Thursday, 29 January 2009

Why you should be cessationist

Cessationists are on the back foot these days. They seem to be an unfashionable breed in contemporary NT scholarship. Modern exegetes (and I generalise) are hesitant to state anything akin to the cessationist position. This is in marked contrast to the scholarship of the Reformation and in UK Protestantism in general from the 17th - 19th centuries.

Cessationists also seem to be as common as the dodo in the pastorate and the pew. Ask most pastors from evangelical churches on their position on miraculous gifts and your response will generally range from continuist to "open but cautious". Rarely will you meet an evangelical pastor who will come out with the traditional Protestant response of cessationism. I believe that there are two main reasons for this.

First, there is enormous cultural pressure to accept the charismata. Try suggesting the gifts have ceased! "What? You mean that my private prayer language isn't from God? You think it's psychosomatic babbling? You're so mean and judgemental." Yet the fact remains, the gifts of the Spirit after the death of the apostles generally disappeared. It was only in the narcissistic 20th and 21st centuries that we saw an 'explosion' in claims to charismatic phenomena. Why is this generation the most anointed in history? Why did God withhold his gifts from saints in former times? What makes us so special?

Second, cessationists are dying out because it's totally uncool to be one. You could only be less cool if you were a dog with a wet nose in a nudist colony. You see, there is the perception that cessationists are hard, cold, spiritually dead, mean-spirited Pharisees who delight in raining on the charismatic parade. Cessationists are Spirit-quenchers. Cessationists believe in Father, Son and Holy Bible. Cessationists are highly strung, tightly wound, emotional retards who need to experience the gifts in order to help them lighten up. Only when the Spirit comes with charismatic power, do they experience the power to love and to stop being judgemental jerks. Well, I'm sorry, but this argument is baseless caricature.

Charismatics do not have sole claim on the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, I would argue, that to experience the true power of the Spirit, you should embrace cessationism and that of the Reformed kind. Why?
  1. Cessationists do experience power. You see, while the cessationist states that the miraculous gifts have ceased, they are not stating that God does not work miraculously for his people. You need only look to C.H Spurgeon as an example. In a previous post, I highlighted Sam Storms citing of Spurgeon pointing out a man in his congregation and miraculously telling him how he made fourpence profit on the Sabbath. Did I mention that Spurgeon was a cessationist? There are examples of similar experiences in the life of John Knox and George Wishart. Again these men were cessationists. That is why I believe Mark Driscoll's rebuke of the Sydney Anglicans for their practical cessationism was uncalled for.
  2. Cessationists don't put God in a box. There is a world of difference from saying that God can't do something and that God probably won't. For instance, could God part the Red Sea again? Of course. Will he do so again? Probably not. We just believe that God isn't in the habit of repeating redemptive history. The gifts of the Spirit being poured out constitute the redemptive historical acts of God, in Christ by His Spirit in the establishing of the NT church throughout the world. To state that we must have the gifts or we are missing out is every bit as 'God boxing' as the cessationist position.
  3. Cessationists preserve the glory of NT miracles. I'm sorry, but contemporary appeals to the miraculous tend to be utter crap. When we Christians go raving about the power at Toronto, Lakeland or at a Benny Hinn rally, we just look like a bunch of idiots when these claims to healings prove false. The world looks on with a mixture of amusement and bemusement. Why should they believe the Bible's claims about Christ's miracles if we're constantly championing contemporary charlatans as examples of Messianic power?
  4. Cessationists believe in genuine experience. Some of the best devotional material has been written by cessationists. I'm thinking of John Owen, Richard Sibbes, C.H Spurgeon, the Bostons, etc. On a personal note, I found that when I stopped chasing charismatic experience, and focused on enjoying the Lord as I prayed and gave thanks I experienced his presence in such a way I couldn't imagine.
  5. Cessationists believe true experience is churchly. Reformed cessationists believe that all true experience has its root in the ordained means, i.e. right preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the sacraments. True piety comes not from chasing piety, but from pursuing God through the means he has instituted. As a result, cessationist experience necessitates coming together with the people of God and feeding on Christ. It is anti-individualist and pro-community. It provides a safe haven for experiencing the Lord away from manipulative hypnotic techniques that prey on the vulnerable.
  6. Cessationists believe that true experience is of grace. So much contemporary experience is tied to works-righteousness. If you will fast and pray, you will get the blessing. If you say 'the Jesus Prayer' 3000 times, you'll experience God. If you go to Brownsville, you'll get power. I'm sorry, but it's all bull. It's Arminian/Pelagian attempts to treat God like a slot machine. The path to true spiritual experience does not say, who will ascend into heaven (or Toronto, etc)?, that is to bring Christ down. Or who will descend into the deep?, that is, to bring Christ up from the dead. True biblical experience is as close as the word of God we confess.

I would normally say something like 'rant over' but I'm trying to prove that cessationists are sweet and nice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There are a number of issues with this article, most of which are fallacious, not to mention unbiblical. I find it incredibly ironic that I agree with a great deal cessationist material regarding the invalid continuity of sign-giftings, miraculous dispensational works, and etc etc. However, I think these appeals only strengthen the continuationist's argument. I have seen a lot of junk in the Charismatic movement. But I have also experienced sign giftings in powerfully demonstrative ways that are simply undeniable to me.

Perhaps it would be most helpful to point out that there are varying kinds of cessationism, the mild version of which many of the Westminster Divines found themselves deeply nuanced concerning. Owen believed the gifts existed during extraordinary times. He would have been comfortably in class with Calvin, Knox, the prophesying scottish covenanters, and even Wycliffe, regarding this (which at worst was a mild cessationism).

I do not at all think that being either confessionally reformed or soteriologically reformed necessarily mandates strict (Edwardian/Warfield) cessationism. I do grant that many reformers were cessationist in some sense -- but it is to me a mild cessationism, which classifies sign-gifting as belonging to extraordinary dispensations --- the reformation, according to Calvin, being one of such cases.

Packer additionally makes the case that Baxter's views on prophecy were the standard Puritan view -- and those representing a continuationist view according to Grudem. Conflating canonicity with the offices of the church to which sign giftings properly belong is not only a straw-man, but it is dishonest to the biblical text, and is ultimately a red-herring to the conversation. I think this is my primary appeal.

Regardless, it is not so cut-and-dry. I am reformed in many areas of my theology, have a titanic appreciation for the Puritans (Beeke and Jones' volume to me has been most helpful), and am happily Charismatic. I think many (Grudem, Piper, Mahaney, Virgo, Driscoll, Berkhof, Carson, Fee) would appreciate cessationists (I am thinking Macarthur) being conversant with this trend throughout reformational history, and honest enough to admit the historical evidence is mixed in many ways, features many concessions, while in addition to admitting the Charismatic movement certainly requires reform.

Also. I am happy to see so many cessationists report true (charismatic-like?) experiences. It is the height of irony to me. For example, Sproul tells a story of a prophetic word he received from a friend regarding a job he had been praying about, a story you can find at Ligonier. Many of these men would say the gifts have ceased, but there are unusual circumstances and extraordinary moments when they emerge once again.

My question is how cessationism holds up not only against the biblical data but also the reports of millions of people across the globe, several of which are highly respected NT scholars. To assume that because you have never seen healing, people do not get healed, is assanine. (I have prayed for an unbeliever to have his back healed and he was healed immediately. His response was "What the f*** did you just do to me." I then shared the Gospel with him). All in all, Storms, to me, in addition to others, makes a very sound argument from scripture.

Grace to you brother.