February 22, 2013

The Cripplegate on Cessation and Continuation

by Mike Riccardi

dinityIn light of Eric’s excellent series over the past few days, I imagine there are many questions that are generated in the minds of our readers regarding the nature of spiritual gifts. Those of us at The Cripplegate have actually dedicated quite a bit of time to clearing up misconceptions of cessationism and responding to popular continuationist arguments. I thought it would be beneficial, then, to highlight those posts and present them in a sort of indexed fashion so as to make them as accessible as possible. While we make absolutely no claim of being exhaustive, we hope this provides some answers to the more popular questions and arguments.

An Introduction to the Issue

Probably the best place to start is in understanding What Cessationism is Not. This would prevent arguing against straw men, and is all-around more helpful in advancing the discussion. Note: this is the place to go if you think the cessationist case stands or falls on an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:10.

A good “next stop” is Nate’s post on Why I’m Not a Charismatic. He answers the question in less than 100 words, and then takes only another 100 to clarify. It’s an excellent introduction to the issue, and the content simply cannot be overlooked in any honest handling of the cessation/continuation debate.

Apostles

Very few theologians believe that there are Apostles in the church today. That fact alone means that they are “cessationists” in at least some sense of the word. In fact, in his book, To be Continued?, Sam Waldron has demonstrated that the cessation of the office and gift of the Apostle implies the cessation of the other miraculous/revelatory gifts.

But for those who would dispute even that, and argue that there are indeed Apostles in the church today, Nate provides five reasons why that is not the case.

Prophecy

The most common understanding of contemporary prophecy, popularized by Wayne Grudem, is that unlike the biblical gift contemporary prophecy may be fallible. While there has been much exegetical and theological discussion of Grudem’s two-tier prophecy paradigm, Nate offers five pastoral concerns with the notion of “fallible prophecy.”

“But certainly fallible prophecy is a New Testament concept,” someone objects. “Just look at Agabus’ prophecy in Acts 21! Didn’t he get that wrong?” Nate responds and seeks to keep us from Throwing Prophecy under the Agabus.

If we cessationists say that the gift of prophecy has ceased, what do we do with passages in the New Testament that command us to earnestly desire that greater gift (1 Cor 14:1) and to not despise prophetic utterance (1 Thess 5:20)? I attempt to answer that objection by examining those texts contextually and by honoring the uniqueness of the first-century church.

“But haven’t you heard about Spurgeon reading people’s minds from the pulpit? What was that if not prophecy?” Almost every time I have this kind of discussion, someone brings up Spurgeon’s “impressions.” Here’s a post that puts that to rest.

“Well if not Spurgeon, then certainly Martyn Lloyd-Jones, right?” Here is the good doctor on the gift of prophecy.

Tongues

TonguesNate confesses that he speaks in tongues, and then goes on to explain why that doesn’t mean what you probably think it means. Is the gift of tongues the speaking of non-cognitive-bearing content as a private prayer language, or the supernatural ability to speak previously-unlearned, authentic human languages? Find out in Facebook Gibberish and the Real Gift of Tongues.

Many purport that that last question is a false dichotomy, arguing that the New Testament provides evidence for at least two different kinds of gifts of tongues. Is that true? Are there Two Types of Tongues?

Clint responds to the simple question, “Why don’t you believe tongues are for today?” by simply detailing the conditions Paul prescribes for the practice of tongues. Read the Ten Darts that Burst the ‘Tongues’ Bubble.

If that was too brief for you, Josiah Grauman expounds on those prescriptions in a two-part series on Speaking with Tongues-Speakers.

But perhaps the best refutation of the contemporary gift of tongues is the argument which many proponents hail as its greatest defense. You won’t want to miss DCRSN’s Defense of Continuationism.

Healings / Miracles

Though we haven’t dealt extensively with healings apart from the discussion of the gifts in general, Nate posted a helpful response to inquiries about Augustine’s reports of the miraculous in his day. The post does an excellent job of dispelling the (if I may, ridiculous) idea that cessationists do not believe in the supernatural. Read about Augustine and Miracles in History.

“You cessationists are just putting God in a box!” Clint Archer explains how Limiting Miracles is not Limiting God. This two-part series includes an excellent explanation of the doctrine of divine providence in the context of miracles.

And because we just don’t have another place for it, I wanted to include here Nate’s biblical evaluation of being “slain in the spirit.” What should we think about this common charismatic practice?

* * * * * * * * *

As I said, it’s not exhaustive, and I’m sure we’ll add to this list in the weeks and months to come. But it’s not bad for a year-and-a-half-old blog, right?

If you’d really like to dig into the issue further in the “blogosphere” format, I really encourage you to follow what our friends over at PyroManiacs have said on the issue over the years. There aren’t a whole lot of stones that they’ve left unturned, but that means you’ll have to do some digging to find the particular answers to your questions.

And be sure not to miss the Strange Fire Conference coming up in October, which surely promises deal with the issue head-on.

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.