If you haven’t gotten caught up in the Continuationist/Cessationist debate going on due to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference, you must not pay much attention to the Christian blogosphere.
I haven’t listened to any of the audio of the conference, so I will concentrate instead on my own wrestling with this issue.
I have struggled for years with exactly what the Biblical and orthodox stand should be on this hullabaloo.
If I go from a totally experiential view, my dealings with the Charismatic Movement in General is a mixed bag, leaning heavily towards the negative. In spite of arguments otherwise, there is a wide vein of cookiness in the broader Charismatic Movement in general, and that has made it difficult not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”. In my experience, there’s much more filthy bathwater than clean baby. However, I have a high view of Scripture, so for me, Scripture alone will dictate my beliefs… “Experience be damned” (if you will forgive my language). That goes for both sides of the debate.
I experienced a “Pentecostally” occurrence myself, so my views here are not hostile to the Charismatic Movement, but remember…experience be damned, if Scripture nays it.
When it comes to the revelatory gifts, I fall in the Cessationist camp. I cannot believe that the good Lord above would go to the trouble of preserving His Word so carefully, if He didn’t consider it the end of the discussion. It is sufficent. I don’t need a fruitcake to read his Christian tea leaves to find God’s will for my life. Unless He’s lost my address, He (the Holy Spirit) has full access to my spiritual mailbox.
I have no desire to base my theology on experience. That way lies madness. Who decides whose experience is normative? We must have an external barometer to gauge spiritual experience. That is why we have the Bible.
When it comes to tongues, I have to say the way Charismatics/Pentecostals define it doesn’t match either Acts 2 or 1Co 14. My own experience did not include tongues. That came later after being exposed to the shining theological prowess of Hagin, Copeland, & Hickey. (Pardon my sarcasm). I haven’t practiced tongues for a while, & frankly consider it inconsequential to my growth as a believer, especially when it has been redefined from a known language to gibberish, & that’s all I have to say about that.
Healing, (if you mean by such), as an answer to prayer, I definitely believe in. If, however, you mean that an individual can simply claim to heal at will, I say nope.
If you are getting my drift by now, you know I do not have any affection for the Word of Faith branch of the Charismatic Movement. I would be considered an embarrassment to them, & they to me. I am neither healthy, nor wealthy (nor wise, according to my wife-lol). Scripture abounds with examples of God healing, & not healing. The WOF teaching has no place for either suffering or discipline, which the Bible declares are things that work for the good of the believer, and can be great teachers as a providence of God. Not every unpleasant experience should be considered natural evil. We need another category.
On the other hand, cessationists have a tendency towards functional anti-supernaturalism. To argue so vehemently against atheism, some seem bent on trying to argue from the other side of the table when it comes to healing or the miraculous, in general.
There also tends to be a tendency to overly rely on human reasoning by the cessationists.
If I seem schizophrenic, it’s because I am wrestling with this issue. The rest of my immediate family leans heavily towards continuationism. I make a distinction here between continuationism, Charismatic/Pentecostal theology, & Word of Faith theology.
I consider WOF theology heterodox at minimum, & probably heretical. It has influences from the New Thought/Mind Science cults through E.W. Kenyon, via Kenneth Hagin & his mentorees. I do not have the space to document my evidence here…maybe later. As I said, WOF teaching is out-of-bounds.
Iconsider both classical and neo-Pentecostalism/Charismaticicism to be a questionable mishmash. I know whereof I speak, as I spent several years in the Church Of God Cleveland. There is a great tendency to heighten expectations among Pentecostals for the dramatic that they try to make the miraculous happen. They seem to be so fearful of an ordinary service that they will do anything to rev their congregants to emotional frenzy. They also tend to exaggerate, often to the point of outright lying. It’s like going to church with an ardent fisherman. The fish gets bigger every time they tell the story. I don’t make these accusations with joy or ignorantly. My family visited a Church Of God congregation last year that caused us all to leave before the worship in singing was over. To begin with, having a group of older ladies screaming so loud you could see their veins popping out does not bode well for the sanity of the service. Add to that the title of the opening song was titled “Speak to the Atmosphere”. Strike two. Then the ensuing frenzy leads me to believe the chandeliers were in danger of imitating a trapeze exhibition. Strike three , & we’re outa there! Another Church of God service had us singing “YES!” For 15 minutes.
Those are extreme examples, but not atypical, at least in my experience.
Luckily, there is a third, saner group I call continuationists. My wife & kids would fall into this group. These folks detest the theatrics, but still hold to a non-Cessationist theological perspective. I respect my wife, and I appreciate her wisdom when it comes to certain aspects of church life. She says I have a tendency to overcompensate my spiritual steering wheel when confronted with a theological ditch. She’s probably right. I have suffered at the hands of extremists, first among WOFers, then among Charismatics, & lastly among Pentecostals. I may indeed be guilty of over correction. My spiritual steering wheel may have too much play in it.
I must say, I am in no way advocating a dead orthodoxy, nor intellectualism with no emotionality. I find myself weeping at certain hymns, and yes, I lift my hands in submission and praise. We are to love God with all our hearts , minds, & souls. (Note, hearts, & minds). None of us achieve that perfectly , or even partially most of the time, but that should be our goal.
Remember…Scripture alone. The problem is that Scripture is not clear about whether the sign gifts, at least, are to continue throughout the Church Age. It can be argued either way. Continuationists argue from 1CO that the sign gifts were normative for the church era. Cessationists argue from the epistles that, especially in Paul’s later pastoral epistles, there seems to be an acknowledgment of the waning of the apostolic gifts. So there is my dilemma.
In cases like this, we must look to church history and orthodox doctrine to break a stalemate like this. As D.R. McConnell writes in A Different Gospel, “…the Church needs both the Bible & historical orthodoxy to determine what is and is not heretical.”
If we accept McConnell’s proposition, orthodoxy & church history tips the scale in favor of Cessationism.
I will end this discussion with a few quotes from a source I was surprised to find. I have enjoyed some articles by Douglas Wilson, but this one caught my eye, titled Excesses of the Wahoo Brethren , found at:
It does a much better job at expressing my own conclusions on this conundrum.
“We therefore need a category for the Spirit’s active interactions with us in the world, one that fully acknowledges His presence while robustly denying that He is inspiring anybody the way He did Isaiah.” I heartily agree. Lowering the bar for revelatory gifts smells of changing the rules during the game. The logical conclusion for me is that, if prophecy is revelatory, then it must meet the standard of 100% accuracy. Anything else , & we end up with quasi-revelation, & a confusing two-tiered standard. I respect God’s Word more than that, whether it be written or verbal.
“I hope you can see at once that this is not an easy thing to do, and this is why we ought to cut one another some slack across the cessationist/continuationist divide. I have more in common with a responsible charismatic than I do with an irresponsible confessionalist, one who believes the last revelatory miracle performed by the Spirit was the Three Forms of Unity as they were given in the original Greek. And a responsible continuationist has more in common with me than he does with Benny Hinn, whose antics would have been an embarrassment during Elijah’s heyday.”
There is a fine ribbon of “wiggle room” for people like myself to find common ground with responsible continuationists, and the same “wiggle room” can be found with the responsible cessationists.
“One other thing. Continuationists may believe that the Strange Fire guys are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But they should begin their response by acknowledging that in the contemporary charismatic world, there is an awful lot of bathwater, and — even on their accounting — not very much baby. This is something that needed to be done, and because there has not been (to my knowledge) a large continuationist conference rebuking the manifest excesses of the wahoo brethren, this conference was inevitable.”
The Assemblies of God have shown a willingness to police themselves in times past, as this paper demonstrates:
Endtime Revival–Spirit-Led and Spirit-Controlled A Response Paper to Resolution 16, found at ag.org
“This statement was adopted by the
General Presbytery of the Assemblies of God on August 11, 2000.”
Unfortunately, even the Assemblies of God seem to lack fervor in holding their churches to sanity recently. The rest of the Pentecostal/Charismatic community has shown no stomach for enforcing any doctrinal restraint over their congregations. So they have no reason to be angry at cessationists. If they would police themselves, the Strange Fire Conference would have been unnecessary. The baby/bathwater reference was not lost on me , either.
“Our model in this (as in so many things) should be Jonathan Edwards. The issues were different (although actually related), but are similar enough to be edifying for us. Edwards first made his name as a friend of revival, and as a chronicler of what happened in Northampton. But as the revivals spread and grew, Edwards became the foremost critic of the spurious and eccentric forms of it. His revival car had a set of working brakes.”
It is unfortunate that so many Pentecostals/Charismatics seem to be in runaway cars with no functioning brakes, & no desire to swing over into the runaway truck ramps, spiritually speaking. There are those who exercise some spiritual discernment, & this gives me some hope.
“So, there it is. The cessationists need to figure out where the Spirit-accelerator is. The continuationists need to figure out where the Spirit-brakes are. And the doctrinal position that is capable of accommodating both is, if I may say so, Spirit-filled cessationism.”
Rev. Wilson is a wordsmith.
So, here I am, either a Spirit-filled Cessationist , or a Sola Scriptural Continuationist. Where I fit in Evangelicalism, I know not. I can tolerate neither Holy Ghost Hokey-pokeyism, nor a Confessional Garroting.
To the Wahoo Brethren I say “police thyself”. To the Whoa Nellie crowd I say “unclench thyself.
Lord help me, I need a Tylenol.
Simul iustus et peccator,
Eric the redneck