This week I told Why I Am Not Continuationist (or charismatic) and, not surprisingly, that generated quite a number of letters to the editor. So, too, did an article on the marks of a godly husband’s love. Here are a few highlights.
Comments on Why I Am Not Continuationist
First, thank you for your blog and more specifically for the series of “Why I Am Not …”. I enjoyed and learned from every one of them. I anticipated your most recent article the most, because this is an area where I am the most conflicted.
I started attending church again in a word-of-faith church. I left for many reasons, but I left extremely confused. Flash-forward several years and I was saved in a reformed cessationist church. I was a content cessationist until I learned of Sovereign Grace Ministries. There I saw sound believers who seem to be able to balance the charismatic gifts while not forfeiting sound doctrine – maintaining high view of God. I spent some time studying the gifts and I am still a resolved cessationist – hopefully a humbler one.
I feel there is an inconsistency in my hermeneutic in one area though and I was curious if you felt the same way. Specifically with miracles and healing. In my meager studying of the scripture, I could not find good support for the cessation of those gifts. At the end of the day, the reason I would say they have ceased is because they do not happen in any way like they did. The healings of the gospels and acts were generally public, dramatic and verifiable. The modern day equivalent “healings” are nothing like that. Where I feel this conflicts is with my creationism. I too am a young-earth creationist. From my limited study in this area, I am a young-earth creationist because I believe it is what is most clearly laid out in scripture. I wouldn’t say that I ignore modern science, but I do believe that modern science points more closely to an old earth. So in one area, I choose not to believe modern evidence and in another, I choose to let it guide my doctrine. I do not intend this to be a stumper, but I was curious if you felt the same conflict at all.
—Geoff L, Lubbock, TX
Tim: Perhaps, to some degree. But when it comes to creationism my belief in a young earth is not founded on what I see in the world as much as what I see in the Word. I cannot read Genesis 1-2 and see anything other than a young earth. I then attempt to see the natural world through this lens.
I wanted to first thank you for all of your insight and willingness to be vulnerable as you share some of your beliefs and how you came to those convictions. In your article you discussed why you are a cessasionist instead of a continuationist. The majority of the article (and the debate for that matter) centers around the miraculous gifts and the believer. However, where do miraculous acts done by God (not by a gift of the believer) fit into this? For example, if I believed that God sometimes does miraculous acts or healings as a validation of the gospel among unreached people groups, would this make me a continuationist? Or can a cessassionist in regards to the spiritual gifts still believe that God performs the miraculous at times?
I struggle believing that believers today have the spiritual gift of healing or prophecy, but I also want to reconcile it with many of the stories I have heard from the field where it seems that God worked miraculously in a very specific and short time to validate the gospel. This is an area that I am trying to pray about and understand more so I appreciate any clarifications or wisdom that you can provide. Thanks!
—Aaron M, Abilene, TX
Tim: Cessationism does not state that miracles have ceased. It states that the miraculous spiritual gifts have ceased. I believe God continues to perform miracles though, by definition, those miracles are rare. And, as I said in the article, those miracles tend to be somewhat less dramatic than the miracles of Jesus and his apostles. I have heard accounts of God working in miraculous ways in this modern world, but never of a limb regenerating or a person blind from birth instantaneously being given sight.
As someone who believes in the present usage of the gifts, and has experienced the frustration when it does not seem they have “happened” like I want; I simply feel as if these frustrations are not enough to get me to say “God doesn’t do these sorts of things anymore.” Especially, since there’s no clear word in the New Testament saying that they have ceased, or will cease. I have seen people who’ve been healed miraculously as a result of my prayers, I have given prophetic impressions to those I don’t know, and it’s been encouraging in the vein of 1 Cor 12. Regarding that last example, the person I encouraged was a guest pastor at a reformed (CRC) church I was attending at the time. During his sermon, I got the foggiest picture of a child being bounced on my lap, and decided I would share this with him afterwards. He and his wife were attempting to conceive, and he actually had me repeat my impression to her as well. This impression reminds me of the beginning of Jeremiah 1, where he is just beginning to prophesy (‘do you see this almond branch’ sort of stuff.) It was not a “thus saith the Lord” type of thing, but I don’t think it needed to be. I just honestly shared an impression I received, and the Lord used it to edify another believer with something I am pretty sure He wanted them to have (the blessing of children).
Now, like I said, I’m still frustrated by not seeing things I would like to see happen, happen. I have come down to this way of thinking about it: If we define the gifts to be a certain way, and then do not see them being expressed in that certain way, it doesn’t neccesarily mean that God does not want to work in us, nor does it mean that the gifts have ceased. All it means, is that things aren’t as we expect.
If I accept this, this truth that God doesn’t always do things the way I want Him to, then I can accept the foggy, blurry, black and white “vision” (which was little more than a strange daydream) and bless someone else through sharing it. I don’t need to chase after prophesy, or call myself a certain something, or even label it as a prophetic message. The fact remains, I had faith in God, and He used that faith, to bless His body. I feel like saying “the gifts have ceased”—prevents these sorts of encouraging situations, unnecessarily.
—Bryan R, Ottawa, ON
Tim: There is much that could be said here, but perhaps I’ll simply say again that whatever we make of such impressions we have to distinguish them from New Testament prophecy. New Testament prophecy as it has been recorded for us was clear, bold, and authoritative. So, again, it is difficult for me to strongly associate your impressions with New Testament prophecy, and I don’t think that’s unfair.
Thank you for your “Why I Am Not…” series. It has, in many respects, been very helpful. … Keener has published a monumental two volume series, which I am sure you are aware of, titled, “Miracles.” In the second volume, he lays out substantial amount of evidence that miracles occur in our own time by referencing case after case of medically documented situations where people have been healed. Furthermore, the testimony of countless people who would exhibit what is called “the gift of tongues,” an expression that is often described to be unintelligible, though edifying, grows one cautious of merely dismissing the testimonies out of hand. Thirdly, and once again, given the volume of prophetic utterances that are prevalent today, and the many testimonies of accurate prophetic insight, are we to consider these just pot luck or is there actually more?
My concern is this: as a cessationist myself, I have often argued against my charismatic friends that one cannot argue for the legitimacy of a movement from experience alone. However, my fear is that our arguments are arguments of experience. Was this not Hume’s problem: since Hume did not experience, for example, dead men rising from the grave, he concluded that such things cannot occur (very simplistically put, I know, but read Keener for a more detailed position). My second go to argument is church history, these things just seem to be absent from, especially, the apostolic fathers. However, once again, are their writings the only evidence we have, or is there at least scant evidence from supernatural occurrences in the early post-apostolic period?
My question now: (1) have we (ironically us cessationists) not constructed an argument from experience, rather than an argument from evidence; (2) is our exegetical analysis compatible with what we find in Scripture (eg. prophecy: what was Anna doing in the Temple at a time when God was silent, it does seem she had a known record of prophetic ability? What were Philip’s daughters doing? Does this not show that not ALL prophecy must necessarily be recorded, as some cessationists would tell those who hold to prophetic utterances?); (3) do we as cessationists not argue for a closed universe since the close of the canon (and I understand that the Spirit is operative through the Word, but as Dan Wallaces article asks, “Is there more?”
These are my wrestlings. I resonate with Wallace’s article, and I heed the caution of Piper’s article wanting to receive extra biblical revelations when we don’t even immerse ourselves in the revelation given to us through God’s Word. In other words, is there not more merit to the “cautious but open” camp (Carson, Piper, et al) rather than the strict old school cessationist camp? I’m certainly not jumping onto the Bill Johnson camp, not even Mahaney, but can cessationists hold to “there’s more” while still saying “but it’s very very rare?”
—Morne M, Cape Town, South Africa
Tim: Thank you for this excellent letter. I see it as an encouragement to continue to refine and deepen my convictions.
Comments on 4 Marks of a Godly Husband’s Love
I agree with your comments about husbands loving their wives in this sacrificial way. The entire matter is a picture of Christ and HIS church and where we as husbands get it wrong is that we make Christianity about everything else, even prioritizing our affections to the members of the church at the expense of loving our wives correctly. One can admire a diligence toward God by ignoring or shelving our wives for the sake of getting on with the job, but it really is putting the proverbial cart before the horse! If we don’t get this issue of loving our wives first and foremost, as Christ loves His church with absolute dedication and attention, we will not accomplish anything in the Lord. Thank you for your exhortation. Grace and peace be unto you by our Lord and saviour, Jesus Christ.
—Elandre’ D Kwazulu Natal, South Africa)
Tim, This post is exceptional in every way. As an expression of being my wife’s warrior, and without hesitation, I would swim through shark infested waters—both ways—to get my wife a lemonade. Yet despite understanding what you say, I manage to fail miserably far too often, so I thank you for the clear reminder of my greater role as a Christian husband. Well said, sir.
—Paul M, Virginia Dale, CO
Tim: Thank you. I’ll take the opportunity to remind everyone that the substance of the article was drawn from Richard Phillips’ excellent commentary!