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.

Selah.

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Which Is It? How Do You Know?

In reading through documents from the magisterium, I continue to be amazed by how right next to affirmations that Roman Catholics still defend are teachings those same Christians choose to ignore or chalk up to a mulligan for the magisterium. For instance, the same council that codified transubstantiation also weighed in on the place of Jews in Christendom:

1. Confession of Faith: . . . His body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine, the bread and wine having been changed in substance, by God’s power, into his body and blood, so that in order to achieve this mystery of unity we receive from God what he received from us. Nobody can effect this sacrament except a priest who has been properly ordained according to the church’s keys, which Jesus Christ himself gave to the apostles and their successors. . . .

68. Jews appearing in public: A difference of dress distinguishes Jews or Saracens from Christians in some provinces, but in others a certain confusion has developed so that they are indistinguishable. Whence it sometimes happens that by mistake Christians join with Jewish or Saracen women, and Jews or Saracens with christian women. In order that the offence of such a damnable mixing may not spread further, under the excuse of a mistake of this kind, we decree that such persons of either sex, in every christian province and at all times, are to be distinguished in public from other people by the character of their dress — seeing moreover that this was enjoined upon them by Moses himself, as we read. They shall not appear in public at all on the days of lamentation and on passion Sunday; because some of them on such days, as we have heard, do not blush to parade in very ornate dress and are not afraid to mock Christians who are presenting a memorial of the most sacred passion and are displaying signs of grief. What we most strictly forbid however, is that they dare in any way to break out in derision of the Redeemer. We order secular princes to restrain with condign punishment those who do so presume, lest they dare to blaspheme in any way him who was crucified for us, since we ought not to ignore insults against him who blotted out our wrongdoings.

But the problem doesn’t go away. Take the descriptions of papal power from the era of Pius IX. First, from the First Vatican Council:

Since the Roman pontiff, by the divine right of the apostolic primacy, governs the whole church, we likewise teach and declare that
he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment.
The sentence of the apostolic see (than which there is no higher authority) is not subject to revision by anyone, nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon.

And so they stray from the genuine path of truth who maintain that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman pontiffs to an ecumenical council as if this were an authority superior to the Roman pontiff.

So, then, if anyone says that the Roman pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole church, and this not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and government of the church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or that
this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful: let him be anathema.

This understanding of papal primacy also means for Pius IX (down to the Second Vatican Council) that freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state in government are forbidden:

And, against the doctrine of Scripture, of the Church, and of the Holy Fathers, they do not hesitate to assert that “that is the best condition of civil society, in which no duty is recognized, as attached to the civil power, of restraining by enacted penalties, offenders against the Catholic religion, except so far as public peace may require.” From which totally false idea of social government they do not fear to foster that erroneous opinion, most fatal in its effects on the Catholic Church and the salvation of souls, called by Our Predecessor, Gregory XVI, an “insanity,”2 viz., that “liberty of conscience and worship is each man’s personal right, which ought to be legally proclaimed and asserted in every rightly constituted society; and that a right resides in the citizens to an absolute liberty, which should be restrained by no authority whether ecclesiastical or civil, whereby they may be able openly and publicly to manifest and declare any of their ideas whatever, either by word of mouth, by the press, or in any other way.” But, while they rashly affirm this, they do not think and consider that they are preaching “liberty of perdition;”3 and that “if human arguments are always allowed free room for discussion, there will never be wanting men who will dare to resist truth, and to trust in the flowing speech of human wisdom; whereas we know, from the very teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, how carefully Christian faith and wisdom should avoid this most injurious babbling.”

The question is not how does someone reconcile these contradictory statements. The much more substantial issue is how anyone is to know which of these statements is the right one but the other, less liberal one, is just a reflection of the fallibility of human beings. Sure, someone can try to distinguish between the opinions of popes and their ex cathedra statements. But since so many of the modern papacy’s or Vatican councils’ pronouncements contain doctrines that conservative Roman Catholics both affirm and resist, the interpretive lengths to which Rome’s apologists must go exceeds almost any of the hermeneutical gymnastics that Protestants perform.

After all, not many Protestants would be comfortable today (except for the fire eaters who attack 2k) with Joshua’s depiction of Israel’s conquest in the Holy Land. Nor for that matter, do many Protestants who defend inerrancy also teach that we need to keep kosher kitchens because God’s word says it, I believe, that settles it. In point of fact, Paul and other New Testament authors had to struggle mightily with how the church would appropriate God’s dealings with Israel and they gave clear and infallible ways of explaining why much of the Old Testament no longer is binding on those who believe the Bible to be God’s inerrant word.

It seems that the closest Roman Catholics come to such an explanation of how to consider the old teaching in the light of new times is the Second Vatican Council where Vatican officials engaged the modern world and called off implicitly many of the papacy’s previous claims about politics and social arrangements — not to mention the previous condemnations of Protestants, Muslims, and Jews. But I still cannot fathom what Vatican II did to Pius IX’s claims for papal supremacy and infallibility, along with his rejection of liberal political and economic arrangements. That council did not establish either a hermeneutic or a theology that would allow a defender of the papacy, the way Paul tries to defend and distance himself from the law, to say that the Second Vatican Council is the fulfillment of what previous popes had taught and so now the post-Vatican II church can live in the glorious liberties purchased by Paul VI.

Demanding

Speaking of the Land of Chocolate, the lead singer of Jason and the Callers has another defense of the magisterium as he understands it. In it is this assertion:

Because in order to distinguish between divine revelation and human opinion in a principled way, some visible body must exist with the authority to do so.

This is a frequent claim by ex-Protestants who go to Rome. Protestantism is in chaos and can’t resolve its divisions. Rome has unity and visibility and this is what you need to overcome Protestant fissiparousness. Possibly.

But who says that we need a visible body to distinguish between divine revelation and human opinion (not that Jason makes this distinction very clear since he keeps comparing the “interpretations” of the magisterium to the very revelation they are supposed to be interpreting; in other words, it’s one thing for the Bible to be hard to interpret, it’s another altogether for the visible and principled interpretations not to add up)? I know I am as a Protestant a Bible thumper. But I have no idea where Jason would derive this notion from the pages of Holy Writ (unless he wants to hang everything on Matt. 16 and 18 again and again and again).

For instance, the Old Testament saints had a single, visible authority, the Israelite monarchy, and it lasted for all of David and Solomon before splitting into the northern and southern kingdoms. Let’s not forget that the kings were not exactly models of interpretive fidelity.

Then we have Jesus’ own promise to his disciples in John 16 that when he leaves his Spirit will come who will lead the church into all truth. Curious that with Peter right there, Jesus didn’t say, and rest assured, Peter and his successors will lead you into all truth and rightly divide revelation from interpretation.

And then there is Peter’s own counsel to the church in his second epistle where he constantly warns about the danger of false teachers, and warns, and warns, and warns (pastors considering a series on 2 Peter be warned). If Peter knew what Jason pines for, that a visible body was around to distinguish opinion from revelation, why would he write to your average Simon and Hannah about the need to keep a lookout for false teachers? Why not write the first Christians about God’s great provision of the visible church and its capacity to direct the faithful into all truth?

Jason puts this assertion in a post about how grown ups talk. I wonder if he has considered the difference between childish wishes and adult resignation. I mean, some kids insist that Santa exists. What does that prove?