Careful readers ought to have noticed (because I have emphasized this fact repeatedly) that I have not yet posted a single argument in favor of cessationism. I really haven't dealt with the issue yet at all.
I have pointed out how influential and audacious certain false prophets have becomeespecially among those who dominate the world of charismatic media. I have decried the extreme gullibility of people who are driven by a hunger for "fresh revelation." I have suggested that such gullibility breeds sinful superstition. And I have pointed out that there is a valid and vital distinction that needs to be to be made between "miracles" and God's providential control over all that He has made.
But so far, I have not offered a single argument in favor of cessationism. If the only thing you read were my blogposts on the subject so far (ignoring what has been said about me in the comment-threads and forgetting for a moment where I work) there would be no reason for anyone to assume that I am a cessationist. Despite several commenters' baiting me on the issue, I haven't yet jumped into that debate.
As a matter of fact, I would like to reiterate something I said earlier: When I brought up this subject of prophetic-utterances-gone-bad in the first place, I wasn't trying to pick a fight with my charismatic readers. I originally had no intention of even getting into the issue of cessationism. I think I have much more in common with my "Reformed non-cessationist" brethren than I have with liberal cessationists. And oddly enough, the main targets I was originally planning to take on were non-charismatics like Henry Blackaby and the Gothardites.
Let me be as clear as possible. You could boil down everything I have tried to say since the beginning of this series into about four simple points. Regardless of your position on cessationism, it seems to me that you ought to be able to affirm these four points:
- There is a monstrous potential for evil in blithely assuming that all your private imaginations are supernatural promptings that come to you as divine revelations from the Holy Spirit.
- Those who order their lives by such an assumption are being willfully gullible and sinfully superstitious, and they have no biblical warrant for the practice. In fact, such a mindset is hostile to the biblical concept of discernment.
- Claiming God told you something when in fact He did not is a profoundly wicked kind of presumption whose fruits are always evil. In fact, it was a capital crime under Moses' law.
- That kind of presumption, paired with a declining concern about biblical doctrine, has unleashed an untold amount of mischief in the visible church over the past century.
Looking at the issues dispassionately, I can't imagine why even the most devoted Reformed continuationist (assuming he has some biblical scruples and a genuine concern for sound doctrine) would object to any point I have made so far. And yet the subject has already provoked some of the harshest disagreement and bitterest feelings we've seen in the comment threads here at PyroManiac since The Great Comic-Book Apocalypse of the Summer of 2005.
Worse, some of my Reformed-charismatic readers want to jump past the weighty issues I have raised and debate cessationism instead. Some have actually scolded me for not posting any biblical proof-texts in favor of cessationismas if the truth of any of the above points hinged on a biblical argument in favor of cessationism.
I think that fact speaks volumes about the inevitable tension that arises between continuationism and biblical discernment. In effect, what the continuationists seem to be saying is: "Yeah, yeah, OK, false prophecies are bad. Over-gullibility is a problem. We can manage those things. They are incidental issues. The real danger (or a far greater danger) lies in the opposite direction."
That has been the knee-jerk response of many Reformed continuationists who have commented here and on their own blogs. As if a strict commitment to the absolute sufficiency of Scripture posed a greater and more immediate threat to the church in our generation than the horde of false prophets that are rising up everywhere.
Nothing less than the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura is at stake here, and I suggest that anyone who truly thinks cessationism poses a greater threat than the proliferation of false prophecies has already effectively abandoned the formal principle of the Reformation.
(One commenter even seemed to suggest that my opinion on these matters isn't worth hearing unless I have received some new revelation from the Holy Spirit. Wow.)
All of this has convinced me that it is indeed impossible and impractical to try to divorce the issue of bogus prophecies from the problem of cessationismnot because cessationists are unwilling to deal with one issue apart from the other, but because continuationists are incapable of doing so.
As a matter of fact, in the real world, the two issues do intersect all too often, because of many leading Reformed-charismatics' unfortunate failure to practice biblical discernment consistently and responsibly. For example, Sam Storms lent his considerable credibility to the Kansas City Prophets for years, even after it was clear they were false prophets. Wayne Grudem has likewise shown an undue tolerance of prophetic abuses in the Vineyard movement. Jack Deere renounced cessationism and within a few short years virtually engineered the spiritual train wreck that culminated in the public disqualification of Paul Cain. I think it's fair to point out that the track record on these issues ought to be an embarrassment to my Reformed continuationist brethreneven if we limit the discussion to the fruit of their very best teachers.
Now, before someone parrots the standard line, let me just say I realize that's still not an exegetical argument for cessationism. Hey, I'll go even further: it's technically no argument for cessationism at all. But it is a reminder of the very serious and profound truth of Matthew 7:15-17:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
I admit that one of the things that concerns me most about Reformed non-cessationism is that when you trace the movement back to its roots, it stems from a bramble bush, not a fruit tree. And I rather suspect that fact is one of the chief reasons when I started talking about the disastrous effects of the current epidemic of false prophets, my Reformed charismatic friends came out of the woodwork spoiling for a fight.