October 17, 2013

Strange Fire – A Case for Cessationism – Tom Pennington

by Mike Riccardi

For those who are unable to view the free live stream of the Strange Fire Conference here at Grace Community Church, I thought I would do my best to provide a written summary of the various sessions as they unfold (Session One; Session Two; Session Three; Session Four, Session Five). I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep this up, or if I’ll be able to other sessions (check out Tim Challies‘ blog for his coverage) But I thought a little would be better than nothing. It provides us with a helpful opportunity to interact with what is actually being said at the conference. Having said that, the following was transcribed in haste, and so please forgive any typos. I pray it’s a benefit to you.

Strange Fire

It’s my joy this morning to look at a biblical case for cessationism. When one person heard I was speaking on cessationism, she said, “You mean, from the union?” Now, things have gotten bad, and I do live in Texas but there’s been no talk of that yet. 🙂

Clearly the label we were stuck with, “Cessationism,” is a negative label. It pictures what we don’t believe. The problem with the label, though, is not that it’s negative but that it’s been easily caricatured as meaning that the Spirit has essentially ceased all of His work. Because of that, we are unfairly accused of putting the Spirit in a box, even of embracing an Enlightenment worldview. But those are distortions. In fact, we believe that the Holy Spirit has not only continued his work, but He is displaying in and through us the power of the resurrected Christ. Nothing eternal happens in an individual believer or in a local church apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. You and I can produce temporal effects, but we have no capacity or power to effect eternal reward, eternal events, eternal building edification in the life of the church or individual. It’s a total misrepresentation to say that we believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Scripture, as though the Scripture has replaced the Spirit. It’s wrong to refer to us as Bible Deists.

So what is it that cessationists believe the Spirit has ceased doing? Just one function: He no longer gives believers today the miraculous gifts, like tongues, prophecy, and healing. On the other hand, continuationists believe either that the miraculous gifts have continued unabated since Pentecost, or others would say they’ve waned through much of the church age and have not been restored. Though there are differences between Pentecostals and Charismatics and the Third Wave, they’re all inherently continuationists. And they all use the same arguments in their writing and speaking to defend their continuationism.

The Popular Continuationist Arguments

The chief arguments they put forward are these. First, the New Testament nowhere directly states that the miraculous gifts will cease during the church age. But that argument cuts both ways, because the New Testament doesn’t directly say they’ll continue either.

They counter with a second argument. There are a couple of New Testament passage that imply that the miraculous gifts will continue until Christ returns. Their favorite example of that is 1 Corinthians 13:10. They argue that that means that only when Christ returns will the partial gifts of tongues and prophecy cease. However, as you know, this is a very highly disputed passage, and there are a number of possible interpretations, and there are disagreements on both sides of the issue on that passage. So they cannot legitimately support their theology and practice from such a controversial passage. In fact, for most of church history this very passage was used to prove cessationism

Their third main argument is that the New Testament speaks only of the church age as a unit. And therefore the gifts that began in this age must continue throughout it. The say we artificially divide the church age in to the “Apostolic” and “Post-Apostolic” periods. But unless they believe that there are Apostles today like Peter and Paul, they also divide the church age. And they relate at least Apostleship solely to the Apostolic era. They become de facto cessationists, at least in part.

But by far the most common argument is: 500 million professing Christians who claim charismatic experiences can’t all be wrong. But let’s think about that for a moment. Using that same argument, we should therefore accept all the miracles of the Roman Catholic Church as well. After all, there are a billion of those, and there is far more history to those miracles. The point is: millions, 500 million, a billion professing Christians can be wrong.

Defining Cessationism

Tom Pennington PreachingI want us to consider the biblical case for cessationism. First we need to make sure we’re talking about the same thing. We need to define it. Cessationism does not mean, as our critics present it, that God no longer does anything miraculous. As a pastor, I get the joy of seeing the miraculous often, because every time a spiritually dead sinner is brought to life it is a miraculous work of divine grace. The Apostle Paul says that the only way a blinded sinner can come to know the truth is if the God who said, “Let there be light,” says “Let there be light in that heart” (2 Cor 4:6) Every time someone is healed solely in answer to the prayers of God’s people, in total contradiction to the medical community, it’s a divine miracle; He has intervened.

Cessationism also does not mean that the Spirit cannot, if He should choose, to give a miraculous ability to someone today. He’s God, He can do whatever He wants. If He wants to, He could give a language to someone they’ve never studied, it just wouldn’t be the New Testament gift, because it wouldn’t be revelation from God.

We mean that the Spirit no longer gives individual believers the miraculous gifts that are listed in the Scripture and are listed in the first century church. It is neither His plan nor pattern to give Christians those gifts today as He did in the apostolic time. They ceased with the Apostles.

But why? Why do we believe those miraculous gifts have ceased while the rest of the functions continue? Ask the average cessationist and he’ll turn to 1 Corinthians 13. But cessationism doesn’t rise or fall on 1 Corinthians 13. In our time together this morning, I want to lay out seven biblical arguments for cessationism. Now, each of these deserves its own message. A couple of them deserve a series. So we’re going to exhaustively cover all seven this morning. So my goal is not to fully develop each one. That’s impossible. Nor is it my goal to answer every possible objection, though those objections can be answered. My goal is to give you a 30,000-foot fly-over of cessationism and encourage you toward further study.

Argument 1: The Unique Role of Miracles

Many evangelicals think that miracles litter almost every page of biblical history. In reality, there were only three primary periods that God worked miracles through gifted men, when God gave human beings miracle working power. The first was that of Moses and Joshua, from the Exodus through the career of Joshua (1445-1380 BC), about 65 years. The second window was during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha (ca. 860-795 BC), again only about 65 years. The third time was with Christ and His Apostles. It began with His ministry, and lasted through the death of the Apostle John, also about 70 years.

Throughout history, God has occasionally intervened with direct miracles. But in thousands of years of biblical history, there were only about 200 years [in total] in which God empowered men to work miracles. And even then, they weren’t every day. Why was that? Because the primary purpose of miracles has always been to confirm the credentials of a divinely appointed messenger—to establish the credibility of one who speaks for God. I don’t mean someone who teaches or explains the Word like I’m doing, but one in whose mouth God has put His very words.

This pattern began with the very first miracle worker, Moses. Turn to Exodus 6. [Reads Exod 6:28–7:2] Turn back to chapter 4. [Reads Exod 4:15 – 16] Notice in both of these passages that for Aaron to be Moses’ prophet he could not speak for himself; he had to speak only the words of Moses who was in the place of God to him. That is what it meant to be a prophet: God’s own words put in your mouth. That’s why when God commissioned Jeremiah in Jeremiah chapter 1, He says, “I have put My words in your mouth.”

But how were the people to know if a man who claimed to be a prophet was in fact speaking God’s own words? Moses faced this dilemma. [Reads 4:1–5] So understand that God enabled Moses to perform miracles for one purpose only: to validate Moses as God’s prophet and Moses’ message as God’s own words. Moses was universally accepted as God’s prophet, and what he wrote were literally the words of God and came to be accepted as such. Why? Because the power to work miracles validated his claims to speak for God.

This continues to be the purpose of miracles throughout the Old Testament. Consider the prophets. Moses wrote that God would raise up men like him to speak for God. [Reads Deut 18:15–18; cf. Num 11:29]. Here in Deuteronomy Moses laid down 3 criteria for discerning a true prophet. The true prophet’s predictions must always come true (v. 21). In Deut 13:1–5, God says that if He chose to authenticate a true prophet He would do so by empowering him to work miracles as He did with Moses. Also in Deuteronomy 13, He said, even if He works miracles, the third criterion is that the prophet’s message must be always in complete doctrinal agreement with previous revelation.

So in the Old Testament, only those who spoke authoritatively and infallibly for God performed miracles because miracles were their credentials. The most famous miracle outside of the Pentateuch comes in the ministry of Elijah. In 1 Kings 18:36 he says, [Reads 1 Kgs 18:36] “God, authenticate me!”

When we come to the New Testament we see the same pattern unfolding. Our Lord was the ultimate fulfillment of Moses’ word in Deuteronomy 18. So it’s not surprising that He performed more miracles than any miracle worker in human history. But just as it was with Moses and the Old Testament prophets, the primary purpose of Jesus’ miracles was to confirm His credentials as God’s final and ultimate Messenger who spoke infallibly for God. Turn to John 5:36 [Reads John 5:36.] “Look at what I do, look at the miracles. Those are God’s authentication of Me as the ultimate and final Messenger.” In John 6:14, when the people saw the feeding of the 5,000 what did it point to? Their conclusion was, “This is truly the prophet!” In John 7:31: “When the Messiah comes, He won’t perform more signs than this man will He?” In John 10:24-26: “The works testify about Me.” In John 10:37, “If I don’t do the works, don’t believe Me. But if I do them, believe the works!”

See, Jesus’ miracles were not primarily a tool for effective evangelism. In fact, miracles aren’t that. He said even if one rose from the dead if they don’t hear Moses and the prophets they won’t believe. They weren’t even primarily about alleviating human suffering, though we see His great heart of compassion in His miracles. The main reason He worked miracles was to confirm that He spoke the words of God—that He was everything He claimed to be.

On the day of Pentecost, a day of miracles, Peter reiterated that that was the purpose of Jesus’ miracles (Ac 2:22). That was the reason. And Jesus also gave that same power to the Apostles, and their miracles served exactly the same purpose. Acts 14:3 – testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done.  Hebrews 2:3–4 makes the same point: “…the message was confirmed to us, God also testifying with them by signs, wonders, and various miracles.” The miraculous gifts that accompanied the apostles were intended to confirm that they were God’s genuine instruments of revelation, just as they had been with Moses, with the Old Testament prophets, and with Jesus Himself.

Now think about this for a moment. Since this pattern is consistent throughout the Scripture, it’s reasonable to expect that with the death of the Apostles, with the end of God’s revelation, with the death of those who spoke God’s own words, the ability to work miracles would end as well, just as it had after Moses, and after Elijah.

Warfield said, “Miracles do not appear on the pages of Scripture vagrantly, here, there, and elsewhere indifferently, without assignable reason. They belong to revelation periods, and appear only when God is speaking to His people through accredited messengers declaring His gracious purposes. Their abundant display in the Apostolic Church is a mark of the richness of the Apostolic age in revelation; and when this revelation period closed, the period of miracle-working had passed by also, as a mere of course.”

Scripture leads us to expect the end of the miraculous gifts because of the unique role of their validation of someone who spoke God’s own words.

Argument 2: The End of the Gift of Apostleship

In two places in the New Testament, Paul refers to the apostles as one of the gifts that Christ gave His church. The first is in 1 Corinthians 12:28. [Reads 1 Cor 12:28] He’s illustrating the diversity that the spirit has created within the body. Here he includes apostles. Although not all spiritual gifts are offices, all New Testament offices are gifts to Christ’s church. He makes this plain in Ephesians 4 [Reads Eph 4:7–8, 11]. One of the gifts Christ gave His church was the Apostles. But they were a temporary gift. Most Christians and most evangelical Charismatics agree that there are no more apostles like the 12 or like Paul. Why? Because to be a true apostle you had to meet three qualifications: (1) You had to be a witness of the resurrected Christ (Ac 1:22); (2) You had to be personally appointed by Christ (Ac 1:2, 24); (3) You had to be able to work miracles (Matt 10:1–2; 2 Cor 12:12).

No one alive today meets those three qualifications. So at least one New Testament gift has ceased. What that means is that there is a significant difference between the time of the Apostles and today, because one of the most miraculous displays of the Spirit, the gift of Apostleship, disappeared with the Apostolic age. It’s also interesting that it ceased without a crystal clear New Testament statement that it would. That means it is neither impossible nor is it unlikely that other significant changes happened with the passing of the Apostles as well. Once you agree that there are no Apostles today at the same level of Peter and Paul, you have admitted that there was a major change in the gifting of the Apostolic and post-Apostolic age. In fact, the one New Testament most frequently connected with miracles, Apostleship, ceased.

Argument 3: The Foundational Nature of the New Testament Apostles and Prophets

The New Testament identifies the Apostles and prophets as the foundation upon which the church was built. Turn to Ephesians 2. Here in chapter 2, Paul lays a foundational understanding of the church—this one new man that has been created in which Jews and Gentiles have been brought together, peace has made individually with God, and between all the differences that distinguished us before but are now brought together in Christ. Three great images for the church: Verse 19: citizens in God’s kingdom; God’s household / members of God’s family; and verse 20: [Reads Eph 2:20-22]. He says, Not only are you citizens in kingdom, members of his family, but you are like individual stones placed carefully and meticulously by God into a structure, and that structure is a temple in which our God will be worshiped.

But notice how he describes the structure in verse 20. The church, having been built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets. We know the Apostles. Who were the prophets? Because of the far-reaching implications of this verse, some Charismatics have come up with novel interpretations of who these prophets are. Some say they’re the Old Testament prophets. But the context is clear that he’s referring to New Testament prophets. Notice in Ephesians 3:5, he speaks of the mystery, and says in other generations (i.e., Old Testament times) it was not made known as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets. Clearly, he is talking about New Testament prophets.

Other Charismatics will take Ephesians 2:20 will word it like this: “the apostles, which are the prophets.” There’s a linguistic reason to reject that interpretation, but also a contextual one. Turn to chapter 4 verse 11: It’s clear that these are distinct gifts and groups. So let’s put it together. In Ephesians 2:20, Paul teaches that the revelation that came through the apostles and through the New Testament prophets is the foundation of the church. And the church is built on that foundation.

You know the image. Steve Lawson alluded to this as well. The foundation is finished, and now the superstructure is being erected on that already completed foundation. This is the same image in 1 Corinthians 3, as the leaders of the first century of church is adding their work to centuries of building. But the foundation was laid by the Apostles and prophets—the revelation that came through them. Once the revelation that God gave to the Apostles and the New Testament prophets were complete, the foundation was finished. Their work was completed. Their role was done. That’s clearly true of the Apostles as we’ve seen. But here in Ephesians 2 Paul says the role of the prophets was also foundational, and it is complete as well.

We should not expect any more apostles, prophets, or revelation.

Argument 4: The Nature of the Miraculous Gifts

If the Spirit were still gifting believers with the miraculous gifts, they would be the same gifts that we find in the New Testament. However, the Charismatic gifts claimed today bear almost no resemblance to their New Testament counterparts.


Consider the gift of tongues. According to Luke in Acts 2, the New Testament gift was the capacity to speak in a known human language. [Reads Ac 2:7-8] These were known languages, languages to which they were born. You come to the second occurrence in Acts 11:15, when Peter reports on the gift of tongues given to Cornelius, Peter says [Reads; just as he did upon us at the beginning] It’s exactly what happened to Peter at Pentecost, and Pentecost is clearly known languages. In Acts 19, there is absolutely nothing in the context to indicate that it was any different than what already happened in Acts 2 and Acts 10.

And think about what Luke knew. Luke, when he wrote the book of Acts, he knew what Paul wrote 6 or 7 years earlier in 1 Corinthians 12–14. He knew what was happening in Corinth, and Luke still defines speaking in tongues as we hear them in our own language. No mention of anything ecstatic. That was the New Testament gift: speaking in a known language. Compare that with today’s tongues which are ecstatic speech. It’s not the same thing. Also, the gift of tongues, including 1 Corinthians 14 was a public gift meant for the edification of others. There had to be someone to interpret. Today’s are primarily a private prayer language. So today’s speaking in tongues has almost nothing in common with the New Testament gift except the word tongue.


Consider the nature of prophecy. This is also two different things. Contrary to Charismatic doctrine, nowhere does the New Testament ever distinguish the Old Testament prophets from New Testament prophets. Instead it equates them. There is no difference in any terms. Go through Acts, note the term prophet or prophecy, and notice that the Old Testament prophets and New Testament prophets are interspersed with not even a hint of distinction between them. That means New Testament spoke infallibly, just as the Old Testament prophets did. Just like the Old Testament prophets, their words to be evaluated against previous revelation, but once approved, their prophecies were added to the teaching of the apostles to form the foundation of the church.

Ironically in Acts 21:11, one of the favorite Charismatic verses, the prophet Agabus used exactly the Old Testament prophetic formula: “This is what the Spirit says.” No difference. So New Testament prophecy is direct, infallible revelation. That is not what is called prophecy in the 21st century charismatic movement. The most capable defender, Wayne Grudem, admits that prophecy as it’s practiced in the charismatic movement should not be prefaced with, “Thus saith the Lord.” He suggests, “I think this is what the Spirit might be saying.” That is not the New Testament gift of prophecy.


Consider the gift of healing. In the New Testament when someone with the New Testament gift of healing used his gifts, the results were complete, immediate, permanent, undeniable, every kind of sickness, and every kind of illness. The purported healings of today’s faith healers are the antithesis: incomplete, temporary, and unverifiable.

So the gifts are just not the same. And many Charismatics even agree with that. Grudem says, “No responsible Charismatic believes that today’s prophecy is infallible and inerrant revelation from God. … There is almost uniform testimony from all sections of the Charismatic movement that today’s prophecy is impure and contains elements that are not to be obeyed or trusted.” Now, we appreciate our brother, but if that were the standard, if that happened in Old Testament times, the prophet would be dead.

Third Wave theologian Jack Deer admitted, “Modern Charismatics do not claim to have apostolic quality gifts and miracle working abilities.” When Charismatics do claim the same level, and there are those  who do (e.g., limbs restored, resurrections), they are almost always hearsay, and if not, they have not been verified.

So the nature of the gifts practiced by today’s Charismatics is simply not the same as the nature of the New Testament gifts. And that’s because they’re not the New Testament gifts.

Argument 5: The Testimony of Church History

Let’s start with New Testament church history.

The practice of the miraculous gifts declines even during the Apostolic period. Pentecost and the events of Acts 2 happen within 10 days of the Lord’s ascension. The second mention occurs sometimes in the next 14 years. The third mention in Acts 19:6 occurs early in Paul’s ministry in Ephesus in the early 50s. 1 Corinthians, the only book outside of Acts that speaks about tongues was written in AD 55–56. If you align the New Testament letters based on when they were written, 1 Corinthians was only the fourth inspired letter that Paul wrote. Paul would write nine other canonical letters after 1 Corinthians to six different churches. There is never a mention of the gift of tongues again.

In the Pastoral Epistles, written near the end of Paul’s ministry as permanent directives for the post-Apostolic ministry of the church, there is no mention of the miraculous Apostolic gifts.

Turn to Hebrews 1. [Reads Heb 1:1-2] God’s last word is His Son, and those whom He appointed. That’s why when you come to Hebrews 2:1, he says, [Reads 2:1–3]. Now let me remind you that Hebrews was written almost certainly before the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Notice how the writer of Hebrews refers to the miraculous: He says, “It was first spoken through the Lord,” Generation 1: the Lord himself. Then a second generation: “…it was confirmed to us by those who heard.” There are the Apostles. The writer of Hebrews is putting himself in a third generation: “Us.” And he said of the 2nd generation, the Apostles, “God also testifying with them” not us, “by signs, wonders, and gifts of the spirit.” Already, before AD 70, the writer of Hebrews is saying, “That was then and this is now. That’s something the Lord and the Apostles did and we witnessed.”

So even before the Scripture was complete, the miraculous gifts had already begun their decline. The miracles intended to confirm the apostles and their message had already begun to die out.

When we leave New Testament history, we discover that the testimony of the church after that era was exactly the same: the miraculous gifts ceased with the Apostles.

John Chrysostom (c. 344–407):  “This whole place [speaking about the gifts in 1 Cor. 12] is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place.”

Augustine (354–430):  “In the earliest times, the Holy Spirit fell upon them that believe and they spoke with tongues, which they had not learned, as the Spirit gave them utterance. …That thing was done for a sign, and it passed away.”

Martin Luther (1483–1546):  “This visible outpouring of the Holy Spirit was necessary to the establishment of the early Church, as were also the miracles that accompanied the gift of the Holy Ghost. … Once the Church had been established and properly advertised by these miracles, the visible appearance of the Holy Ghost ceased.”

John Calvin (1509–1564): “The gift of healing, like the rest of the miracles, which the Lord willed to be brought forth for a time, has vanished away in order to make the preaching of the Gospel marvelous for ever.”

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758): “Of the extraordinary gifts, they were given ‘in order to the founding and establishing of the church in the world. But since the canon of Scriptures has been completed, and the Christian church fully founded and established, these extraordinary gifts have ceased.”

Charles Spurgeon: “…those earlier miraculous gifts … have departed from us.

B.B. Warfield: “…these gifts … were distinctively the authentication of the apostles. They were part of the credentials of the apostles as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their function thus confined them to distinctively the apostolic church and they necessarily passed away with it. …The miraculous working which is but the sign of God’s revealing power, cannot be expected to continue, and in point of fact does not continue, after the revelation of which it is the accompaniment has been completed.”

Although it’s true that there were scattered reports of the miraculous throughout church history, there is consistent testimony from the church’s key leaders that the miraculous gifts ended with the Apostolic age.

This raises a huge problem for our continuationist friends. As Sinclair Ferguson expressed, continuationism provides no consistent theological explanation for the disappearance of gifts in church history.

Argument 6: The Sufficiency of Scripture

Dr. Lawson plans to address this tonight, so I’ll be brief. The canon of Scripture closed with the Apostles and their companions. The New Testament teaches that the result of a completed canon is an all-sufficient Scripture. [Reads 2 Timothy 3:16-17] – “…adequate, fully equipped for every good work.” There’s nothing left!

The man of God needs no additional revelation from God; he has it all right here [in the Bible]. Jesus is not calling or equipping through a 21st century best seller. He’s calling and teaching through His Spirit through a 2 to 3,000 year old best seller. The spirit speaks only in and through the inspired world.

Luther, commenting on Psalm 119, wrote, “God wants to give you His Spirit only through the external Word.” God gave us a book. It’s not subjective. It’s outside of us. It’s in words, sentences, paragraphs, that we can read and study. We don’t have to wonder if that message in our mind is from God or not. We have a message from God.

Luther said again, “Let the man who would hear God speak read Holy Scripture.”

Argument 7: The New Testament Rules Laid Down for the Miraculous Gifts

Turn to 1 Corinthians 14, where Paul lays out specific guidelines for how two of the miraculous gifts were to be practiced.

Verse 27 and 28: speaking in tongues. Whenever the biblical New Testament gift of tongues was to be practiced, there were specific rules. First of all: two or at the most three were to speak in tongues in a given service (1 Cor 14:27). Secondly, they were to speak one at a time (1 Cor 14:27). There had to be order and structure, because that’s like God. Thirdly, someone needed to be there to interpret (1 Cor 14:27-28). No one was allowed to speak in tongues in the corporate worship of the church unless someone else understood that language and could interpret. Why? Because how could they tell if he was telling the truth or not? Fourthly, women were not allowed to speak in tongues in corporate worship (1 Cor 14:34).

In verses 29 to 34, Paul regulates the gift of prophecy. Rule number 1: Two or at the most three (14:29). Secondly, other prophets and the congregation were to evaluate those prophecies against previous revelation (14:29). They were to speak one at a time (14:30-33).  Fourthly, women are not allowed to prophesy in the corporate worship (14:34).

Look at those verses and think about those guidelines. Tragically, most Charismatic practice today clearly disregards those clearly given biblical commands. So not only are they not the same gifts, but the clear directives laid down for the practice of the gifts are ignored. And so the Holy Spirit is not honored. Instead he is routinely grieved and disobeyed. The result is not a work of the Spirit but of the flesh. Clear rebellion, even if it were the New Testament gifts.

How Should We Respond?

For Convinced Cessationists

First, don’t overreact and downplay the crucial role of the Spirit in your life. Don’t allow His work to be hijacked by those who abuse his name.

Secondly, hold to your confidence in the all-sufficient Word. We may soon be in a minority, but we stand in the historic position of the church and in the light of Scripture.

Third, know what you believe and why.

Fourth, reject all forms of continuing revelation, including the favorite evangelical form: subjective impressions from God. Don’t ever say, “God told me.” Don’t talk about feeling something from God. Luther has said it: “God has given us the external Word.” “He who would hear God speak, let him read the Word.” Don’t give credence to the charismatic movement by our own version of mystical talk.

Finally, respond wisely to the different kinds of continuationists. There are different kinds. To the false teachers who deny the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, don’t be afraid to say with Jesus, “When you make a proselyte, you make him twice a son of hell as yourselves.” Don’t be afraid to use the language of Jude and 2 Peter. Don’t be afraid to say with Paul that they teach another Gospel, and they will be damned (cf. Galatians 1). To the Charismatics in the movement, confront them with the biblical Gospel. When it comes to our Charismatic brothers, those who profess faith in the biblical Jesus and biblical Gospel, graciously clarify the nature of the true biblical gifts as we’ve done this morning. Treat them as brothers, but don’t downplay the serious and significant differences. The sufficiency of Scripture is at stake.

For Charismatics, or The Unconvinced:

Don’t allow yourself for the sake of peace to simply refuse to come to a convinced position. Don’t embrace the “open, but cautious” stance out of a desire for peace, or acceptance with peers, or just because it’s cool right now. Be like the Bereans. Search the Scriptures.

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

– Martin Luther –

 May God make us faithful to Him and His Word.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • reformed charismatic

    I appreciate your taking time to address this issue in such a thorough manner. There’s a lot in this article, and there are a lot of counterpoints and follow up questions to many points that you made. I’ll limit this post to only a few.

    First, I’ll say that I’ve gone back and forth on this issue over the years, largely because I didn’t see much of those gifts in practice at large in the church today. But I landed in the continuationist camp where I’ve been for some time now, for the same reason that I’m reformed: it seems that the continuationists give the clearest, most convincing exposition of scripture. And I have to shape my theology around the word, not around what I see or don’t see in my experience.

    “The chief arguments they put forward are these. First, the New Testament
    nowhere directly states that the miraculous gifts will cease during the
    church age. But that argument cuts both ways, because the New Testament
    doesn’t directly say they’ll continue either.”

    I’m having trouble with that statement because I think a good reformed theologian would not use such logic with any other aspect of how God works. It would be akin to someone saying that the bible doesn’t directly say that God won’t cease from electing people or cease from preserving them to the end. It doesn’t have to directly say that. The bible has stated how God works, and if one wishes to prove that it has somehow changed, the onus is on him. So no, I don’t think that it cuts both ways.

    “Their favorite example of that is 1 Corinthians 13:10.
    They argue that that means that only when Christ returns will the
    partial gifts of tongues and prophecy cease. However, as you know, this
    is a very highly disputed passage, and there are a number of possible
    interpretations, and there are disagreements on both sides of the issue
    on that passage. So they cannot legitimately support their theology and
    practice from such a controversial passage. In fact, for most of church
    history this very passage was used to prove cessationism”

    It seems that you are saying here that a cessationist can’t support his arguement from this passage just because it’s controversial and debated. But again, let’s apply that reasoning to other aspects of theology. Romans 9 and Ephesians 1 are painfully obvious and straightforward. But they continue to be highly controversial and their meanings have been debated throughout the centuries. In fact, there’s a lot of church history in which church leaders have championed incorrect interpretations of these passages so as to avoid God’s sovereignty. By your reasoning then, we can’t legitimately defend reformed theology from Ephesians 1 and Romans 9. That just doesn’t work for me.

    But I am genuinely interested: how is “the perfect” possibly talking about the complete canon? Do we now know fully even as we are fully known? Do we see Christ more clearly than Paul did? Getting hung up on what kind of noun “perfect” is doesn’t do away with all of the rest of the words that follow after. It seems much more sensible to me that the perfect is talking about the return of Christ. Then, we will know fully, rather than looking through a mirror dimly.

    Thanks for taking time to read this rather long comment, and I look forward to hearing from you. I’m not strongly, emotionally attached to continuationism, so I think I’m willing to concede that it isn’t correct, if I can just be convinced from scripture. But as of yet, I just haven’t been.

    • Hello there. Thanks for reading, and for your comment. It’s refreshing to see that some in the continuationist camp are still exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit in their responses to this whole thing.

      You ask two very good questions, and I do hope to answer them. But I want to observe, first, that neither of your two objections come from the substance of Tom’s message–i.e., the seven biblical arguments for cessationism–but only from his short responses to common continuationist arguments. I know space is limited, and I wouldn’t expect you to dissect this 5,000+ message line by line. But I think that’s an observation worth making.

      As to the “cuts both ways” point, it’s important to keep in mind how Tom is reasoning here. He’s not saying that an argument for the cessation of the gifts is that the NT is silent about their continuance. He’s saying that the continuationist often appeals to what they perceive as the silence of the NT about the cessation of the gifts. And so if you’re going to make the appeal to the absence of direct, explicit statements in Scripture to support your theology, continuationists have to deal with the fact that they don’t have that either.

      In point of fact, however, this winds up being a moot point, as Tom goes on to show in his message that the NT is not silent about the cessation of the gifts, and, even if it was that it wouldn’t be without precedent, since we can all agree that the gift of Apostleship (the Paul- and Peter-level gift of Apostleship) has passed away without an explicit statement saying, “There are no more Apostles.”

      Regarding the 1 Corinthians 13 thing, you raise a good point. Disagreement over the interpretation of a passage doesn’t mean that’s off limits for theological argumentation. If it did, we might as well close our Bibles now!

      But I don’t think that’s what Tom was saying. The difference I see between the Romans 9 / Ephesians 1 examples and 1 Corinthians 13, is that this text is specifically used by both sides to prove their case. Romans 9 and Ephesians 1 are texts that usually wind up having to be “explained away” by the appeal to other texts. But in the case of 1 Corinthians 13, both cessationists and continuationists have appealed to it to positively make their case. I think it makes it unique. You can read more about 1 Corinthians 13 and its various interpretations under #2 in this post.

      Was that point Tom’s strongest argument? No. And so there’s some merit in pointing that out. But there’s more merit in dealing with his strongest arguments on biblical grounds, which I pray my continuationist brethren will do.

      Thanks again for reading, brother. Blessings!

      • Anil Jacob

        Dear Mike: I wonder if you have seen the discussion — also quite cordial and warm — between Ian Hamilton and Wayne Grudem on the point of the continuity of prophecy. IT took place in the UK in 2010 at the Proclamation Trust. The link is here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2012/02/23/a-debate-on-the-continuation-of-prophecy/) One very telling biblical verse that Grudem cited (and which was appreciated by Hamilton) concerned I Thessalonians 5:19-20. Paul would not have written “do not despise prophetic utterances” *in addition to* “but test everything* unless this was a reference to the prophetic utterances which required testing. In other words, though OT prophecy has the status of canonical scripture, this is not the case with reference to this sort of prophecy. He did not state, “test everything” to include Scripture. Think about this and let us know what you think.

        • I am familiar with that debate, and MacArthur has even referenced it before, although I’m not sure it has come up at Strange Fire. MacArthur understands that passage to indicate that you test every prophecy against scripture. In other words, prophecy in/of itself is not new scripture, but the proclaiming of already revealed revleation. In many passages then, “prophecy” is used to mean not the foretelling of things, but the forthtelling of what has already been revealed in Scripture. This understanding sees a difference b/w prophecy and the miraculous gift of prophecy. Paul’s command in 1 thess 5 concerns the ongoing work of proclaiming god’s word, and in that sense prophecy is still on going today, and is NOT one of the miraculous gifts.
          But it seems that at strangefire (and in the charismatic circles) that the word prophecy isn’t used that way. Its used in the sense of receiving new revelation from God. In that sense it would be miraculous. If Grudem’s understanding of that verse is true, how could you test it against Scripture anyway, if it is new revelation?
          Thus I think the most straightforward way to understand prophecy in 1 Thess 5 is in the vein of “forthtelling of already revealed revelation,” or “preaching,” and that should always be tested against Scripture.
          That is a rather nuanced answer, but I hope it helps.

          • reformed charismatic

            I’ve never understood prophecy to mean continuing revelation that is on par with scripture. Neither do any of my reformed charismatic brothers or sisters, or even the non-reformed charismatic brethren with whom I have fellowship with (although from some statements he made at the conference, MacArthur would hesitate to even call them brethren). Herein lies the problem with lumping together whole groups with such vast differences and having a conference that supposes it is addressing their common “error.”

          • Anil Jacob

            Thoughtful response, indeed. Many thanks. Anil

      • reformed charismatic

        Firstly, thanks for being gracious about
        the fact that I addressed you as if those were your words, rather than a
        transcript from the sermon! (Let’s hope I’m reading the Word a little more

        As you said, it’s impossible to address everything
        line by line, but I’ll attempt to get at the substance of his arguments as you suggested.

        Argument 1: The Unique Role of Miracles – I
        found this point to be very educational, and I see the pattern that he’s laying
        out. I just can’t help thinking of Joel 2:28-32, which Peter quotes in the
        sermon at Pentecost, and how that creates some discontinuity in the pattern. We
        see here that unlike times past, these miraculous gifts were going to be given
        to all of the people (not just to select messengers.) And I’m admittedly shaky
        on eschatology, but we know that this started at Pentecost, because Peter said
        so, and it appears in the last few verses, that it is something that culminates
        with the return of Christ. And of course, even during New Testament times, it
        wasn’t just apostles who were prophesying, speaking in tongues, etc. So it
        seems the pattern breaks down on at least two levels.

        Argument 2: The End of the Gift of
        Apostleship – Ok, this one seems compelling, except the bible itself doesn’t
        limit apostleship to the twelve and to Paul. Luke calls Barnabas an apostle in
        Acts 14:14, and puts him on par with Paul, with whom he was laboring. Epaphroditus
        is called a messenger in Philippians 2:25. But the Greek word is apostolos, the
        exact same word that is translated apostle elsewhere. So, while I’m not willing
        to die on the hill that says Epaphroditus was an apostle, I think there’s a
        very good chance that he was, especially since Barnabas was. And neither of
        those men saw the resurrected Christ, which is supposedly a prerequisite for
        being an apostle. Doesn’t it make sense in light of that, that maybe
        cessationists are reading a little too much into Acts 1:2 by saying that this
        is a requirement of all apostles from here on out?

        Now I’m not saying that anyone today is
        going around writing inspired scripture or has seen the resurrected Christ, but
        since the Bible acknowledges at least two apostles who don’t fit all the
        criteria, perhaps we’ve made a mistake. Perhaps those things don’t necessarily
        go along with apostleship. Kind of like “all squares are rectangles, but not
        all rectangles are squares.”

        Nonetheless, I see the point that at least
        something is different. And I’m not even sure where I land on this thing about
        apostles. I’m certainly weary of most “apostolic ministries” out there, and I
        pretty much write anyone off who introduces himself as Apostle So-and-So. But
        at this point, if I were to suddenly adopt cessationism, I wouldn’t have a good
        answer to the aforementioned inconsistencies.

        This is getting quite long, and I’ve only
        addressed two points. And it’s nearly 4:45 in the afternoon where I live, and I
        have some prior engagements calling me. I do hope to continue this
        conversation, though, and I find it very exhilarating!

      • reformed charismatic

        Hi Mike,

        I’m sure you’re quite busy with other obligations, and I know there are comments all over the different transcripts that you’re trying to respond to, but I do hope our conversation isn’t forgotten. I really do want to hash this thing out and get to what the bible actually teaches.

        In addition to my other critiques, I’d like to post a link to my friend Christian’s blog post in which he critiques this sermon. As of yet, he only has part 1 posted, but parts 2 and 3 are on their way. I’d love to get your thoughts on it. Also, any other contributors to the cripple gate are more than welcome to chime in.

        If it gets to be a little cumbersome to continue this discussion in the comments section here, I’d be happy to move it elsewhere. (email, perhaps)


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  • Most of these arguments are not very good. John Chrysostomos was probably the first cessationist in world history, all other church fathers believed in miraculous gifts – including Augustine (he thought that tongues had ceased but not healing and other miracles). The arguments for the cessation of the apostolic ministry are very weak – Paul surely didn’t witness Christ in His incarnational form but in a vision, and many Christian leaders today that I would call apostolic have seen Jesus in visions. And to say that tongues today is not in real languages is incorrect – I have met several who have spoken “real” languages in the power of the Holy Spirit.

    There’s much more to say but I want to refer to a blog post I just wrote where I bring up this arguments. You can find it at http://holyspiritactivism.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/a-response-to-tom-penningtons-seven-cessationist-arguments/


    • Michael

      I totally agree with much of what you’ve said here.

      I honestly do not understand how a biblical argument for the cessation of the spiritual gifts can be made.

      Paul said to not despise speaking in tongues, and to desire to prophecy. Jesus demonstrated the gifts on numerous occasions, taught his disciples to do the same, and his parting words were “make disciples of all nations teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” This included Jesus’ teaching in Matthew that the disciples should, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons.”

      Not to mention, Jesus said “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” Jesus is clearly speaking in the context of His miracles here.

      The belief in the continuing work of the Holy Spirit through the spiritual gifts is just as valid as belief in the Trinity. The doctrinal beliefs share many things in common. Not once is the word “Trinity” mentioned in Scripture, nor is the doctrine explained in any kind of formal manner. The same can be said of the continuation of the spiritual gifts.

      However, when you look at the whole breadth of Scripture and attempt to draw it together, the Trinity comes into view and begins to make sense — as do the spiritual gifts and the continuing movement of the Holy Spirit.

      Before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, I think we need closely examine what is in error and what is not. Any charismatic believer will most likely agree that there are abuses, and those should be confronted.

      I am concerned that we might be misguided in our attempts to control those abuses of the charismatic movement.

      Just as most of mainstream media in North America has caricatured the American pastor as being a bible thumping, young earth, naive, superficial, uptight, strict, hypocritical, and totally out of touch with the world, religious nut… it seems that some of the arguments out of this conference attempt to categorize all charismatics as being biblically illiterate, prosperity minded, Donald Duck’s in a spiritual disney land.

      But that’s just not the reality.

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