Saturday, July 19, 2008

Cessationism; An undefendable tenet

Did the gifts of the Holy Spirit cease after the completion of Holy Scripture? That is the belief of many Christians. D. Matthew Allen is one such pastor. His ardent defense of the doctrine of cessationism is found easily on the web. His points are clear. I will engage them individually to show that the "doctrine of cessationism" is not only undefendable but contradicted by the very Bible that these precious folks pretend to defend.
Mr. Allen develops the the following points as his reasons why the revelatory gifts have ceased.
(1) Jesus is the cornerstone of the church and the foundation upon which the church is laid (Eph. 2:20; 1 Cor. 3:11). Jesus is also the culmination and completion of God’s revelation to man (Heb. 1:1-2).I suppose that Mr Allen feels that the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit is a threat to the doctrine of Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit would testify of Christ and his teaching (John 14.26)and that the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus Christ (Rev 19.10). The purpose of the revelatory gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 clearly is to glorify God by the working of the Holy Spirit (v11). Clearly the Apostle Paul, who privately practiced the revelatory gifts(tongues 1 Cor 14.18), did not see his practice of these gifts as contrary to the work of Christ or any threat to the foundation of the church. And while the revelation of God in Christ is certainly complete in Jesus (as Allen references in Hebrews1.1-2) the author of the Hebrews makes clear that the gospel was attended by signs, wonders, and gifts of Holy Spirit as a confirmation of that great work of Christ (Heb 2.4). I suggest that to set the gifts and the revelation of Jesus over and against each other is foreign to the scriptures and the product of an anti-supernatural bias. Let me be blunt- no where in Scripture are the revelatory gifts contrary to the teaching of Jesus or a threat to the finished work of the cross. The gifts of the Holy Spirit attend the preaching of that glorious truth with personal revelation.

(2) Apostles and prophets were raised up in the 1st century as New Testament witnesses to Christ, ap-pointed by Him to bear authentic witness to his resurrection and redemption of man (Acts 1:2, 8, 21-26; 1 Cor. 9:1, 16; 15:1-4, 8-11; Gal. 1:1, 15-16). Compared to Jesus, apostles were the foundation of the church only in a secon-dary and inferior sense. (Eph. 2:20). To limit the ministry of the NT prophet and apostle to bearing authentic witness is another extra-biblical idea. In fact, Acts 1.8 makes clear that the entire group in the upper room (120 not just the 12 apostles) were to be empowered to bear witness by the miraculous presence of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. And while Allen may feel less threatened theologically by calling these NT apostles and prophets inferior, it was Jesus himself who promised that they would do GREATER miracles than he did (John 14.11-14). Certainly, these miracles (and the context is miracles!) are more than salvation. Mark 16.20 tells us of the accompanying signs and wonders that "worked with" all who believe (not just apostles) as they preached the Word.

(3) Apostles were directly commissioned by Jesus for a unique missionary work (Mark 3:14-15; Acts 1:21-26; Rom. 1:1; 2 Cor. 11:5; 12:11-12; Gal. 1:1). As a unique office and gift, apostleship ended in the first century A.D. (Cf. Matt. 19:28; Acts 12:2). This, of course, is a half truth. Miracles were routinely done in the book of acts by people other than the 12 Apostles. Acts 8 tells of the great revival of miracles and wonders done by Philip- a deacon. The next chapter tells of Ananias laying his hands on Saul and a dramatic healing. In Acts 13 prophets and teacher (not apostles) are used to call out the Apostle Paul and Barnabus to their work. This happens by the gift of the Spirit.

Apostles beyond the 12 unique Apostles of the Lamb not only were selected and sent out during the first century (Andronicus and Junias, Barnabas,etc are called apostles) and they continue to this day. Certainly there is nothing in Eph 4.11ff that would lead us to believe that some of those gifts were temporary. They are all gifts to the church to lead the church to maturity " prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." Unless Allen is willing to say that the church has achieved the lofty goals set out in Eph 4 he must acknowledge that the terms and purpose of the apostolic gifts continue to this very day. And while there may be some differences between the 12 Apostles of the Lamb and those called out to be apostles today there is much work to be done.

(4) In the 1st century, the gift of prophecy was closely related to the gift of apostleship (2 Cor. 12:12). The purpose of prophesy in the New Testament was to edify and strengthen the early church (1 Cor. 14:3-4; 14:22).
This assertion seems to link the two giftings together- another assumption from outside the Scripture. These two giftings, while working together on many occassions are never conflated together. They function differently and and not be be confused, as any cursory reading of Eph 4 would lead one.

(5) In essence, then, prophesy served the church as a specific witness to Jesus Christ at a time when it lacked the written revelation of Jesus Christ in the form of the New Testament. As Gaffin has stated, “With this foundational revelation completed, and so too their foundational role as witnesses, the apostles and, along with them, the prophets and other associated revelatory word gifts, pass from the life of the church.” Another half truth that places artificial and unbiblical limits upon the gift of prophecy. In fact, the Apostle Paul urged that all prophetic utterances be judged by those hearing the word of prophecy (1 Cor 14.29). How would those utterances be judged? Because apostolic doctrine was daily preached in the NT church (Acts 2.42-44) and the prophetic utterances would not violate the tenets of said doctrine. Paul knew that prophecy would always be subjective in nature and as such needed to bow before the objective truth of the apostolic teaching. To invert that is circular reasoning and confuses the purpose of the gift with the effect of the gift.

(6) Several Scriptural passages make this point:
a. Jude 3 says, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” The word “faith” re-fers to the body of truths taught by the apostles or the “things believed.” (See also Gal. 1:23; 1 Tim. 4:1). It is a reference to the propositional truth of the gospel -- a truth now found only in the written pages of Scripture. The word “entrusted” (paradidonai) is the word used for handing down authorized tradition in Israel. (Cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-3; 2 Thes. 3:6). Moreover, the phrase “once for all” (hapax) indicates that the faith -- the objective content of Chris-tianity -- was entrusted to the saints one time, conclusively. Once this process was completed, there was no further need for additional revelation beyond the apostolic age.

In this final sentence of this point, Allen betrays the weakness of his argument. The revelatory gifts come to minister to the body of Christ. In 1 Cor 12 the church was certainly saved but still needed both the ministry of the gifts and the opportunity to be used in the gifts. The once and for all entrusted faith is not linked to the scriptures- the NT scriptures are not anywhere in view in the writing of Jude. How could they be, they were still being written!? (Jude!) Certainly, the Word preached and received is what is in view for the author of Jude.

b. Jesus promised his disciples that, after His departure, the Holy Spirit would give them “all truth” (Jn 14:26; 16:12-13). 2 Peter 1:21 amplifies the method by which the Holy Spirit would give the apostles truth; Scripture is the result of the Holy Spirit’s carrying the authors along as they wrote. This is an inexcusable interpretation. To say that Peter is commenting on the methodology that John had in mind while recording the words of Jesus?! The Sriptures are inspired and are used as a plumb line with which to judge prophetic words and revelatory ministry gifts. And certainly truth comes in the objective and propositionally authoritative writings of the Apostles, but the very meaning of the words in John 14 and 16 is that the Spirit would bring subjectively to the remembrance of the individual disciples the teachings of Jesus. This Holy Spirit is not just given to the church authorities- it is the Holy Spirit given to all who believe!

c. The apostle John said that anyone who adds to the words of the book of Revelation would be cursed (Rev. 22:18). While his words apply specifically to the revelation given to him as recorded in the last book of the New Testament, inferentially, they equally apply to the canon of Scripture as a whole.

Here again, a leap that even Allen must acknowledge. That the curse of Rev 22.18 is applied to those who prophesy after the close of scriptures canon is ludicris. The canon wasn't fully selected and defined for hundreds of years. The councils worked diligently and fought political pressures et al to preserve holy writ. Are we to think that after the writing of REvelation in 95 AD there was no prophetic ministry that was valid and not under a curse? The Didache, a gathering of teachings regarding church behavior from around 95 AD, clearly teaches otherwise. It acknowledges the itinerate ministries of evangelists and prophets and apostles.

In sum, because prophecy and other “revelatory” gifts have fulfilled their purpose and are no longer neces-sary to provide a witness to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, they have thereby ceased to exist; it is Scripture that now takes their place as God’s special revelation regarding salvation. It is now the written Word of God that is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, in short for life, to equip man for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16). The view that God directly speaks to man today through the continuation of revelatory gifts seriously undermines this principle.

Clearly, the NT expects the Spirit to be empowering the believers to do ministry. I am a Pentecostal because that expectation is CLEARLY delineated in Scripture. It is not always neat; it is not always without problems or issues. But it is the result of the study of the Word of God. Cessationism cannot be defended. It is certainly not the result of the reading of the Scriptures. And it is definitely frought with bias and based upon personal experience rather than solid exegesis (bible interpretation) . I encourage you to read the NT for yourself. Ask yourself what the expectation of Jesus and the Apostles was for his church. Was it to be an authoritarian circle of dogmatic doctrine keepers or an empowered lot of believers changing their world?YOU be the Judge!


Paul M. Harrison said...

I have always agreed that there isn't much of a biblical case for cessationism. My reading of the New Testament even at age 14 showed a desperateness to get the gospel out and a definite expectation that Jesus was coming back immediately. I don't think they imagined we'd be here 2,000 years later, much less with the gifts ceasing before the end.

There are various kinds of cessationism, such as partial cessationsim which says that God may still use the gifts sparingly in remote parts of the world, but not where the gospel is already preached. There is a debate between just how active the gifts of the Spirit were between the first century and the twentieth century with Parham in Kansas and Seymour at Azusa Street. Besides hot spots here and there, they weren't normative, so modern Pentecostalism is looked at as an American cultural phenomenon exported to the rest of the world during the past 100 years as opposed to a Biblically based, unceasing, normative practice since the first century.

The very titles "Pentecostal Renewal," "Pentecostal Revival," and "End-Times Revival of Pentecostalism" see this new surge and emphasis on these gifts as "new moves of God" rather than normative.

I think the best a cessationist can do is point out the lack of use of the gifts in history and then show the renewed emphasis on them this past century. From there, they need to show that all that has happened since Topeka at the turn of the last century is bogus and countefeit, which they believe they have done.

After the Pentecostal Revival it was said the office of faith healer was restored after WWII followed by the Charisamtic Renewal and now the renewal of the Prophet and Apostle.

Truth be told, I'm with the cessationist who asks us to really examine the practices and claims of these movements to see if in fact these offices and gifts are genuine or if they are delusional cultural inventions - perhaps even pop-religion side show circuses with nothing supernatural happening at all.

If televangelists, traveling faith healers, and what we find in Christian bookstores count as the best spokespeople, leaders, and role models, then modern Pentecostalism is a bad joke at best and a cruel delusion at worst.

You have written before about anti-intellectualism in Pentecostalism. This refusal to be careful has left open a culture that is easily taken and highly imaginitive and uncritical. I don't envy you being a minister to Pentecostal people because you always get those few eccentic off-in-outer-space people who you just can't bring back to reality. After a while I began advising people to believe in a God who can do anything, but not to get involved in the modern American Pentecostal movement or subculture. The liabilities seemed to far outweigh the benefits.

What happens as well is that because the Bible is not a neat and well-laid out text book or instruction manual, we are stuck with a few relative instructions from Paul in Corinthians, applying from narrative in Acts, and a few statements in the Gospels. If we are creative enough, we can find much more. Many times if you read books on tongues or prophecy, it will be highly theoretical, highly anecdotal, and will use the practices of the subculture to interpret the verse by. I had always found it frustrating and wondered how someone could write a twenty page chapter on a single verse!

People have often said that to quench and deny the Spirit and His work is a huge disservice for the church, but the other book end says it is also a huge disservice to attribute fantasy and parlor tricks to the Spirt of God being at work and link God directly to fraud and silly misrepresentation.

Perhaps both extremes can err on the side of caution.

Pastor Dave said...

You are correct in stating that the gifts of the Spirit were snuffed out as the church became corrupted and compromised throughout the ages. Papal control, governmental influence, and even rampant illiteracy stiffled the church. Then came guttenburg, and the reformation, and Luther and Calvin. As the church grew closer to the Word God culled out a people who were dedicated to holiness. This was a European phenominon that was trasported to the US. But all through history there is evidence that God answered the prayers of his saints and worked through his people in the gifts.(See Stanely Burgess' Spirit and the Church in Antiquity for selected quotes)

Thankfully, the "side show" version of Pentecostalism isn't the only version of a life lived in expectation of the imminency of the Spirit.

Certainly there are gifts of the Holy Spirit manifested frequently. Prophetic words that come to fulfillment, gifts of healing that genuinely cannot be explained by doctors, etc. These gifts are the kind of things that have caused the charismatic message to expand so rapidly through out the world.

Certainly there are cultural trappings that the American church exports (and now imports) in which both the genuine article of the Holy Spirit and the fleshly attempts of the wanna bees are wrapped in. Some things are cultural ( the organ playing, the "altar call", the flashy suits,etc) but other things are truly divinely instituted (the opportunity to respond to the message of the gospel, genuine works of healing and repentance, for example).

While the medium may hinder the message sometimes it may also engender greater response. Some times it makes the message more relevant to the target audience by borrowing structures existent already and using them to reach the world for the gospel.

Certainly the rapid expansion of Christianity in these days can be attributed to this neo- pentecostal message that has fulfilled missionary callings at an unprecidented rate (as prophesied in Acts 1.8).There will always be fakes and copy cats trying to reproduce in the flesh what God is doing in the Spirit. It is in the fallen nature of humanity. Learning to discern the difference may take time but it is ulimately worth it. To do otherwise is to live a sheltered, hollow and powerless faith that fails to measure up to the Biblical standard.

For the follower of Christ- that is certainly not an option.