February 11, 2014

Michael Brown, Authentic Fire, & John 14:12

by Matt Waymeyer

Authentic_FireIn his new book, Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, charismatic radio show host Michael Brown points to his commitment to sola scriptura as the main reason he is a continuationist. Not only does Brown reject cessationism “because of the definite and clear testimony of the Word” (AF, 166), but he also finds the position “exegetically impossible” (AF, 165).

In chapter six of Authentic Fire, Brown presents the primary biblical arguments for the continuation of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. In one of these arguments, Brown appeals to the words of Jesus in John 14:12. In this verse, Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father” (John 14:12).

According to Brown, John 14:12a — “he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also” — contains a universal promise to the church of Jesus Christ that “whoever believes in the Son will also perform miraculous signs” (AF, 189). To support his conclusion, Brown notes that the immediate context emphasizes miracles as the works done by Jesus and that the phrase “he who believes in Me” (ho pisteuon eis eme) is universal in its scope when used elsewhere in the Gospel of John (6:35; 7:38; 11:25; 12:44, 46) (AF, 189). According to Brown, then, everyone who believes in Christ will perform miraculous signs.

Brown is correct in his assertion that Jesus was referring to miraculous works in John 14:12 when He spoke of “the works that I do.” This is clear not only from the immediate context of John 14 (see verses 10-11) but also from the greater context of John’s Gospel in which the miraculous works of Jesus gave evidence of His identity (see 5:36; 10:25; 20:30-31). And what miraculous works was Jesus referring to? He doesn’t name them, but the Gospel of John—which records only a fraction of the signs and wonders Jesus performed (21:25)—provides several examples:

  • Jesus changed water into wine (2:1-11).
  • Jesus healed a boy who was about to die (4:46-54).
  • Jesus healed a man who had been crippled and unable to walk for 38 years (5:1-9).
  • Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish (6:1-14).
  • Jesus walked on water (6:16-21).
  • Jesus healed a man born blind (9:1-41).
  • Jesus resurrected a man who had been dead for four days (11:1-45).

According to John 14:12a, these are the kinds of miraculous works that will be performed by “he who believes” in Jesus.

Brown is also correct in his assertion that the other uses of “he who believes” in the Gospel of John are universal, applying to everyone who believes in Christ (6:35; 7:38; 11:25; 12:44, 46). In fact, seven other uses the substantival participle “he who believes” (ho pisteuon) (3:15; 3:16; 3:18; 3:36; 6:40; 6:47; 11:26) could be added to the five listed by Brown, and all of them are universal as well. Therefore, each of these twelve uses of the term “he who believes” (outside of John 14:12) introduces a promise that is unconditionally true for every single believer in Christ, and this is a valid argument for Brown’s position.

But what initially appears to be Brown’s strongest argument ultimately turns out to be the most significant problem for his view. By assuming that “he who believes” is also universal in John 14:12, Brown ends up arguing that every single believer in the history of the church has performed (or will perform) the same miraculous works as Jesus, works such as healing the crippled, giving sight to the blind, and raising people from the dead.

Apart from the obvious observation that there are more than a few believers in the past two thousand years who have never raised the dead or given sight to the blind, the apostle Paul made it clear in 1 Corinthians 12:27-30 that it was never God’s design to give every Christian the ability to perform the miraculous:

27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? (1 Cor. 12:27-30; emphasis added)

The implied answer to each of these rhetorical questions is, “No, of course not!” If it was never God’s design that all believers perform miracles and healings, how can Brown affirm an interpretation of John 14:12 which says that it was?

Brown’s interpretation of John 14:12, then, faces a significant obstacle. Even though it is undoubtedly true that every single believer will have eternal life (John 3:15, 16, 36; 6:40, 47), is not judged (John 3:18), will never thirst (John 6:35), will experience the rivers of living water (John 7:38), will live even if he dies (John 11:25, 26), believes in the Father (John 12:44), and will not remain in darkness (John 12:46), it is simply not the case that every single believer does (or will do) the miraculous works that Jesus did (2:1-11; 4:46-54; 5:1-9; 6:1-14; 6:16-21; 9:1-41; 11:1-45). This was never the sovereign design of God for the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27-30), and it was not promised by Jesus in John 14:12.

So what does Jesus mean when He says that “He who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also”? The key is found in remembering the original audience of Jesus. In John 14-16, Judas had already departed and Jesus was exclusively addressing the eleven disciples, the very ones He would soon send out as His apostles. Even though much of John 14-16 can be applied to every believer by extension, all of what Jesus says in these chapters applies directly to the apostles and some of what He says applies only to the apostles (e.g., John 14:25-26; 16:13). John 14:12 falls into this latter category.

In John 14, Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father (v. 8). Jesus responded by rebuking Philip (v. 9) and asking him whether or not he believed that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him (v. 10). Then Jesus widened the scope of His instruction (the Greek transitions from singular to plural) by addressing all of the disciples and exhorting them twice to “believe” in Him (v. 11). Therefore, when Jesus referred to “he who believes in Me” in the very next verse (v. 12), it makes good sense to conclude that the scope of that phrase is limited to those whom Jesus was addressing, namely the eleven disciples. As Richard Mayhue writes, “Christ’s charge to the disciples [in John 14:12] should not automatically be assigned to all believers throughout the ages unless specifically indicated by the text. Nothing here points beyond the disciples” (The Healing Promise, 162).

The promise of John 14:12, then, is that once Jesus sends the disciples out as His apostles, they will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to perform miraculous works just like He did. Not only does this interpretation fit the immediate context of John 14-16, but the Book of Acts records that the apostles did indeed perform the miraculous works promised by Jesus in John 14:12: “many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles” (Acts 2:43; emphasis added). If the promise of John 14:12 is universal and every believer performed signs and wonders, why does Luke single out the apostles in Acts 2:43? Where is the biblical account that “many wonders and signs were taking place through all the brethren”?

In Acts 5:12-16, Luke fills in some detail on these apostolic miracles, providing a lengthy description of their ministry in the early church:

At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed (Acts 5:12-16; emphasis added).

Notice that these miraculous works did not simply consist of the apostles praying that sick people would get well, with varying degrees of success, depending on the faith of the one who was ill. Their miraculous power was so conspicuously obvious that the crowds were bringing the sick to the apostles and “they were all being healed” (Acts 5:16). The reason the apostles were given these miraculous gifts was to authenticate them as authorized representatives of Christ who received and proclaimed divine revelation to the early church (Eph 2:20; 3:5; Acts 2:42). This is why 2 Corinthians 12:12 identifies signs, wonders, and miracles as “signs of a true apostle,” and this is why Hebrews 2:3-4 speaks of God testifying to their apostleship “by signs and wonders and by various miracles.”

Brown insists that the promise of John 14:12 cannot be limited to the apostles (AF, 189, 205), but a closer look shows that this verse does not apply to every believer. Sadly, Christians today who claim this promise for themselves—and who are unable to perform the kinds of signs and wonders that Jesus did—may find that they are tempted either to water down the biblical definition of a miracle or to waver in their commitment to sola scriptura. Better to maintain confidence in the Bible’s sufficiency and to interpret this verse in its original context. There is no support for continuationism in John 14:12.

* * * * *

NOTE: Incidentally, I did not comment on the “greater works” in the second half of John 14:12 for two reasons: (a) this is not part of Brown’s argument for continuationism in Authentic Fire, and (b) many interpreters on both side of the debate—including both Brown and MacArthur—agree that it goes beyond physical miracles to the spiritual miracle of conversion that God accomplishes through the proclamation of the Gospel (Brown, Authentic Fire, 189; MacArthur, John 12-21, 106-07).

Matt Waymeyer

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Matt teaches hermeneutics and Greek at The Expositor's Bible Seminary in Jupiter, FL.
  • Somerset Bumpkin

    Matt – very interesting and comprehensive article – much appreciated, I need to go away and examine myself further but at first read it seems to be the best explanation I have come across. Many thanks.

  • Dan Phillips

    That Charismaticism— a movement defined by the pathetic, special-pleading dumbing-down of the supernatural—should reach for John 14:12 as a prooftext, is as fine an illustration as any of its intellectual and moral bankruptcy.

    “Greater than”? On Brown’s bizarre, solipsistic interpretation, Jesus needed to have said “nothing like,” for the Charismatics to have a purchase-point.

    • Richard

      Huh?

      • Dan’s point is that none of the purported “miracles” or “healings” of the Charismatic movement are “greater than” the works Jesus has done.

        In fact, they’ve defined their movement to consist of “lesser” works — “fallible prophecy” that doesn’t approach the NT gift, gibberish tongues that don’t approach the standard of cognitive-content-bearing language as in the NT, and so-called “healings” that may take a while, may wear off, or even fail altogether, and never approach the kind of immediate, perfectly effective, raise-the-dead, grow-back-a-limb standard as demonstrated in the NT.

        That a movement whose M.O. is to redefine the gifts so that they aren’t as powerful and potent as those operative in the NT should appeal to a text that says their works are greater than Jesus’ works, well, what Dan said.

        • elainebitt

          It is indeed a good point.

        • Dan Phillips

          Well-said, Michael.

          If Jesus walked on water, Charismatics who michaelbrown John 14:12 should walk on air. If Jesus raised a dead man, Charismatics who michaelbrown John 14:12 should evacuate a seminary. If people were healed by Paul’s sweat-band, Charismatics who michaelbrown John 14:12 should heal with a thread. If the apostles/prophet wrote 27 books of inerrant, morally-binding inspired scripture in a 50-year span, Charismatics who michaelbrown John 14:12 should have written (if they had existed) thousands of such books in the last 1900 years.

          It isn’t rocket-science… unless thinking rationally is rocket science.

          • Dan Phillips

            Hahaha, I meant “cemetary,” not “seminary.” But I’ll leave it for amusement’s sake. Some seminaries should be evacuated.

          • elainebitt

            I get the email notifications and when I read it I knew you meant cemetery, but also thought that seminary would do. =)

            (yup, it’s cemetery. :P).

        • Josh Elsom

          The problem with some, certainly not all, critics of continuationist theology is that they’ve developed such an utter contempt for what they see on TBN, that when it comes to examining the exegesis and the evidence for continuation, they abandon the unbiased critical evaluation of the facts that is assuredly present when studying other doctrines. They insist that they be provided evidence for continuation (in this case the universal scope of John 14:12), but because they’ve accepted cessation a priori (and hate TBN) they can’t even begin to critically examine the evidence they are provided. So the conclusion is reached and the proofs are damned before the evidence is even considered. That is prejudice.

          Oddly, it never dawns on those who demand such evidence (even if it’s evidence that’s never actually considered) that they are asking for extra-biblical evidence to guide their interpretation of the text. And yet, these are the very same people who deride charismatics for abandoning sola Scriptura and interpreting the text based on their experience. That is hypocrisy.

          Then there is the issue of the condescending invective that spews from these critics’ comments. Let’s assume that cessationism is true for the moment. Are insult and mocking really the most appropriate approach to convince one’s brothers and sisters that their conclusions have been wrongly reached? Hardly. I might certainly expect that this type of language be used against false teachers who, because of their love of lucre and the adulation and power they receive, promote a false gospel. But to do this against honest to goodness fellow brothers and sisters who disagree on a secondary doctrine? That’s bigotry. There is no empathy, no concern, no love for others that is communicated through their writing. And the moment you voice disagreement or concern, they block you on Twitter. Genuinely, it’s very hard to listen to men speak on things of the Spirit, when they don’t appear to produce any of the Spirit’s fruit.

          God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, in chapter 1 says, “How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing and fools hate knowledge? Turn to my reproof, Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.”

          I’m thankful that the author of this article is guilty of none of these. I appreciate his tone and professionalism, in spite of his strongly held opposition to continuationist theology and the charismatic movement.

          • elainebitt

            “Oddly, it never dawns on those who demand such evidence (even if it’s
            evidence that’s never actually considered) that they are asking for
            extra-biblical evidence to guide their interpretation of the text.”

            Cessationists rightly believe, from serious study of Scripture, that the gifts have ceased. When continuationists insist in saying that they (the gifts) have not and through exegetical work they cannot prove that, the only thing left for them to do is to present “evidences” of the gifts today. There has been not one evidence that the biblical gifts are still happening today.

            I guess you missed the point, really. It is not us who ask for extra-biblical “evidence”, but the other side who presents false gifts as the biblical gifts. What really we ask for is the evidence of the REAL gifts. But it is a rhetorical question, you see.

          • Josh Elsom

            If I were to provide you evidence for the operation of the ‘biblical gifts,” according to your criteria for judging those gifts, could I persuade you to reexamine your position?

          • elainebitt

            No.
            We believe the gifts have ceased through the study of Scripture, not the other way around. (Plus hypothetical scenarios are besides the point).

            I am not sure you see what you just did. You’re saying that if you provided me with “evidence” – those that you called “extra-biblical” in your first comment, I should reexamine my position.

            So… do tell me… who is really using “extra-biblical evidence” to support their view? 😉

          • Josh Elsom

            Then you don’t qualify for the criticism that I offered in my first comment. The people I am addressing are those cessationists who demand evidence for continuation (only to reject the evidence before it has been critically evaluated). But do realize, that if your position is one that forbids the examination of present day charismatic truth claims, then you cannot advance your exegetical arguments for cessationism by pointing to the supposed absence of charismatic experience at anytime in church history.

            Understanding scripture by examining extra-biblical truth claims is not the point of my criticism, everyone does this, and it’s not necessarily an improper practice. The point of my criticism is against those cessationists who accuse charismatics of assessing Scripture based solely on their experience, while being blind to their own judging of Scripture based on their non-charismatic experience.

          • elainebitt

            “The people I am addressing are those cessationists who demand evidence
            for continuation (only to reject the evidence before it has been
            critically evaluated).”

            Then you are addressing no cessationist on this blog. You just wanted to make YOUR point, not really address anything, right?
            Thanks.

          • Josh Elsom

            Nope.

        • TrueScotsman

          1) Believers are said to have prophesied in the Corinthian Church, and often. Do you suppose that ordinary believers regularly spoke the infallible word of God and it was never recorded? Also, Paul tells us to test everything and hold fast to that which is good, referring to prophecy. Why would one test the infallible? We’re talking about FALLIBLE prophets, who are given words of encouragement to the Church to build them up.
          2) The gift of tongues can manifest in real languages, but the language of angels appears to be it’s primary usage, and it is unintelligible to us without the use of interpretation, according to Paul.
          3) There are many fake healers out there who use cheap tricks to manipulate people’s minds to make them believe they are healed. The Holy Spirit apportions each gift as HE wills, and sometimes God does not always will a healing to be done. However, these fake healings are simply a strawman against the Continuationalist position.

          These are very much so in line with many atheistic arguments I have heard against Christianity. John 14:12 is all about the believers benefit of Jesus going to the Father, that because he is with the Father he will do anything that we ask (granted that it also accords with his will as John clarifies in his Epistle), but this is for one who believes. Perhaps what is lacking is not that Jesus has withdrawn the ability, but that we lack the faith to perform it.

          “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

          Jesus’ words are indeed hauntingly prophetic.

          • Do you suppose that ordinary believers regularly spoke the infallible word of God and it was never recorded?

            Yes. “Ordinary believers” regularly speaking the infallible word of God is what prophecy had always been and what it continued to be in the NT. That’s especially plain when you consider that the same exact terminology is used (prophet, prophecy, prophesy) both of OT prophets and NT prophets interspersed throughout the book of Acts.

            Regarding it never being recorded: sure. Where’s the book of Elijah? Do you believe that Elijah, as a prophet, spoke the infallible Word of God only in the places we have him quoted in 1 Kings? Or do you suppose that he spoke God’s infallible Word to Israel outside of the places we have recorded in Scripture? The latter seems far more likely, and provides definite precedent for that happening more often in the NT, where the gift was more diffuse.

            Certainly, that’s a more desirable and more consistently-biblical conclusion than inferring (and that’s all that the continuationist view of prophecy is based on: inference) that the same terminology is used to describe a gift that had been radically redefined without a single explicit comment from any NT author.

            Also, Paul tells us to test everything and hold fast to that which is good, referring to prophecy. Why would one test the infallible? We’re talking about FALLIBLE prophets, who are given words of encouragement to the Church to build them up.

            Moses tells us to test prophets by what they said and to reject those who prophesy falsely (Deut 13:1-5; Deut 18:20-22). Does the command to test OT prophets against previously-given revelation mean that OT prophecy was fallible prophecy?

            Of course not. It means that false prophets were always a real danger to the people of God, whether with Israel or with the church (Matt 7:15; 24:11; 1 John 4:1; etc.). Paul’s commands to test prophecy in 1 Thess 5:19-21 and 1 Cor 14:29 are given because there were people who called themselves prophets and who nevertheless prophesied falsely. These people were not to be accepted as legitimate prophets who just sometimes botch it. They were to be rejected as false prophets who didn’t speak for Jesus.

            Again, certainly that is a more natural interpretation than inferring (again, inference only) that the command to test prophecy means the whole prophetic gift was redefined from OT to NT without a single word.

            The gift of tongues can manifest in real languages, but the language of angels appears to be it’s primary usage, and it is unintelligible to us without the use of interpretation, according to Paul.

            Firstly, there’s no reason to assume that Paul’s reference to “angelic language” in 1 Cor 13 means that that’s the “primary usage” of tongues. That’s a non-sequitir. Secondly, Paul’s mention of “tongues of men and angels” is a clear use of hyperbole to make his point (note also his reference to knowing all mysteries and all knowledge and having all faith so as to move mountains). Thirdly, that’s prefaced by the conditional marker “if,” signaling that Paul is not saying these things are actually the case, but, again, is evidence of hyperbole. And finally, there’s no biblical evidence that angelic language is different than human language. Anytime angels are said to say anything it is always intelligible to humans (whether the seraphim in heaven in Isaiah 6 or Gabriel on earth when speaking to Mary).

            And foreign languages when spoken to one who doesn’t understand that language, and remaining uninterpreted, are also unintelligible. O forse puoi intendere questa frase senza problema?

            However, these fake healings are simply a strawman against the Continuationalist position.

            How can fake healings be a straw man? They exist, don’t they? They’re done under the guise of the continuation of the charismatic gifts of healing, aren’t they? They go unrejected by the loudest supporters of continuationism, don’t they (cf. Michael Brown’s recent foray into the world of ministry partnership with Benny Hinn).

            The argument is not, “Fake healings exist, so true healings don’t exist.” The argument is: Continuationists have redefined the biblical gift of healing to be nothing more than receiving answers to prayer. I believe in praying for the sick, asking God to heal, and I believe He does that, according to His sovereign will. That’s not the NT gift of healing. Continuationists also redefine healings to be non-immediate and deniable, where NT healings were always immediate and undeniable.

            They also seem to take healings out of the realm of the “hard cases” (lame man walking after 38 years of inability; blind men receiving their sight; women being instantly healed of issues of blood; dead men rising) and place it into the realm of back pain, chronic headaches, etc.; i.e., things that may wax and wane due to many other factors, not the least of which is the psychosomatic factor of having someone whom you believe to be invested with the power of God tell you you’re healed, and if you doubt it, you won’t be healed.

            These are very much so in line with many atheistic arguments I have heard against Christianity.

            Now there’s a straw man argument. Atheists reject Christianity’s claims of the miraculous because of their a priori commitment to anti-supernaturalism. Cessationists, on the other hand, are, as Warfield said, unashamed supernaturalists. We believe in the miracles and healings recorded in Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and all the things that make atheists deride us as archaic buffoons who believe in fairy tales.

            Our rejection of the present-day operation of the miraculous gifts (note: miracle-workers, not the rejection of miracles), based not upon lack of faith but upon exegetical and theological argument, is so far from the same solar system as atheism that it reveals much about the depths to which continuationists will sink to protect their errant interpretation. You should be ashamed of this comparison.

          • Robert

            Mike, It appears to me you are trying to have it both ways. “Our rejection of the present-day operation of the miraculous gifts (note: miracle-workers, not the rejection of miracles),…” If you believe the Gifts of the Spirit, including tongues and healing, are alive in the current Church, then how are you a cessationist? Simply because no individual embodies the gift of miraculous healing, though many like Hinn promote themselves as such? Saying I reject “miracle-workers” but not “miracles” seems like inside baseball to me. It may be that this is the crux of the overall disagreement and that the main thrust of the continuationist camp is the “miracle-workers” do in fact walk around among us, waiting to part the Red Sea. That’s not how I read the discussion or the overall disagreement.

            I see a camp that believes the current Church has the same access to the same Spirit and power that the early Church did. And thus, we long and seek for the demonstrations of that power. On the other side, it appears to me the main disagreement is with healings and tongues. And not healings, so much as with the show-men performers we see on TBN. I’m not defending any of them or holding them up as examples of anything but money chasing heretics. I can’t imagine many hanging their hat on the TBN gang as the model of continuationist evidence. You’re arguing your middle against the continuationist fringe.

            I sense an even greater unease among the cessationists over the practice of speaking in tongues to the point of deeming anyone who believes the Gift of tongues still operates in the Church or actually claims to do so is a kook, heretic, or both.

            Am I missing something?

          • Yes, Robert, I think you are missing something.

            I’m not sure how you can conclude that I believe in the miraculous gifts, such as tongues, prophecy, and healing, are alive in the current church. You quoted me as saying I reject those things.

            The point is that I can believe God heals, even miraculously, and not believing that anyone possesses the spiritual gift of healing. Those are two different things, and the continuationist has conflated them.

            Also, your reference to the “TBN gang” as the continuationist fringe is inaccurate. See Myth 2 here, and this post for an informal measure of that claim. It is not the TBN folks that are the minority in the Charismatic movement. It is the sound, gospel-loving friends like Piper, Grudem, Storms, and Carson that are the fringe.

            It’s not that we believe all people who think they’re speaking in tongues are kooks or heretics. It’s that the gift they say they exercising (usually a private prayer language) is so far at odds with the biblical definition of the gift that we’re saying that they’re not practicing biblical tongues. They’re engaging in a learned behavior that makes them “feel” close to God, because that’s how they’ve been taught. We’re trying to serve them by providing a more biblical understanding of the gifts. It may be that some people who engage in an activity they call tongues-speaking are heretics, and some perhaps even demon-possessed. But we’re not pretending to have the objective measure of who is who, and we’re not erring on the kook/heretic side, but the poorly-taught and misled side.
            Hope that clarifies.

          • Robert

            Thanks, Mike, for helping me understand your thoughts more accurately. Here is where I believe you’re missing something from the other side of the discussion, “The point is that I can believe God heals, even miraculously, and not believing that anyone possesses the spiritual gift of healing. Those are two different things, and the continuationist has conflated them.”

            I would submit that if I call on the elders of my church to pray for me and I am healed of an incurable disease, then the Gift of healing was certainly alive in body of believers that prayed for me. Perhaps, as you say, not in one person, but what does it matter? The Gift was there as evidenced by the result. Certainly God performed the work. But that is always the case, even when Biblical miracles happened, like the Red Sea parting.

            Again, you seem to be hanging your hat on the belief that no one individual can have the Gift of healing and calling that a huge difference between the two sides. I’m saying, as someone new to the discussion, that distinction matters little to none. If I belong to a Church body that regularly prays for the sick and sees them healed, how is that not the Gift of healing at work?

            Secondly, and speaking only for myself, I view the charismatic movement in a fully separate light from the Pentecostal movement, which has also figured prominently in the modern Church’s continuationist camp. IMO, the charismatic movement is much more defined by the televangelist and show men who place money and fame above any other pursuits. They use “demonstrations of the Spirit” to elevate themselves and create kingdoms unto themselves. You and other cessationists may choose to see them as the flag-bearers for the continuationist camp. My contention is that most genuine Pentecostals have/would reject Hinn, King, and the like as nothing but phoney money changers.

            In my experience, many Pentecostals use “prophecy” and “interpretation” interchangeably. This may be a mistake in the purest sense of translation, but in practice it is very easy to see and hear what I mean. For example, if in a gathering of believers, someone speaks in another tongue (non-human) in a manner that addresses the entire group or is audible to the entire group, and then another person interprets that message, many Pentecostals might describe that as an example of “prophecy”. Others in the same gathering might recount that same occurrence as “tongues and interpretation” going out. Same event, different words to describe the event.

            And finally, your state this, “It’s not that we believe all people who think they’re speaking in
            tongues are kooks or heretics. It’s that the gift they say they
            exercising (usually a private prayer language) is so far at odds with
            the biblical definition of the gift that we’re saying that they’re not
            practicing biblical tongues.”

            As I mentioned in my response to the main post you can read below, “In Nathan Busenitz’s article on this site in 2011, he wrote this in reply to a comment, “The gift of tongues (defined as authentic foreign languages in the New
            Testament) is generally redefined as spiritually-ecstatic speech or as a prayer language that does not correspond to any known human language.” Similar to Luther’s assessment above, it appears to me that NB makes one example of tongues as described on the Day of Pentecost, as the only type (ie an actual human language). He leaves no room for the possibility the tongues could also include
            non-human utterances, only understood by the Holy Spirit. Yet in my layman’s reading of 1 Corintians 14:2, Paul seems to indicate instances where no man could understand the tongues that occurred. Not just no man present. “For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue
            speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.” So, I’m not sure how someone speaking in tongues and then an interpretation being given is “so far at odds with the biblical definition of the gift that we’re saying that they’re not practicing biblical tongues.” as you conclude.

            In his listing of the Gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul explicitly lists healings, prophecy and tongues as Gifts to the Church to help edify the body. This seems to address the cessasionists claim that these occurrences were only for the benefit on giving legitimacy to the new Christian way. And, I do not find where he lists an expiration date on some of the gifts, either implicitly or explicitly, with the exception of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, which Busenitz stated is not the structural underpinning of the cessasionist argument.

          • Thanks for your patient interaction, Robert. I do believe we’ve isolated the main point of disagreement, and it is on the definitional side — i.e., we’re disagreeing about what these gifts are.

            I would submit that if I call on the elders of my church to pray for me and I am healed of an incurable disease, then the Gift of healing was certainly alive in body of believers that prayed for me.

            This is where we would disagree. My contention is that, biblically, “God’s healing” is a larger category than “the spiritual gift of healing.” What you described above is God healing through the ordinary, providential means of grace of prayer. The supernatural, miraculous gift of healing was the ability for an individual (i.e., the one who possessed the spiritual gift of healing) to heal a sick or injured person immediately, undeniably, and completely. This is what Scripture defines as the spiritual gift of healing, which, I repeat for emphasis, is a narrower category than healing in general. We cessationists do not believe that God no longer heals, or that we shouldn’t pray for healing. But we believe the gift of healing, possessed by a gifted individual, worked miraculously at their hand, has ceased with the apostolic age.

            I would acknowledge that, in practice, the conservative continuationist (again, I maintain, who are the minority of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement) and the cessationist would have very similar practice as it regards praying for healing and blessing God for answered prayer. But because (a) continuationists redefine the gift of healing as merely answered prayer, (b) I’m eager to honor the Bible’s teaching about the cessation of the revelatory gifts with the foundational era of the church, as well as (c) what Scripture states about the purpose of the gifts of miracles and healings, I do not say that the gift of healing continues, even though your practice and my practice might look similar on this issue. It’s likely where we would divide more, in practice, is over tongues and prophecy.

            You and other cessationists may choose to see them as the flag-bearers for the continuationist camp. My contention is that most genuine Pentecostals have/would reject Hinn, King, and the like as nothing but phoney money changers.

            Did you read the posts I linked to above? They would rebut your contention on the basis of survey data presented from a number of sources.

            In my experience, many Pentecostals use “prophecy” and “interpretation” interchangeably.

            I would agree that interpreted tongues is functionally equivalent to prophecy (note how Peter applies Joel’s prophecy about the coming prophecy to the tongues that the believers at Pentecost are speaking). I’m not clear as to why you felt the need to highlight this distinction, so I may be missing something. But as I see it, we would agree here. The ministry / gifts of “apostles and prophets” made up the “foundation” of the church (Eph 2:20). Given that interpreted tongues are equivalent to prophecy, they also would constitute the kind of revelatory gift that makes up the foundational age. Now that that foundation is laid in Scripture, those gifts/offices are no longer in force, in view of the perfectly sufficient revelation that we have recorded in Scripture.

            Similar to Luther’s assessment above, it appears to me that NB makes one example of tongues as described on the Day of Pentecost, as the only type (ie an actual human language). He leaves no room for the possibility the tongues could also include non-human utterances, only understood by the Holy Spirit.

            Well, he doesn’t just “make” one example the only type. He argues that there are not two types of tongues — that the tongues of 1 Cor 14 are the tongues of Acts 2.

            Yet in my layman’s reading of 1 Corintians 14:2, Paul seems to indicate instances where no man could understand the tongues that occurred. Not just no man present.
            I think that’s an over-reliance on not-the-best translation of 1 Cor 14:2. Paul’s point is not that “no man can understand,” but, again remembering the context of 1 Cor 14, that we’re speaking of believers in the assembled congregation on the Lrod’s day, it is in fact that no man present could understand. And this makes sense if the tongues were foreign human languages. If someone was abusing the gift of tongues by rambling on in a language that no one understood, Paul says he’s not using the gift according to edification. But that lack of understanding can be because they don’t understand the foreign language, not because the language must be non-human. This is also consistent with the universal use of the term glossa, which always refers to known human languages.

            So: I believe the Bible teaches that the gift of tongues was the supernatural ability for a person to speak in a human language that he had never learned or previously known, which was required to be interpreted, and which could not occur more than two or three times in a given worship gathering. What is being claimed as the contemporary gift doesn’t resemble that. So, I say that it is at odds.

          • TrueScotsman

            “Yes. “Ordinary believers” regularly speaking the infallible word of God is what prophecy had always been and what it continued to be in the NT.”

            I find this to be an extremely alarming position. That many of the people of the Corinthian Church were speaking on the same level of authority as the Apostles. The NT gift of prophecy is not the same as office of a prophet in the OT, and the fact that your camp does nothing to describe the differences is also a big concern of mine.

            1) The NT gift of prophecy is to be sought be ALL believers, and since the revelation of Jesus Christ his old method of speaking through the office of the prophet has passed.

            2) The NT gift of prophecy has a specific purpose to encourage or build up, while the office of the prophet in the OT often used it also for oracles of destruction, etc.

            3) People are not instructed to cast away or kill people who give a false prophesy, and because it’s purpose is to encourage, this would likely be for when people are using it improperly.

            4) Nothing in the NT denotes the infallible nature of the gift, or on a level of “Thus saith the Lord.”

            “Regarding it never being recorded: sure. Where’s the book of Elijah? Do you believe that Elijah, as a prophet, spoke the infallible Word of God only in the places we have him quoted in 1 Kings? Or do you suppose that he spoke God’s infallible Word to Israel outside of the places we have recorded in Scripture? The latter seems far more likely, and provides definite precedent for that happening more often in the NT, where the gift was more diffuse.”

            This seems to be a consistent mistake on your part, equating the gift of prophecy with the office of a prophet.

            “Of course not. It means that false prophets were always a real danger to the people of God, whether with Israel or with the church (Matt 7:15; 24:11; 1 John 4:1; etc.). Paul’s commands to test prophecy in 1 Thess 5:19-21 and 1 Cor 14:29 are given because there were people who called themselves prophets and who nevertheless prophesied falsely. These people were not to be accepted as legitimate prophets who just sometimes botch it. They were to be rejected as false prophets who didn’t speak for Jesus.”

            He says, “hold fast to what is good,” no where does Paul instruct the Church to cast out those who speak falsely when giving a prophecy. This is another assumption and if such were mandated by Paul you would think he would have touched on this when he said multiple people should be prophesying in each service.

            “Firstly, there’s no reason to assume that Paul’s reference to “angelic language” in 1 Cor 13 means that that’s the “primary usage” of tongues.”

            It’s based upon his teaching in 1 Corinthians 14 as it being established as the primary usage. Where he says, “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.”

            That tongues is a special way to speak to God by the power of the Holy Spirit, and done in a mysterious language that men cannot understand unless the Holy Spirit offers an interpretation. This Paul says was done to “build up [one]self,” and he also demonstrates later that he often prays in tongues. However, he points to using it only if there is an interpretation or to desire prophecy instead because the building up of the whole church is what he stresses. As he notes that people will think they are out of their minds if they are all speaking in tongues when outsiders show up. Which ironically is how Cessationists react.

            “And foreign languages when spoken to one who doesn’t understand that language, and remaining uninterpreted, are also unintelligible. O forse puoi intendere questa frase senza problema?”

            The language Paul is speaking of is never understood unless there is an interpretation, but when used alone is meant for speaking with God, not men. “He utters mysteries in the Spirit.”

            “How can fake healings be a straw man? They exist, don’t they? They’re done under the guise of the continuation of the charismatic gifts of healing, aren’t they? They go unrejected by the loudest supporters of continuationism, don’t they (cf. Michael Brown’s recent foray into the world of ministry partnership with Benny Hinn).”

            The actions of one man are not indicative of an entire movement. I don’t superimpose the views of John MacArthur when I am dealing with you. It is widely know that there are fake healers, and many in the Continuationalist camp do point out these errors. Reformed Continuationalists have been better at this I admit, but I count myself among those who would correct and rebuke those who practice such “healings”.

            At my Church I have never seen such, but I have seen a tumor disappear before my very eyes.

            This is simply throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

            “Now there’s a straw man argument. Atheists reject Christianity’s claims of the miraculous because of their a priori commitment to anti-supernaturalism. Cessationists, on the other hand, are, as Warfield said, unashamed supernaturalists. We believe in the miracles and healings recorded in Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and all the things that make atheists deride us as archaic buffoons who believe in fairy tales.”

            I’m not making a statement as to the REASONS for your rejection, I am just pointing out how similar the arguments Cessationists make to those of atheists. Having been an atheist myself at one point, I used the exact same arguments as Cessationists now to deny God.

            The purpose of the gifts is to build up the Church. Since the Church is still in need of encouragement and consolation in this world, why would God withhold these precious and important gifts from the Body?

            It simply is not logical for me in any way to think that God would withhold these gifts when we still need them.

          • I find this to be an extremely alarming position. That many of the people of the Corinthian Church were speaking on the same level of authority as the Apostles.

            If the Apostles spoke on prophetic authority, and there are other people described as prophets who speak with prophetic authority, I’m not sure how you can escape this conclusion. I’ll grant that it is alarming, but that is precisely what the blessing of Pentecost is: that because of the in-breaking of the Messianic Kingdom in the presence of the King, Joel’s prophecy has begun to be fulfilled, namely, that the people of God would not have scant or occasional access to divine revelation, such as Israel had only in an Isaiah, a Jeremiah, an Ezekiel, etc. Rather, that the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh and the prophetic gift will be multiplied.

            The NT gift of prophecy is not the same as office of a prophet in the OT…

            This is merely an assertion, and I reject it for lack of biblical evidence in the NT. Where in the NT is there any comment that what they’re calling the NT gift of prophecy, using the same exact terminology as OT prophecy, side-by-side with OT prophets and prophecy, is different than OT prophecy?

            The distinction is one the continuationists have conjured, based on nothing but illegitimate inference, in order to support their belief in the continuation of the gifts.

            1) The NT gift of prophecy is to be sought be ALL believers, and since the revelation of Jesus Christ his old method of speaking through the office of the prophet has passed.

            Again, this is just an assertion. To refer to passages like 1 Cor 14:1 for support is to beg the question. First, since the gift of prophecy was operational in the time Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians, it makes sense that he would give this command. Given that the very focus of disagreement is whether or not the gifts have continued into the present age, to make superficial reference to this Scripture is to assume what you’re required to prove — namely, that, given the differences between the original recipients and us, this passage is to be obeyed in precisely the same way. I disagree with that.

            Besides, I don’t believe 1 Cor 14:1 was even a command for every single believer in Corinth to seek the gift of prophecy. “All are not prophets, are they?” (1 Cor 12:29). No, what Paul was commanding in 1 Cor 14:1 was that the Corinthians, as a church, as a whole, be characterized by desiring prophecy more than tongues, which they were currently failing to do.

            2) The NT gift of prophecy has a specific purpose to encourage or build up, while the office of the prophet in the OT often used it also for oracles of destruction, etc.

            It does not follow that different functions or contents of prophecy require there to be multiple prophetic gifts. Again, this is a non-sequitir, an inference based upon zero Scripture. It’s entirely legitimate for both to be the same gift, even if the contents of prophecy differed from prophet to prophet, or even from prophecy to prophecy.

            3) People are not instructed to cast away or kill people who give a false prophecy…

            No, but they are commanded to reject them as false prophets (1 John 4:1-6; 1 Thess 5:19-21). We would not expect the same sort of capital punishment penalties to continue from the Old Covenant era to the New Covenant era, just as we don’t stone adulterers/adulteresses (Lev 20:10), disobedient children (Exod 21:17), and people who go to mediums or spiritists (Lev 20:7). The change in temporal penalties for those sins between the Israelite theocracy and the church does not change the character of those sins.

            …and because its purpose is to encourage, this would likely be for when people are using it improperly.

            What? Again, this simply doesn’t follow. Since (one of) prophecy’s purpose(s) is to encourage, that means it can be legitimately used improperly? Do you even hear yourself? What’s encouraging about fallible or improper prophecy?

            Yes, prophecy was designed to encourage and edify the body, but that was because it bore clear revelatory content that was itself the Word of God. Prophecy edified because God was speaking for the good of His church. The church is not edified by false prophecy, which is why she is commanded to reject false prophets and their false prophecies (1 Thess 5:19-21; 1 John 4:1-6).

            4) Nothing in the NT denotes the infallible nature of the gift, or on a level of “Thus saith the Lord.”

            Not even the prophet Agabus’ statement, “This is what the Holy Spirit says” (Acts 21:11)? The Greek phrase is tade legei to pneuma to hagion. The Greek phrase in the LXX for “Thus saith the Lord,” is (surprise!) tade legei kurios. Agabus literally says, “Thus saith the Holy Spirit,” identifying the third person of the Trinity as specifically the agent of revelation in that age of fulfillment. You simply cannot get any closer to “Thus saith the Lord.”

            This seems to be a consistent mistake on your part, equating the gift of prophecy with the office of a prophet.

            Again, you merely assert it’s a mistake. I don’t see a thing in the NT that gives me reason to distinguish the NT gift of prophecy with the office of a prophet. A prophet was one who prophesied. One who prophesied was a prophet. Scripture speaks no other way.

            He says, “hold fast to what is good,” no where does Paul instruct the Church to cast out those who speak falsely when giving a prophecy. This is another assumption and if such were mandated by Paul you would think he would have touched on this when he said multiple people should be prophesying in each service.

            How about the next phrase: “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess 5:22)? Or 2 John 1:10? 1 John 4:1-6 says that false prophets are antichrist, and 2 John 1:7 speaks of the deceivers as antichrist, and verse 10 warns the early believers not to receive them into their homes or give them a greeting.

            Aside from this, there are all the warnings against false prophets. Are you suggesting that those warnings were just to “beware” of false prophets, but not to reject them?

            It’s based upon his teaching in 1 Corinthians 14 as it being established as the primary usage. Where he says, “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.”

            You misunderstand what Paul is doing in 1 Cor 14:2. He’s not commending this reality; he’s lamenting that, the way the Corinthians are misusing the gifts, “no one understanding” is not bringing edification to the body.

            There is a way to interpret these references to tongues that are entirely consistent with the definition of glossa as it’s used uniformly throughout the NT — i.e., as a known human language. That is: since the speaker, in the context of the gathered assembly, is uttering words in a foreign language that “no one understands” without the gift of interpretation, his rambling on in other languages amounts to nothing but “mysteries,” known only “to God,” who of course knows all languages.

            This is a much more natural interpretation given the precedent set in Acts 2, rather than positing an entirely different kind of gift of tongues, again, without explicit comment.

            This Paul says was done to “build up [one]self,” and he also demonstrates later that he often prays in tongues.

            Again, Paul is not commending the Corinthians here for their self-edification. This entire discourse is in the context of a rebuke (beginning in 11:17), specifically for the misuse of spiritual gifts. If the purpose of the gifts are for the edification of others (1 Cor 12:7), then “self-edification” lies squarely outside the realm of the purpose for the gifts. Paul is saying, “Sure, you might get a blessing by rambling on in these unknown languages; it may make you feel close to God, but it doesn’t do a thing to edify your brothers and sisters, and that’s the purpose of the gift in the first place! So stop!”

            The language Paul is speaking of is never understood unless there is an interpretation, but when used alone is meant for speaking with God, not men. “He utters mysteries in the Spirit.”

            Where is it used alone? Again, that is an assumption brought to the text. The entire context is in the gathered assembly. And as I commented on 1 Cor 14:2 above, “he utters mysteries in the Spirit” means that he’s speaking in a language that no one can understand — not because it’s impossible for it to be understood, but because there’s no interpreter, which is precisely why Paul calls for one.

            And besides that, how is it possible to interpret gibberish? You don’t need an interpreter when what’s in question is non-cognitive-content-bearing speech. You only interpret, or translate (cf. Ac 9:36), language.

            The actions of one man are not indicative of an entire movement.

            Nobody claims that. Is it really your position that there’s only ever been one fake healer in the Charismatic movement? The thing is, when an entire movement is characterized by hucksterism, charlatans, and deceivers, that is indicative of an entire movement. If you’re unfamiliar with the absurd amount of abuses that have been perpetrated in the Charismatic movement, I’d invite you to read Strange Fire. I don’t suppose you’ve read that already, have you?

            Again, no one is arguing that the presence of fake healers necessarily means that there cannot be true healers. The point is, what the continuationist contends is the NT gift of healing is in fact not the NT gift of healing.

            This is simply throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

            What baby? Is there a baby in the Charismatic bathwater?

            I’m not making a statement as to the REASONS for your rejection, I am just pointing out how similar the arguments Cessationists make to those of atheists.

            The reasons for my rejection are the arguments I’m making. You can’t comment on one without the other.

            Having been an atheist myself at one point, I used the exact same arguments as Cessationists now to deny God.

            Really? You used to argue that because of the perfect sufficiency of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, Christianity wasn’t true? You’ll have to forgive me, but somehow I doubt that.

            The purpose of the gifts is to build up the Church. Since the Church is still in need of encouragement and consolation in this world, why would God withhold these precious and important gifts from the Body?
            It simply is not logical for me in any way to think that God would withhold these gifts when we still need them.

            One purpose of the gifts was edification and encouragement. Other purposes included the certification of the Apostles, validation of revelation-bearing teachers, and providing revelation before the perfectly sufficient revelation found in the completed canon of Scripture was available.

            Now that the Scripture has been completed, now that all of God’s revelation is contained in that marvelous book — that prophetic word that is even more sure than the most spectacular of our spiritual experiences (2 Pet 1:19) — we can derive all the encouragement and consolation that we need — indeed, everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3) — through His precious and magnificent promises contained in Scripture. Every bit of encouragement, edification, and consolation that those miraculous gifts brought to the nascent church that was laboring in an age without a completed canon is now available to us — in even greater — measure in the gloriously sufficient Scriptures.
            May we be found faithful to properly esteem and cherish such a treasure.

        • Dan Phillips

          Ah, where would the church of Christ be if Charismaticism lacked tireless defenders of a legacy of utter and abject failure to deliver, and whiny deflectors of Biblical (and Biblically-toned) criticism? Where would the church be, then?

          In a far, far better, godlier and more fruitful place.

  • Reagan

    Great article, Matt. Clear and well argued. Saving this one for later.

  • Morris Brooks

    To throw a little more gas on this “fire,” in Hebrews 2:2-3 the author points out that the apostles (those who heard and confirmed the words of the Lord) God confirmed by signs, wonders, various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. This ties directly back to John 14:12. Also, notice that implied here is this confirmation from God was not given to anyone else outside of the Lord and the apostles.

  • Morris Brooks

    Sorry, Hebrews 2:2-4.

  • Kevin Peterson

    Thank you thank you thank you for writing this.
    I’ve needed a good explanation for this verse since my charismatic friends like to quote it all the time, and now I can at least show them that this verse was meant for the Disciples only, and not all Christians everywhere for all time; like Luke 22:36.

  • I have an honest question that maybe someone can help me with. I am a cessationist, but I am trying to answer someone who is a continuationist, and I want to give them an answer that will help them understand our position better.

    Are we saying that miracles and tongues were only characteristic of the Apostles (meaning no one else had these gifts)? Or are we saying that miracles and tongues were only characteristic of the *time* of the apostles?

    My. Continuationist friend had several verses suggesting that many others also did signs and wonders (Phillip, Steven, the 70 Jesus sent out, the Corinthian church, etc).

    And if it is true that others aside from only the apostles did miracles, how does that effect our argument for the cessation of the apostolic gifts.

    Looking for a solid and helpful answer. Thanks!

    • Lyndon Unger

      Time of the apostles. There were many others who had the sign gifts beyond the apostles. The fact that Paul addressed the church in Corinth regarding thr use of tongues indicates the relatively widespread nature of tongues.

      • Awesome. That’s what I thought, but I wanted to be clear on the issue. Thanks!

    • Gabriel Powell

      I would also add that we’re not saying that miracles no longer happen. Miracles and healings and perhaps even true biblical tongues may occur in our present day. All cessationism says is that the specific gifts given to people in the NT are no longer normatively experienced or to be sought after, nor are they characteristic of the Spirit’s work in our day. The true characteristics of the Spirit’s power and work are salvation and sanctification. The Spirit can and does do unusual miraculous works, but that is completely distinct from the “gifts” in the NT.
      I’m finding a number of continuationists point to a seemingly random miracles as though it’s proof of their position, when in fact it irrelevant to the discussion.

      • elainebitt

        “[…] perhaps even true biblical tongues may occur in our present day.”

        That would mean they wouldn’t be a sign as they were in the NT then? If so, what are their purpose now?

        According to gty (http://www.gty.org/resources/distinctives/dd06/the-gift-of-tongues), tongues were “a miraculous, revelatory gift, and the age of miracles and revelation ended with the apostles” and ”
        were intended as a sign to unbelieving Israel (1 Cor. 14:21-22; cf. Is. 28:11-12).”

        If you disagree with that, can you tell me their purpose for today and how did you get to that conclusion?

        Thanks Gabe.

        • Gabriel Powell

          I don’t disagree, in fact that furthers my point. The NT gift of tongues were unique and specific, and therefore have ceased. However I’ve heard numerous testimonies of a person on a mission field speaking in a language they hadn’t studied in an isolated and unique circumstance (in other words, not an ongoing activity).

          If those are true (and I don’t have reason to believe otherwise), then I ascribe that to a unique work of the Spirit and not as an extension and proof the NT tongues are normative for today. I would say the same about genuine modern healings.

          Cessationism is not the belief that the Spirit cannot or does not do miraculous things anymore. It is that the gifts of prophecy, healing, and tongues are no longer normative in the Church today.

          • elainebitt

            You say “the NT gift of tongues were unique and specific, and therefore have ceased.”

            Are you then saying that what you describe right after that statement is NOT the biblical gift of tongues? But if you describe this “work of the Spirit” exactly as what in practice the gift of tongues wasin the NT (speaking in a language they hadn’t learned), how can you then classify it as “work of the Spirit” and not “tongues”?

            In my opinion, you are playing with words. Tongues either exist or they don’t. To call them something else (works of the Spirit) to try and validade them is besides the point.

            Furthermore, you did not support your belief that tongues “may occur in our present day” with Scripture. You did, however, tell that tongues may be possible because you heard stories and you had no reason to doubt them.

            “I would say the same about genuine modern healings”.
            So is God still giving people the gift of healing today? God heals today, but the gift has ceased.

            How about prophecy? Would you say the same about it? Is prophecy no longer normative in the Church today, but they may still occur in our present day?

          • Gabriel Powell

            Hi Elaine, I’m not sure if you’re advocating for a hyper-cessationist view (that God either does not ever or cannot do miracles today), or if we’re talking past each other.

            I believe God can and does heal people today, but it is distinct from the gift of healing given to a person. I believe it is possible (however incredibly rare) for the Spirit to enable someone to speak a language they haven’t learned, but it is distinct from the gift of tongues given to a person. I suppose that would force me to have to say that it is possible for someone to prophecy without being a prophet, but that is far more difficult to discern, and I’m not willing at this point to say one way or another.

            My position is simply this: God can and does whatever He wants to do. He can do similar things today which He has done in the past. But His choosing to do so does not constitute proof that the gifts given to persons have continued as a normal expression of the Spirit’s work in the church today.

            Do I have Scripture for that? Well, I would point back to the OT where God performed unique miracles at unique times without it being normative for all people. I would point to the abundant records throughout the 2,000 of apparently genuine healings on fully orthodox believers. I would point to those, like Spurgeon who on rare occasions has specific knowledge of persons and their activities.

            If that’s outside the bounds of cessationism, I’d ask you to clarify for me what form of cessationism you hold to.

            Thanks!

          • elainebitt

            I am not advocating for a hyper-cessationist view.

          • Josh Elsom

            Gabriel,

            As a continuationist, this is one form of cessationism that I am very sympathetic toward. Namely, non-normative charismatic manifestations that are revelatory and occasional, but not regularly practiced in the church as was the gift of prophecy; or, in certain situations, at the frontier boundaries of the gospel’s advance, where the name of Jesus has not yet been uttered, that God might grant a gift of languages or miracles to validate the authenticity of the gospel message.

            Perhaps another way of putting it would be to say, that contemporary charismata, though differing from the NT gifts and no longer normative for the everyday, are instead limited in their operation and contingent upon the Father’s will to empower believers in situations where mere human ability cannot prevail against natural foreign/cultural obstacles or opposing spiritual forces.

            I don’t hold that view, but I could see myself being persuaded in that direction. The alternative, Warfield’s cessationism (which is not historic cessationism), simply cannot account for the many, many, many, many, situations where the Spirit has shown himself tangibly present in his people.

            Case in point — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ec98ayNyuHs

            I’m convinced that Warfieldian cessationism (hyper-cessationism), because it dismisses all claims to Spirit-empowered phenomena in the church, has actually created charismatics. When people, who are utterly disconnected from this debate, experience things that sound an awful lot like what they read in the pages of Acts, learn that there are only two theological options available for the gifts — one, which is compatible with their experience, and the other, which dismisses their stories as delusion — they sign on to the one that appears the most logical. Unfortunately, for cessationism at large, these people who are now charismatics, had wrongly assumed that all cessationism is John MacArthur’s cessationism. Cessationism is not monolithic and not without philosophical nuance.

            If I were ever to move in the direction of this view, I would never deny people the possibility of their charismatic experiences. I would simply explain that God, according to his wisdom and prerogative, occasionally endows his people with power, in particular situations, to do works of ministry, that human ability and effort alone cannot accomplish. But, we should not expect that he still does these things normatively, in the everyday, as he did at the time when the NT church was being established.

            If you’re interested, R.W. Glenn, a well known evangelical pastor in the Twin Cities, holds to this view of cessationism.

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  • bumbutcha

    Hmm…just to clarify, so do cessationists refuse to pray for healing of the sick even when requested to do so? Or do they pray as a courtesy even though they believe God won’t heal?

    • Eric Dodson

      This is a common straw man. Cessationists do not believe God won’t heal. We believe the gift of healing has ceased.

      Praying for God to heal is not the gift of healing. It is prayer. The gift of healing is the Spirit given ability to instantaneously heal someone.

      • bumbutcha

        Thanks for the clarification. Another ? – So how do cessationists explain Joel 2:28 & Acts 2:17?

  • Brown lost any and all respect from me when he willingly appeared with Benny Hinn and didn’t refute him as a false teacher…

  • Super appreciated this explanation-saved!

  • Robert

    I am a continuationist, even though 6 months ago I wouldn’t have known what
    either term meant. Here are some questions I have in an effort to understand
    the cessationists view more clearly.

    1. Is the cessationists view point, by necessity,
    an all or nothing stance? IOW, if one could find even one legitimate,
    documented cases of the miraculous, does that invalidate the cessationist
    argument?

    2. If yes, to the question above, are cessationist
    then ready to pronounce that since the end of the age of the Aposotles, no
    micaculous works have/are occuring?

    3. If no, then how many/often occurrances would
    lead one to leave the cessationist camp? What degree of miracles would
    substantiate a change in the cessationist view? Are only Red Sea type events
    game changers?

    4. If even one of the “disputed gifts”, like
    tongues, could be validated as still occuring, would that fully invalidate the
    cessationists view, even if other gifts, miraculous healings, for example, were
    unverified?

    5. If God granted the gifts of miraculous healings
    to you, individually, would you have to turn down the gifting because you cannot
    validate it in your view of scripture? What if the gift was tongues and interpretation?

    6. If someone prayed for you for a serious
    physical ailment or condition and you immediately received healing, would you
    reject it?

    7. How would God, if He choose, signal that He was
    beginning a new “age of miracles”? IOW, John MacArthur has written,
    “Miracles in the Bible [primarily] occurred in three major periods of time. The
    time of Moses and Joshua, the time of Elijah and Elisha, and the time of Christ
    and the apostles. . . . And it is during those three brief periods of time and
    those alone that miracles proliferated; that miracles were the norm; that
    miracles were in abundance.” So, how would a new period start? Would not the
    cessationists discount every report as some charismatic hoax or an erronious,
    over-zealous attribution to the Spirit that which is not from the
    Spirit?

    8. Why did the period of silence between the OT
    and NT occur? If the Jews brought the silence on themselve with their sinful
    lifestyles, does it stand to reason that the Church of today is in a similar
    period due to the overtly sinful nature of the Church? (Name any sin and it is
    as or more prevelant on an ongoing basis among self-identified Christians, as it
    is in secular society.) Are the miracles of the early NT Church missing today
    because of our own sinfulness and lack of faith, more so than any direct or
    indirect explanation cessationists find in Scripture? If so, wouldn’t that
    change the dynamic of both positions dramatically?

    9. Is every occurrance of tongues and
    interpretation false, heretical, or a hoax? Does a message the goes out from an
    individual in “tongues” and is then interpreted by another individual in the
    common language of the audience change the dynamics any?

    10. Do cessationists discount fully, as
    illegitimate, the Pentecostal revivals in the early 1900’s that started in the
    Carolinas and a bit later on the west coast at Azusa Street? If so, does it
    follow that all organizations and denominations that developed as a result of
    those specific revivals are built on false doctrine and by extension,
    heretical?

    11. In his Commentary on Galations 4,
    Martin Luther wrote, “Paul explained the purpose of these miraculous gifts of
    the Spirit in I Corinthians 14:22,
    “Tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe
    not.” Once the Church had been established and properly advertised by these
    miracles, the visible appearance of the Holy Ghost ceased.” If one agrees
    with Luther’s assessment of this passage, what is to be done with Acts 19:1-7?
    These men were already believers. They did not need any further proof of
    legitimacy of Christ or the Church. Yet, “when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost
    came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.” (This passage also
    seems to cast doubt on the teaching that the Holy Ghost always enters a person
    upon salvation and is not ever a separate event, but that’s another
    discussion.) So does it seem reasonable to conclude Paul was explaining “a”
    purpose, but not “the (only)” purpose?

    12. In Nathan
    Busenitz’s article on this site in 2011, he wrote this in reply to a comment,
    “The gift of tongues (defined as authentic foreign languages in the New
    Testament) is generally redefined as spiritually-ecstatic speech or as a prayer
    language that does not correspond to any known human language.” Similar to
    Luther’s assessment above, it appears to me that NB makes one example of tongues
    as described on the Day of Pentecost, as the only type (ie an actual human
    language). He leaves no room for the possibility the tongues could also include
    non-human utterances, only understood by the Holy Spirit. Yet in my layman’s
    reading of 1 Corintians 14:2, Paul seems to indicate instances where no man
    could understand the tongues that occurred. Not just no man present. “For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue
    speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him;
    howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.”

    It would not
    be my contention that men never make a specticle of “gifts” and therefore
    themselves, even to the point of being heretical. Personally, I draw a
    great distinction between Pentecostal and charismatics, and allow that
    not all “signs and wonders” even in the Pentecostal movement are legit
    expressions of the Holy Spirit. But it appears to me some of the cessationists take this view, “All cessationism says is that the specific gifts given to people in
    the NT are no longer normatively experienced or to be sought after, nor are they
    characteristic of the Spirit’s work in our day. The true characteristics of the
    Spirit’s power and work are salvation and sanctification. The Spirit can and
    does do unusual miraculous works, but that is completely distinct from the
    “gifts” in the NT.” (Gabriel in the comments)

    Yet that seems to be a
    distinction without a difference. Either tongues exists today, with
    interpretation (prophecy) or they don’t, right? And, I’m not aware of any
    passage instructing Christians that Gifts are not to be sought after? Shouldn’t
    the body continue to seek for the Gifts as outlined in 1 Corinthians 12? They
    build up the Church. If you’re going to toss out tongues, miracles and healings. Why keep wisdom, Knowledge, and faith?

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  • Jakob

    You know a teacher is wrong, when he says; It says…. but what it really means is…..

  • Matt Waymeyer

    Someone just sent me a link to Michael Brown’s response to this article. I am content to let the reader decide if Brown has sufficiently answered my arguments, but I do want to correct one very significant misrepresentation. In his response, Brown claims that one of the main arguments in my article is “that signs, wonders, and miracles were the exclusive domain of the apostles.” But this is simply not what I wrote and not what I believe. The view articulated in my article is that the promise of John 14:12 was given to the apostles alone and therefore cannot be claimed by believers today. But nowhere did I deny that other Christians in the first-century church were given the ability to perform signs and wonders. What I denied (and what Brown affirms) is that every Christian throughout the history of the church has been given this same ability. I can only assume the misrepresentation was unintentional.

  • gvnc

    Here is Dr. Brown’s response to this article: http://askdrbrown.org/the-masters-seminary-professor-and-john-1412/.

  • libs

    This topic just wasn’t an issue when Paul was instructing Titus or Timothy in appointing elders for the church. Was it?
    Speaking in tongues or healing or visions and dreams are not required to be an elder of the church. Not even the deacons have to have such gifts. It seems to me, if this was vital to the church today these gifts would be on the list.
    Among many other important qualities, pastor/elders are to hold fast the faithful word, exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict.
    Give me this pastor, who fulfills Titus 1, over a tongue-speaking-heaiing-dreamer who is leading his people to do the same.

    All of my charismatic friends are constantly looking for a “high” and active sign gifts ALL THE TIME. They live in Matthew, Mark Luke and John and worship parts of Acts. (not the part where the people sold everything they had and not where the Holy Spirit testifies that bonds and afflictions await Paul in every city, or Stephen being stoned to death, etc.) They happen to leave out the part of being a victim of a snake bite, as well.
    They also quote Old Testament stories that “qualify” the miracles they long for. They expect emotional highs every time they worship at church or a concert.
    They long for healings and tongues and visions and dreams as if that is the ONLY way the Holy Spirit “shows up.” They say these things happen, but have yet to be able to prove it. None of the healings have been immediate in nature, but colds, back aches and such that resolve themselves in time. I know God can heal in answer to our prayers, but I also know he gives sustaining grace when he chooses not to heal. I have been “prophesied” over a few times, not one came about as true.
    My thought is , IF one truly has the gift of healing, why not be out there healing. IF one has the biblcal gift of tongues, go to that nation that speaks this language and proclaim the gospel.

    I don’t know, I’m thinking I may be a cessationist.

    I really appreciate the article, thank you.

    • bumbutcha

      We probably all have stories about our bad experiences connected with your aforementioned groups. The problem is should we allow anecdotal experience to formulate our beliefs? What should be normative? Paul’s letter to the Corinthians seeks to address some of the abuses and excesses that were going on and I believe his counsel still applies today. In 1 Cor 14 he details what is supposed to take place when the brethren meet and how we are to conduct ourselves:

      What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

      As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

      36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.

  • John

    DO you think we will ever see a cessationist truly make a sola scriptura argument for their position? Here is another swing and miss at the attempt.

  • Aaron More

    So every use of the term ho pisteuon in the book of John has universal application apart from the time it refers to the “works of Jesus”? Surely this is a double hermeneutic with an anti signs bent?

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