Archives For Nathan Busenitz

Spurgeon2I recently received an email asking a question that I have been asked from time to time. It pertains to the topic of spiritual gifts and cessationism. In today’s article, I’ve summarized the question and provided my response.

Question: You mention Charles Spurgeon as an advocate of cessationism. But Spurgeon confessed that on several occasions, while he was preaching, he received impressions from the Holy Spirit that gave him extraordinary insights to expose specific sins in people’s lives with incredible accuracy. From my perspective, those impressions seem to align with the gift of prophecy. How do you reconcile Spurgeon’s impressions with your claim that he was a cessationist?

Response:

It is important, at the outset, to note that Scripture – and not Spurgeon – is our final authority in these matters. I’m confident that Charles Spurgeon would agree with us on that point. Whatever we conclude about Spurgeon’s experiences, we need to remember that our convictions must ultimately be drawn from the Word of God.

Having said that, I do think it is helpful to think carefully about the issues you raise in your question. With that in mind, I’ve summarized my response under the following three headings.

A) Was Spurgeon a Cessationist?

Yes. The nineteenth-century ‘Prince of Preachers’ taught that the miraculous gifts of the apostolic age (including the gifts of tongues, prophecy, and healing) had passed away shortly after the first century.

In a sermon entitled, “Final Perseverance” (March 23, 1856), Spurgeon spoke of the spiritual power that was available to his congregation with this qualification: “Not miraculous gifts, which are denied us in these days, but all those powers with which the Holy Ghost endows a Christian.” Continue Reading…

wesleyJohn Wesley (1703–1791) is best known in church history as the founder of Methodism. His commitment to the biblical gospel, passion for evangelistic preaching, and skill at organizing the budding Methodist movement are all notable traits. And God used those qualities to help spark the Evangelical Revival in England in the mid-18th century (a revival that paralleled the Great Awakening in North America). In that respect, there are many helpful things that we can learn from Wesley’s example.

His marriage, however, left a different kind of legacy; one which is also noteworthy, but not for good reasons.

As Methodist author John Singleton explains:

The saga of John Wesley’s marriage is a cautionary tale from the roots of Methodism that ought to resonate today with any couple so involved in church life that they fail to leave enough space for each other.

Wesley and Mary Vazeille, a well-to-do widow and mother of four children, were married in 1751. By 1758 she had left him—unable to cope, it is said, with the competition for his time and devotion presented by the ever-burgeoning Methodist movement. Molly, as she was known, was to return and leave him again on several occasions before their final separation.

Due to her husband’s constant travels, Molly felt increasingly neglected. She grew jealous of her husband’s time since he was often away. And she became suspicious of the many friendly relationships he maintained with various women who were part of the Methodist movement. Wesley for his part did little to assauge her fears. Continue Reading…

Today’s post is Part 4 of a series focusing on the gift of tongues. (Click here to view Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3.)

Tongues_Newspaper

In particular, we are considering the continuationist claim that tongues in the New Testament did not always consist of real human foreign languages. Wayne Grudem, in Making Sense of the Church, represents the continuationist position when he writes:

“Are tongues known human languages then? Sometimes this gift may result in speaking in a human language that the speaker has not learned, but ordinarily it seems that it will involve speech in a language that no one understands, whether that be a human language or not” (emphasis added).

In his book, The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts, continuationist author Sam Storms echoes that same thesis, insisting that “Acts 2 is the only text in the New Testament where tongues-speech consists of foreign languages not previously known by the speaker.” Storms’ assumption is that, even in the New Testament, the majority of tongues speech consisted of something other than human language.

Storms marshals nine arguments to defend that assumption. We have already considered his first two arguments (in the previous two posts). Today we will consider a third.

Continuationist Argument 3: First Corinthians 12:10 states that there are different kinds of tongues, therefore not all tongues are human languages.

In 1 Corinthians 12:8–10 Paul writes,

For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.

Because Paul says that there are “various kinds of tongues,” continuationists assert that this means there are at least two categories of tongues speech: human (earthly) languages and non-human (heavenly) languages. Storms articulates the argument like this:

Note also that Paul describes various kinds [or 'species'] of tongues (gene glosson) in 1 Corinthians 12:10. It is unlikely that he means a variety of different human languages, for who would ever have argued that all tongues were only one human language, such as Greek or Hebrew or German? His words suggest that there are different categories of tongues-speech, perhaps human languages and heavenly languages.

Based on that interpretation, Storms believes 1 Corinthians 12:10 provides exegetical support for the notion that tongues can be something other than human languages.

So what are we to make of the phrase “various kinds of tongues”? Is Paul differentiating between two fundamentally different categories of tongues (as Storms and other continuationists contend)? Does this verse really distinguish between earthly (human) languages on the one hand, and heavenly (non-human) languages on the other? Continue Reading…

What are believers today to think about the gift of tongues?

D. A. Carson asks that question in his book, Showing the Spirit. On pages 84–85, he writes:

How … may tongues be perceived? There are three possibilities: [1] disconnected sounds, ejaculations, and the like that are not confused with human language; [2] connected sequences of sounds that appear to be real languages unknown to the hearer not trained in linguistics, even though they are not; [3] and real language known by one or more of the potential hearers, even if unknown to the speaker. . . . Our problem so far is that the biblical descriptions of tongues seem to demand the third category, but the contemporary phenomena seem to fit better in the second category; and never the twain shall meet.

Storms_GuideAs Carson helpfully articulates, contemporary tongues “appear to be real languages . . . even though they are not.” By contrast, biblical tongues consisted of “real language known by one or more of the potential hearers, even if unknown to the speaker.”

But if biblical tongues consisted of real human languages (i.e. a real language known by one or more of the potential hearers), then how can modern continuationists advocate tongues-speech that produces nothing more than the appearance of language? (Those interested in Carson’s unique solution to this dilemma can find it here.)

In his book The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts, author Sam Storms — like most continuationists — attempts to answer that dilemma by giving a list of reasons why he believes the New Testament gift of tongues did not necessarily produce real human languages. If he can show that biblical tongues were not always actual languages, he can demonstrate a precedent for the modern gift of tongues. We addressed his first reason in last week’s post. Today we will consider his second argument. Continue Reading…

In last week’s post, we introduced a series about the gift of tongues. Cessationists generally define the gift of tongues as the supernatural ability to speak authentic foreign languages that the speaker had not previously learned. Continuationists, by contrast, generally allow for the possibility that the gift produces speech that does not correspond to any human language. The question we are asking in this series is whether or not that possibility is biblically warranted.Pentecost_Acts_2

Does the Gift of Tongues Produce Non-Human Languages?

Most continuationists acknowledge that modern tongues-speech predominately consists of something other than human foreign languages.

Of course, some continuationists point to anecdotal evidence to claim that modern glossolalia (tongues-speaking) can sometimes consist of human languages. But even supporters of modern tongues, like George P. Wood of the Assemblies of God, admit the infrequency of such reported occurrences. After commenting on alleged accounts “where one person spoke in a tongue that a second person recognized as a human language,” Wood is quick to state: “Admittedly, such occurrences are rare” (from his review of Strange Fire, published Jan. 13, 2014).

Such occurrences are so rare, in fact, that continuationist claims about modern glossolalia producing real human languages remain unconvincing to everyone outside the charismatic movement (including both Christians and non-Christians). As we saw in the previous post, professional linguists (like William Samarin of the University of Toronto) who study glossolalia have concluded that it “fundamentally is not language.” D. A. Carson, himself a non-cessationist, represents an objective assessment of the evidence when he writes: “Modern tongues are lexically uncommunicative and the few instances of reported modern xenoglossia [speaking foreign languages] are so poorly attested that no weight can be laid on them” (Showing the Spirit, 84). Continue Reading…

We begin today’s post with a question: In New Testament times, did the gift of tongues produce authentic foreign languages only, or did it also result in non-cognitive speech (like the private prayer languages of modern charismatics)? The answer is of critical importance to the contemporary continuationist/cessationist debate regarding the gift of tongues.

Agnes_Ozman_Tongues

From the outset, it is important to note that the gift of tongues was, in reality, the gift of languages. I agree with continuationist author Wayne Grudem when he writes:

It should be said at the outset that the Greek word glossa, translated “tongue,” is not used only to mean the physical tongue in a person’s mouth, but also to mean “language.” In the New Testament passages where speaking in tongues is discussed, the meaning “languages” is certainly in view. It is unfortunate, therefore, that English translations have continued to use the phrase “speaking in tongues,” which is an expression not otherwise used in ordinary English and which gives the impression of a strange experience, something completely foreign to ordinary human life. But if English translations were to use the expression “speaking in languages,” it would not seem nearly as strange, and would give the reader a sense much closer to what first century Greek speaking readers would have heard in the phrase when they read it in Acts or 1 Corinthians. (Systematic Theology, 1069).

But what are we to think about the gift of languages?

If we consider the history of the church, we find that the gift of languages was universally considered to be the supernatural ability to speak authentic foreign languages that the speaker had not learned. Continue Reading…