Vern Poythress, “Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit Within Cessationist Theology“:

People debate about whether “prophecy” in the New Testament and the early church was divinely inspired and infallible. Did it possess full divine authority?

Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., says that it was inspired.

Wayne A. Grudem argues that it was not.

Many people believe that the outcome of this debate is crucial for the future of the charismatic movement.

But actually the outcome of the debate makes very little practical difference today.

Poythress asks us to to “suppose that Gaffin is right”:

Then “prophecy” ceased with the completion of the apostolic era and the completion of the canon of Scripture. Modern phenomena are fallible and hence are not identical with New Testament prophecy. But modern nondiscursive processes with teaching content is analogous to prophecy, just as modern preaching is analogous to apostolic preaching. Hence the general principles concerning spiritual gifts, as articulated in 1 Cor 12-14 and elsewhere, are still applicable. What charismatics call “prophecy” is not really the “prophecy” mentioned in the New Testament. Rather, it is a fallible analogue. It is really a spiritual gift for speaking fallibly through nondiscursive processes. It contrasts with preaching, which is a spiritual gift for speaking fallibly through discursive processes.

Modern nondiscursive processes with circumstantial content are in a sense not really analogous to inspired biblical prophecy. But they can function positively in the service of the Spirit, just as does circumstantial content through discursive processes.

Then, on the other hand, Poythress asks us to “suppose that Grudem is right”:

Then “prophecy” continues. But such “prophecy” is fallible. It is not identical with the inspired prophecy of the Old Testament. It is in fact a spiritual gift for speaking fallibly through nondiscursive processes. If the content is biblical, its authority derives from the Bible. If the content is circumstantial, it is not an addition to the Bible (not divinely authoritative). Hence it is just information and has no special authority. Hence Grudem ends up with substantially the same practical conclusions as does Gaffin.

Poythress clarifies where Grudem and Gaffin agree and where they differ:

Hence, there is no need for Gaffin and Grudem to disagree about the modern phenomena. They disagree only about the label given to the phenomena (“not-prophecy” versus “prophecy”), and about whether the New Testament phenomena were identical or merely analogous to the modern phenomena.

Both Gaffin and Grudem already acknowledge the fallibility of the modern phenomena.

Gaffin needs only to take the additional step of integrating the modern phenomena into a theology of spiritual gifts. Given this theological integration, we find that there is an analogical justification for the use of these gifts in the church today.

Grudem, on the other hand, needs only to clarify the status of “prophecy.” “Prophecy,” he says, is fallible, but still revelatory. It still derives from God, and still is important for the well-being of the church. Gaffin and many others find this sort of description difficult to grasp or classify. How can something be “revelatory” and still not compete with the sufficiency of Scripture? I explain how partly by distinguishing teaching content from circumstantial content. Teaching content must not add to Scripture, but can only rephrase what is already there in Scripture. Circumstantial content has the same status as information received through a long-distance telephone call—that is, it has no special claim to authority. It is therefore obvious that neither type of content threatens the sufficiency of Scripture.

Poythress applies this beyond Grudem and Gaffin:

If charismatics and noncharismatics could agree on these points, I think that the debate on modern spiritual gifts would be largely over. But there are practical adjustments. People who value nondiscursive gifts have tended to migrate into charismatic circles, where nondiscursive gifts are prized. People who value discursive gifts have migrated into noncharismatic circles, where discursive gifts are prized. Each group tends to prize only people of its own kind. We all need to learn again from 1 Corinthians 12 the importance of every gift, including those with which we have yet to become comfortable.

You can read the whole thing here.

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33 thoughts on “Why (Some) Cessationists and (Some) Continuationists Don’t Disagree about Prophecy as Much as (Some) People Might Think”

  1. They disagree only about the label given to the phenomena (“not-prophecy” versus “prophecy”)…

    I’m sympathetic toward Poythress’s position. But one problem with this particular argument is that it seems to assume that it makes “very little practical difference” what labels we use.

    To use the term “prophecy” for what Grudem has in mind is problematic because the term immediately connects it, in many people’s minds, with Old Testament conception of prophecy (“Thus says the Lord”). So for those familiar with OT usage, the very term carries the connotation of infallible divine inspiration, the very words of God. And that will lead, in practice, to folk treating modern-day “prophecy” as equal in authority to Scripture.

    Words matter.

    1. steve hays says:

      I agree with Dr. Anderson that the debate suffers from lack of clarity. Let’s draw some basic distinctions:

      i) Not all prophetic phenomena is of the “Thus says the Lord” variety. Consider some prophetic dreams:

      9 Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me” (Gen 37:9).

      13 When Gideon came, behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, “Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.” 14 And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp” (Judges 7:13-14).

      Those are revelatory, but they aren’t the “very words of God.” They don’t contain any “words” from God.

      ii) In addition, although these dreams were inspired, the dreamer isn’t necessarily speaking under inspiration when he relates his dream.

      Furthermore, the dreams require interpretation. The interpretation isn’t necessarily fallible.

      So those are two additional conditions.

      iii) To take another example: “24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed” (1 Cor 14:24-25)?

      Suppose a Christian tells an unbeliever something the unbeliever did in the past. An incident which only the unbeliever would ordinarily be privy to. That would be revelatory. Extrasensory knowledge of the past, or someone’s private memories.

      But that’s not like a divine command. And it’s easy to verify or falsify. The unbeliever knows whether or not he did it.

      iv) There’s also a distinction between first and secondhand information. If a Christian had a premonitory dream, and it comes true, he’s justified in believing it. If he tells his friend about the dream before it happens, the friend is justified in believing it.

      If, however, he tells his friend about it after it happens, then it doesn’t carry the same degree of warrant. The friend didn’t have that experience. And he can’t confirm it independently.

      v) There’s a further distinction between what’s obligatory and what’s prudential. If my friend tells me he had a premonition about me, I don’t have a duty to heed the warning, but if my friend a level-headed guy, I might be wise to heed his warning.

      1. Kent says:

        I think a further point of clarity is to be made: not all prophecy is for the purpose of building the canon of Scripture, nor is all prophecy for the purpose of giving new, universal revelation.

        Keep in mind that Paul distinguishes between apostles and prophets (they are not the same), and there is no indication that Paul regards their prophecy to be fallible in essence (but some who purport to be prophets are not, and therefore their prophesying could be false). But by the sheer fact that Luke identifies both Philip’s daughters and Agabus as prophets, without clarification, shows that they were in fact prophets. It should also be noted that there were many prophets in Israel during the times of the Judges and the Kings. Not all of their words made it into Scripture, simply because much of prophecy is specific to certain people, and not applicable to others. So we need to keep this in mind, because otherwise we falsely represent the totality of biblical prophecy.

        1. Kent says:

          And if I can be indulged to take up a little more space to provide Scripture reference and one more, crucial point.

          Regarding the OT and NT scriptures:

          After that you shall come to Gibeath-elohim, where there is a garrison of the Philistines. And there, as soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. Now when these signs meet you, do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you. (1 Samuel 10:5-7 ESV)

          And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). (Acts 11:28 ESV) On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” (Acts 21:8-11 ESV)

          I apologize for the excessiveness, but these two examples show that prophesy contains some sort of ecstasy, even in the OT, and in the NT, Agabus is reputed to say, “Thus says the Holy Spirit”, and is reputed to be genuine. But one more thing about the OT relates to speaking in tongues, and the similarity and difference between the phenomena in the NT.

          So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it. (Numbers 11:24, 25 ESV)

          This looks very much like the Acts account of speaking in tongues, except without the various languages. Why is that? This, I think, represents the pattern for the New Testament. In other words, what occurs in Acts’ speaking in tongues is prophecy, yet in multiple languages.

          By Corinthians, of course, Paul distinguishes the two sharply (implying that what was occurring in the church’s speaking in tongues was of a different order, and unintelligible without interpretation). So speaking in tongues does take on a different function later, but prophecy remains the same. And clearly prophecy is not tied solely to new, special revelation of doctrine and practice.

    2. steve hays says:

      There’s another problem with Grudem’s paradigm. Suppose passages like Acts 2:17-18 and 1 Cor 13:8-10 indicate that charismata are an integral feature of the new covenant. Even so, that creates no presumption regarding the frequency of charismata in the church age. They might happen every now and then in the course of church history. They needn’t be a regular occurrence.

      1. taco says:

        That seems like much more of a refining point (a making of a more precise position well within Grudem’s paradigm) than a problematic outworking of it.

  2. Josh Alfaro says:

    Another problem is that Grudem is quite idiosyncratic in his view that NT prophecy is fallible and he has been critiqued by many on this point. So as the title of this post points out, this would only work for *some* continuationist positions (e.g. those of Grudem). Also, how would this work for other non-prophetic extraordinary gifts such as healing? While cessationists may believe that God still heals miraculously on occasion, they do not believe that people are still given a *gift* of healing ministry as continuationists believe.

    In my judgment, it is better to deal with the cessationist concern for the canon’s closure by saying that authentic NT and post-apostolic prophecy is completely inspired but that its content is, as far as I can tell, almost always specific and localized in nature. That is, post-apostolic prophetic messages are generally given to edify specific local church members (as 1 Corinthians says). For example, someone might have a “word of knowledge” about someone in the congregation with a back injury that God wants to heal. Since in content the messages do not address any entire nation or give any new essential information for the universal Church as a whole, there is no need to publish it as Scripture.

    1. Adam Parker says:

      When the book of Acts calls Agabus a “Prophet” and then Grudem claims that this “Prophet” makes a false prophecy, that really gets in my craw. It’s one thing to say that an average believer can make an admonition with no authority to another believer that doesn’t come true, but when a “Prophet” is said to make false prophecies, and you need this to be the case for your view to make any sense, I think it means your view has some major problems.

      1. taco says:

        While one may not agree with Grudem’s conclusion let’s not straw man. If I remember correctly his position was not that Agabus was a false prophet (as Agabus would not be a false prophet in Grudem’s view) but that Agabus was not correct in all the details and that Paul dismissed the warnings. Which would fit in Grudem’s view of a subordinate/circumstantial/fallible prophecy that may not get the details exactly right that was important for people to hear but that Christians have liberty to weigh/consider and even dismiss.

        (Just trying to keep the ball on the playing field here to represent people fairly. I have been told Dr. Schreiner wrote a response to Grudem on this subject in a recent book)

        1. John says:

          Schreiner’s response in his Pauline Theology work, “Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ.” In my opinion, it dismantles Grudem’s already shaky proposal.

          As to Adam’s point, this is where Grudem has a problem and is open to critique. Yes, he would say that it’s a different kind of prophecy, but that’s precisely the point. He has to be able to ably show that the NT redefines or, at least, adds another kind of prophecy to the OT definition. If the Bible never explicitly gives a new or different definition for prophet other than that of the OT (which requires all true prophets to give only true prophecies), then Agabus is a false prophet according to Grudem.

          For me, I Grudem misunderstands the entire passage by confusing Agabus’ prophecy (Paul will experience suffering) and Agabus’ advice (Paul should not go). The prophecy of Agabus was true but Paul knew he couldn’t follow his advice because of his conviction to spread the gospel, despite suffering.

          1. Richard says:

            John,

            In regards to your last paragraph Grudem has responded to this by saying:

            “The difficulty with the entire passage…is the fact that the expression ‘through the Spirit (in Greek, ‘dia tou pneumatos’) modifies the verb ‘they were telling in the Greek text (it modifies the imperfect verb, ‘elegon’)…So here is speech given “through the Spirit” that Paul disobeys!”

            Now Grudem may be wrong but he has attempted to ground his view on this passage in the actual grammar.

            1. Kent says:

              I’m still wondering what the verse is in which Agabus gives Paul advice or instruction.

              While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” (Acts 21:10-14 ESV)

              1. Richard says:

                Kent,

                The passage that I was referring to is Acts 21.4 “…and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.”

                That’s what Grudem is referring to when he writes:

                “The difficulty with the entire passage…is the fact that the expression ‘through the Spirit (in Greek, ‘dia tou pneumatos’) modifies the verb ‘they were telling in the Greek text (it modifies the imperfect verb, ‘elegon’)…So here is speech given “through the Spirit” that Paul disobeys!” (p. 22)

                http://www.waynegrudem.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Robertson-O-Palmer-response-by-WG.pdf

              2. Kent says:

                Ah! Okay. That isn’t Agabus, but would we be right in counting that to be prophecy? Whether or not we do, the most we can say from that is that Paul chose not to listen to what they were saying “through the Holy Spirit”, though I imagine there must be a difference between “Thus says the Holy Spirit” and “through the Spirit”.

        2. Kent says:

          Agabus states:

          1) The Jews at Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt (Paul)
          2) They will deliver him to the Gentiles (the Romans)

          He doesn’t say that they will bind Paul with his own belt. He doesn’t say that they will deliver him over willingly. But, Luke goes on to say, in the same chapter, that the Romans are the ones who bind Paul and take him away. So the question is, who is right?

          I think it’s important to note that Luke gives absolutely no indication that Agabus was wrong (he mentions him in chapter 11 as giving a correct prophecy of an impending famine). This isn’t the only place in Acts where there seems to be a major discrepancy of events (see the three different accounts of Paul’s Damascus road experience, or compare Joel 2 with what actually occurs in Acts 2). So the question is, how does Luke reconcile these, if at all?

          1. Kent says:

            Richard,
            I read a little of the Grudem response you posted, and Grudem says some things that are very curious, in my mind, and that seem to comport with much of what has been said here.

            First, he says, “The authors of scripture are no longer called prophets but apostles.” This might not be surprising to you, but I find it to be a very curious statement because I’ve never considered either title to be a description of an “author of scripture”. I’m not even sure it’s accurate, given books such as Kings, Chronicles, Acts, etc. Such thinking represents, in my opinion, the sort of narrow, restricted view of divine revelation and inspiration that would lead to someone saying, “Paul’s writings were inspired, but not his sermons”, or to the cessationist view of apostleship and prophecy.

            Second, he says, “In the Old Testament, at any one time there were very few established prophets among the people of God, often just one or two at a time.” This is blatantly false. In fact, there were whole companies of prophets, and “sons of the prophets” throughout Israel’s history. See 1 Samuel 10 and 19, 1 Kings 18:13, 2 Kings 2:7, 2 Chronicles 24:19, for some examples. Just as Agabus is called a prophet, yet most of what he prophesied doesn’t enter Scripture (it is a stretch to assume he only made two prophecies in his lifetime), so Acts 13:1 states that there were prophets in Antioch, and that Philip’s daughters prophesied. I realize that Grudem mentions that he considers them to be different because they don’t give binding moral law, but Moses is the only OT prophet that gives binding moral law. What we do find, however, are random prophets, unnamed prophets, speaking the words of God to specific people, in contexts that are not associated with Scripture (yet which events found their way into Scripture). One example is 1 Kings 13.

            Finally, Grudem makes note of Acts 19, in which the disciples of John, upon receiving the Holy Spirit after baptism, speak in other languages and prophesy (I’d argue that Luke views Acts 2 in this context, whereas Paul distinguishes this). Grudem goes on to argue that Luke’s view of this prophesying lines up with Paul’s view of “New Testament prophecy”, and that this is not found in the OT. I’d disagree, as both Numbers 11 and 1 Samuel 10 display a surprising similarity to this sort of spontaneous, uncontrolled (this is key) prophetic speech. And it is more striking that in Numbers 11, this occurs when the Spirit “rested” on the elders. Numbers 11 is programmatic for Joel 2 and Acts 2 (see Moses’ request in verse 29).

            I think this does indicate that there are two types of prophesying, one that comprises giving divine instruction or information about the future, and one that consists of divinely orchestrated praise (as in Acts 2:11, “telling… the mighty works of God”). There is not a special prophetic category for writing Scripture or giving moral law. There is no indication that any of the prophets wrote their own words and activities down (despite what “tradition” might say). And, except for Moses, not one prophet gave moral laws. However, they did give divine instruction and/or foretell the future (some did only one of these). And this activity, which was not new revelation, occurred outside of the writing and public reading of Scripture, but not in opposition to it.

  3. taco says:

    Dr. Poythress cites Samuel Rutherford as making distinction between different types of prophecy (3rd and 4th kinds – section 12 of his article). It seems as though if Rutherford can make the distinction we should be able to as well?

    1. Argumentum ad Rutherfordum? :)

      1. taco says:

        :-) yes that was, however it seems that the reaction to not make distinction and instead opt for reductionism is what leads to confusion similar to “once saved always saved” and “perseverance of the saints.” Which may explain why people have such a hard time reconciling a lot of the modern cessationist arguments with what they read in the Bible, whereas, if the proper distinctions are taught and shown how they have been made through history, a lot of the problems go away (think similar problems as similar to the cited OSAS problem of antinomianism or what some might call anti-lordship salvation etc. etc.)

  4. Michael C. says:

    I’ve thought that, while listening to the Grudem v. Hamilton debate that Grudem’s position (while I disagree with it) wasn’t so functionally bad that ministry could be done together.

    So I appreciate this from Poythress as a way to mend a few bridges. It seems to be somewhat the same as the baptism debates – people viewing it from different angles and that if we can understand the angles we can probably respect the position better and thus have better fellowship (and debates) on the subject.

  5. Since this is neutral ground, let me ask a question which, it seems to me, makes a huge amount of difference in whether or not this issue (1) matters, and (2) can ever be resolved.

    I realize that I am perceived as a person who is adamantly against all forms of Charismaticism, both by association and by my blogging over the years. I can live with that. But what I can’t do is pretend that I understand the real vigor of the other side when, effectually, in Poythress and Grudem, we find out that what the Continualist is asking us to do is to create a sacrament out of overconfident guessing and intuition.

    So my question:

    In 1Cor 14, Paul says, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” If we use a completely-vanilla definiton of “prophesy” here (“to declare by divine inspiration.” dictionary.com), of what use is some statement of divine origin which is not binding or (if we can say it without being seen as throwing mud) true?

    1. Matthew Schultz says:

      Isn’t it an exegetical fallacy to use an English dictionary to define Biblical usage?

    2. Josh Alfaro says:

      “…of what use is some statement of divine origin which is not binding or (if we can say it without being seen as throwing mud) true?”

      Most continuationists would not agree with Grudem’s statement that NT/post-apostolic prophecy is fallible. It is a mistake to see Grudem’s position as representative. But if the question is, “What is the use of believing in the continuation of prophecy if it is difficult to be *sure* if the word is binding or true?” I would answer that Paul (1 Cor) and John (1 John 4) seem to believe it is possible to discern correctly if a prophetic message is true or not. There are a couple ways that one could try to discern the truthfulness of a prophetic message: (1) if the message lines up with Scripture, (2) if it lines up with obvious experience (i.e. if someone tells me that God said my spouse will soon die but I’m single, that prophecy is false); (3) if it contains information that the person would otherwise have no access to (i.e. if someone tells me that God is going to heal my left hand and this person had no prior knowledge of my hand injury).

      More to the point of “What’s the use?”: in my reading of 1 Corinthians (esp. ch. 14) and in my experience as well, the vast majority of authentic prophetic messages today are not commands but are targeted, encouraging words meant for edification. I am skeptical of any “God told me that you should do X” prophecies. So the question of whether a message of uncertain truthfulness is “binding” (in the sense of “rendering a person obligated to obey a command”) does not really apply.

    3. @Frank Turk

      “Since this is neutral ground . . . . But what I can’t do is pretend that I understand the real vigor of the other side when, effectually, in Poythress and Grudem, we find out that what the Continualist is asking us to do is to create a sacrament out of overconfident guessing and intuition.”

      I’m afraid that’s a fairly non-neutral way to start. In fact, it appears to poison the well. At the least it can be “seen as throwing mud,” which is an ironic way to broach the topic given you appear not to wish to be “seen as throwing mud.” Please simply substitute “Poythress and Grudem” with “Frank Turk” and “Continualist” with “Cessationist” to see what I mean.

      “If we use a completely-vanilla definiton of ‘prophesy’ here (‘to declare by divine inspiration.’ dictionary.com)”

      1. I could be wrong, but I doubt there’s a “completely-vanilla definition” of prophesy.

      2. A dictionary.com definition is not necessarily interchangeable with whatever the Bible may or may not teach about prophesy. As a Christian, it’d be better to use a “completely-biblical definition” of prophesy. Or at least to make the attempt to speak in biblical categories, with the Bible informing one’s understanding of what prophecy is or isn’t, etc.

      “of what use is some statement of divine origin which is not binding or (if we can say it without being seen as throwing mud) true?”

      1. In the Bible, we have “statement[s] of divine origin” which are “not binding.” Let’s take a “statement of divine origin” that’s contingent on repentance. See the book of Jonah for example. Jonah relays a “statement of divine origin”: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). However, “the people of Nineveh believed God” (v5) and “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (v10).

      2. What makes you think a “statement of divine origin” could not be “true”?

      3. Also, isn’t this begging the question by assuming what needs to be proven?

  6. Bill Combs says:

    “Gaffin needs only to take the additional step of integrating the modern phenomena into a theology of spiritual gifts. Given this theological integration, we find that there is an analogical justification for the use of these gifts in the church today.”

    But, of course, the problem for Gaffin and many of us cessationists is that the “modern phenomena” has nothing whatsoever to do with genuine spiritual gifts. Whatever it is, we believe it is not of God and therefore any integration is impossible.

    1. steve hays says:

      Of course you beg the question.

  7. I hope it’s OK to link to what I think is analogous to a biblical, helpful three-part response to Poythress’s position. You can find it here.

  8. Wayne Wilson says:

    It may be that there is not much difference in the practical outworking of prophecy, since Grudem does rather dumb-down prophecy almost to the level of “You know, I just thought of something.” But I think larger practical issues develop when considering Grudem’s continuationism as a whole. For example, where as Grudem thinks it very possible that a child who is lazy, angry, or rebellious may be demon-possessed and in need of having that lazy spirit rebuked. Gaffin would likely see that as a cruel thing indeed to tell a child he may have demons residing in him because he’s lazy. Theology has its way of working into life in surprising ways. Continuationism doesn’t stop with soft prophecy. You can try to squeeze divergent theologies together, but they just don’t fit. And thank God they don’t.

  9. Kent says:

    As someone who comes out of a Pentecostal upbringing, and has spent the majority of his Christian life as a member of a largely cessationist Reformed church, I’d like to know 1) on what scriptural basis is continuationism biblical or unbiblical; 2) on what scriptural basis is cessationism biblical or unbiblical; and 3) on what scriptural basis is Charismaticism biblical or unbiblical. These are three different questions asking the biblical veracity of three different things. So the first and third questions should not be confused as the same thing. It seems to be that a lot of claims are being thrown around, and yet there has no where been strong Scriptural support for whether or not the “signs and wonders” continue or cease. I’m not looking for proof-texting (sometimes mistaken as logical argument), but the Scriptures should be our sole guide in assessing this.

    As Paul says, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 ESV) So in the spirit of testing everything, especially as it pertains to prophecy, which is Paul’s emphasis here, let’s assess this thing by sound scriptural support, not by simple conjecture based on a very restricted view of prophecy’s purpose.

    1) Regarding continuationism, Paul states this regarding the purpose of the gifts: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 12, 25, 27-31 ESV)

    Paul makes two points here. a) gifts, ministries, activities are all given by the same Triune God *for the common good*, *that the members may have the same care for one another*; and b) those gifts, ministries, activities differ among the members, such that not everyone has been given the same thing.

    And then he says, “earnestly desire the higher gifts”. So I see here something that, while not confirming continuationism per se, does seem to contradict both the premise that the apostles alone possessed the gifts, and the premise that the gifts were specifically for the purpose of confirming their message. What this means is that there is no temporary purpose assigned to these gifts.

    2) Regarding cessationism, Paul says this a chapter later: “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10, 12, 13 ESV)

    Paul’s point here is very clear: the gifts, ministries, and activities are temporary. They will pass away. And for this reason they are not essential, nor are they primary. Love is primary, along with faith and hope. What I see here is that the purpose of these things is to aid in knowing God. And they are biblical and useful insofar as they accomplish this. This is the common good and the care with which all the members should act. So the gifts do cease. BUT, they will cease when we see face to face.

    3) And so this leads to the last point: What about Charismaticism in particular? Is it necessarily biblical or unbiblical? In this regard, Paul does have a critique of the Corinthians that I believe has gone unheeded. He says things like this to them:

    “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? If all were a single member, where would the body be? The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1 Corinthians 12:1, 2, 17, 19, 21 ESV)

    “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, 11 ESV)

    “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. But all things should be done decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:1, 6-9, 12, 20, 22, 23, 33, 36, 37, 40 ESV)

    I quote extensively because Paul spends this much ink and parchment on the subject. It is telling that Paul waits until the back half of his letter to address this topic, while he opens with the gospel and ends with the gospel. And when he addresses the gifts, he critiques them on several points.

    a) They seem to be divisive even in this, and some even purport to be self-sufficient because of their gift, supposing that every member should possess the same gifts. Paul shoots this down, particularly with, “Do all speak in tongues?” From my own experience, the answer to this hasn’t been apparent to Pentecostals in particular.

    b) The Corinthians were being immature in their understanding of the church. They were thinking like ignorant children, and essentially the same as they had been when serving idols. Blindly following whatever seemed to be spiritual. From my own experience, this is exactly the problem with Charismatics who value experience over Scripture. My own relatives have been guilty of this.

    c) The Corinthians were mistaking the manifestation of the Spirit for the work of the Spirit. Paul commands, “since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” In Ephesians, Paul says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV)

    In other words, the purpose of all these things is that we all, collectively and individually, be shaped into the image of Christ, the mature Man, the Son of God. And this is seen chiefly in love. In other words, sanctification and godliness are the goal. And from what I have seen and heard, at least among my own church background, maturity is often measured in terms of spiritual experience/giftedness rather than in terms of increasing holiness/godliness through Christlikeness. And that is a huge problem.

    So I would say that much of Charismaticism is not biblical, precisely because last things are put first, and the main thing is not prized.

    If there is any disagreement, it would be far more helpful and fruitful if this were its model, outlining specific points, rather than blanket claims of heresy or deviation from biblical practice. Regarding prophecy, I have only this to say: the bible gives no indication of two different categories (just as it gives no indication of a distinct Apostolic Age), and given Paul’s eager desire to see prophecy and not tongues as the most prized gift, I’d say that with Acts, Corinthians shows this prophecy to be of the same sort. Which is precisely why in 1 Thessalonians, Paul tells them to test every prophecy to see whether it is genuine. Test it how? By Scripture, by consensus, by prayer, etc. But what happens too often is that “prophecy” is just accepted as it is, and most often reflects carnal desires for promotion or prosperity. Especially among Word of Faith preachers.

    1. Melody says:

      Kent

      Thank you so much. My mind feels at rest now. Long read and with most I don’t bother but I’m so glad I did. I have many charismatic relatives. From observing their lives and their growth in Christ I cannot throw that observation out. It would be foolish.

  10. Michael Snow says:

    An interesting quote from John Wesley:
    By reflecting on an odd book which I read in this journey, “The General Delusion of Christians with regard to Prophecy,” I was fully convinced of what I had long suspected,…That the grand reason why the miraculous gifts were so soon withdrawn, was not only that faith and holiness were well nigh lost; but that dry, formal, orthodox men began even then to ridicule whatever gifts they had not themselves, and to decry them all as either madness or imposture.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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