< FAQ With Pastor Paul - Hebrews 6
Wed. Nov. 20, 2013 08:27 Age: 4 yrs

Category: Pastor's Q&A

FAQ With Pastor Paul


In my sermon on Sunday I suggested that the life of John Bunyan, particularly with respect to the partnership of the Word and Spirit so evident in his autobiography, could provide useful resources for us in the present conflict surrounding the charismatic gifts.  That prompted the following question and response which I thought might prove useful to a wider audience.

Question: 

(This question has been edited for length and to provide anonymity) 

As a 'reticent' cessationist, I certainly identified with your description of the abuses with respect to the claims of the Holy Spirit's work in people's lives today. I appreciated your strong statement that whatever modern day prophesy is, it does not legitimize claims to “fresh revelation”.  Doesn’t that make you a cessationist?  As with most areas of doctrinal and theological conflict, it would be a mistake to assume we all share the same definitions. Could you clarify what you mean by “cautious continuationist” and “hard core cessationist”? I know that some folks in this debate (Wayne Grudem for example) provide different definitions for prophesy, some of which are more helpful than others; what is your definition?  I look forward to your response. 

Answer: 

I responded as follows:

Hi Friend,

The key phrase in your email for me is: 

“As with most areas of doctrinal and theological conflict, it would be a mistake to assume we all share the same definitions.”

Exactly right.  The reason that I so often use adjectives when discussing this issue (cautious continuationist; hard core cessationist) is that I don’t really like either phrase and would struggle to affirm either without extensive definition.  With the cessationists I want to affirm the following:

1.      1.  God used extraordinary miracles and sign gifts (tongues in particular along with remarkable healings) to mark out the Apostles and “Scripture level” prophets.  Paul is as Isaiah, Peter is as Jeremiah.  I do believe that the Apostolic era was unique.  The church is built on the foundation of the Apostles.  Subsequent layers are lesser and derivative. 

2.      2.  There is a disproportionate amount of doctrinal error and moral failure in the charismatic church.  That cannot be argued.  While we can always find conservative Evangelicals who are guilty of error and misconduct, these tend to be the exceptions rather than the rule.  The charismatic church seems characterized by these things and Matthew 7 seems to indicate that this is a powerful argument against their legitimacy.  We shall and increasingly do, know them by their fruits.

3.      3.  Revelatory prophesy has ceased.  The canon is closed.  Scripture is authoritative and sufficient.  No one gets to say: “Thus saith the Lord” unless they have an open copy of the Bible in front of them. 

However, here is where I think the “hard core” cessationists go too far. 

1.     1.  In saying “God is silent”.  MacArthur said that, flat out in one of his sessions.  I disagree.  God is not silent!  He speaks in and through the Word.  The Spirit wields the word in our hearts to shape us, convict us, teach us and guide us.  The Bible is not a bird cage for the voice of God.

2.      2.  The abuse of a thing does not prove the illegitimacy of a thing.  MacArthur’s argument against tongues is simply that it is almost always abused when it happens in the modern day church.  That may be true, in fact I think it is true, but that is not in itself a cogent argument.  Show me the verse that says that tongues must cease after the canon is closed.  To say: “Tongues was used by God to authenticate the Apostolic prophets” is one thing (and I agree with that); but to say “It can never come back” is quite another.  If God is Sovereign and there is no verse saying that tongues could never serve a future purpose of God, what warrant do we have for blanket assertions like “tongues is forbidden”?  Particularly when we have a warning in Scripture that says: “Do not forbid speaking in tongues”? (1 Corinthians 14:39)  That is to go beyond the Bible.

3.      3. In arguing that “modern day prophesy must be akin to Old Testament prophesy and stand up to the same tests and since it doesn’t therefore it doesn’t exist”.  That is a silly argument that again, does not acknowledge the progression from Old Covenant to New and does not reckon with the internal testimony of the Scriptures.  There is something new and different about “prophesy” in the New Testament era.  That is part of what Peter is saying in Acts 2:17-18.  In listening to all the Strange Fire audio I never heard anyone wrestle with that text – that is a remarkable oversight for a conference that asserts its dependence on Scripture!  Like you I find Grudem’s definition of prophesy in the New Testament less than satisfying.  I don’t have a perfect one either, but it seems to me that something has obviously changed.  In the New Testament there appears to be two classes of prophet – a general category that would include men and women, wise and simple, old and young (Acts 2:17-18) who are filled with the Spirit and able to speak the Word of the Lord.  I would think that if we referred to this as “spiritual speech” instead of prophesy, the argument would disappear.  If a truly born again Christian, full of the Holy Spirit with an open Bible in their hand says: “I feel the Spirit prompting me from Galatians 6:10 to encourage everyone in our church to make a donation to the Red Cross for the relief of the Typhoon victims” – how is that unbiblical?  How is that not “prophesy”?  It is a word from the Lord (Galatians 6:10) applied with the help of the Holy Spirit.  It is speaking to one another Spiritually and Biblically.  I want to call that “prophesy” and I believe that doing so is the best way to make sense of verses like 1 Corinthians 11:5 (where guidelines for women prophesying in church are provided) and 1 Corinthians 14:31 (where “everyone can prophesy”).  If we went with MacArthur’s definition of prophesy these verses would be incomprehensible.

On the other hand, here is what I want to affirm out of the “continuationist” camp: 

1.    1.  I want to affirm the exercise of the gift of prophesy according to the definition I proposed above in #3.

2.    2.  I want to affirm the Sovereign right of God to give any gifts he so chooses for whatever purpose makes sense to him, unless so doing would contradict a clear word of God in Scripture.

3.    3.  I want to affirm the necessary partnership of the Word and Spirit in the church as per John Owen who said: “He that would utterly separate the Holy Spirit from the word had as good burn his Bible.”[1]

However, I think the continuationist camp has done a bad job of: 

1.      1. Calling out the abuses of the charismatic movement.  I want to hear D.A. Carson and Piper explain why the prosperity Gospel is an abomination (Grudem and Carson have done this but I’d like to hear more) and why charlatans like Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland are false shepherds animated by either their own mental illness or worse, overtly demonic spirits.

2.      2. Insisting on rigorous examination of “impressions, dreams and visions” for the influence of pride, spite, ignorance and foolishness.  We are sinners and fools and when we give ourselves liberty to treat all our dreams and impressions as “downloads” we do harm to the name of Christ.  I am a sinner and most of my dreams are nothing more than the projection of my pride and ambition and lust upon random bits of reflective imagery stored in the dark corners of my brain.  To label that stuff as revelatory is a slander against the Holy Spirit and the Word.  If we are to permit “spiritual talk” then we must teach more on sin, confusion, pride and distortion as we counsel folks on how to do spiritual talk in the church.

Thanks for the email friend, answering your question helped me bring some clarity to my own use of the terms and hopefully allowed me to explain my own perspective a little more helpfully. 

Blessings,

Pastor Paul

 

 


[1] As cited in Joel Beeke, A Puritan Theology (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 23.


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