself, but I am not asking people to believe that everyone in ear shot of Jesus said, “Ah, that’s obviously referring to tongues and prophecy.”

But there are a number of clues here in the text that when seen with the rest of what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit (just do a search using any online Bible website), allows us to explain what the gift of the Holy Spirit actually is. It is clear, as we have seen, that the Spirit is a major part of why Jesus came — and the focus on giving us the Spirit is so strong that it seems clear to me that we need to allow the Bible to explain what that looks like. In Acts we see what it looks like, and in places in the epistles we see it also. If that receiving of the Spirit is not available to us today, it seems we have either gone back in time to before Jesus or are in some time after what is described as the last days when the promise of the Spirit for all flesh has been rescinded!

Firstly, in the text Jesus is speaking of people asking for a variety of gifts, and in His punchline, this variety of gifts is replaced with the one Holy Spirit. This in itself proves little, but a quick look at the parallel passage in Matthew is illuminating — there, according to many translations, Jesus replaces the word Holy Spirit with good gifts. Again, on their own, these two points are weak, but they are at least consistent with the much more potent use of the concept of receiving the Spirit in Acts.

In Acts, we see very clearly indeed that not only is receiving the Spirit an experience that impacts strongly on its recipient, it is almost always accompanied with receiving gifts such as tongues or prophecy. As we have already seen, it is always described as something tangible and real — something someone might even be willing to pay to have. (See e.g. Acts 8)

But my original argument was simply this — the cessationist must actively deny the validity of what has happened to people like me and show me where we have gone wrong and what exactly has led to the experiences we describe. Are we deluded? Deranged? Liars? Unsaved? Demonised? Deceived? Hypnotised? We have prayed, “God give me the Spirit.” We have then had an experience and received what we call gifts of the Spirit. Can we really all be deluded? Could we be demonised? Should we even be recognised as Christian? Have we all received a stone and not bread? Dan, please diagnose our condition for us!

Dan then accuses me of turning this verse into a cast-iron guarantee. Of course, I do not do that! This verse is a general principle. Clearly God is not bound by it to answer every prayer of ours the way we want Him to. Rather, He promises to give us good things. I feel that God has broken that promise if every charismatic in the world is totally deluded by what they have received when they simply took these words seriously and asked Jesus that they, too, might “receive the Spirit.” That does not mean, however, that every spiritual gift or experience described by anyone must be legitimate! None of this should be taken as an automatic validation of every spiritual experience anywhere reported. I am making a general point rather than assuming this is true of every specific situation.

For example, if someone is so foolish and sinful as to go to God in prayer, asking Him to speak about something He already has commanded us clearly about, he should not be surprised if he receives a demonic impression as punishment for his folly. The classic example I am sure I have used previously about this is the husband who asks God to speak to him about whether he should divorce his faithful wife. God has already spoken about that. So, such a man should not be surprised if part of God’s judgment on him for daring to ask such a foolish question is for him to receive a vision or impression that seems to reinforce his own sinful desire to forsake the wife of his youth in direct contradiction of the Scripture which is sufficient for us in all matters of life and doctrine!

Dan asks if I think anything changed as a result of Jesus’ incarnation and resurrection. The answer to that is “Yes,” there are at least two things that are incredibly different — one is that revelation stopped. (Hebrews 1). Note the timing of this. It is not at the end of Scripture-writing that revelation stops, rather it culminates in Jesus. The writers of the New Testament look back to and explain that revelation, rather than introducing any new doctrine that was not already implicit in Jesus’ revelation of Himself.

The second thing is that the promise in Joel of the Spirit being poured out on all flesh so that they, too, could prophesy has occurred. So, in complete contrast to Dan’s post of this week (which will only get this limited response from me), I do NOT believe for a moment that the prophecy which is promised to be poured out in association with the Spirit in Acts 2 (as Peter quotes Joel) is in any way authoritative. Prophecy that is for “all flesh” can never be authoritative – how on earth can we cope with everyone prophesying in such a way that we should write Scripture down? Also, of course the prophecy of Joel clearly wasn’t fulfilled in any real way if only Scripture-writers in the New Testament prophesied — the handful of Scripture writers are hardly “all flesh,” are they, and there were not any women or children who wrote Scripture! So I cannot see how this view of prophecy can account for Peter’s claim that Joel’s prophecy which promised the Spirit and revelations for all was fulfilled.

Such a widespread outpouring of the Spirit cannot ever be purely for Scripture-writing and authenticating. If “all flesh” can prophesy, it is inevitable that they must have something by which to judge those words, for they cannot all be of equal weight or authority. In fact, Jesus was the last true Prophet in the sense of being authoritative and inerrant in everything He said. So where, prior to Jesus, authority rested in a few people who prophesied, but did so inerrantly, in the new era authority rests solely with Jesus and operates through the Scriptures, but the Spirit is poured out so that “all flesh” can prophesy whilst those prophecies are to be judged by the authoritative revelation contained in the Bible.

After Jesus, there was no more authoritative revelation, with the exception of our canonical books, which themselves were dependent on the authoritative final revelation which was Jesus. It is vital that we do not make claims for the New Testament Apostles that they did not make. The Apostles themselves were not inerrant and authoritative, except when they were writing Scripture. So Peter can be rebuked by Paul as in error (Galatians 2), who himself can say he only knows in part (1 Corinthians 13), whilst James can say that we all stumble in what we say. (James 3:1)

The finality of God’s revelation in Jesus is why we cannot ask Him to give us a Scripture-writing revelation today! God has said all He wants to say. Jesus was God’s final Word to the world in terms of doctrine and ethical guidance. To ask for Him to guide us morally or doctrinally now, or to give us a new book of the Bible, is nothing short of a heinous sin. The Bible, when illumined by
the Spirit, really is all we need to know and understand what God wants us to believe and how He wants us to act in a moral sense. In the moral and doctrinal spheres, God has nothing left to say — He has said it all. Any modern impressions or prophecy (or whatever you want to call them) can only really serve as either illumination of old revelation — designed by God to make clear to us some truth or other which is contained in God’s Word — or to give us wisdom and direction about how to apply the biblical principles to a specific situation in our lives.

Dan concludes his first post by arguing from his experience. He mentions someone who clearly hadn’t remembered to test his impressions by our one infallible guide — the Bible. Incidentally, if New Testament prophecy wasn’t fallible, I am not sure why Paul told us to test them — rather than testing the prophet, who is then simply to be listened to.

For now, I will leave you with these words from 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20:

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.

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