11 November 2005

Whole lotta shakin'

JollyBlogger wisely pleads for a careful distinction between God's constant providential control over the natural order of everyday events and His occasional miraculous intervention in worldly affairs. Adrian Warnock doesn't see the point. Here's a real-life illustration that I hope will help.

Friday mid-day update: I added the material in the large text box below. It simply expands and clarifies some issues a few readers may have felt were not quite clear in the original post.

Earthquakes!

Between April 1997 and April 2000, I lived through six earthquakes on four different continents. They were all fairly significant earthquakes that registered between 4.9 and 6.8 on the Richter scale—the kind that make you stop and gasp while you hold onto something for dear life. Falling frescoesBut they weren't really catastrophic events (unless you count the 6.8 quake at Assisi, in September of '97, which killed 10 people and destroyed some ancient frescoes on the ceiling of the Franciscan basilica there. By the way, that one struck within an hour after I had flown into Italy, while Carey Hardy and I were literally standing at our hotel's front desk, checking in.)

Here's the complete list, with documentation:


SIX BIG EARTHQUAKES THAT STRUCK CLOSE
TO ME AT THE END OF THE MILLENNIUM
Twin 5.0 quakes in southern CAApril 26 and 27, 1997
6.8 quake in Assisi, ItalySeptember 26, 1997
5.3 quake Hollister, CAAugust 12, 1998
5.1 quake near Queenstown, NZApril 24, 1999
5.1 quake near Pune, Maharashtra, IndiaMarch 12, 2000

The first two of those quakes hit within 24 hours of each other, while I was home. The others all occurred in places where I had gone to minister. The string of earthquakes in and of itself seemed a rather bizarre turn of providence. (An earthquake occurred every place I visited, practically every time I traveled overseas, for three years! What are the odds of that?) I admit that I wondered after the fourth and fifth quakes whether these tremors had some sort of apocalyptic significance, and whether they were meant to convey some divine message to me personally.

Falling frescoesIt also occurred to me that if I were a charismatic charlatan, I could have parlayed my connection with the earthquakes into big-time fame and credibility, simply by inventing whatever "prophetic" significance I wanted to imagine and claiming the earthquakes were divinely-inspired punctuation marks for my prophecies. After all, I had multiple witnesses to my presence in all six earthquakes. The one in Queenstown, New Zealand, occurred while I was preaching about Jonah, right after I had made an emphatic point about God's sovereignty over the forces of nature.

If you have spent any time in charismatic circles, you know that I could have easily sold the idea that the earthquakes were proof that I am endowed with amazing prophetic gifts.

As a matter of fact, the day before the Pune earthquake, an American faith-healing evangelist launched a series of open-air meetings in Pune, in a vacant lot across the street from where a friend of mine lives. This faith-healer was known for making prophecies of doom. He had preached in Pune a year earlier and prophesied a long series of catastrophic disasters that he said would devastate the region if people did not repent—earthquakes, floods, famines, etc.

Of course, if you make enough prophecies like that, chances are you're going to get one of them right someday. Since this guy's constant theme is disaster and he had already prophesied the full range of possible catastrophes (storms, earthquakes, financial disasters, and so on) the odds were pretty good he'd be able to claim something someday.

Since this earthquake hit the day after his first Pune meeting, he immediately claimed the phenomenon was sent by God specifically as a fulfillment of his prophecies.

Now, this earthquake was by no means a disaster. It was enough to shake me out of a deep jet-lag-induced nap and into an immediate state of fervent prayer as the ceiling fan swayed over my head. It shook the whole city pretty hard. But it didn't really do any major property damage. As far as I know, no lives were lost.

My first thought, as soon as the shaking subsided, was, That guy is going to claim this as a fulfillment of his prophecies.

That is precisely what he did. That night more than 10,000 people showed up to hear this counterfeit prophet. They didn't notice the fact that no actual disaster occurred. The famines and financial disasters he had predicted never materialized. Even the earthquake itself was not really a disaster. But that fellow was claiming it as proof that he spoke for God, and multitudes believed him.

I happened to be visiting my friend across the street that night, and we moseyed over to hear the guy preach for a half hour or so. He was the worst kind of false prophet and charlatan, preaching a man-centered health-and-prosperity message to people the vast majority of whom lived in extreme poverty. And he took their money as a "seed-faith offering" that was supposed to make them rich. The amount of money he collected was astonishing. Then after prophesying more doom, he took a second offering.

He was preying on superstition for personal profit.

Superstition is irrational awe or fear of the unknown, resulting credulity regarding the supernatural. In this case, people's superstition was purposely manipulated and intensified by the preacher's deliberate blurring of any distinction between God's supernatural intervention by miracles and His providential control over everything that happens.

A miracle is a particular kind of sign—an unmistakable display of supernatural power calculated to confront unbelief and provoke awe—with the purpose of authenticating an agent of divine revelation. True miracles are not merely arbitrary displays of God's power; they are manifestly supernatural and are themselves a form of revelation.

The earthquake was a natural occurrence, not a "miracle." It had no more significance as a "fulfillment" of that false prophet's wild-eyed forecasts than it had as a harbinger of my presence in Pune. There was no reason whatsoever to see it as an example of immediate and preternatural intervention by God. There was no reason to assume it was a special judgment against the sins of the people in that city, as if they were worse sinners than the people in Calcutta (cf. Luke 13:1-5. As a matter of fact, there was far more evidence of mercy than judgment in the providential outworking of the Pune earthquake). The only reason anyone assumed otherwise was sheer superstition, aggravated by the claims of a man who was pretending to speak for God, even though he clearly did not.

By denying that there was any overt supernatural significance or special revelatory message from God in the earthquake, am I suggesting that God had no involvement in the event at all? Am I claiming it was without any meaning or significance whatsoever—as if it were a chance event, utterly devoid of divine purpose? Of course I am not saying that.

On the contrary, I would insist that God is always working through providence, so that every detail of everything that happens is part of His eternal plan and purpose—right down to "insignificant" details like the number of hairs on your head, or the falling of a sparrow (Matthew 10:29-30). It's not necessary to invent a "miraculous" explanation for every extraordinary turn of events in order to give God due credit for accomplishing His will in human affairs. In fact, it downgrades the biblical concept of miracles to imagine that everything unusual qualifies as a "miracle."

I am convinced by all the clear commands and best examples of Scripture that God would have us ordinarily seek an understanding of how His will and His purposes are being providentially fulfilled (insofar as such understanding is given to us at all) by seeking wisdom in the more sure Word of Scripture, rather than the declarations of uncredentialed modern "prophets" who (I think we all agree) often mistake their own imaginations for revelation from God.

That's true of ordinary and extraordinary providences alike. Miracles are a whole different category, and by definition, they are extremely rare events—even on the pages of Scripture.


If you mask the proper distinction between providence and miracles, you confuse things that ought to be clear—and such confusion always breeds superstition.

David Wayne, the JollyBlogger, has a post that makes this point well: "We reformed cessationists believe that God has ceased revelation, but He hasn't ceased upholding, directing, disposing and governing all creatures, actions and things. In other words, God is working in a mighty way at all times."

Adrian Warnock rejects any such distinction: "I honestly believe it is the cessationist who makes the supernatural/natural distinction too large. "For me, it really doesn't matter too much if God answers my prayer for the healing of Phil Johnson's allergic rhinitis by means of a new medication, his body just suddenly deciding one day no longer to exhibit such symptoms. . . , by miraculously changing something physically wrong with his white cells or by . . . taking Phil home to be with him and performing the ultimate miracle of healing. I just want Phil to be healed."

I appreciate the prayers and the well-wishes, and I agree that God's answer to Adrian's prayer (by sending rain that eliminated the high pollen counts) was just as much an answer to prayer as a miracle of healing would have been. I also agree that it would have likewise been an answer to prayer if He had called me home.

But it's still not precisely the same thing. Ask Darlene if the dead-Phil option and the natural-relief option are functionally equivalent in every sense, and she'll explain why they are not.

This post is longer and more far-ranging than I planned, so I'm going to cut it short. Here's the point: The faith that sees the hand of God in the natural outworking of divine providence (and understands that God is sovereign over every detail of everything that happens) is not a lesser faith than the kind of belief that can only see God at work when He intervenes in spectacular, supernatural, and miraculous ways.

Falling frescoes
Phil's signature

72 comments:

Mike Garner said...

Since you are a better author than I am a reader, I am going to assume that I am the person making the error here. But from my perspective, it seems like you set out to accomplish some purpose and that really never happened. Possibly I got lost in all the earthquake talk and ranting about the "prophets". It seems that on the one hand you are creating a distinction and on the other you are blurring the lines. I just do not see the point or the flow of the argument that you are trying to make. Again, this is probably my fault but hopefully someone can clear this up for me.

mike

John said...

Mike,
just to but in here, maybe the way for you to get the point is simply to read the post again! I think that the point is admirably clear.

Here it is again, just for you: ‘The faith that sees the hand of God in the natural outworking of divine providence (and understands that God is sovereign over every detail of everything that happens) is not a lesser faith than the kind of belief that can only see God at work when He intervenes in spectacular, supernatural, and miraculous ways.’

Now, what part of ‘is not a lesser faith’ don’t you understand? :-)
John Kilpatrick/.

ScottyB said...

Very few commenters on this blog are prophesying such foolishness or advocating the prophesying of such end-time doom. Are we de-emphasizing the Holy Spirit with this line of reasoning? We all depend on an Esther like work of the Spirit in this age but If the Lord was to reveal to us by some miraculous means a future event would it be despised at Grace Community Church? We all agree that God the Holy Spirit is Free to reveal truth not only in the forth telling but alsoin the fore-telling. I think generally we all agree that this is not normative but it is a blessing when it happens.
I wish we could see some studies on the true nature of Prophecy for the Church today-- Spirit Empowered Preaching(Azurdia)--let's study what we agree upon and need--Power from on high so that those at our meetings will fall down at their feet and say that God is really among us:

"What are the lessons for today from Jonathan Edwards? No man is more relevant to the present condition of Christianity than Jonathan Edwards. None is more needed. Take all we have been considering, and on top of that take the treatise he wrote in 1748 with the title An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God's People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and for the Advancement of Christ's kingdom on Earth. Some friends in Scotland had been meeting together to pray in this way, and they wrote to Edwards and told him about this. They asked whether he agreed with this and whether he would write about it. So he wrote this great treatise pleading with people to join together, and to agree to do so once a month and in various other ways. He argues and pleads very specially in terms of what he and they regarded then as the nearness of the second coming of Christ and the glory that was to be revealed. It is a mighty and a glorious statement. Surely revival is the only answer to the present need and condition of the church. 1 would state it thus. An apologetic which fails to put supreme ,emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit is doomed to be a complete failure. But that is what we have been doing. We have brought out an apologetic which is highly philosophical and argumentative. We have argued about modern art, modern literature, modern drama, politics and social views as if this is what is needed. What is needed is an effusion, an outpouring of the Spirit; and any apologetic which does not finally bring us to the need of such an outpouring will ultimately be useless.

Remember, "Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." The New Testament warns us against 'quenching the Spirit'. We can be guilty of doing so in many ways. We can quench the Spirit by being exclusively interested in theology. We can do so also by being concerned only about the application of Christianity to industry, to education, to art, to politics etc. At the same time Edwards gives similar warnings to those who emphasize experience only. Nothing is more striking than the balance of this man. You must have the theology; but it must he theology on fire. There must be warmth and heat as well as light. In Edwards we find the ideal combination - the great doctrines with the fire of the Spirit upon them."


--DMLJ

centuri0n said...

[joke]We are all optimistic that Darlene would say that the rain was an option she appreciated more than the "home with the Lord" option. However, I am also certain she would pause a moment to wonder what a moment's peace would be like.[/joke]

Let me go on-record to say that the blogosphere would not be the same if Jesus cured Phil's allergies with a terminal health incident.

centuri0n said...

On a slightly more serious note, I am certain I know where Phil will take this discussion if he gets 5 minutes, but I also have a feeling I can see (non-prophetically) where the non-cessationists will try to steer it.

In order to prove me wrong, I'd like to see the non-cessationists (it is probably more fair to call them "charismatics" and call ourselves "non-charismatics", but this is our home court) clear define what they mean when they say that the Apostolic gifts have not ceased. It seems to me that one of the bits of confusion between Jolly and Adrian is what exactly we are talking about.

No need to go on without that definition. Would love to see it.

Mike Garner said...

Yes thanks ... I can see the big red font as well as the next guy.

Here is my question: He started out with some purpose in mind and then wound up at that conclusion all the while using evidence that wasn't related to either. At least that is what it seems like to me.

Since it is "admirably clear" John, I would hope that you would be able to help me without insulting me further. Could you state what the Thesis/Purpose of the thread is. Then show the evidence used to prove it. Then show how that points towards the conclusion.

Thanks a lot,
mike

Jeremy Weaver said...

John-"Now, what part of ‘is not a lesser faith’ don’t you understand?"

Me-"Equal, greater, or lesser faith is not the issue, as are not false prophets. The issue is whether or not the Bible teaches that some of the gifts have ceased. This post says nothing that I do not agree with. False prophets are bad. The strength of faith is in its object, not my ability to believe."

Jeri said...

I agree with Phil's conclusion but am not sure he ended up in a straight line from where he started. I do agree with this: "The faith that sees the hand of God in the natural outworking of divine providence (and understands that God is sovereign over every detail of everything that happens) is not a lesser faith than the kind of belief that can only see God at work when He intervenes in spectacular, supernatural, and miraculous ways."

But that neither negates nor proves whether gifts have ceased or not.

Too many reports of healing have come from reputable people (including accounts of people healed at Amy Carmichael's prayer meetings in India) for me to write them off completely. But I know most accounts are merely trumped up hoaxes. There are other instances of apparent divine intervention as well that make me think the gifts have not ceased.

But God wants us to rely on Him by faith in Him through His Word, which means we ought not to expect signs and wonders but rather we should learn of Him and know Him. After all, "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God."

At the same time, I don't think He has hamstrung Himself from intervening in whatever way He likes to glorify His name.

We know that an unbelieving generation looks for a sign. We don't live on healing or prophecies or tongues, etc. We live by the grace of God under the blessings He has bestowed to His Son, and through His Son, to us. At the same time, we need to be leery of putting rules upon God. He can do anything, any time He chooses to do so.

The idea that He CANNOT give gifts, as though that would somehow contradict His Godhood or that it's wicked and therefore impossible for Him to do, is unsound. He remains God, and He does whatever is good to Him. And we can't know His wisdom.

So while it might be accurate to observe that most of the really spectacular gifts have ceased, I think it's a mistake to say He can never bestow them again. Nobody can know that. We can assess the past and use it as a guide to be careful about claims of the miraculous. But I don't think we can do more than that.

John said...

Sorry, Mike,
I shouldn’t presume that a smiley face allows me to be cheeky.

Actually, when I read the conclusion in the big red font I sort of skipped over it but while I was writing my ‘butting in’ post I pressed the ‘Show Original Post’ button and there it was much more conclusive in bold black.

I think that the beginning and the end of Phil’s post do match up well. He experiences all these earthquakes but this other guy experiences one and makes a big thing out of it => Phil appreciates that God is active and sovereign when the earth shakes and equally active and sovereign when the ground does not shake and thinking that God is active only when the spectacular happens is not a greater faith.

The middle bit of the post attempts to grapple with one facet of the current cessationist / charismatic debate, ie. different assessments of the speciality or the significance of divine utterance.

I agree with you about the flow but thought / still think that the theme set at the beginning in the earthquake illustration leads to the conclusion at the end. Our difference here is either that I didn’t have the intelligence to get lost in the middle or that I didn’t see that what was said about false prophets was in any way a rant.

Sorry, once again for the insult: now, what part of ‘show the evidence’ have I failed to understand?

Deutero Q said...

Phil, I want to thank you for an excellent blog. I even link to it on my blog and read your excellent posts just about daily. Just for the record, I am a 5-point Calvinist and a former cessationist. Here are some of my ramblings.

Cessationism, it seems to me, is often driven by a reaction against bad theology or flaky behavior. It can also be fueled by personal prejudice and/or lack of personal experience. It strikes me as peculiar that cessationists will limit God but not the devil; the "apostate angel" (to use John Milton's fitting designation for the devil) is still doing all the things he used to do but God is not, according to cessationists.

My case for cessationism was built more on theological bias and prejudice than on sound biblical exegesis. That was where I was coming from for many years. I finally had to admit that I could not support my position exegetically; it was driven by my reaction against what I pereceived to be charismatic chaos.

I suppose "charismatic Calvinism" sounds like an oxymoron, but it is a label that fits me and a growing number of Reformed types who embrace the responsible use of the gifts of the Spirit while rejecting some of the unsound exegetical methods and conclusions of some our charismatic and pentecostal friends.

What it finally came down to for me was the text of Scripture. I could not support my cessationism exegetically. I was blinded by some unbiblical presuppositions (I was anti-charismatic) that affected the way I read and interpreted Scripture.

John Schroeder said...

Phil:

I have to rise to Adrian's defense a bit. He sees, I think the distinction you accuse him of not seeing. He simply chooses to NAME God's providence as direct intervention. I see no problem in that.

The problems arise not when we say "God intervened here" but when we claim to be able to summon His intervention at will. Adrian has not, that I found made such a claim.

Thus in practice there is little difference between your stances. Charismatic terminology, when balanced with a proper understanding of humility and Calvinistic depravity is not a problem. Granted, turned loose f such anchors that same terminology is a force for great mischief, but that is certainly not the case for Adrian.

Would that I could post on this, but I am away for the weekend, perhaps MOnday...

Chris D. said...

Please do provide definitions. I've been following the blogstorm on various reformed blogs. Is a non-cessationist someone who believes in tongues, prophecy, divine healing, slayings in the spirit etc? My only familiarity is the the TV shows. It will help if my respected bloggers could actually define what they are talking about.

candyinsierras said...

The timing of this post and Pat Robertson's latest comments are prophetic on your part Phil. :)

Ray said...

deutero q -- Thanks for your comment, that pretty much defines my perspective as well...

Also, chris d. a few definitions:

Cessationist - One who believes that the gifts, as recorded in 1st Corinthians 12 are no longer active.

Non-Cessationist - One who believes that the gifts, ARE active.

Now, in my opinion, I feel that the CURRENT environment would cause me to define Charismatic as one who differs from a Non-cessationist in the following way:

Charismatic - One who INSISTS that the gifts MUST be displayed in order to delineate those who have had a 'second blessing' as opposed to those who are 'merely' saved.

I am a non-cessationist, but NOT a Charismatic as I termed it above. I find that the position of non-cessationism is Biblical, but find NO Scriptural evidence for the so-called 'Second Blessing with the Evidence of Speaking in Tongues' movement...

Nathan White said...

It amazes me how many of you believe that we can hinder the Holy Spirit or give more power to the devil than we do to God. As if God needed anything of us! Why do so many base their non-cessationist views on experience rather than the ‘more sure’ written word? Don’t you think that if we were ‘hindering’ the Holy Spirit of the Almighty God there would be some admonitions on this littered throughout the scripture? Surely such a terrible thing such as ‘hindering the Spirit’ would be mentioned more than just the vague ‘do not quench the Spirit’. Furthermore, ‘living’ and ‘walking by the Spirit’ mention nothing of the miraculous spiritual gifts some would like to impose on the passage.

SDG

Jim Crigler said...

John Schroeder's point about summoning a miracle from God is an excellent one. I'd like to add a couple of thoughts.

1. The modern church is far too hung up on Spiritual gifts. Like when someone stumbles across Calvinism (in soteriology vis-a-vis all the rest of what Calvin taught) and becomes convinced it's true and then starts wielding it as a weapon in every conversation he has about the Faith, offending with his own manner, e.g., in proficiency in proving himself right and gloating in it, rather than graciously talking about Gospel of grace. Let the Gospel be the offense, not you.

Or it's like the retreat my son went on in which a non-charsmatic, i.e., typical evangelical, "spiritual gifts survey" was given and then gifts were the subject of the speaker. He was told as a result of the test (may I call it that?) that "his gift" was "exhortation"; he took this knowledge very seriously, and proceded to tell all his friends what was wrong with their lives. A few took what he told them well, but it was only after he had offended some of his friends, including one or two close friends, that he began to see a little of what my wife and I had been trying to tell him: There are some things that just weren't his business, no matter how right he was. (The case that caused the greatest offense was one in which my son was right about a morally dangerous situation, even though the friend's Christian parents were on the friend's side.)

2. The thing we should be emphasizing is what the Holy Spirit is sent to testify to: Christ crucified. This falls out in worship, study, service to the Church and to our neighbors, etc.

Steve said...

Ray: Your definition of a cessationist is not quite accurate. You said, "Cessationist - One who believes that the gifts, as recorded in 1st Corinthians 12 are no longer active."

That should read, "One who believes that the MIRACULOUS gifts..."

Now, there are shades of distinction some non-cessationists are failing to credit to cessationists, and there's simply not time or space to go into all of them here. But a key one is that we cessationists are accused of putting God in a box. Many of us haven't. We acknowledge that God is perfectly capable of working however He wills in any age. But we also say that since the end of the apostolic era, the miraculous gifts have not been the NORMATIVE PATTERN among Christians.

Please note: The above are general statements, and not a detailed response intended to cover all the bases. Please treat them as such. I've noticed by the way many people prematurely criticize Phil's blogs that they seem to have difficulty discerning the difference between a mere general statement and a detailed, exegetical treatment that deals with the finer nuances of a given topic.

C.H.H. said...

Phil said:

‘The faith that sees the hand of God in the natural outworking of divine providence (and understands that God is sovereign over every detail of everything that happens) is not a lesser faith than the kind of belief that can only see God at work when He intervenes in spectacular, supernatural, and miraculous ways.’

I would say that in most circumstances the first kind of faith is greater.

I spent 6 years of my life in Charismatic circles, where miraculous events were allegedly commonplace- and the majority of what was called "prayer" was asking God for them- pleading for a sign, a wonder, a "fresh outpouring of the Spirit," whatever that meant.

And yet the Charismatic worldview among those I spent time with (many of whom claimed to be Calvinists, although they certainly weren't in the Mahaney strain of things) actually denigrated God's power to a pitiful level. They viewed the world as open, contingent, where anything could happen for any reason, and God just happened to be the biggest Personality in that open field.

Satan was everywhere, running around and smacking people on the head and making their cars break down and giving them colds and making their kids act up. Demons hid behind every lamp post and behind every situation that lessened your comfort level.

And God, who was bigger then Satan (although sometimes one had to ask by how much) would come along and work miracles everywhere: He'd make someone fall over when you rebuked Satan out of them, He'd work a miracle on your car, He'd miraculously heal you from your cold, He'd make your kid speak in tongues to make them stop acting up, etc. etc. etc.

So God was just one player on a big contingent field who was primarily the Great Responder to the wiles of the devil, and His primary mode of response was through miracles. Leaving the charismatic movement and discovering Reformed theology did not demand my view of God's power become less: it demanded that I view Him and His works as greater. The kind of providence that Phil describes here makes the Charismatic view of God (at least among those I spent time with) look like a silly caricature.

Ray said...

Steve -- Thank you, I should have put Miraculous in there; I knew that, but for sake of argument also made a general statement.. :-)

Also, Nathan White -- I don't believe that I said anything about 'experiential' at all...

To quote you, "Why do so many base their non-cessationist views on experience rather than the ‘more sure’ written word?"

If you will read my post, and deutero q's, you will find that we base our viewpoint on the 'more sure' written word! I have found most of the cessationist arguments less than convincing, and some involve some fairly ambitious and acrobatic hermenuetics...

I recently posted about the whole tenor of this discussion and this is the type of condescending attitude I find so distasteful on both sides of the argument.

As if somehow, one who disagrees with you is completely wrong-headed and barely able to pronounce the word theology, much less be familiar with it...

So, Nathan White, please provide me with some Scripture that declares that I am so far off base here....

While I may not agree with the cessationist, (I really dislike this whole polarizing of everyone), I am always willing to listen and be corrected if found to simply be off the mark...

I started as a flaming Arminian and through a study of Scripture, (and wise counsel), have found that the basis for this perspective is weak at best...

The same MAY be true of the Miraculous gifts one day, but at this point, I find no compelling evidence...

theinscrutableone said...

During the ongoing debate on prophecy/cessation, I've seen several non-cessationists comment that they had formerly been cessationists, but eventually became persuaded through the study of Scripture that Scripture doesn't teach the cessation of the gifts. I've headed in precisely the opposite direction, but also because of my study of Scripture: I fail to see where Scripture teaches the huge change in prophecy from a 100% authoritative and inspired gift (OT prophecy) to a semi-inspired gift (NT prophecy). It seems to me that most arguments in support of the perpetuity of the gift of prophecy are based on (1) experience, (2) a literal reading of 1 Cor. 12 and 14, and (3) a reinterpretation of prophetic utterances in Acts in light of 1 Cor., in that order. Try as I might, I can't see how these two chapters, written as advice to a wayward church to help them conduct their meetings in a more orderly manner rather than as doctrinal exposition, are sufficient to support such a massive change in the nature and operation of prophecy. We're talking about a shift from a fully inspired, authoritative office to a fallible gift that's conceded by its proponents to be 100% accurate in the hands of no one, so I would think that God would have announced such a massive shift in a clear and obvious manner. This was the point I intended to make here. Without 1 Cor. 12&14 I see only one gift of prophecy throughout Scripture, and in those chapters I see nothing that reveals the massive shift to non-authoritative prophecy that non-cessationists assert has happened.

Whereas my non-cessationist friends assert the lack of Scriptural support for cessation, I assert the lack of Scriptural support for the alleged change from authoritative OT prophecy to less authoritative NT prophecy. My suggestion: that at least one proponent of each view provide us with an exegetical explanation of the Biblical support they have for cessation or the transition from OT to NT prophecy. I think it would be helpful to this debate if we'd invest some time and effort into providing a clear Biblical defense for our respective views. We're asking each other, "Where's the beef?" so it seems proper for us to explain where the beef is to be found in the bun. :-)

Dave

Ray said...

Amen brother Dave (aka theinscrutableone)!

I believe that this would be most beneficial, and also I would like to not simply focus on one aspect of the miraculous gifts (prophecy), but all of the gifts...

While theinscrutableone and I may be on opposite, albeit amiable, sides, I agree with his assessment; where did the change in prophecy go from "THUS SAITH THE LORD" to 'Well, I was close'?

I am probably not the best one to write the position for the 'non-cessationist' side, there are many, many, more capable folks out there, but I believe that presenting our position in a succinct and Biblically-based manner is a great starting point!

Brad Meyer said...

Glad you're back-
Certainly no argument from this charismatic against discernment but I just thought Hanegraff's national wet blanket had sufficiently mocked charismatics...
I just "wonder" how often you take the hatchet to yourselves for unbelief. What is more charlatan-esque? To preach that miracles happen everywhere all the time so believe in them, or that they almost never do, so don't believe in them (unless you hit the lotto)? Almost unviolated rule of NT- if you don't believe, God doesn't intervene. This dangerous world needs more belief in legitimate Divine intervention- not more cynicism and preaching against God's omnipotence or concern.

Sojourner said...

I am Reformed, and I am Baptist, and I am not convinced Scripturally that all miraculous gifts have ceased. I would be an "open-but-very-cautious" type.

Honestly though, what are we arguing here? Are we arguing that God doesn't gift some people with healing, or that God never heals through His servants? To me, there is a great difference between the two. (I'm not talking through medicine but through the miraculous.) If I have a church member with cancer, and I lay hands on him and pray that God heals him, and the next day he is cancer free, does that mean I have the gift of healing? I don't know, but it will not change my prayers, expectations, or preaching.

It seems to me that to argue with someone who may be so graciously endowed by God is as futile as arguing with me (or Phil or one of you Christian readers) that I haven't been saved and that I haven't been called to teach. You may point out instances of ungodly behavior to me, or some of my bad sermons, but in the end, I know who I am in Christ because the Holy Spirit bears witness. Overall I trust that the fruit my life brings will demonstrate that I am who I am called to be. I extend the same courtesy to my brothers and sisters who make what may seem to be unlikely, yet Biblical claims to me. I treat them as I would any young man who claims to be called to preach. I watch for good fruit and bad. If someone claims to gifted with "tongues" yet never disrupts and never acts unbecomingly, will we still disassociate ourselves with them? Are we so certain that they are either lying or deceived?

Nathan White said...

Ray,
Please inform me of my statements where I even hinted that you were ‘wrong-headed and barely able to pronounce the word theology’, and please show me where I said ‘Ray is so far off base’.

If you will read my post, you will see that I do not address you specifically. I do not address your words, and I do not address your previous posts. So I am confused as to why you took offense.

It seems as if you are a bit defensive, and I pray there is not a deeper reason for that. There is no condescending tone in my words. I simply stated that your position is terribly weak, just as you stated mine was as well.

As far as the argument goes, if ever there was a ‘fairly ambitious and acrobatic hermenuetic’, then it certainly would be the fact that outside of 1 Corinthians your position is never mentioned or cautioned about by the Holy Spirit. Simply speaking, the rest of the epistles to churches in the later years are completely silent on such an important subject in your mind. Furthermore, the gifts are clearly not needed any longer, as the writing of the ‘written word’ ensures us that nobody is hindering the work of the Holy Spirit –if such a thing could even possibly happen.

SDG

Jeff said...

Two Disclaimers:

1 I’m not an exegete and I can’t say I’ve scoured the Scriptures on this issue of cessationism vs. non-cessationism.

2 I fully realize that experiences should never be the starting points of discerning what the Word of God teaches, but rather we ought to begin with the Word of God and move outward to discern experiences.

That being said, I want to throw something out…

If prophecy and other genuine charismata are still in operation today, and believers are being gifted with them when the Holy Spirit indwells them at salvation, wouldn’t it be correct to assume that those people would be manifesting those gifts regardless of whether they knew about them specifically, or believed they were in operation?

I’m saying this because when I was saved I began minstering certain non-charismatic gifts well before I ever knew that they were actually spiritual gifts delineated in Scripture. Wouldn’t that be true of any spiritual gift? (I’m actually asking, I’m not being sarcastic).

However, when listening to the testimonies of non-cessationists here and elsewhere, it seems as though they only begin to manifest these charismatic gifts once they start believing they’re in operation, or once they surround themselves with other non-cessationists…which leads me to conclude it’s more the power of suggestion than the power of the Holy Spirit.

Nathan White said...

Jeff, great point. For the Holy Spirit doesnt rely on our cooperation for salvation, so why would He need to rely on us 'opening our minds' to the miraculous gifts before a work can be done? An argument based on experience, but still a valid thought.

theinscrutableone,

Where was the shift to non-authoritative prophecy? Revelation 22:18 is almost the last verse in the Bible –and this was no accident.

For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; 19and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”

Ray said...

Nathan -- I was not offended at all, I found your tone to be condescending, that was about it...

"It amazes me how many of you believe that we can hinder the Holy Spirit or give more power to the devil than we do to God. As if God needed anything of us! Why do so many base their non-cessationist views on experience rather than the ‘more sure’ written word?.."

These statements were not made by anyone as far as I know... Maybe you did not mean to be condescending, I may simply have read it that way...

So, if that is the case; I apologize...

Also, I took it to be directed at me as it came directly after I posted... Maybe it was the timing, who knows...

No harm, no foul.... Much more interested in the discussion going in the direction that theinscrutableone suggested...

Mike Garner said...

"'I just "wonder" how often you take the hatchet to yourselves for unbelief""

Brad,
Everyone who knows me knows that I am a clear cut 5-point Calvinist. One of my latest articles was Reformers in need of Reforming. In a very real sense it was "talomg the hatchet to ourselves". Furthermore, I can think of several times where Phil has considered the problems with TMC and definitely his own character flaws. Michael Spencer (whom I certainly do not always agree with) just wrote an open letter being overly harsh on himself.

Your insinuation that all people on the blogworld do is attack others is ill-founded.
You for the blow - I would ask you to take this same charge to heart. Possibly you need to look critically at your own beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors before shouting so loudly that everyone else is wrong. Just a tip that I hope will be taken.


In Christ alone,
mike


P.S.
Thanks for the Summary John. I can see how the beginning and end tie together but I still think that the middle does nothing to prove what he set out to accomplish. However, I thank you for the time you put into responding and I do think I have a better view of where he is coming from.

Nathan White said...

Thanks for the kind words Ray, I certainly had no intention to single you out. I made those statements because of the general argumentation used by supporters of non-cessationism, not to single out anyone individually as to detract from the issue at hand.

SDG

Brian said...

Going by ray's definitions I would be classified as a non-charismatic, non-cessationist I suppose.

nathan,

It seems to me that if you were to rely on the written Word alone then you would believe that all Spiritual gifts are active. There is nothing in the Scripture that signals the end of such gifts. However, the calvinist can/does rely on his experience, or lack thereof, to try to prove that certain "gifts" have ceased (convenient to pick and choose which as well). The charismatic can/does rely on his experience to try to prove that certain "gifts" are still active. I would say that both positions err because they are relying on experience. The one who uses his "experience" to disprove is effectively limiting God (I should say trying to limit). The one who uses his "experience" to prove is effectively overstepping his bounds (extra-Scriptural).

The bottom line is that the Word is the one true element in all of it and it does not tell us that these "gifts" have ceased. Everything must be tested against the Scripture and experience must be cast to the wayside.

A difficult task to say the least (for all of us).

ray, btw, I think with more study you may find that many positions/doctrines in the calvinist camp are just as weak (or weaker) as some positions in the arminian camp. :) A 5 point calvinist is standing on weak ground on some of those "points".

Personally, I don't profess to be in either camp, nor would I want to be classified as one or the other. Certain points on either side have their Scriptural support.


AMDG

theinscrutableone said...

Nathan,

Thanks for the pointer to Rev. 22:18. It certainly sounds as though it's saying that there would be no further direct revelation from God. As I understand things, most conservative Bible scholars believe that Revelation was written in John's old age, and was therefore the very last NT book to be written. If this is so, then the verse you've referenced is indeed in the text that was to close the canon of Scripture. John, of course, may not have known that he was penning the last book of the Bible, but the Holy Spirit surely knew!

Anyway, this Scripture is definitely one that's often used by cessationists. Of course, non-cessationists will take issue with our interpretation of this verse, no doubt asserting the alleged distinction between apostolic prophecy and the NT gift of prophecy but that's to be expected. :-)

Another passage that's often used by cessationists is 1 Cor. 13:8-12. Although this chapter is a mixture of literal and poetic language, thus making it a bit of an exegetical land mine, I've had some ideas regarding application that can be made from this passage to the issue of spiritual gifts. I'm planning to write a post on that passage RSN (Real Soon Now) and promise to post a link once it's finished. It will be the first chapter of a planned series on the Scriptural argument for cessationism. The introduction is already available here. It includes a link to an excellent position paper on spiritual gifts that was written for the association to which my Reformed Baptist church belongs. This position paper has a lot to say about cessation, so I recommend it highly.

Dave

Impacted Wisdom Truth said...

Interesting post, Phil.

I was out and about the Sunday after the '94 Northridge quake taking pictures. I pulled into the McDonald's on Reseda Blvd at Devonshire to take a few pics of the Kaiser building collapse from the McDonald's parking lot.

I walked to the fence with my camera and there was a man with two young boys there; the boys were about twelve years old or thereabouts.

The man turned around and recognized me from Grace church. That man was you; you and two of your sons were doing the same thing, taking photos of the Kaiser building. We exchanged pleasantries and took our photos.

You can see the results here, at the link contained in the sentence, "Perhaps the most spectacular structural failure was the Kaiser Permanente office building in Granada Hills. Kaiser Permanente is a health care insurer and provider."

Jeremy Weaver said...

The issue is whether or not the Bible teaches that some of the gifts have ceased. This is the issue non-cessationists are raising. I myself have not appealed to experience in any way. I think Phil's post is the most experiential post that has been raised in the issue thus far. All that to say, the issue remains whether or not the Bible teaches that some of the gifts will cease before Christ returns. I have yet to see the Scripture that states, implies, or suggests that this is the case. Therefore I remain a non-cessationist.

Steve said...

Phil said: [I] would insist that God is always working through providence, so that every detail of everything that happens is part of His eternal plan and purpose—right down to "insignificant" details like the number of hairs on your head, or the falling of a sparrow (Matthew 10:29-30). It's not necessary to invent a "miraculous" explanation for every extraordinary turn of events in order to give God due credit for accomplishing His will in human affairs. In fact, it downgrades the biblical concept of miracles to imagine that everything unusual qualifies as a "miracle."

VERY well said!!!! To hold to any lesser view leaves us with a God who is not truly sovereign.

ScottyB said...

You know I have no idea what were debating maybe we just like to debate.
We need a work of the Spirit providentially moving us to pray. A work of the Spirit to providentially cause the American calvinistic churches to have a greater passion for Christ exalting power which we say we have but do not.


" It is perfectly clear that in New Testament times, the gospel was authenticated in this way by signs, wonders and miracles of various characters and descriptions. . . . Was it only meant to be true of the early church? . . . The Scriptures never anywhere say that these things were only temporary – never! There is no such statement anywhere." (The Sovereign Spirit, pp. 31-32 D.Martyn Lloyd Jones)

"Not only that, Luke himself labors in the book of Acts to show how valuable signs and wonders are in winning people to Christ. He does not portray them as a threat to the gospel, but as a witness to the gospel. The reason the church prayed so passionately in Acts 4:30 for signs and wonders to happen is because God was using them to bring multitudes to Christ.

I count at least 17 times where miracles help lead to conversions in the book of Acts. The clearest examples are in Acts 9:34-35 and 9:40,42. Peter heals Aeneas, and Luke says, "And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord." Peter raises Tabitha from the dead, and Luke says, "It became known to all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord."

There is no doubt that the working of miracles–signs and wonders–helped bring people to Christ. That is what Luke wants us to see and that is why the Christians prayed for signs and wonders to happen."

"...they can, if God pleases, shatter the shell of disinterest; they can shatter the shell of cynicism; they can shatter the shell of false religion. Like every other good witness to the word of grace, they can help the fallen heart to fix its gaze on the gospel where the soul-saving, self-authenticating glory of the Lord shines. Therefore the early church longed for God to stretch forth his hand to heal, and that signs and wonders be done in the name of Jesus.

The fact that the early Christians prayed so earnestly for signs and wonders (Acts 4:30) is all the more striking when you realize that they, of all generations were in least need of supernatural authentication. This was the generation whose preaching (of Peter and Stephen and Philip and Paul) was more anointed than the preaching of any generation following. If any preaching was the power of God unto salvation and did not need accompanying signs and wonders, it was this preaching.

Moreover this was the generation that had more immediate and more compelling evidence of the truth of the resurrection than any generation since. Hundreds of eyewitnesses to the risen Lord were alive in Jerusalem. If any generation in the history of the church knew the power of preaching and the authentication of the gospel from first-hand evidence of the resurrection, it was this one. Yet it was they who prayed passionately for God to stretch forth his hand in signs and wonders."

John Piper

Nathan White said...

Brian,

No the Word does not explicitly say all gifts have ceased. But a proper understanding as to why gifts were used, that is, the reason why they were used, will certainly show that there is no point in their use for this day. We have the Bible therefore there is absolutely no need for miraculous gifts. So we shouldn’t look for that crystal clear verse that says yes or no. Instead, let us look to the Word for understanding why the miraculous gifts were given in the first place. It is at this point that the non-cessationist position crumbles.

Furthermore, I don’t know what led you to labeling us ‘Calvinists’, or why you felt the need to state your opinion on the matter. But to suggest that the Calvinistic position is scripturally weak is certainly an ignorance of the reformed position.

SDG

Brian said...

doxoblogist,

well put!


nathan,

No need for miraculous gifts? You have to be kidding right? My point is, who are you to state that miraculous gifts have ceased? If you have some Scripture to back that statement up then let's see it...if not, you should probably take the road of not taking a strong stand on the issue one way or the other. Without Scripture to back a position, that position is "weak".

I am not labeling "you" (us) calvinists. I don't think I called anyone out when I made that statement. If you mean that as a general statement for all people in the comments section and that I was applying my statement on the subject to ALL calvinists you read it wrong.

If you go back and look I was actually responding to ray (it is perfectly relevant). In addition, I believe I have the right to state my opinion on "the matter" just as much as you or anyone else is stating their opinion here.

In addition, I am far from ignorant on the reformed position. Making assumptions on what a person's background is in regards to certain subject matter isn't the wisest thing to do.

Respectfully,
Your brother in Christ.


AMDG

stauf46 said...

Whole lotta shakin indeed. Who would have guessed this would be a controversial topic? wink.

My two cents - as a newbie here - is to point out that in my experience, it it all too common among Charismatics to emphasise the individual aspect of the gifts. It is the Spirit who sovereignly assigns the gifts in order to build the body, not the individual.

Making a case for cessation or not is important, but I think that 90% of our problems would go away if we worked out 1 Cor. 12:1-11 and focused on the purpose of the gifts and the Sovereignty of the Spirit in distributing the gifts.

I know this must have come up elsewhere, but note the past tense in Hebrews 2:3-4. I believe what have come to be known as the sign gifts have served their purpose in establishing the Word.

ScottyB said...

Nathan,you almost sound like a deist, bro, no offense.
On the mission field there is need occasionally to authenticate messengers by signs and wonders. It does happen even among those of us who are reformed. My friends from India who have studied at Master's have advised me that miracles are useful in India. Often times when preaching the Gospel miracles would occur to authenticate the messenger and to show the power of God over the dead idols.

"...the forthright command in 1 Corinthians 14:1, and you will see why some of us are not only open to, but also seeking, this greater fullness of God's power today. This command says, "Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy." And it is repeated twice: "Earnestly desire the higher gifts" (12:31); "Earnestly desire to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues" (14:39).

I wonder how many of us have said for years that we are open to God's moving in spiritual gifts, but have been disobedient to this command to earnestly desire them, especially prophecy? I would ask all of us: are we so sure of our hermeneutical procedure for diminishing the gifts that we would risk walking in disobedience to a plain command of Scripture? "Earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy."

I have come to the point of seeing that the risk lies in the other direction. It would be a risk not to seek spiritual gifts for myself and my church. It would be a risk not to pray with the early church, "Grant your servants to speak your word with boldness while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through your holy servant Jesus." Disobedience is always a greater risk than
obedience.
Much of my experience disinclines me to "earnestly desire spiritual gifts" especially the gift of prophecy. However, I do not base my prayer for such spiritual empowering on experience, but on the Bible. The Scripture is sufficient for all circumstances by teaching us the
means of grace to be used in all circumstances. And I agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones that one of the means of grace needed in our day
is the extraordinary demonstration of power by signs and wonders. Here is what he said:
What is needed is some mighty demonstration of the power of God, some enactment of the Almighty, that will compel people to pay
attention, and to look, and to listen. . . .(Revival, pp. 121-122 DMLJ)"

I have attempted to quote as minimally as possible in these last two posts from Piper--it's hard because so much of what Piper says is useful on the subject.He makes his full arguement here:
http://www.desiringgod.org/library/sermons/90/030490.html

Nathan White said...

Brian,

No actually I’m not kidding, there is no need for miraculous gifts in these days. Unless of course you lack faith in the Holy Spirit through the written word. I’m not going to start throwing proof texts around to show that gifts have ceased, but I will again encourage you to do a little homework on why the gifts were used. Then maybe you will come up with a decent couter-argument, rather than just yelling for a proof text you know isn’t there. Without even understanding why the gifts were implemented in the first place, and with the obvious fact that gifts have always come and gone, then I would definitely say your position is *weak*.

In fact yes, you are ignorant of reformed theology if you believe that some points of Calvinism are weak scripturally. That was the reason I mentioned your Calvinism comments in the first place.

Brad Meyer said...

Phil:
The earthquake was a natural occurrence, not a "miracle." ... The only reason anyone assumed otherwise was sheer superstition...

Your certainty that it is not supernatural but natural (whatever that means) is just as arbitrarily groundless as someone insisting it is supernatural. Neither one has scientific data capable of detecting God's hand? This is obvious. Why is it more reasonable to presume the spiritual realm intervenes only occasionally, than it is to presume the spiritual realm is constantly linked to the physical realm? When the Red Sea parted, would it have been less miraculous if (without the Bible mentioning it), there were an extreme low pressure pocket that "naturally" formed over the water? Life itself is a constant "miracle" as it has defied the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics- the greatest argument against Darwin's attempt to "naturalize" life. Life is not natural, but supernatural (even though we can scientifically explain a cell's behavior).

passthebread said...

Phil,
The reality of charletans has nothing to do with the arguments here. You are sighting people who falsely claim insight for selfish reasons as support for a view that seems to be saying, we can't know God's providence. Hmm???? Whether or not something is providential or miraculous is irrelevent to the issue.

I agree with John S. and Adrian here. There point is that this distinction is off topic. The topic is whether there is prophecy today. The fact that there are false prophets galore is not relevent. If this were true, why didn't Paul argue.."the best way to avoid this problem is to simply call it all bogus" No he said "love" is the key. A false prophet is a self-centered prophet. That is the overarching argument Paul is making in 1 Cor 12-14. His arguments throughout 1 Cor are based on the construction "love God and love one another".

So there are self-centered charletans..OK..that is biblical. Now, learn the hard job of regulating them. That is the path to take.

Habitans in Sicco said...

Here's where the burden of proof falls on the shoulders of those who insist prophecy is for today: where in the mix of false prophets, charlatans, and presumptuous folk, are there any reliable true prophets, who meet the biblical standards of reliable revelatory prophetic utterance? Can you point us to even one "prophet" who consistently receives "a word from the Lord" who has always been right?

If they are not 100% reliable and true, how can you claim their words are "fresh revelation"?

Also, what's involved in "regulating" the charlatans? Shall we stone Pat Robertson?

Mike Garner said...

I’m not going to start throwing proof texts around to show that gifts have ceased

Well naturally. That would be quite a challenge unless we were to add verses to the bible.

but I will again encourage you to do a little homework on why the gifts were used.

With all due respect, I can pretty much guarantee that there have been pleanty of men who have done far more homework on this issue than you have (eg. Grudem). So, while this may sound nice on a blog with people of varying degrees of education, it would be foolish to suggest that the cessationists are those who have done homework while Charismatics are the ignorant folks.

Brian said...

nathan,

Again, I think you are speaking way out of your area on this...or maybe I should say you are speaking only within your circle. Someone else already mentioned the mission field and unless you have been in missions a long time I would venture to say that your statement is extremely short sighted. In fact, who do we credit these "miracles" to if not to God? Believe me, they happen quite a bit. If you do happen to be an expert in this area please say so.

For your information, I have studied Spiritual gifts (and their purpose) quite extensively. BTW, where are the "obvious facts" that gifts have come and gone? As I already stated I am not interested in someone's "experience" of them coming and going. I am interested in clear Biblical teaching of them coming and going.

Another bold statement by you on the points of calvinism. Surely you don't think that the "5 points of calvinism" are irrefutable. Many great, scholarly men of God would disagree with some of the 5 points of calvinism. Surely you don't think that you must hold to the "5 points of calvinism" to be considred "reformed".

Whenever you can produce "slam dunk" Scriptural evidence to back the doctrine contained within the 5 points of calvinism please let the world (of Christendom) know...I am sure many arminians, amyraldians and calvinists would be quite interested to read your exegesis.

P.S.
I must mention that I am not taking a firm stand on certain gifts being for today or not for today. I am taking a firm stand on the fact that there isn't enough Scriptural evidence to take a firm stand against them. Such things venture into the area of gray and anyone that states they cannot possibly be wrong about such matters is deceiving themselves.

AMDG

Rich Ryan said...

Nathan,

You are well on your way to being a TMS grad (read your bio). I say that with sorrow. As a TMS grad I see (read/hear) in you the same venom that grips most of us who enter the precious gates of TMS. It is the venom of youthful arrogance. More plainly put, pride! There is one thing many of us do not have when we enter those hallowed halls and few gain while there. It is humility.

While I'm sure you're a sharp fellow, you are only 24 (again, reading your bio). The truth is, and this coming from someone cut from the same cloth, you don't even know what you don't know.

Am I passing judgment on you? Depends on how you look at it. I too was radically saved and immersed myself in theological study in my early twenties. I thought I knew everything – all you needed to do was ask me. Then I went to TMS at 30 and I learned that I had not even scratched the surface of theological study.

I hear passion in you. That is laudable. But as one of my TMS profs said (maybe one day your prof too) “beware the scolding tone of the young pastor.”

Study hard brother, love God and his precious truth with all your might and at the same time remember, great men who love God as much as we do have written counter views and they deserve to be respected, read, considered and evaluated as we would have them do to us (or those of their ilk).

Respectfully,

A humbled TMS grad.

farmboy said...

Let’s assume (and that’s a key word) that Scripture is inconclusive as to whether the miraculous gifts ceased sometime during the first century A.D. Given this assumption, is the continuation of the miraculous gifts necessary for God to accomplish His purposes, including the redemption of His elect? What about the elect in a country like India, is the continuation of the miraculous gifts necessary for God to reach His elect in India? To what extent can consideration of Luke 16:19-31 (The Rich Man and Lazarus) shed light on these questions?

In this passage both the rich man and Lazarus have died, with Lazarus being carried by the angels to Abraham’s side and the rich man ending up in Hades in torment. Here we get to observe an interesting conversation between the rich man and Abraham. The rich man, concerned that his brothers not end up joining him in Hades, makes the following request of Abraham: “I beg you, father, to send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” Abraham’s answer to Lazarus’ request is interesting: “They have Moses and the Prophets [what we now know as the Old Testament, analogous to the Bible today]; let them hear them.” To which the rich man replies: “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead [certainly a miraculous sign], they will repent.” But, Abraham replies: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead [if Scripture doesn’t convince them, then neither will a man raised from the dead].”

Given the above, it follows that Scripture is a powerful, effective weapon for waging spiritual warfare (Hmmm…that sounds familiar, was it maybe a recent topic on Mr. Johnson’s blog?), something that Paul was well aware of when he wrote: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV – Yes, I’m that old fashioned: I believe Paul wrote Hebrews.)

Now, where does this leave us: Is the Holy Spirit working through the proclamation of God’s Word sufficient for God to reach, redeem and transform His elect, or is the continuation of miraculous gifts also necessary (here “necessary” is a key word)? Given the original assumption of Scripture being inconclusive regarding the continuation of the miraculous gifts, is it prudent (another key word) for Christians to operate as if the miraculous gifts remain active? Given the asymmetry of the loss function, my answer is: No, it is not prudent to operate as if the miraculous gifts remain active. Assuming that the miraculous gifts remain active leaves the door open for the type of havoc and chaos that Mr. Johnson has documented when these miraculous gifts are falsely and recklessly used. In contrast, assuming that the miraculous gifts ceased sometime in the first century forecloses the previously noted havoc and chaos. Since God can accomplish His purposes through the proclamation of His word, removing the miraculous gifts from a Christian’s spiritual warfare arsenal in no way limits God’s effectiveness.

Continuing with the spiritual warfare metaphor, if a Christian can go off to battle with a Sword that will be sufficient to combat any enemy he may encounter, why should the Christian weigh himself down with superfluous weaponry? If God is sovereign over the minutest of details and Scripture is sufficient, then is it not prudent for Christians to operate as if the miraculous gifts ceased sometime in the first century?

Nathan White said...

Well I certainly didn’t mean for my comments to create such a stir. I was just stating my opinion, just as others have done for the other side, and I am lambasted in public as being prideful –as if one can see my tone and see my heart-, uneducated, disrespectful, and quite frankly, too young to have anything good to say. Needless to say some of you should be ashamed of your words and method of communicating your opinion.

Mike,
No addition of verses needed. There is clear evidence from the pages of scripture that miraculous gifts had a purpose and would not go on forever. But it is not my desire to launch into a proof-text debate. I’m only encouraging others to stop looking for the magic trump text and get back to what the scriptures say about their original purpose. Also, there have been plenty of men who have done their homework and came to the conclusion that man can regenerate himself, but that doesn’t make them correct. Men have debated the trinity, the virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement etc for ages. That doesn’t mean truth can’t be known. Your words drip with post-modernism, and I pray that you will realize that truth can be known on this subject.

Brian,
I have no desire to debate experience and whether gifts have happened on the mission field. Clearly if experience was the measuring stick we would see a complete silence of these miraculous gifts in the church up until the 19th century or so. Also, the “obvious fact” is the testimony of scripture. There were only certain times in the OT gifts were used, and many centuries go by in scripture without such gifts. And yes, if one will take scripture as final authority, Calvinism cannot be refuted. Again, just because there are two sides doesn’t mean truth can’t be known.

TMShockie,

I respect your opinion of me. But to read my bio and point out seemingly flaws in my character (sin as you would say) is both inappropriate and judgmental. I would’ve gladly accepted a private email from you with these thoughts. Furthermore, post-modernism drips from your lips as well. God-forbid that I take a stand on something! God-forbid that I have convictions! Typical of the modern mindset to view my firm stance as pride. I am not up here saying everyone who disagrees with me is a heretic. I am stating my opinion and I welcome feedback from anyone who disagrees with me. I don’t know it all, but at least I have the backbone to stand on what I have learned from the scriptures. But because I have taken a firm stance I have been judged as disrespectful and prideful in front of all. And that public judgment of me says more about your motives than anything I can put on paper.

SDG

candyinsierras said...

Wow...tmshokie...great post! I agree. Let us debate/discuss without intellectual arrogance which insinuates another person's "ignorance". We simply cannot imply something like that.

Anyone else notice how much the heat is turned up on the burner?

Steve states....I've noticed by the way many people prematurely criticize Phil's blogs that they seem to have difficulty discerning the difference between a mere general statement and a detailed, exegetical treatment that deals with the finer nuances of a given topic.

I don't think that many people criticize Phil's blogs as much as people enjoy a vigorous "discussion" of hot topics. Hopefully we all find it great fun and it sends us scrambling through our Bibles. I know that would be one of the purposes of Phil blogging in the first place. Iron sharpens iron.

farmboy said...

During my pre-Christian days, when I was working on my doctoral degree (in the mother science of Accounting) at a secular, state-school, Sodom-and-Gomorrah back during Ronald Reagan's time as president one of the key points that was constantly hammered home was the necessity of distinguishing the idea from the person who offered it for consideration. It was right, proper and expected for ideas to be ruthlessly critiqued. Indeed, it was this process that ensured that, at the end of the day, the best idea prevailed. But while we were engaging in brutal, hand-to-hand combat in the arena of ideas, we were never to cross over to critiquing the person who offered an idea for consideration. Thus, at the conclusion of a seminar on Friday afternoon, we could all adjourn to Nick's English Hut for proper refreshment and good, light-hearted conversation.

Now, what kind of ideas led to these fests of fur flying? Well, such eternally insignificant questions as why the stock market reacts differently to stock dividends than it does to equivalent stock splits.

On this blog we consider ideas of much weightier eternal significance, but as we do so, it might be a good idea for us to make sure that our critiques are focused on the ideas offered for consideration and not the persons (or should I say, persons behind the pseudonyms?) who offer those ideas for consideration. Given the nature of internet blogs, should we even want to, do we even begin to have sufficient evidence to form opinions about other persons who participate in Mr. Johnson's blog?

Mike Garner said...

Your words drip with post-modernism, and I pray that you will realize that truth can be known on this subject.

Lets keep the informal fallacies to a minimum if that would be okay. My only point was that the solution is not always "go do your homework" as you have insinuated. Simply because people have reached a conclusion does not make it true. Simply because lots of people have arrived at different answers does not make ALL answers true. Again, my sole purpose was to show you that there have been men who have done More study than you but still disagree.

Rich Ryan said...

Nathan,

You have proven me a prophet. I guess miraculous gifts are for today.

If you feel up to it, I’d suggest you stop by TheBlueRaja’s place. I think there are lessons to be learned there.

I’ll leave you with the words of someone near and dear to most of us (hopefully you as well).

“The devil, things and people being what they are, it is necessary for God to use the hammer, the file and the furnace in His holy work of preparing a saint for true sainthood. It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply” - A.W. Tozer

Rich Ryan said...

Mike,

Shall we go start our own emergent blog?

Your fellow postmodern lip-dripper. LOL!

Jerry Wragg said...

I've just finished reading this thread, and while a few comments seemed well thought out and carefully delivered, I am disheartened at the frequent expressions of theological bravado without so much as a courteous reflection upon any cogent argument from another. Now before I'm chided for sounding condescendingly sanctimonious, let me explain. Both Cessationists and Non's have joined in the fray, each side trying to clearly explain various reasons for their position. However, none of these arguments have been thoroughly textual. None! What has been expressed may be pertinent to one degree or another, but I've not seen one commenter spend the necessary time carefully arguing each exegetical detail and its implications from the passages mentioned. Some passages have been lobbed into the discussion...but none dealt with definitively. In fact, even the key terms (e.g. exegesis, hermeneutics) have been repeatedly used without working through consistent definitions that both sides can agree upon. The closest the thread came was the very good discussion regarding the definition of miracles prompted by Phil's addition to his original post. What's my concern? That until some in the blogosphere learn to filter their fervor through a more careful treatment of all the relevant biblical material, they may want to restrain a bit of the "apologestosterone" before being so provocative. All of us have much to learn...and if you are convinced of your view I respect you. Simply let me see your clear thinking all the way through each text on the matter. Many who have commented here keep making assertions and supporting them with the same. This is neither helpful nor attractive. Perhaps a comment thread is too short a space for such lengthy textual work, but from the looks of things, some of you have no problem communicating at length (as you can see, I'm no different at times).
If this were a public debate we would all be required (indeed, forced!) to bring more systematic research to the table. The anonymity of a home computer does not release us from the responsibility to make the truth clear. Unless I'm mistaken, we shouldn't be treating the blogosphere like an opportunity to "out shout" an opponent in a crowded room (I'm all for a lively debate...if it is a real debate).

Again, so as not to be misunderstood, these are just observations, none of which are my way of introducing "blog-rules". You may not even resonate with my assessment. Don't fret...I'm not hurt by differing opinions. I truly like to read good material on each controversial subject and hope to find more sharpening thoughts from the comments. Unfortunately, this last thread was, in my estimation, not particularly worth the read.
Then again, perhaps these thoughts of mine didn't seem worth your time either.
Oh well, off we go again......

Brian said...

"And yes, if one will take scripture as final authority, Calvinism cannot be refuted."

All I can say is if you actually believe that...you have a lot to learn.

I can remember many many years ago as a young Christian when I had such arrogance. However, with continued diligence/study in God's Word, He has corrected me.

I will end with that. Perhaps with time, God will show you just how little you truly know. :)

AMDG

Nathan White said...

TMShockie,
Thank you for proving to the world how little character you possess. For when you judge you have truly judged yourself. I don’t know if it’s to make yourself look good or to detract from the issue at hand, but I would prefer to stay on topic. Please give me a lesson in Christ-likeness in another setting.

Brian, thank you for the warning –another shot at my age that should be done in private and only reveals the pride in your true motives. And no, its not arrogance, it’s actually exegesis. Again, excuse me for having a backbone. I wasn’t aware that tolerance is a spiritual gift.

Now, can we PLEASE get back to the main topic?

candyinsierras said...

wow.

gee....

"apologestosterone" is a great word to describe this thread.

A few years ago I worked in a Christian outdoor wilderness ministry. The great debate of the summer was Arminianism vs. Calvinism. One night a few of us were out at the pizza joint, debating the above subject. All of a sudden two guys stood up nose to nose shouting at one another over some aspect of theology. One guy knocked off the other guy's baseball cap. They both stomped off and went their separate ways back to base camp. The rest of us just sorta looked at each other, stunned. For some reason, that memory came back tonight.

Phil Johnson said...

Whoa. I leave the blog for half a day, and look what happens.

A lot of this stuff (on both sides) is unnecessarily insulting and overly personal and therefore violates rule 2.

It's also off topic.

Let me inform those who may be new to the blog about this clarification of rule 2, which I originally posted on 12 June:

"BTW: for future reference: Deliberate personal disparagement of my pastor, my church, my wife, my dog, my children, or the ministry I work for will be deemed outside the parameters of Christian civility and therefore a violation of Rule 2. Say whatever you like about me (as long as you keep your language clean), and I'll let you post it. Take a cheap shot at someone with whom I have a personal relationship of love and respect—whether it be John MacArthur, my dog Wrigley, or anyone in between—and I'll delete it."

Though technically, I have no official connection with TMS, it is nonetheless an institution with which I have a personal relationship of love and respect. If you have a grievance against TMS, there's a better way to deal with it than using an anonymous phony name to air your complaint on my blog. That sort of poltroonery will not be tolerated here, and all further comments from the phony account that produced those comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

If you have such a grievance and don't know what the proper way to deal with it is, e-mail me and I'll point you to the proper forum.

Meanwhile, let's discuss the issue of modern prophecy with integrity and mutual respect. There's no need for rancor, and especially no excuse for that sort of deliberate, craven nastiness.

Now, can we get back on topic?

C.H.H. said...

Speaking of "homework," I think a few people here need to go look up the word "ad hominem."

Rose~ said...

Phil,
Your rule states...

"BTW: for future reference: Deliberate personal disparagement of my pastor, my church, my wife, my dog, my children, or the ministry I work for will be deemed outside the parameters of Christian civility ...

I noticed that you listed your dog before your children ... does this say something about who is more valuable in the Johnson family? ... yet you got all those praises for the post about your son. Go Figure. ;~)

I really was touched by the post about your son, also (is this off topic?). It gives me hope for the reluctant reader/writer I have in my second grade daughter.

Chris Pixley said...

Like jerryw, I've found this thread to be an unhelpful treatment of the issues at hand--issues that have had a recent impact in my church. Needless to say, I'm interested in some productive debate on these matters. Without reiterating what jerryw has already said so very well, I'd like to offer a link to an excellent resource regarding the matter of theological disagreement and discussion. It's entitled "How To Deal With Those Who Differ From Us" and was written by Dr. Roger Nicole, a man who has engaged in more high-level theological discussion in his lifetime than most of us will ever see. You can find the article at
http://www.founders.org/library/nicole1.html

I hope you will find it personally helpful as well as a catalyst to fruitful discussion on the issues that Phil has so articulately raised.

Nathan White said...

Well I guess “Whole lotta shaken” turned out to be a prophetic title in itself :)

Phil your right, there is no need for this kind of mud-slinging. Even before your post I knew I had crossed the line with my previous reply. I’d certainly like to apologize to you, Shockie, and Brian for my rhetoric. My words were certainly ‘piercing of a sword’ rather than the on who ‘promotes health’ –Prov 12:18. So regardless as to whether I felt personally attacked or not, I should have swallowed my pride and responded better. It wont happen again.

SDG

Rich Ryan said...

Phil et al,

Please forgive my behavior - or should I say my "heart." For the record, I meant no shot at TMS the institution. I am eternally grateful to what TMS/GCC/JM put in me - and what God took out of me while there. I still highly recommend it to everyone who inquires.

I'm new at this blogging thing. Apparently it shows. I'll bow out now before my ID gets blacklisted.

Again, please forgive my breaking of the rules. I need to heed the lessons for 1st grade - read ALL the directions first ;o)

Regards

ajlin said...

On the "Original Purpose" of the Miraculous Gifts
Earlier in this comment thread my good friend Nathan White challenged us to do some research as to what the original purpose for the miraculous gifts was, according to Scripture.
It is my understanding at this time that the purpose for the miraculous gifts was to testify to the person and work of Jesus Christ. So that the Lord Jesus, the cornerstone of the Church, performed signs to testify to His ministry (John 20:30-31) and the apostles and prophets, the foundation of the Church (Ephesians 2:20), also performed signs not to glorify themselves, but to provide supernatural verification for their unique testimony of Christ (for Christ is the ultimate subject of all their teaching: http://alindsey4.blogspot.com/2005/07/subject-of-scripture.html ).
It is my understanding, then, at this time, that only Christ and His prophets and apostles performed miracles and so all true miracles that were performed by individuals are recorded in the pages of Scripture.
If anyone can find a Scriptural example of a true miracle performed by someone who was not a prophet or an apostle, then my understanding must be reformed.
If anyone has any further scriptural insight into the purpose for miraculous gifts, then I encourage you to post it here (assuming that Mr. Johnson deems these comments to be on topic).

theinscrutableone said...

JerryW,

I've just posted my first stab at a bit of mini-exegesis on 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. It addresses the question of whether "the perfect" to which Paul refers in verse 10 has already come.

Now that I've started the ball rolling with my feeble effort, I hope that other folks, both cessationist and non-cessationist, will follow suit with exegetical posts of their own. Folks, don't feel as though you have to write 100% of the words on your own. People on both sides of the discussion ought to feel free to quote from writers whom they think will help them make their point, just as I've done in my post. We don't need to reinvent the wheel, just to provide a reasonable Biblical defense of our respective positions.

Also, please feel free to bite off a small chunk of Scripture at a time. Don't feel as though you have to write up a single blog post that exhaustively defends your whole position. Pick a section of Scripture that has a bearing on the topic of prophecy/cessation and which you think you can handle in a reasonably-sized article.

Eagerly awaiting future posts of substance,

Dave

Brian said...

ajlin,

You bring up a good point, however, I think the people that believe they prophesy also believe they are prohpets which would fall in your list of individuals who used such gifts.

As someone else mentioned, I would like to see these so called prophets held to the measuring stick that true prophets in the Scripture were held to. I would imagine the number of people proclaiming to be prophets would be greatly reduced if that were the case. :)

AMDG

Sharon said...

Newbie alert! After reading PyroManiac faithfully for the last several weeks, and wanting to post a comment or two, I finally set up a blog account so as to be able to leap into the conversarions.

Just a bit of an introduction--I work at Grace Community Church, and those who attend there probably know who I am. Please don't blow my cover . . . yet! :-)

I do look forward to participating here from time to time, schedule permitting.

Psalm 40:3

P.S. I have in my treasured possession one of the rare Official PyroManiac Bumper Stickers. I feel humbled to have been bestowed with such an honor. Thanks, Phil!

ajlin said...

brian,
Regarding your last comment, I think that it is interesting to note that Wayne Grudem argues that the New Testament prophets are not to be held to the same standard as the Old Testament prophets. He cites the example of Agabus, who in Acts 21:11 predicts that Paul will be bound by he Jews and handed over to the Gentiles. In Acts 21:33 it is fairly apparent that the Romans themselves bind Paul and take him into custody. Now, I am fairly certain that I do NOT share Grudem's semi-cessationist view (I use the term semi-cessationist because Grudem seems to believe that the miraculous gifts are not supposed to function in the same degree in the Church today as they did in the time of the apostles). I just thought that this was an interesting note that might prompt further discussion.

ajlin said...

Also-
I meant to say that if you do hold modern prophets to the same standard of accountability (that is, infallible prophecy in all respects) as the Old Testament prophets, then the infallible words they give would be on par with sacred Scripture. So that the gift of prophecy, if practiced in the Church today would destroy the doctrine of sola Scriptura, as Mr. Johnson points out in his most recent post. This observation is certainly not an iron-clad argument for cessationism in and of itself, but it does serve to demonstrate just what the issue is at stake.

Brad Meyer said...

i think i have the honor of helping Phil to clairfy Rule 2 on June 12th. No thanks necessary Phil...

Warren Pearson said...

Sharon - you had me fooled for about 2 seconds. Thanks for your great ministry. I won't let the cat out of the bag re your identity.

Ilona said...

"If you have spent any time in charismatic circles, you know that I could have easily sold the idea that the earthquakes were proof that I am endowed with amazing prophetic gifts."

What alot of tripe.

I have to tell you I am more than dismayed that this debate has come up again. Maybe it is the tone of the posts, Good Christians All, that I have read.

Tell me, O wise ones, what Christian movement of any type has not had its criticisms and detractors?

The wholesale dismissal(cessationists?) of the Charismatic movement,(which I would love to remind you arose during a time when the Mainline 'Reformed' churches were solidly on the 'God is Dead' route, barely able to keep its confirmed, let alone win the lost of their generation- Of which I was one- That attended the Presbyterian church and came from Reformed teaching of good credentials) was the instrument of revival for our time.

I find the arguments given against the gifts, and prophecy in particular, to be lacking. What are they, except subjective complaints?

A question of style rather than substance. pooh.

If I can get over my disgust at the topic, maybe I can dig up the old discussion points and try to enter with good grace. but right now.... with the doors of Islam ajar, and world events afire, I just find it hard to garner enthusiam in ye olde Christian infighting.