REVISITING THE SO-CALLED "SIGN" OR "MIRACLE" GIFTS (Part 3)
by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA, USA)
Storms sixth “bad” reason for holding to cessationism is actually the one I hear most often. I don't consider it “bad” at all, I consider it being appropriately cautious. The reason he gives here is “the fear that to acknowledge the validity today of revelatory gifts such as prophecy and word of knowledge would necessarily undermine the finality and sufficiency of Holy Scripture.”
RESPONSE: I completely understand the cessationists point here. When dealing with God's Word we must recognize it is the final authority of faith. Scripture has the last word and is infallible and God-breathed, so we should be cautious.
However, this point automatically assumes that all those who hold to continuationism believe the product, outcome, or manifestation of a gift is equal to the authority of Scripture. This cessationist position assumes continuationists don't see Scripture as “enough.” It assumes the gifts result in extra-biblical revelation to all those who practice them. This is a wrong assumption. Many who hold to continuationism do not believe a prophecy, or some other miracle gift, holds authority over a person, let alone authority over Scripture. Many continuationists will not accept anything outside of the realm of Scripture, they test all things (utterances and the like) with Scripture.
While it is good and righteous to hold Scripture in the highest esteem, it is simply unfair to state that all continuationists do not do the same.
Seventh on our list, eighth on Storms “bad reasons” list, is that because we “typically don't see miracles or gifts today equal in quality or intensity to those in the ministries of Jesus and the apostles, God doesn't intend for any miraculous gifts of a lesser quality or intensity to operate in the church among ordinary Christians. (Although many texts would refute this. See 1 Corinthians 12-14; Romans 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22; James 5:13-18).”
RESPONSE: It seems to me miraculous, or sign, gifts if operative today, would function in the same capacity that we see in Scripture. I mean to me that just seems reasonable. But to be completely fair and honest, not seeing healing and miracles being exercised at the same level or as often as they took place during the apostolic ministry, does not automatically equate to God having completely removed the miracle gifts from the body of Christ at large. Is this something to be looked at, considered, and examined? Absolutely. But jumping to unreasonable conclusions serves no purpose for either side of this coin.
An eighth reason offered up as “bad” for being a cessationist (tenth on Storm's list) is directing attention to church history alleging the absence of miraculous gifts beyond the first century.
RESPONSE: This is another of the more frequent arguments I have observed cessationists offer up. However, I think that they use this one out of ignorance of what is available to us from church history attesting to the miracle gifts being operative throughout. Either that or they somehow find a way to rationalize or explain away the evidence they have read, seen or heard. I will cover this much more extensively later in this paper.
Ninth on our list and eleventh on Storms is a “bad” reason for holding to cessationism due to the “absence of good experiences with spiritual gifts and the often fanatical excess of certain TV evangelists and some of those involved in the Word of Faith or Prosperity Gospel movements (as well as the anti-intellectualism often found in those movements).”
RESPONSE: I agree that one cannot let a few bad apples spoil the bunch, or throw out the baby with the bath water, or lump all continuationists into one category. However, I need to expand a little more on this as I believe the WOF and Prosperity movements are the biggest cancer plaguing the body of Christ today.
When one sees, reads, or hears the things that take place under the guise of “gifts of the Spirit” from these charlatans it is extremely difficult to talk your mind into the possibility these gifts are operative today. It's hard, at least for me, to separate their ridiculous, unbiblical, moronic, eccentric, animal-like behavior from the Charismata. This is a bias on my part and is unfair.
These dregs of society need to repeatedly be called out, identified, countered, have warnings about them and their teachings distributed by any and every kind of forum possible. It's best, and far more effective, to focus on their false doctrine and any behavior that is clearly unbiblical even to continuationists. Attacking the person, although many deserve it, and I'm sure I'm guilty of it, is not the best way to go about it.
I will stop here on this particular issue. WOF and Prosperity proponents are a pet peeve of mine. I guess I just made that much obvious. I have written on their movements many times. But let's get back to our topic.
Tenth, and last on our list (twelfth and last on Storms), a “bad” reason for being cessationist is fear. Fear of what “embracing continuationism might entail for your life personally and the wellbeing of your church corporately.”
RESPONSE: I'll simply agree. Fear is almost never a “good” reason, or proper motivation, to embrace any view or position. Let me add a small caveat though if one is a cessationist and is entertaining the idea of accepting continuationism I think they should have a healthy dose of the right kind of fear before making such a dramatic change. They should have fear in the sense of reverence and awe for God's righteousness and be sure the move they might be contemplating is aligned with His will.
“GOOD” REASONS FOR BEING A CONTINUATIONIST:
In this section, I'm going to be very brief on each point, with the exception of the one related to church history. As I stated earlier I was going to cover that in more detail later, and this section is the “later” I was referring to.
Okay, let's get right to it. “Good” reason number one: “This may sound strange, but the first good reason for being a continuationist is the twelve bad reasons for being a cessationist! ...no convincing biblical, theological, historical, or experiential argument...gives reason to believe that what God did in the first century he will not do in the twenty-first.”
RESPONSE: This is clearly weak. In the same light, no convincing argument in the same categories he mentions above (biblical, theological, historical, and experiential) gives reason to believe that what God did in the first century he will continue to do all the way through to the twenty-first. It goes both ways.
The second “good” reason to be a continuationist is the “consistent, indeed pervasive, and altogether positive presence throughout the NT of all spiritual gifts...The problems that emerged in the church at Corinth were not due to spiritual gifts, but to unspiritual people.”
RESPONSE: Okay, fair enough. But we all know a case can also be made that the incidents had a specific and direct purpose for a particular time and event.
“Good” reason three for being a continuationist is the “extensive NT evidence of the operation of so-called miraculous gifts among Christians who are not apostles.”
RESPONSE: Because it was true then does not mean it is true now. Many things applied only to biblical times and particular people.
Fourth “good” reason for continuationism, “the explicit and oft-repeated purpose of the charismata: namely, the edification of the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:7; 14:3, 26).
RESPONSE: In my opinion, this is another stretch. For one, as we saw in the “bad” list the charismata served more purposes than only edifying the body of Christ. And second, there are other means of edification besides charismata. Like I said, I think he was reaching on this one.
Storms fifth “good” reason for continuationism is the “fundamental continuity or spiritually organic relationship between the church in Acts and the church in subsequent centuries.”
RESPONSE: I think what he is saying here is that the universal body of Christ which started with the apostles is the same universal body of Christ existing today. I fail to see how this is any kind of real support for continuationism, let alone a “good” one.