The Strange Fire Conference definitely did convince me that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit that were so evident in the early church stopped completely after the apostolic era. I had read arguments along these lines before but none of it was convincing to me as is the evidence that was given at the Conference.
THE BIBLICAL EVIDENCE:
The main evidence given for this was Biblical, and most of it was given at the Conference by pastor Tom Pennington: [A Case For Cessationism] the Biblical fact is that ALL the miracle-working powers possessed by individuals throughout the Old Testament were clearly given by God to authenticate either His messenger or the message brought by him. There were only two periods in Old Testament history when miracles were common, and each was only 65 years in duration: the period of Moses and the period of Elijah and Elisha. There were isolated instances in between but those two periods were when miracles were most prolific, and in between there were very long periods when no miracles were done at all. There were over 700 years from the last Old Testament miracle in Hezekiah's time until Christ, during which no miracles were reported.
The third and last period of miraculous working was during the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ and the spread of the gospel. There are various clues in the text that the miracles were given as God's authentication of His messenger, authenticating Christ as Messiah and the gospel message as God's. Somehow we manage to overlook the implication of such clues as the fact that Jesus told John that if he doubted Him, at least he should believe the works He did, the works being His credentials from God [John 10:37, 38]; and He told Philip the same thing [14:11]. We also fail to grasp the implication of the fact that the Lord Jesus gave His disciples miraculous powers when He sent them out to preach the gospel, but the gospel WAS the message they were to preach: He did not tell them to preach that miraculous powers are available to all believers as today's Charismatics teach. Clearly He gave them those powers to authenticate the message they were to preach.
R. C. Sproul answered the typical Charismatic claim that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, in the form originally given at Pentecost where they all spoke in tongues, is an experience all believers in all times should expect to receive, showing that the instances of separate Spirit baptism in the New Testament occurred at the entry of specific groups of believers into the Church: the Jews, the Gentiles, the Samaritans, and the "God fearers." I'd have to listen again to the talk to be able to argue this case myself, but I found it convincing: each separate group represented a specific extension of the gospel into the world and God gave a special authentication at the entry of each into the Church in the repetition of the events of Pentecost, Pentecost being THE sign of the inauguration of the gospel. That initiation was never to be repeated except in those special instances, but those special instances were in reality the gospel being given to other parts of the Foundation of the Church and not representative of all believers since then. Once the Foundation was established and ratified, believers since then are not to expect to receive the sign of Pentecost.
There is secondary evidence as well, including the fact that apparently the miraculous powers were waning by the time Paul's ministry was drawing to a close, and that after the apostolic age they had ceased. Charismatics try to rationalize this away on the basis of an assumed spiritual deadness in the post-apostolic churches, but that is nothing but assumption. In fact it's just circular reasoning: the "deadness" is proved by the cessation of the gifts. Some of the early Church fathers as well as other Christian leaders down the centuries, declared the cessation of the gifts. Pennington in his earlier talk quoted Calvin on that subject.
The fact that the "gifts" as practiced today are really nothing like the gifts practiced in the Apostolic era, is another piece of secondary evidence. Today's "prophecy" is not required to be 100% accurate as biblical prophecy was required to be, although they claim it's based on the New Testament, and besides that a great many of the "prophecies" are either useless or just plain silly (I wrote about Jill Austin's "prophecies" here some time ago). As for the gift of healing the evidence is just about nil for the thousands of claims, although in principle there is no reason God can't heal miraculously today and no doubt does from time to time; and I'll get to the "gift of tongues" next:
Tongues speaking ought to be discredited by the mere fact that Mormons and some practitioners of pagan religions may speak in tongues, plus the fact that they are not known languages but are used entirely differently than they were used in the early church. By the way, I supposedly HAVE the gift of tongues. I received it while praying out loud in my bedroom during the period I was involved in the Charismatic movement. But from the very beginning it didn't FEEL right to me, and over the years I've struggled with understanding it, have prayed the Lord would take it away but I still have it and sometimes just blurt it out. It may be what Nee calls "soul power" in which case simply working to deny it and suppress it may be the best I can do.
What was the original gift of tongues FOR? To demonstrate God's plan to spread the gospel to all people groups of the world, that the Messiah was not simply the Messiah of the Jews but the Savior of the entire world understood to have been promised as far back as Adam and Eve. Again, once God's new work was authenticated there was no further need of the authenticating signs. To continue to expect them is to completely miss the point of what God was doing.
The conclusion from all this and more is that miracles were never in themselves to be part of the gospel message but were given to establish the gospel message as coming from God. All the emphasis on miracles is a distraction from the gospel. Not that God doesn't sometimes still give miracles for specific purposes, but that they were never intended to be normative in the life of the Church.
There is probably more than the above evidence that I'm forgetting but I'd like to add what I wrote about in the previous post from Watchman Nee's warnings about "soul power" being mistaken for the work of the Holy Spirit.
This isn't evidence but I find it a compelling way of understanding some of the Charismatic phenomena that is clearly not just human imagination but has a supernatural element to it, without always having to invoke demons as their author (although probably demons are behind the expression of these things in one way or another anyway.) It's the fact that the Charismatic phenomena occur through unusual channels and are NOT something normal human abilities could produce that misleads people into thinking they are from God, figuring that Well, we're Christians so where else could such things come from? Cessationists who think only in terms of ordinary human powers or some sort of trickery completely miss the point that the phenomena just "happen" to people and can be quite astonishing.
Nee took most of his thinking on this subject from Jessie Penn-Lewis who was involved in the Welsh revival of the early twentieth century, specifically her book, Soul and Spirit. The writings of both of them are rather quaint as they make much of the early twentieth century "scientific" studies of parapsychology in their discussion.
And they both affirm the continuation of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. After the Strange Fire Conference I'm now convinced that both of them were deceived about that. They are at great pains to distinguish genuine manifestations of the God-given gifts from the counterfeits that both were acutely aware of. Whatever miraculous events were genuinely given from God that either of them witnessed would have been done through God's sovereign will and not as a continuation of the gifts, but unfortunately many of those may also have been counterfeits.
Penn-Lewis wrote extensively about the activity of evil spirits in connection with the revival. It is most likely that the confusion of God's gifts with counterfeits gave place to the devil to do his work, and there is every reason to think that the devil is working among Charismatics today who have fallen into the same mistake.
Lord, set us free from the devil's deceptions.
Now they're saying, well, Michael Brown is, that the Biblical arguments for the cessation of the spiritual gifts prove nothing.
He also dismissed the fact that Kundalini yoga brings about the same jerkings that were so evident on videos of the Brownsville "revival." He said if they're the result of preaching Jesus then it means nothing. However, ALL we see on the videos is that sort of phenomena, we do not see Jesus being preached. It is clear that those who made the video think the strange body movements are of major importance and the preaching of Jesus not so important.
And Michael Brown doesn't seem to know that he can't just SAY Brownsville was all about preaching Jesus if there is no evidence for it, which there isn't. But there IS evidence for all those jerkings and falling down. Also the whole atmosphere of the "revival" on those videos is giddy rather than appropriate to a true Christian revival.
Seeking God again
1 year ago