Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Reframing the Cessationist/Continuationist Debate: Let's get the arguments on both sides of this straight.

I've listened to just a few minutes of Michael Brown's radio show for today, Do You Have a Kundalini Spirit? and I'm already frustrated with the way they are characterizing the Strange Fire Conference arguments.  He's got a Reformed Cessationist on as guest, John B. Carpenter, who wrote an article on the Conference in the Christian Post yesterday, Recovering From Strange and Friendly Fire. They just got through characterizing the Cessationist position pretty much as Carpenter characterizes it in his article:
The argument for cessationism is simple: the "revelatory gifts" of the New Testament were for the purpose of revealing scripture and since that is now done, we don't need those gifts. So they've ceased.
Yes, that's a simple enough statement of the Cessationist position, but how that position was defended at the Conference is not how it was characterized on the radio program.  Both on the program and in Carpenter's article, the appeal is made to 1 Corinthians 13 as supposedly saying that the gifts will cease "when the perfect comes" understood to mean "when the canon is established," which is NOT any argument that I heard at the Conference, or if it was it went in one ear and out the other.  I'd heard that sort of argument for years and it never convinced me that the gifts have ceased and I'm not at all surprised it doesn't convince anyone else.  But that was NOT the argument that DID convince me that I heard at the Conference and it makes me wonder if this long after the Conference neither Brown nor Carpenter has actually HEARD the arguments made there.

They also say that since there is no direct explicit statement in the Bible to support the claim that the gifts have ceased that the claim to base it on the Bible completely fails.  This is another old and dead argument. 

In fact Michael Brown said he's writing a chapter for his book, Authentic Fire, which he's writing in answer to the Conference, titled "Sola Scriptura and Therefore Not a Cessationist."  And I've got to say that really finally does get us to the central issues in this debate because Charismatics / Continuationists DO believe they get their doctrine of the ongoing supernatural gifts from the Bible, and that probably should have been emphasized more at the Conference, and to my mind it is now the main point Cessationists need to address.  That is, how can you think people could be asking for the Holy Spirit, as Charismatics do, or "for everything You have for me," and get a counterfeit, when scripture promises that God will not give you a stone when you ask for bread?  This IS central to this argument.

But again, the Conference DID convince me on BIBLICAL grounds that the gifts have ceased, and NOT on the grounds as described by Brown and Carpenter.

The main argument was that throughout scripture, and in certain very specific statements in the New Testament, the supernatural or miraculous gifts that were PERFORMED BY PARTICULAR PERSONS were given to authenticate that person as God's messenger or his message as from God.   That was the purpose of the miracles done by Moses and by Elijah and by Jesus Christ.  Scripture IS very clear about that.

And THAT is what you have to answer, Charismatics, that plus the supporting facts:
  • that the charismatic gifts are not at all like the apostolic gifts,
  • that various Christian theologians down the centuries argued that the gifts had ceased,
Again, that is what needs to be answered, not all the tired old arguments that were not defended at the Conference.   

But I'd add that the acceptance of the gifts for today is a NEW thing, hardly older than a century, which does not speak much in its favor.  It can be rationalized away, but not very effectively after the historical facts are understood.

Update:  Thought I was going to go back and hear more of that radio show but this debate has gone on in new directions since then.