Hey Pastor Mark,
My name is Patrick and I am from Mississippi. Here is my question:
Sam Storm recently held a conference called “Convergence.” People like Francis Chan and Matt Chandler spoke. It was VERY different preaching from what I’ve historically heard from “Reformed” pastors in the past. And if I am being honest, it made me a little uncomfortable.
Of course, there were a lot of references to John Macarthur’s book and conference “Strange Fire.” According the the speakers at Convergence, I need to repent of uncomfortable feelings that derive from the gifts as expressed at convergence. However, according to speakers at Strange Fire, these things should make me uncomfortable.
I greatly respect pastors on both sides of the debate. This is probably one of the most confusing parts of my faith right now.
Where do you stand on things such as prophecy, healing, and tongues? And what are some ways that we can learn more about it?
Thank you for your question, Patrick. The following blog is my attempt to be of some help.
For starters, each of the men you mentioned is a gifted Bible teacher that has helped a served a lot of people. In our day when division, discord, and diatribe is so common, we need to remember that when Christians declare war on Christians in front of non-Christians, the only person who wins is the Devil. Let’s start by honoring these and other Christian teachers who are devoting their lives to help people learn the Word of God.
I will share a general overview of the teams, tribes, and troubles you are referring to. I will do so without naming anyone, so that we can deal with issues without dishonoring people. One thing is sure when it comes to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and that is that he wants us to be as Ephesians 4:3 says, “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
To make a complex issue as simple as I can, we are talking basically about supernatural spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible such as healing, prophecy, casting out demons, miracles, dreams, visions, and speaking in tongues. There is a spectrum of belief on this issue from basically no to everything, to basically yes to everything.
As the name suggests, Cessationism believes that the supernatural gifts have ceased. This position affirms that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit were used by God in the earliest days of the Christian Church to confirm the authority of the early apostolic leaders and their message. However, once the books of the Bible were written, there was no longer need for these supernatural gifts as the Bible was the once-for-all, perfect revelation from God and sufficient for all we need. The concern for many Cessationists is that when extrabiblical revelation is permitted, it is sometimes—if not oftentimes—results in unbiblical revelation that disagrees with the Bible. Some of my friends who are high profile Cessationist pastors will in private talk about personal pain they have had from false revelation that other people have told them was from God. One of these world influencing leaders was told as a boy by a visiting revival preacher that he would be dead by a certain age. This was a horrific false prophet with a false prophecy who caused great angst in the life of this boy as he reached the age at which he told he would be dead. Of course, he lived to be an old man in good health and his goal is now to have the Bible faithfully preached and prevent false revelation because it caused him so much suffering.
2. Open but Cautious
This is a growing category of commitment by those Bible believing Christians who share many of the same concerns as Cessationists. Open but Cautious Christians (also sometimes referred as Continuationists) struggle to make a clear biblical case that all the supernatural gifts have in fact ceased. Furthermore, as they read the record of church history they quickly discover that there are reports of supernatural spiritual gifts continuing to be at work among God’s people in every age and never stopping since the days of Pentecost in the book of Acts. As a result of feeling the tension between operating more as a Cessationist, but having weak biblical and historical footing, this group of Open but Cautious Christians believe that the supernatural spiritual gifts are theoretically possibly in operation, but unlikely and infrequent with numerous counterfeits to be wary of. However, this group is often concerned about possibly missing something the Holy Spirit has for them and so they try and remain cautiously open.
Simply stated, Charismatic Christians believe that the supernatural spiritual gifts continue in every age until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. One important distinction for Charismatics is that various Christians receive various spiritual gifts, and that not every Christian will receive supernatural spiritual gifts from God. There is a broad ranger of Christians in this category. On the more conservative end of the spectrum, they would make a rather clear distinction between public and private ministry. In public ministry such as weekend church services, they would not practice supernatural gifts such as healing, tongues, or prophecy because non-Christians are present and as Paul tells the Corinthian church such people would be easily confused and find it hard to understand what was going on. These churches prefer that the supernatural spiritual gifts operate in more private ministry such as one’s private time with the Lord, in home groups, or at ministry meetings not as open to the general public. On the more open end of the spectrum, some Christian churches would allow the manifestation of supernatural gifts during church services openly and publicly.
This group is among the fastest growing segment of globally Christianity. Like Charismatic Christians, Pentecostal Christians believe that all of the supernatural spiritual gifts continue in every age until the coming of Jesus Christ. The main difference between Charismatics and Pentecostals is something called “the baptism of the Holy Spirit”. As a general rule, Charistmatics believe that someone is sealed with the Holy Spirit at conversion, and has subsequent fillings throughout life to empower them for ministry service. Think of it like gassing up your car to have the fuel to keep moving ahead on your journey with God. Pentecostals believe that in addition to being sealed with the Holy Spirit at conversion, at some point every Christian can also experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit as evidenced with the ability to speak in tongues. Pentecostal churches also tend to be more open to allowing if not encouraging the manifestation of supernatural spiritual gifts in public meetings such as church services.
There are always some people who claim to be Christians but have things that they declare to be visions from God, words from God, or other forms of revelation such as angelic insight. Crazies can function as false teachers denying the clear teachings of Scripture, or even tragically morphing into cult leaders. Sadly, they become so proud that they believe they have authority equal to God’s Word, or even exceeding God’s Word with new revelation from God that supersedes and adds to the Scriptures.
As you can probably guess, the Cessationists are rightly concerned about the crazies. Sadly, sometimes, the case is made as if you only have two categories in practice, so you are either a Cessationist or a Crazy. In response, the Crazies will start pulling out all the Bible verses commanding us to not “grieve” or “quench” or “resist” the Holy Spirit while also obeying the Bibles clear command, “do not forbid speaking in tongues” and “Do not treat prophecies with contempt…” Unfortunately, debates about the Holy Spirit can become a prison riot fairly quickly complete with mattresses on fire.
All of this becomes more complicated when you add in the variable of Reformed Theology. Historically, Reformed Theology has trended more Cessationistic or Open but Cautious with a high value on the mind and scholarship, and a more cautious view of the emotions and experience (with some exceptions such as Jonathan Edwards). Furthermore, the Protestant belief in Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone is our highest authority) can be misunderstood as Solo Scriptura (Scripture alone is our only authority) so that all other forms of revelation are not just placed under the Supreme Court of Scripture but removed nearly altogether.
The reason this is all a bit of a conversation—if not a conflict—today, is very practical. A lot of younger Christians, especially millenials, grew up listening to more Cessationistic or Open but Cautious leaning Reformed Bible teachers, while singing more Charismatic and Pentecostal worship music. So, they are trying to figure out if the two can coexist in a church and not just on their phone where they download podcasted sermons and watch YouTube worship videos from Christian leaders who are cautious and even critical of one another.
Patrick, this is about as short and sweet as I can make this. Consider me your nerd friend here to help. I’ve got a long recommended reading list that has this as a category if it’s of any help https://markdriscoll.org/allbooks/#holyspirit.
Take your time, study God’s Word, process what you are learning with godly Christians from across the spectrum. You will find that there are people who are strong in the Word in categories 1-4 who love the Lord. Personally, I lean Reformed and Charismatic (but have never thought that the Five Points of Calvinism are that great and prefer the Solas of the Reformation). A lot of my best relationships are with Charismatic and Pentecostal friends. A lot of the Bible commentaries and deep theology books I read lean more in the Reformed direction. I’ve had the honor of teaching God’s Word as a Senior Pastor for more than two decades through dozens of books of the Bible. I assure you that your relationship with God is a journey of continual deeper understanding. I find that I am learning more and more about the Holy Spirit all the time and have come to really enjoy my personal relationship with the Holy Spirit because He is the one with the power to make more more and more like Jesus.
Lastly, Jesus was filled with the Spirit. When all else fails, if you want to know what it is like to be filled with the Spirit, be lead by the Spirit, and empowered by the Spirit, just look to Jesus. We do not know if he spoke in tongues, which is nice, since it’s one less thing we have to fight over in His name. Hopefully this has been of some help. I’m praying for you and appreciate your question.