In yesterday’s post, I introduced some of the popular misconceptions about cessationism from the recent Desiring God conference session, “Sovereign Grace, Spiritual Gifts, and the Pastor: How Should a Reformed Pastor Be Charismatic?”
In it, Pastor Tope Koleoso asserted that Reformed pastors “should” and “must” also be charismatic. The bulk of his message implied that cessationism is an insufficient position for pastors to hold because it: fears the work of the Holy Spirit; preaches a deficient gospel; is pragmatic; does not rely on or believe in the Holy Spirit; and cannot rightly do battle against Satan and demonic forces (among other things). The first three misconceptions were addressed yesterday. Here are the remaining two:
Misconception #4: Cessationists do not rely on, believe in, or think they need the Holy Spirit.
Using Christ’s ministry as the starting point, Koleoso remarked:
“The Spirit came upon [Jesus] and this triggered the beginning of his ministry… I want to submit to you that if he needed the Holy Spirit, it’s nothing short of arrogance for us to think, ‘We’ll just go, we’ll be fine.’ The plan is not just for you to go. The plan is for you to go and be fruitful.”
Koleoso obviously assumes that cessationists fail to do ministry “by the Spirit,” or–worse–do not even believe in the necessity of the Spirit.
He is not alone in this wrong assumption. Scott Thomas, a former president of Acts 29, commented on cessationism by saying, “We [Acts 29] believe it’s not God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Bible. And we don’t believe it is God formerly known as God the Holy Spirit. May he rest in peace.”
Frankly, cessationists rightly tire from these sorts of strange statements which reflect a severely misguided understanding of cessationist pneumatology. To my continuationist brothers and sisters: Please stop making this claim. On behalf of cessationists, I want to tell you that when you say things like that you make your view look embarrassingly elementary. It shows you have not done your theological or historical homework. It’s like saying, “You don’t believe in Santa Claus? Wow, then you must deny the existence of Christmas.”
Cessationists are not Dinitarians. No cessationist has ever put out a book on the glories of the Dinity. We have not slain the Spirit, nor would we ever want to. Cessationists have pneumatology sections in their systematics; it’s not as if we have been silent on the Spirit’s real work.
Cessationists believe in, cling to, hope in, trust in, are filled with, and love the Holy Spirit. We are so desperately dependent on him. Cessationists love the Holy Spirit like a baby loves his bottle, blanket, and binky. With Adrian Rogers, cessationists cry, “I’d rather die than minister without the Holy Spirit.” And as cessationist preachers ascend to the pulpit before every sermon, with Spurgeon, we cry, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Our fear, thousands of times beyond what the Holy Spirit “might do,” is that we would minister without his illuminating, sanctifying, and enabling power. For that reason cessationists labor, trembling and in prayer, for exegetical integrity in all they do, so as to do ministry in the Spirit.
What would one do without the Spirit? How could we have fellowship with Christ? How could we have the new birth, or the forming of Christ in us and the flock, or the apprehension of the word, or the power to minister and preach and shepherd, or his hope and assurance? Our preaching would be in total vain without him; our words in counseling and from the pulpit would be mere vibrations of air molecules; inert objects falling on impenetrable hearts of the unwakable dead. Who else besides the Spirit could take our words and plant them in the heart of the dead to supernaturally bloom to 30, 60, and 100-fold? Please, charismatic brothers, cease accusing (knowingly or unknowingly) cessationists of dinitarianism. At the very least, say something like, “Though we know you believe in the Spirit, we disagree with your view of how he works.”
Cessationists believe in the Spirit. Keep in mind that the one of the greatest works ever completed on the Holy Spirit is a 900+ page tome by John Owen… a cessationist. Owen’s colossal work on the Spirit will not likely be matched in exegetical and biblical competence anytime soon (here it is for .99 on Kindle). And its a work which ought to make contemporary evangelicalism blush at our pneumatological shallowness.
Sinclair Ferguson said of Owen and his work, “He realized that central to the Reformation’s rediscovery of the gospel had been the place, person and power of the Spirit. He saw (as Warfield later did) that Calvin was the theologian of the Holy Spirit.” Again, in addition to Owen, Warfield and Calvin were cessationists who believed in the Holy Spirit.
We would have to conclude, then, that Reformed pastors need not be charismatic, since cessationists believe whole-heartedly and most honorably in the Person and power of the Holy Spirit.
Misconception #5: Cessationists cannot rightly do battle against Satan and demonic forces.
“What do you do when there’s a demonic situation in the camp [church, congregation]? You cannot theologize Satan away. You can’t lecture him away. You need the power of the Holy Spirit…this is a supernatural calling… So pastor, you need this.”
Cessationists cry out a hand-raising “Amen!” to the idea that we need the power of the Spirit in dealing with that which is not-flesh-and-blood. But not for the same reasons as charismatics.
Koleoso’s comment is another example of driving a non-existent wedge between Scripture and the Spirit. It’s a boogeyman distinction. Cessationists do not believe that ministry can be done absent from the power and filling of the Holy Spirit.
Though Koleoso might not voice it, there is dangerous thinking behind his too-popular assertion, “You cannot theologize Satan away.” First, it assumes that Scripture is insufficient for effectively facing the prince of the power of the air. It’s the perilous idea that “the Bible is good for some things, but something more is needed for the real big spiritual issues.” Second, the statement assumes that relying on Scripture excludes reliance on the Spirit.
I agree with Koleoso that in our own strength we cannot conquer Satan and his minions. Cessationists know that. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us as we minister, to regenerate those under his oppression, and sanctify us as we struggle. But, one certainly can “theologize Satan away.” In fact, we are commanded to do so.
I assume that “theologize” means to rely on truths of Scripture for strength beyond ourselves against things stronger than flesh-and-blood. The prescribed means to do so are given in Ephesians 6: “truth” (v. 14), “righteousness” (v. 14), “the gospel of peace” (v. 15), “faith” (v. 16), “salvation” (v. 17), and “the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God” (v. 17).
Notice a few things about the prescribed means for facing spiritual warfare: Scripture is “truth” (John 17:17), individuals attain “righteousness” through the Spirit’s application of Scripture (Ps 19:7, Rom 10:14-15, John 17:17), the “gospel of peace” is the message from Scripture by which one is at peace with God (Rom 5:1), “faith” is the assurance of things hoped for which are tangible and unalterable promises contained in Scripture (Heb 11:1), “salvation,” and the protection thereof, is assured to us by what the Spirit has spoken in Scripture (Rom 8:29-30), and the Spirit’s one weapon, the “sword,” is what he has spoken: Scripture.
So not only can we theologize Satan away, but we must. The weapon of choice in the face of spiritual struggles is the Spirit-inspired word of God. To say otherwise is to make that non-existent distinction between the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the Word. We do not need more than Scripture to battle the devil. We need only Scripture, for that is the Spirit-given armor with which we stand and according to which the Holy Spirit works. So theology is the thing which the Spirit uses to theologize Satan away.
Koleoso additionally remarked that according to Matthew 4:23:
“Jesus went around all Galilee teaching…preaching…healing…delivering. He went around teaching, preaching, healing, and delivering. The church in the west basically only wants to do two things: preach and teach. It doesn’t want to do the healing and the delivering because when you stand and teach, if you’re articulate, if you have a suave way about you, you can pull this thing off…and people won’t even realize there is no Holy Spirit in it because it’s just so smooth.”
Once again, this unhelpfully assumes a few things. First, he assumes that the gift of healing, which is the at-will ability to completely and instantly heal, still exists (Cessationists believe whole-heartedly that God heals. The difference is that we say God heals, while the NT gift of healing was the Apostle healing at will, and that gift has passed). Second, it assumes that the ministry of the word is insufficient to “deliver” people suffering due to Satan or demons. But, God can heal or deliver as we rightly minister the sword of the Spirit. Further, the ministry of the word (again, which is doing ministry by the Spirit) is certainly sufficient to transform lives, no matter what oppression they may be under. Cessationism is the most effective, God-given way by which we can approach and honor God when dealing with spiritual issues.
We would have to conclude, then, that Reformed pastors need not be charismatic, because to do so would steer away from effectively battling all that is not-flesh-and-blood.
In tomorrow’s wrap up post, we’ll look at what seem to be the deeper errors underneath the call to continuationism.