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Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Are Cessationists "Missing Out"?

I don’t often blog about this topic because it tends to make tempers flare. However, in recent weeks, I’ve been finding myself in constant unintended conflict with Christians who disagree with something I’ve written or posted on-line that would fall into this category. I’m hoping I can use this post in response so that I don’t have to get into further debates about this.

I find these discussions extremely discouraging for several reasons. Firstly, the huge numbers of people who are being led astray due to their excessive focus on signs and wonders. Secondly, the fact that those who hold to a cessationist position, or who have cessationist leanings, seem to be increasingly rare despite this being the traditional, historical position of the church. Thirdly, the complete misunderstanding of what a cessationist actually believes.

To be clear, a cessationist believes that the sign gifts that appeared in the New Testament, specifically tongues, prophecy/words of knowledge, casting out demons and healing, ceased, or died out, with the apostles, or with the completion of Scripture. They don’t usually believe in modern day prophets or apostles. They are cautious about accepting at face value reports of dreams and visions, especially of Jesus appearing in person and communicating with people. They evaluate all reports of miracles and the supernatural through the lens of Scripture. They usually believe that God communicates via the Bible rather than in an audible voice. They believe that the Holy Spirit always points back to Jesus rather than drawing attention to, or placing the emphasis on Himself.

The conflict I’m referring to isn’t usually coming from those who hold a continuationist position but who recognise the need to check everything against the Bible. It is also not from those who cautiously examine all phenomena and test the spirits to see if they are from God. I have many friends with these views and conflict is rare.

I’m referring to those who fall into the aggressively argumentative camp. Those who are not happy just to hold their own views about what the Bible says, but wish to convert others to their way of thinking, whatever it takes. The people who find it offensive that others believe something different to them and who refuse to recognise that an alternative viewpoint has validity.

Amongst other things, I’ve been told that my spiritual life is fake, that I’m not a Christian, that I’m dead in orthodoxy, that I’m a Pharisee, that my views are toxic, that I’m arrogantly presumptuous, and that I’m missing out on the work of the Holy Spirit, and that people feel sorry for me. One person even sent me a private message  stating they were going to “defriend and block” me on a book sharing website. This person had begun a debate on a book review I had written. The worst suggestion, to date, has been that I'm in danger of committing the unforgiveable sin (blaspheming the Holy Spirit) by questioning whether these things are from God.

I’ve had people detail all of the incidences of charismatic phenomena/supernatural occurrences in the New Testament. Then, they remind me that God doesn’t change, that He is all powerful, and that it must be my lack of faith that causes me to question or doubt. One person even said that the reason I haven’t been healed from an auto-immune condition is due to a lack of faith on my part. 

These people approach me in the street at my free Christian book table, comment on my social media posts and debate on my book reviews and blog posts. They attack me for expressing my sincerely held beliefs about what the Bible teaches. They assume that I am ignorant and in need of enlightenment. 

Perhaps, most discouragingly, many are astonished to hear my views because they have never heard them before. They are in churches where constant supernatural manifestations have become common-place and any other way appears strange to them. They have not been taught to exercise discernment or to test the spirits. They often comment that these things must be from God because they are good, forgetting that the devil comes as an angel of light to cause confusion.

My point here is not to argue about which position is correct hence continuing the conflict referred to above, which I’m fed up with. Obviously, cessationists and continationists can’t both be right; either the gifts have ceased or they haven’t. Theologians have debated this for many years and I’m not hoping to resolve the issue here!

I want to remind Christians, that both positions are honestly held, and that there shouldn’t be a need for hostility, or any type of conflict. In most cases, the Bible has been studied to form conclusions, and posting something about the cessationist position on-line isn’t a personal attack on a continuationist, and vice versa.

Here are some resources that, alongside the Bible, helped me in reaching my cessationist viewpoint:


Strange Fire Conference:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhG2CBVQy3w

John MacArthur/Grace To You:
Charismatic Chaos and Strange Fire books, and Sermon Series

Peter Masters:
The Charismatic Phenomenon/Illusion

Got Questions:
https://www.gotquestions.org/cessationism.html

Tim Challies:
https://www.challies.com/articles/why-i-am-not-continuationist/

R.C Sproul:
https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/zeal-without-knowledge/



All Christians, regardless their interpretation of charismatic gifts, should be aware of these Bible verses (and others not listed), that call for discernment:

Matthew 7 vs 15
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

Matthew 7 vs 22-23
 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.

Matthew 24 vs 24
"For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.

2 Corinthians 11 vs 13-15
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

2 Timothy 4 vs 3-4
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

2 Peter 2 vs 1-3
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

1 John 4 vs 1
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.