The Problem with Cessationism

Cessationists apparently have the reputation of not believing in miracles after the apostolic age:

No issue has been more controversial among Protestants in the past 40 years than the charismatic gifts and the role of miracles in the post-apostolic age. The issue was controversial in previous eras of Protestant history, too, although theological lines were not usually drawn as hard and fast as they are between “cessationists” and “continuationists” today.

In the 1700s and 1800s, suspicion of claimed miracles was connected to anti-Catholicism. Protestant critics saw the Catholic tradition as riddled with fake claims of miracles. Ridiculing the fake miracle claims of Catholics (such as icons bleeding a liquid that turned out to be cherry juice) became a staple of Reformed polemics against the Catholic Church. So when seemingly miraculous events happened in Protestant churches, even sympathetic observers warned against the threat of bogus miracles.

Odd, but the cessationists I know all affirm the ongoing reality of miracles. How could you ever believe in people lost in sin becoming regenerate without resorting to the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit?

The real problem comes with the “gift” of speaking in tongues. Why do we need ongoing revelations from God if scripture is sufficient?

1. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing: which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased. (CofF 1.1 emphasis added)

6. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. (CofF 1.6 emphasis added)

Continuationists who want to defend tongues are in the same predicament as Roman Catholics who defend the continuing infallible teaching of the magisterium and the authority of tradition. Does God’s word have all we need for salvation and godliness? Or do we need ongoing revelations for becoming right with God? If you make an infallible pope or a Spirit-filled Christian the arbiter of Christianity, you deny the sufficiency of Scripture.



The Book for which New Calvinists Have Been Waiting

Recovering Mother Kirk was at one time selling for upwards of $200 at some used book outlets, much more a function of economics than of talent (Baker pulled the plug sooner than markets became saturated). Now it is back in print, thanks to the folks at Wipf & Stock. Here is a sample that may attract the young restless sovereigntists:

To hear some proponents of contemporary worship one would think that the church of Jesus Christ had never been able to worship well and properly until the advent of praise songs, Contemporary Christian music, and greater expressiveness in church services. Bill Hybels, for instance, the pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, the flagship congregation for so many of the innovations in late-twentieth-century Christian worship, admitted in a recent interview that he did not understand worship until the mid-1980s while attending a conference at Jack Hayford’s (the author of the now classic praise song, “Majesty”) Church on the Way. There Hybels witnessed a worship leader who was prepared and was able “to take us from where we were, into the presence of God.” After forty-five minutes to an hour of singing when the leader assisted in “adoring,” “confessing before,” and “expressing our absolute trust and devotion” to God, Hybels went back to his hotel room and said “This changes everything!” “Every Christian should regularly experience what I did tonight.”

Key to Hybels’ new conception of worship was the biblical teaching that Christians are to worship their God “in spirit and in truth.” This meant not only that sounding teaching was important for worship, as in a good sermon, but also that believers need to be “emotionally alive and engaged” in the experience of worship. Indeed, what has been crucial to the success and appeal of the newer forms of worship has been a rediscovery of the work and presence of the third person of the Trinity in the gathering of believers to bring praise and honor to God. One Reformed pastor, whose congregation began to incorporate some of the recent worship innovations in his services, says that when his church “discovered a new way to sing praise” the power of the Spirit “washed over us that day.” Previously this congregation had only given “lip service to the Spirit” but now they were uniquely aware of the “gentle presence of the third person of the Trinity.” Likewise, Jack Hayford, writing for Leadership magazine, links the newer forms of worship directly with the Spirit. “Expressive worship cultivates a willingness to be taught by and to submit to the Holy Spirit.” This connection between sponteneity, informality and emotional intensity in contemporary worship explains the popularity of such phrases as “spirit filled,” or “spirit led” in discussions about worship. The presence of the Holy Spirit, along with the signs of his presence, means that worship is not only of God but authentic, sincere and right.

These appeals to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, however much they spring from sincere devotion, reflect a profound misunderstanding of the third person of the Trinity. Advocates of spirit-filled worship act as if the work of the Holy Spirit has been inextricably bound up with the use of praise songs, electric guitars and overhead projectors. Few of these writers seem to remember exactly when and where Jesus said that his disciples were to worship in “spirit and truth.” As it happened, our Lord said those words almost two-thousand years ago in Samaria and his intention in uttering that phrase was not prophetic, as if he saw a day, two millennia in the future, when his people would finally apprehend the reality of spirit-filled worship. In fact, coming to terms with Christ’s meaning in this widely appealed to phrase, “in spirit and truth,” clarifies what Christian worship is because it explains the work of the Holy Spirit both in the salvation of God’s people and in the period of redemptive history after the ascension of Christ. (from “Spirit Filled Worship,” pp. 91-92)

Who Me (all about Stellman)?

Jason Stellman feels singled out by Peter Leithart’s post about the “tragedy” of conversion. Leithart wrote:

Apart from all the detailed historical arguments, this quest makes an assumption about the nature of time, an assumption that I have labeled “tragic.” It’s the assumption that the old is always purer and better, and that if we want to regain life and health we need to go back to the beginning.

Jason responds:

I would be curious to hear Leithart actually cite a convert who made a statement that betrayed an assumption like “old is always purer and better.” My guess is that the reason he makes no such appeal is that few, if any, of us have actually said something like that. I certainly didn’t.

Right, officer, I wasn’t “breaking the speed limit,” I was actually going 85 miles per hour. If Jason can’t find himself in all of those tendentious posts and comments about the early church fathers (still no mention of an early church pope, mind you), then he still has a strong dose of Calvary Chapel literalism in him. In other words, if he doesn’t think he gains traction in debates by citing the early church — the very church Christ founded, I’ve heard — then he should stick to Balthasar and de Lubac.

To add insult to injury, Stellman lauds the development of doctrine as precisely the vehicle which makes Rome the “conversion-destination” of choice:

I mean, if there’s an ancient expression of Christianity that refuses to grow up or adapt to the times, it’s certainly not the Catholic Church (I’ll leave you to figure out who it might be [*cough-EO-cough*]).

I’ll believe Stellman believes in development of doctrine when he wires his affirmation of high papalism to historic and contemporary efforts to make Rome more conciliar. So far, I have not seen his communion or its members wean themselves away from a version of papal supremacy that went hand in hand with opposition to Italian nationalism, religious freedom, and the separation of church and state.

Grow up? Indeed.

First Baptists, Now Reformed Charismatics?

Not if John MacArthur has anything to say about it. I read at various blogs that the California pastor recently sponsored a conference, Strange Fire, in which he and other speakers took aim at charismatics. MacArthur affirms, so I’m told, cessationism.

For the life of me I don’t understand why Protestants outside churches that confess a Reformed confession want to be known as Reformed or Calvinist. (Actually, I have a hunch but that is a topic for another time). Lutherans do not seem to have this problem. Baptists don’t want to be Lutheran. Baptists, in fact, are often suspicious of Lutherans on sacramental grounds. Charismatics also do not seem to want to be Lutheran. Perhaps Lutheranism doesn’t offer the full-throated version of divine sovereignty that Calvinism does. Either way, one of the attractions of Lutheranism for (all about) me is that you don’t have to share the road with enthusiasts.

Yet as one blogger puts it, MacArthur has a problem not just with Reformed Protestants but charismatics:

John MacArthur may go down in church history as one of the most confused pastors ever to step into a pulpit. His steroidal cognitive dissonance constantly results in insufferable hypocrisy.

For certain I thought he could not outdo himself in this regard, but he has. After writing Charismatic Chaos in 1992, he partnered with Charismatic CJ Mahaney for eight years in the Resolved conferences sponsored by his church, Grace Community in Sun Valley, California. One year after the last Resolved conference, MacArthur is hosting the 2013 Strange Fire conference that is fustigating Charismatic doctrine in no uncertain terms. The hypocrisy of it all is staggering.

MacArthur also seems to have a problem with the mysticism promoted by Charismatic theology, but yet is a close confidant of John Piper who not only has Charismatic leanings himself, but led the 2012 Passion conference in the mystic practice of Lectio Divina.

In other words, the issue of “Reformed” charismatics raises a host of problems not just for mainstream evangelical institutions like the National Association of Evangelicals and Christianity Today which has skirted issues of cessationism, but also for more explicitly Calvinistic sectors like The Gospel Coalition. After all, C. J. Mahaney was a charter member of TGC’s council and TGC council members have had apparently few problems with his charimatic views of the Holy Spirit and Christian devotion.

So far, only Thabiti Anyabwile and Kevin DeYoung have weighed in but both seem to be reluctant to name names. The latter makes the point that the Westminster Confession comes down on the side of cessationism.

That would be a vote for putting charismatics outside the Reformed camp, since belonging to a church that confesses a Reformed confession is what puts you in. But that logic also works for “Reformed” Baptists since they don’t belong to a church that confesses a Reformed confession. As worthwhile as the London Baptist confession of faith may be, it is not — as some allege — basically the Westminster Confession. In fact, Baptists could not affirm the Westminster Confession and admirably enough wrote their own confession, one that follows in outline parts of Westminster, but it is hardly the same.

What we need, then, is a better term for these Protestants who neither baptize babies nor affirm covenant theology. Here is what I propose: for charismatics, let’s call them Divine Right Pentecostals since they want to stress the sovereignty of God. And for Baptists, let’s simply use Baptist since they continue to insist on believers baptism. I don’t know what Reformed has to do with either since these charismatics and Baptists can likely affirm as much of the Augsburg Confession as they can of Westminster.