Thursday, 2 July 2009

A Little Cessationism is Good for the Soul Part 1

I believe that a firm belief in the cessation of the charismatic gifts is good for the soul. In true Piper style, I've got three reasons:
  1. Cessationism guards the soul from fleshy piety. Far from removing a person from the vivifying activities of God the Spirit, cessationism merely rejects the modern desperation to experience Pentecost by parodying the gifts. I recently downloaded this talk by Terry Virgo, UK Charismatic leader extraordinaire, on how to be baptised in the Holy Spirit! He kind of hooks you in by describing wonderful experiences of the Spirit in Acts (ch 2, 8, 10, 19). He then makes the startling admission that he prayed for 'the baptism' to no avail until he realised that 'God wouldn't speak in tongues FOR him'. As a result he spoke out in faith, believing that God would give the words. In other words, nothing happened until Terry started aping the gift. Remarkable.
  2. Cessationism makes room for genuine works of the Spirit. If we are able to spot and reject the counterfeit, then we are able to appreciate true works of God the Spirit, i.e. his power in mortification of sin, his flooding the soul with 'joy unspeakable', his growing fruit in the lives of Christians, his power in sharing the gospel.
  3. Cessationism saves us from subjective tyranny. Christians too often lie awake at night in a sweat worrying about what God is saying to them in their hearts/heads while ignoring what he is shouting at them in Scripture. Too many Christians are enslaved in every decision they make by hankering after 'feelings of peace' or 'leadings of the Spirit' or 'inward nudges'. This is a piety inherent to our fallen-ness. We believe that our emotions are a hotline to the deity and that if something doesn't 'feel right' then God isn't in it. No no no. We are called to freedom. Freedom to act with sanctified common sense. God wants wise sons and daughters who, through constant practise, learn to distinguish good from evil. He doesn't want retards that he has to yank this way and that through inward leadings. Stand firm then and do not allow yourselves to be burdened again by a yoke of emotional slavery.
I think God's leading me to stop at the number 3 (Part 2 to follow)...

20 comments:

misterben said...

1. Guarding from fleshy piety? Really? I've seen plenty of cessationists who just as quickly fall into fleshy piety, albeit of a different kind. Fleshy piety doesn't come from your position on the gifts of the Spirit, but from your understanding of grace (or lack thereof).

2. Can you explain further how you differentiate between evidence of "the power of the Spirit" from works of the Spirit that have ceased.

3. As with the first point, I have met just many cessationists who struggle with understanding what God is saying to them. Likewise for those that are overly swayed by their emotions. These are not unique to a charismatic position. Additionally, I think you have overemphasised this idea of "inward leadings", which you seem to be implying is the staple diet of charismatics, whereas, in reality, those who move in the various "prophetic" gifting don't struggle inwardly with these things, but test them against the Bible and with others.

Perhaps you should not only write like Piper, but read some too ( http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/1991/1498_Signs_and_Wonders_Then_and_Now/ )

;)

Nick Mackison said...

misterben, boss name by the way.

1. Yes, fleshy piety. I'm saying it helps guard one from a counterfeit spirituality on the charismatic side. I didn't mention the opposite danger on the cessationist side because cessationist theology is as common as the dodo.

2. Not sure I understand the question. All I'm saying is that people aren't being raised from the dead or being healed from incurable diseases. It just isn't happening. The 'gifts' that continue happen to be those that are easiest to ape. Funny that.

3. I disagree with your presupposition that we should expect God to speak outside of Scripture.

I get the whole 'inward leading' thing from my previous exposure to charismatic teaching e.g. Jack Deere.

Fully acquainted with Piper's position. It's pretty much identical to Grudem's. Just doesn't hold water.

misterben said...

Ref (2), what I am asking is where your cutoff for "the power of the Spirit" occurs. You talk about the power of the Spirit for certain things (mortification of the flesh, sharing the gospel, flooding with joy), but obviously not for others.

As for outworkings, there are documented cases of people being healed of incurable diseases and raised from the dead. And before you ask, no, not all of them are from non-Western origins. And no, not just in America either. Whether or not you choose to accept the documentation is, of course, your prerogative.

Nick Mackison said...

I would distinguish the workings of the Spirit the way Paul does. First Corinthians 12 gives us a specific list of miraculous 'workings' or 'gifts'. These, I believe, were given at the announcement of the great salvation (Hebrews 2:4).

Regarding documentation, you make a big claim. Where are these documents? Have you seen them?

Out of interest, how many people have you seen raised from the dead or miraculously healed of AIDS?

curious said...

If someone could answer this question for me I'd be most appreciative -- how do cessationists generally explain those that do believe in/practice the gifts which are said to have ceased? I've found most cessationists will usually try and dodge this question rather than saying that continuationists are demon-possessed, simply acting upon psychosomatic impluses due to peer pressure, false theology, etc., that they are simply interpreting reality incorrectly, or some other reason. I have known many good people who practice these gifts and, while I can accept that their theology is wrong, the cessationist position seem to require saying more about the continuationist than that their theology is wrong (i.e., that they are demon-possessed, feeble-minded, etc.). Thanks.

misterben said...

OK - so you're using 1 Cor 12 as your baseline. Are you including teaching as a spiritual gift that has ceased then?

WRT to documentation, grab yourself a copy of the Finger of God DVD ( http://www.fingerofgodfilm.com/ ) which contains video footage and interviews from around the world.

As to first-hand witnessing of raising from the dead or healing from AIDS, no, but in Mozambique I spent time with people who had directly seen these things.

Heidi Baker (who is one of the people in the above film) will be in Scotland at CLAN Gathering in July.

Paul said...

Having heard some of the Terry Virgo teaching on Mp3 that Nick refers to, it is clear he hasn't changed since 1982/1983 when I last heard him at the large scale Dales Bible Week. He and those apostle types within the Restoration movement focused very, very much on experiences and visions, with nothing coming to pass, espcially 'prophecies' about national revival.

I came to gradually realise through Puritan books that it was so much sweeter, less somehow frenzied and subtly less a sub concious desire to be accepted by such charismatic folk for me to read simply the powerful Scriptures and let them feed and nourish my soul in the Lord Jesus Christ under the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

People today chase so many 'How to' ideas and teachings about experiences and gifts that I wonder if they have let the cross and the resurrection power of the Saviour somehow lose it's primary focus as the means of salvation and the constant source of wonder and worship.

I am so glad I have left behind the desire for the glittering promises of experiences and gifts promised within the charismatic movement. And I am sobered and deeply saddened by how many of my peers who professed faith within such a charismatic environment so thoroughly abandoned any supposed realtionship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, Nick's thought's are not just about cesssationism; they touch upon a theology which is taking many away from the historic, orthodox and above all else the Biblical faith.

Nick Mackison said...

Amen Paul. Cessationism is more than about merely saying certain gifts have passed. It girds one's whole approach to piety.

misterben, it's amazing how many charismatics, when pressed for evidence of modern miracles, conveniently point to far away places where there is no documentation. If I had a pound for every time I heard, "In Africa..." How come we don't hear of these astonishing miracles in Glasgow or Croydon?

misterben said...

Perhaps for the same reason that there were many lepers in Israel at the time of Elisha, but only Naaman the Syrian was healed?

Does the video I spoke of earlier not count as valid documentation? Some of it does occur in Africa, although a good chunk is in other places, like America, China and Bulgaria. He doesn't visit the UK, sadly.

For Scotland, how about people's own stories, such as those detailed at http://www.healingrooms-scotland.com/testimonies/ - do they count?

Nick Mackison said...

misterben, I'm still massively skeptical. Just because there is a DVD saying these things are happening doesn't make it so. Heck, they even had Sid Roth endorsing it!

Nevertheless, I'm not saying that healing doesn't happen in response to the prayers of God's people (James 5). I rejoice at any saint who has had a healing in response to prayer. It is said that Spurgeon's prayers raised more sick people than all the physicians of London.

Nevertheless, that is a world away from laying hands on someone who has never walked and seeing them instantly rise.

Matt said...

I'm not sure I'd want to describe myself as cessationist, but I have a lot of sympathy with your concerns.

Part of my issue with much modern piety is that the credulity that is so often expressed about this, that or the other supernatural phenomenon is really ... [thinks about this] ... disturbing.

If a Jehovah's Witness or a muslim popped up with evidence for a miraculous event, how would people react? Well, apart from the undoubted few who would start to explain how Jehovah's witnesses can be Christians too, a note of criticism would appear. And yet, it so often appears, any bizarre event is celebrated as an example of God's love. In the meanwhile, I'm usually sitting there thinking that God hasn't done any such thing in my life or anywhere near my life and that the lack of any questioning tone makes these brothers and sisters in Christ appear little different than internet fanboys.

Now, I do continually question my own cynicism. I wouldn't reject out of hand any apparent miraculous event that occurred in my life, I just question the lack of critical note in so much I hear. It just seems to be playing to the crowds - as indeed we all can on different topics. The Gospel demands a critical note because it questions human ability and because there is always a distinction to be made between God, and his truth, and our ability to comprehend it: sola scriptura, semper reformanda.

One more thing, and this is perhaps more fundamental. There is something about the Gospel which works against enthusiasm for signs and wonders and the like. I don't say it rules it out, but it puts it into a different key than it's often heard in.

On many occasions it seems to me that the supernatural is looked to as a form of power. Keep praying, keep seeking, and we might see this miracle repeated across our nation and everyone will acknowledge God - this is the kind of thing I often hear.

And yet, there are some fundamental parts of the Gospel which work against such an understanding. Think of Christ being tempted in the wilderness of in Gesthemane. Note, I'm not calling into question the miracles he did do, but would want to point out that his miracles acts as signs and not raw acts of power. Signs need to be interpreted and also point away from themselves. When Christ accepted the cup of suffering, he came to the end of all human ability and power. Where was the power, where the 'evidence'? He was utterly reliant on God. Yes, he will come again in power, but the way forward now is to live and tell the Gospel and to walk the way of Christ which potentially involves the miraculous but penultimately leads to powerlessness and self-surrender.

If there was a way forward from this, I'd say it would involve a recognition of the miraculous as an act of God and therefore by definition not reproducible or convincingly demonstrable to a sensibly sceptical public. God will act when he will. Unfortunately, this is in my experience when a charismatic starts to explain to me that the miraculous is according to God's unchanging will and therefore we dishonour him by being cautious. I, of course, start to wonder why if it's according to God's will our hospitals are still full.

We need some decent eschatology, I reckon.

Nick Mackison said...

Matt said: "And yet, there are some fundamental parts of the Gospel which work against such an understanding."

I totally agree. Abraham said to the rich man in hell, who asked for a miraculous visitation for his brothers to convince them to repent, "They have Moses and the Prophets. If they don't believe them, they wouldn't believe if someone rose from the dead."

misterben said...

OK - we're making progress now. So, (I assume by your silence to my earlier question) teaching can still be regarded as a spiritual gift still in evidence today. As can healing (but only, apparently, in a limited sense). Are there any others that are allowable? ;)

With regards to your massive skepticism - what evidence would you like? Obviously video evidence isn't enough, neither is the testimony of people's own healings, unless they are of a non-terminal, non-life-threatening manner, in which case this is still allowed? I'm presuming a first-hand experience would be the only solution, but I'm guessing you wouldn't put yourself in a position where that would happen.....

Nick Mackison said...

misterben, the gifts that I suppose to have ceased appear in 1 Cor. 12:8-10. If you want to go to the list in verse 29, I would be happy to say that some of those gifts have ceased while teaching has not. For instance, you're not going to argue for the continuation of apostles are you? Or is that gift 'allowable'! ;)

If we concede that the apostles of v29 are no longer with us, then why not other gifts in the list?

I don't believe in the continuation of the gift or ministry of healing as it appears in 1 Cor. 12. I believe that God answers prayer for healing in response to his church as per James 5.

Again, I've heard the old chestnut arguements of miracles in Africa all my life, but it's always conveniently in far away places. The other chestnut is to compare Britain to Israel and say that God doesn't do miracles here because of a lack of faith, while Gentile Africa gets the blessing we've rejected. Yawn. Bad exegesis and clutching at straws.

What about the endless testimonies of healing in Lakeland which turned out to be bull-poo? Why should I believe a DVD when God TV told me this rubbish was true for months on end?

Regarding not being put in the position for anything miraculous to happen, my own mother was given 3 months to live by a doctor. The elders in my cessationist assembly anointed her with oil and prayed for 7 more years, and astonishingly, that's how many she got. So you're stereotype falls down sir! ;)

Anonymous said...

"The other chestnut is to compare Britain to Israel and say that God doesn't do miracles here because of a lack of faith, while Gentile Africa gets the blessing we've rejected. Yawn. Bad exegesis and clutching at straws."

I come from a third world country and that is what can be observed. I find semi-literate native pastors doing better than seminary trained ones in miracles.'Education' makes us question things. Doubting becomes a habit. Truly unless we become like children...

misterben said...

OK - so your basing your list of gifts on 3 verse in one part of the new testament, but ignoring the rest?

The term "apostle" is a very loaded one, because it is often used to refer to the original disciples + Paul. In that case, no I don't believe in apostles now. Nor do I believe in apostolic succession. However, I do believe in an apostolic gifting - for me not to would be inconsistent with the rest of my theology. I think it's been misunderstood and misrepresented at times, but then so have many other things.

You haven't commented in my references to healing in Scotland on our very doorstep?

As for Lakeland, I'm not sure that I have seen anything that suggests that everything that came from it was "dog-poo". I've seen a lot about Todd Bentley, and his failings in character, but I've not read much anywhere that talks about whether or not healings and experiences from there were somehow counterfeit.

One big problem across the church (in charismatic and non-charismatic churches alike) is an inability to differentiate between gift and character. We assume that because a gift is strong, that the character is also. But the gifts are of grace ("charismata"), and aren't a reflection on our theology or character. Todd Bentley (and others) are classic examples here. Some people assume that everything is OK with them because their gift is strong. Equally, when they fall, everything they have done in the past is regarded as tainted because of a flaw in character.

An excellent book on the whole thing is "Post-Charismatic" by Rob McAlpine.

Nick Mackison said...

An apostolic gifting? Seems like clutching at straws in order to validate the other gifts.

I've no reason to doubt the testimonies of healing on my doorstep. They do happen, as in the example of my mother. Can we describe these goings on as examples of 'the gift of healing'? I doubt it.

Todd Bentley was a heretic and a charlatan. The fact that he's being embraced because of his 'power' is a complete shocker and a damning indictment of the charismatic movement. I thought Jesus said you know a tree by it's fruit?

Regarding the veracity of the Lakeland 'miracles' read this:
http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2008/08/12/unable-to-verify-healings/

misterben said...

Not sure believing in a apostolic gifting is any different, or straw clutching, than believing in a prophetic gifting. The only reason that I hesitate to use the words "Apostle" and "Prophet" is because they are so heavily loaded.

Todd Bentley is a red herring - I apologise for mentioning him. Although the link you posted is also a bit of a red herring; a cessationist is always going to speak skeptically about charismatic things.

Can I ask - are you a cessationist based on your interpretation of scripture, or because of the failings and abuses of some of the charismatic movements?

Plus, I'd be interested of your thoughts on some of the folk who are not what would be traditionally recognised as "charismatics" but who refute a cessationist position. You've already talked about Piper, but what about folks like Mark Driscoll, or Tim Keller?

Nick Mackison said...

misterben, hope you are well.

Your separation of the office 'Apostle' from 'apostolic gifting' isn't clutching at straws? I beg to differ.

Still interesting that there is no documents proving any miraculous healing at Lakeland, and that is true no matter what my agenda.

I'll freely admit that with respect to the cessationist position, I'm standing on the shoulders of giants. I used to speak in tongues and frequent charismatic gatherings (but in the end this type of piety contributed to an emotional instability in my Christian life - maybe a psychologist would say I'm reacting and maybe I am! ;)).

I think that the cessationist position is pretty water tight. It was through the writings of Dick Gaffin and Sinclair Ferguson that I came to embrace the arguments for it. Nevertheless, I have been influenced by others not only in this area, but also in soteriology, ecclesiology, sacramentology, etc. The whole point of confessionalism is that we believe no man is an island, that every one has a confession of sorts and that the best confessions are those worked out in community.

Anyway, you mention Keller and Driscoll. These are good men. But I could also wheel out Calvin, Owen, Beza, Luther, Sibbes, Edwards, Spurgeon, etc. It's almost irrelevent to name names, although I suspect I'm being unkind here - you probably were asking what I think of their embracing the gifts? If that's what you're asking, then I think they're wrong.

Please don't use my writings as an example of typical cessationist arguments. You should have a read of the Gaffin article I've just posted a link to. He is so articulate and sets out the cessationist position better than I ever could.

God bless.

misterben said...

Ref Apostle/Apostolic gifting, let me clarify.

Yes, I believe that there continue to be apostles.

However, I tend to use the term 'apostolic gifting' merely because the term Apostle has been used to mean a number of different things, and thus can be confusing. In addition, there have been abuses of the term, which give me a certain amount of reticence.

There also appears to be a differentiation in the NT between gifts and offices, and so referring to apostolic gifting as opposed to the office of Apostle is consistent with the rest of what I have said in this thread.

I'm going to go and read Gaffin now.