I’ve discovered that while I am quite confident in the validity of continuationism, I’ve lived the majority of my life, since adopting that position, as a functional cessationist. I am repenting and the Spirit is drawing near. I’ve found — and this is a concession — that charismatics seldom speak about those times when their prophecies were proven false or a sick person failed to rise. At the same time, I’ve found that cessationists, more often than not, provide the most absurd anecdotes from the most extreme and unorthodox charismatic teachers when critiquing continuationist theology. I’ve also concluded that cessationists cannot make a positive case for cessationism from Scripture, they can only attempt to build a negative case against continuationism. Therefore, continuationists do not need to prove continuationism true (that’s the plain reading of the text) they simply need to demonstrate how cessationist arguments against charismatic continuation fail — Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts. And finally, I’ve determined, since the New Testament knows nothing of the cessation of spiritual gifts before the coming of Christ, the burden of proof lies with the cessationist to prove that contemporary gifts are false not with the continuationist to prove that they are true.
It is this final determination that I am interested to discuss here. If the believing Body of Christ is experiencing charismatic phenomena, similar to that which is described in the New Testament, upon what basis are these experiences to be rejected out of hand?
Recently, a prominent cessationist was interview about the Charismatic Movement on the Janet Mefferd Show. In that interview, when responding to a caller’s question, the gentleman said,
As far as I know, there are no verifiable cases where [the gift of tongues has been given and translated]. In this age, where everybody has cell phones and video tape — everything is video taped. If people were actually speaking in translatable languages, there would be the record of it, somewhere. But all we have are lots of tales of, that are basically urban myths, “I knew a guy who was in a service where this thing happened,” or whatever. This has been a phenomena that has been studied for at least 50 years, and as far as I know, not one credible researcher has ever turned up an incident where someone who did not know a language, was miraculously given the ability to speak in that translatable language.”1He went on to explain to the caller, that if she could provide him with a video of the gift of tongues and its translation, then he’d “...love to see it.” His response left me wondering, if he had been provided the evidence he demanded, would’ve it been enough for him; would've he accepted it as a valid demonstration of those gifts? Little doubt, he would not.
There is an incipient skepticism in contemporary cessationist theology that goes far beyond a reasonable and biblical suspicion of charismatic manifestations.2 No sensible person would dispute the glut of theological error and excess that exists in the Charismatic Movement; and for that reason one ought to expect a higher degree of scrutiny when evaluating these manifestations. However, the default posture of cessationism is to treat all manifestations as dubious. And consequently, no amount of evidence is likely to persuade the cessationist away from his theological tradition.
If it's not the Spirit, who gets the credit?
While I cannot provide any evidence of a person speaking in a translatable tongue that can be verified to any cessationist’s satisfaction, I do have some testimonies that I would like to submit for further consideration.
The following stories are given by respected pastors, evangelists, and theologians; men who are honored by those on both sides of the charismatic/cessationist debate. No one will think to question their character nor their faithful allegiance to sound doctrine and sola Scriptura.
The question for my cessationist brothers and sisters is this:
If the following men are faithfully reporting what they experienced, and what they report were not manifestations of the Spirit, what then were they? To whom or what do we attribute the power of the phenomena they experienced?
Consider this account of Charles Spurgeon's experience:
Theologians have attempted to reclassify prophetic experiences like Spurgeon’s as something other than the gift of prophecy (or the gift of knowledge). Richard Gaffin, for instance, suggests Spirit-prompted insight;3 Bob Glenn suggests Edifying Impressions;4 and Phil Johnson, Extraordinary Providence.5
However, changing the nomenclature fails to acknowledge and account for the information that was supernaturally transmitted to Spurgeon’s mind. Whatever name the experience is given, cessationists must contend with the information that God disclosed to Spurgeon about the shoemaker and the thief; information that was otherwise absolutlely unknowable. And if cessationists concede that God gave Charles Spurgeon a revelation then they no longer have a basis to continue their objection against post-Apostolic prophecy.
Some may object that Spurgeon was a cessationist and that he warned his hearers against following these types of leadings and impressions; and those observations are certainly true. However, neither Spurgeon's theology nor what he thought about his experiences are what is being evaluated. It's the manifestations he experienced that we are considering. The question remains, how did Spurgeon acquire a knowledge of these things?
Spurgeon is not the only cessationist who has, in spite of his contrary position, experienced this type of charismatic phenomena. Consider the following story by Dr. RC Sproul.
Consider the following testimony given by Pastor Matt Chandler.
Bob Hamp gives his version of Matt Chandler's prophecy.
What did Matt Chandler experience? If it was not the Spirit working a prophecy through him, then there remain only three alternative possibilities:
Delusional — Through the random exercise of his imagination, Matt happened to stumble upon the particular combination of information and sequencing of events that led to a chance encounter with Thomas. It was merely God's extraordinary providence that led to their meeting. Therefore, it only appears that a prophecy was fulfilled.
Answer — If it were only God working his providence, why would he do it in this way? Why give Matt and his crew, or Thomas and his daughter, the illusion of a miraculous revelatory sign? (0r, any of the men featured in this article, for that matter? The multiplicity of coincidences suggests a plot.)
Demonized — Matt was fed the information by a demon to make it appear that charismatic gifts continue.
Answer — First, most cessationinsts do not believe that demons can demonize a person in whom the Spirit of God dwells. So assuming Matt is born of God, how did he hear the demon speak?
Second, if a demon did feed Matt that information, then it was working with Matt to make sure he would be at the right place at the right time to pray for Thomas and his daughter.
But that couldn't be, because Jesus said, "If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end." (Mark 3:24—26 ESV)
Deceived — Matt conspired with his wife and Bob Hamp, to deceive his congregation.
That's a possibility.Prominent cessationists react to Matt Chandler's prophecy.
Consider the following testimonies from men who attest to the Spirit's work in their ministries.
Consider bookmarking this page. Additional video and articles, coming soon.
1 Phil Johnson, “The Janet Mefferd Show— Aug 15, 2013 — Hr. 3,” ref. 23:19—24:15, [cited 8 Oct 2013]. Online: http://www.janetmefferdpremium.com/2013/08/15/janet-mefferd-radio-show-20130815-hr-3/ ↩
2 Paul instructed the church to test all things by Scripture (1 Thes 5:20—21). The biblical posture toward the gifts, therefore, is to assume that they are genuine, unless they fail the test. In contrast, cessationists fail the gifts without an examination, because they have presupposed the cessation of the gifts.↩
3 Richard Gaffin suggests “Spirit-prompted insight” — Wayne Grudem, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Robert L Saucy, C. Samuel Storms, Douglas A. Oss, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: 4 Views. (Grand Rapis: Zondervan, 1996), 294.↩
4 RW Glenn, “The Spirit of the Christian God Part 6: The Spirit of Generosity” [cited 8 Oct 2013]. Online: http://youtu.be/w5HMNvTsduA?t=20m28s ↩
5 Phil Johnson, “Wretched Radio — Aug 18, 2011 — Hr. 2” [cited 8 Oct 2013]. Online: http://youtu.be/gF-OMBB_jZI?t=1m8s ↩