Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Confessionalism and Prophecy

Is the cessationist position necessary to be confessionally Reformed? Douglas Oss (a Pentecostal scholar) quotes Samuel Rutherford, a Scottish Presbyterian framer of the Westminster Confession as saying: "in our nation of Scotland, Mr George Wishart foretold that Cardinal Beaton should not come out alive at the Castle of St. Andrews, but that he should die a shameful death, and he was hanged over the window that did not look out at, when he saw the man of God burnt; Mr. [John] Knox prophesied of the hanging of the Lord of Grange; Mr. John Davidson uttered prophesies, known to many of the kingdom, diverse Holy and mortified preacher in England have done the like." (Oss, p168, 169 Four Views)

Oss goes on to quote Rutherford espousing a view not unlike Grudem's. "Rutherford offered guidelines for differentiating between true and false prophecy: First these post canonical prophets 'did tye no man to beleeve their prophecies as Scriptures. Yea they never denounced Iudgement against those that beleeve not their predictions'; second 'the events reveled to Godly and sound witnesses of Christ are not contrary to the word'; and third 'they were men sound in the faith opposite to Popery, Prelacy,..., Arminianisme, and what else is contrary to sound doctrine.'" (Oss p169 Four Views) (I love the bit about rejecting prophecy if it comes from an Arminian -ouch!)

The Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6 says "The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture,or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture:unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men."Oss believes that: "In the light of Rutherford's belief about revelation, the line 'new revelations of the Spirit' may be understood to refer to non-canonical but actual utterances that are subordinate to and judged by Scripture, and which may not be added to the canon. Canon, not prophecy, is the issue." (Four Views p169)


R. Scott Clark said...

Hi Nick,

I think cessationism is necessary to Reformation theology for two reasons:

1) However much Grudem wants non-canonical prophecy to remain non-canonical, any alleged Word from God is bound to be canonical in the nature of the case. A canon is a rule. if God speaks to us, it is, by that very fact, a rule. We cannot say, "Oh well, I know that God said x, but that's just his opinion."

I was nearly persuaded by Grudem's arguments -- indeed there was a time when I would have been glad for Grudem to be right -- but ultimately I concluded that his argument is really too weak to be credible. Agabus is a difficult case for anyone and certainly a poor resting place for Grudem's case and his exegesis of Eph is not convincing either.

Either a message comes from God or it does not. If it does it is canonical in some sense, even if not preserved. It is at least canonical in the broad sense of serving as a rule for a community and for a time. I understand there to have been such revelations in the apostolic period that were not preserved for us.

2) Claims to ongoing prophecy necessarily subvert the finality and authority of Holy Scripture. I recall being at St Aldates (I think) in '93 when someone quoted an alleged prophecy by name and place. This person did this with a straight face and we were meant to take it seriously and others in the group did. I hadn't heard it but had just worked through the Grudem argument (preaching through 1-2 Cor and hanging out with charismatics for a couple of years). The folk in this group seemed to take this "prophecy" as canonical and authoritative.

if there is a living voice then what of Scripture? It becomes, as it did for the Anabaptists, a "dead letter." Indeed, as I noted in RRC, this argument really goes back to the 16th century. As in the case of the ABs, Scripture is marginalized in favor of continuing revelation. When the Reformation asserted sola Scriptura she did so not only against Rome but also against the ABs.

I can clinch the case by appealing to Rome. That's classic case. There the church is said to form the Scripture and the continuing revelations and unwritten apostolic traditions have quite marginalized Scripture. It's impossible to norm Roman practice with Scripture because of the second stream of authority and revelation which effectively trumps Scripture.

R. Scott Clark said...

Hi Nick,

Quick follow up. I worked out a more complete response at the HB. I realized I neglected to address the "Rutherford" problem.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nick,

This whole topic of supposedly Reformed charismatics and their acceptance as such is one which needs a far greater debate and response. Infact, a book with contributions by the leading theologians on both sides could possibly be an excellent way forward. I am frankly astonished at the change in both the UK and the USA by Reformed leaders such as John Mcarthur towards charismatic theology.

I am personally concerned not just at the uncritical embrace of charismatic leaders like CJ Mahoney by leading 'Reformed' theologians who don't even question fundamental charismatic practises, but even more so by the move here in the UK to actively draw together and converge evangelicals and charismatics through influential, high profile events like 'New Word Alive'of which Don Carson is a keen advocate.

A third concern is the near total absence of any referance by the Reformed admirers of their charismatic friends as to how church practise is to be engaged. Why is there a seeming absence of ecclesiology and it's vital presence in the joining up of the Reformed men like Mark Dever and their charismatic friends?

I openly ask any theologians who are also writers and authors to consider seriously the need for a book on this whole matter, for it involves fundamental issues of church practise; how God speaks today; and how we are to discern what New Testament practises are still valid and which were for first century practise only.

Nick Mackison said...

Anonymous, you raise some good points. I like your idea of such a book on the topic of "Reformed" and "Charismatic" with contributions from various friendly opponents. Although RSCs latest book does deal with much of this in his chapter on QIRE.