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21:55 Sun 20 Apr 2014

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Cessationism and Strange Fire

It's good to face robust challenges to what you believe, every now and then. The more deeply held a belief is, the harder it is to think it through afresh, and the more possibility there is that you will become hardened in a wrong position. To that extent, I'm grateful for John MacArthur and co for putting on "Strange Fire", an anti-charismatic conference which is nothing if not robust, even if I remain convinced that the tone in which MacArthur in particular has spoken of hundreds of millions of Christians has not been especially helpful. Wrestling with the content of the sessions has been sharpening and illuminating, although admittedly difficult and painful in places.

In this post I want to respond specifically to one of the more measured messages to emerge from the conference: Tom Pennington’s admirably clear case for cessationism. There are two reasons for this - firstly, it is easier to respond to a logically laid out case than a rhetorical appeal, and secondly, it is the foundation for all the other sessions, since (as I’m sure MacArthur and others would agree) if cessationism is not demonstrably biblical, then many of the criticisms of charismatics in the conference carry less weight. (There may be weight to some of them, of course, because one does not need to be a cessationist to be troubled by much of the contemporary charismatic movement. I am myself, for example, for reasons that will become clear if you read this). An extremely helpful and sympathetic summary of all the messages, including the one I’m quoting from here, can be found at Tim Challies’ excellent website.

Pennington begins by explaining what cessationism is: the belief that the miraculous gifts have ceased, including tongues, prophecy and healing. This is clarifying, because often the discussion involves all sorts of misunderstandings about exactly what different groups affirm and deny. The debate is not about “the gifts”: cessationists believe many of these (teaching, leadership, government, etc) continue. Nor is it about “miracles”: salvation is itself a miracle, for most if not all cessationist thinkers, and God also answers prayer. Rather, it is about “miraculous gifts”: tongues, prophecy and healing, and presumably also the gift of miracles, which Paul distinguishes from the gift of healing in 1 Corinthians 12. That’s what the debate is about.

Pennington then summarises what he believes are the four chief arguments for the continuation of the gifts, and comments on each:

(1) The New Testament doesn’t say they have ceased. But then again, it doesn’t say that they won’t either.

This sounds like a brilliant leveller: since the New Testament doesn’t make explicit statements either for or against the continuation of the gifts, its silence doesn’t suggest anything. This, however, is clearly fallacious. The burden of proof is firmly on the shoulders of the one who would place a break at the end of the New Testament period, for the simple reason that, throughout Scripture, substantial changes in the way God communicates with people - and cessationism posits a substantial change, from “eagerly desire to prophesy” to “none of that here, please” - are clearly communicated. God, we all agree, speaks clearly. If we imagine the Corinthian church in the late first century, still cherishing, copying and publicly reading Paul’s letters to them, it is easy to see that they would have no way of knowing his instructions to them (1 Cor 14:1 is a particularly clear example) no longer applied. Unless the covenant between God and man has since changed (which it hasn’t), and/or there are clear indications that certain instructions no longer apply (which there aren’t), we should assume that New Covenant imperatives apply to New Covenant believers.

(2) 1 Corinthians 13:10 - they say this means that only when Christ returns will the partial gifts of tongues and prophecies cease. This implies that the gifts continue. But this is an uncertain interpretation.

It really isn’t, though. We may not put things as bluntly as Mark Driscoll, who described the cessationist exegesis of this chapter as the second worst he had ever seen next to that of a Canadian nudist arsonist cult he once did some research on, but the charismatic case here is immensely strong (and the overwhelming scholarly consensus in the commentaries would confirm this). For Paul, the imperfect (prophecy, tongues, knowledge) will cease at the arrival of the perfect (the return of Christ, when we shall see him face to face). Not much uncertainty there.

(3) The New Testament speaks only of the church age, and so, they argue, the gifts that began the church age should continue throughout it. They say we artificially divide it between apostolic and post-apostolic eras. But they do this, too, by not believing that the apostolic office still continues.

Actually, a huge number of charismatics don’t believe this at all. Many believe, for reasons outlined in my recent article in JETS, that even in the New Testament period there were eyewitness apostles (the twelve, Paul, James) and people who never witnessed the resurrection but were referred to as apostles anyway (Apollos, very likely Barnabas, Silas, possibly Timothy, and so on), and that while the eyewitness category ceased with Paul, the other category didn’t. But even where that is what charismatics believe, the difference between this and the cessationist position makes the continuationist case brilliantly: the resurrection appearances of Christ are explicitly said to have ended with Paul (1 Cor 15:8), whereas there is no such statement concerning the miraculous gifts, despite the obvious relevance this would have for Christian communities within a few years of the epistles. There is a huge gulf between saying “eyewitnesses of Christ have ceased, because the NT says so” and “all miraculous gifts have ceased, despite the fact that the NT doesn’t say so”.

(4) 500 million professing Christians who claim charismatic experiences can’t all be wrong. But if we accept this, then logically we should accept the miracles attested to by one billion Catholics in the world. The truth is that 500 million + people can be wrong.

This is not really a fair representation of any responsible charismatic argument. Of course billions of people can be wrong: billions of people do not believe the gospel, and virtually no charismatic would contest that. A fairer representation would be to say that, in order to explain the enormous number of miraculous experiences testified to by charismatics (see Craig Keener’s recent book on Miracles for some well-documented examples), a cessationist has to resort to an awful lot of accusations of fraud, deliberate deceit and delusion amongst some extremely level-headed, critical and theologically informed individuals, many of whom used to be cessationists themselves.

Pennington’s list ends with those four, but he omits what is perhaps the most compelling argument for continuationism, which is eschatological. Joel 2, which clearly played a hugely important role in the pneumatology (and Christology, given Romans 10) of the early church, famously speaks of the “last days” as being an era when God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh, and they would prophesy, and see visions, and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord would be saved. For Peter on the day of Pentecost, and for Paul in numerous places, the eschatological, miracle-working, prophecy-bringing Spirit had been poured out, as Joel 2 (alongside Ezekiel 36-37, and Isaiah 32-35, and so on) predicted he would be. So it places unbearable strain on the text of Joel, let alone biblical theology, to suggest, as Liam Thatcher neatly tweeted this morning, that it actually means, “In the last days, I will pour my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams - but in the days directly after that, I won’t, and they won’t.” The eschatological age of the Spirit is accompanied by prophecies, signs, wonders and visions; we still live in the eschatological age of the Spirit; so we should expect prophecies, signs, wonders and visions. Like New Testament churches apparently did (Rom 12:3-8; 1 Cor 12-14; Gal 3:3-5; 1 Thess 5:19-21; not to mention pretty much all of the book of Acts).

Pennington then moves on to make a positive case for cessationism:

(1) The unique role of miracles. There were only three primary periods in which God worked miracles through unique men. The first was with Moses; the second was during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha; the third was with Christ and his apostles. The primary purpose of miracles has always been to establish the credibility of one who speaks the word of God—not just any teacher, but those who had been given direct words by God.

Crumbs. The crucial word here, which appears twice and is somewhat mysterious on both occasions, is “primary”. Where in the Bible does it say that the miracles of Moses, Elijah or Elisha are more “primary” than those of Joshua (opening the Jordan and stopping the sun in its tracks isn’t bad), or Samuel (who had the odd prophecy), or David or Solomon, or Isaiah, or Daniel, or for that matter any of the canonical prophets (who, by Pennington’s definition, are exercising miraculous gifts)? And where does it say that the “primary” purpose of a miracle is always to establish the credibility of the one who speaks the word of God? One might have thought the primary purpose of the exodus was to lead Israel out of slavery, and the primary purpose of the fall of Jericho was to defeat God’s enemies, and the primary purpose of the destruction of the Assyrians was to preserve Jerusalem, and so on. And even if the “primary” purpose of all miracles was authenticating a preacher, which cannot be shown, it would by no means indicate that this was the only purpose, and therefore that miracles were unnecessary once that had ended. If an argument this weak was advanced in any other context, I suggest, it would be laughed off the stage.

(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 Christ gave his church (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4).

See my comments on #3, above. This argument takes us nowhere: all agree that the eyewitness apostles have ceased, and all agree that (say) pastors and teachers have not ceased. Only if we can show that all New Testament miracles, prophecies, tongues and healings came via apostles - which is patently not the case - would this hold any water at all.

(3) The foundational nature of the New Testament apostles and prophets. The New Testament identifies the apostles and prophets as the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20-22). In the context, it is clear that Paul is referring here not to Old Testament prophets but to New Testament prophets. Once the apostles and prophets finished their role in laying the foundation of the church, their gifts were completed.

This runs aground on the sandbanks of Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12-14 in particular, in which it is assumed that local churches experience prophecy in their meetings, yet without such prophecy serving as foundational for the church for all time, or being written down in the canon. Clearly, there is a foundational role for the apostles and prophets of whom Paul speaks in Ephesians (2:20; 3:6), but this in no way implies either that all prophecy has now ceased, or (obviously) that tongues or healings have now ceased.

(4) The nature of the New Testament miraculous gifts. If the Spirit was still moving as he was in the first century, then you would expect that the gifts would be of the same type. Consider the speaking of tongues. At Pentecost, the languages spoken were already existing, understandable languages. The New Testament gift was speaking in a known language and dialect, not an ecstatic language like you see people speaking in today. Prophecies (which were then infallible) and healings are also different in character today from the NT period.

Again, this hits serious problems when it comes to 1 Corinthians 12-14, which scholars widely agree refers to ecstatic speech rather than known earthly languages, and to prophetic revelation which needs to be weighed or judged, rather than instantly being added to the infallible canon of scripture. To say, further, that healings are different in character is to beg the question: there are numerous testimonies out there (I have heard many personally) of blind eyes seeing, deaf ears opening, the lame walking and even the dead being raised, unless one prejudges the veracity of such testimonies by assuming cessationism (or, of course, naturalism).

(5) The testimony of church history. The practice of apostolic gifts declines even during the lifetimes of the apostles. Even in the written books of the New Testament, the miraculous gifts are mentioned less as the date of their writing gets later. After the New Testament era, we see the miraculous gifts cease. John Chrysostom and Augustine speak of their ceasing.

There are two errors here. The first is that miracles are mentioned less in New Testament books that are written later; the book of Acts is certainly written after the books of 1 Thessalonians and James, and very probably after the other Paulines and Petrines, yet contains far more miracles (and John, among the latest books, has one or two miracles in it as well!) The second is that we see the miraculous gifts cease after the New Testament; again, this begs the question by assuming that subsequent accounts of and responses to miraculous or prophetic activity, from the Didache and the Montanists onwards, are inaccurate or exaggerated (see David Bentley Hart’s scholarly and excellent The Story of Christianity for all sorts of examples). In any case, this sort of argument - that, since something gradually disappeared from the church over the course of the first two or three centuries, it must therefore be invalid - should strike any five sola Protestant as providing several hostages to fortune.

(6) The sufficiency of Scripture. The Spirit speaks only in and through the inspired Word. He doesn’t call and direct his people through subjective messages and modern day bestsellers. His word is external to us and objective.

This is not so much an argument for cessationism as a restatement of it. Suffice it to say that James and Paul, to mention just two apostles, envisage Christians being given wisdom by God, experiencing the Spirit crying out “Abba!” in their hearts, and being given spontaneous revelation during church meetings, none of which conflict with their high view of the scriptures.

(7) The New Testament governed the miraculous gifts. Whenever the New Testament gifts of tongues was to be practiced, there were specific rules that were to be followed. There was to be order and structure, as well as an interpreter. Paul also lays down rules for prophets and prophecy. Tragically most charismatic practice today clearly disregards these commands. The result is not a work of the spirit but of the flesh.

I’m not qualified to comment on whether this is true of “most” charismatics, rather than “some”, but to the extent that this is true, I wholeheartedly agree with Pennington that miraculous gifts need to be governed and practiced wisely, in line with the New Testament. Clearly, however, this is not an argument against using charismatic gifts - it is an argument against using charismatic gifts badly.

This has been a long post, and if you’ve stuck with it this far, well done. I am grateful to Tom Pennington, and Tim Challies, for laying the cessationist case out so clearly and without rancour; although finding the arguments unconvincing, I appreciate the spirit in which they have been communicated here, and the desire for biblical faithfulness that pervades what has been said. As will now be clear, I think that the cessationist position is biblically distorted, theologically confused and historically exaggerated, and that a number of the comments being made about charismatics at Strange Fire have been unrepresentative and unfair, and have failed to engage with the opposing position in its strongest form. Nonetheless, Pennington has done us a service by expressing his position with clarity and grace, and that can only be a good thing as we work towards unity in the global church. I sincerely hope that this response comes across in the same spirit.

(For further reading, I recommend Don Carson’s Showing the Spirit, Wayne Grudem’s The Gift of Prophecy, Gordon Fee’s God’s Empowering Presence, and the commentaries on 1 Corinthians by Fee, Anthony Thiselton, and Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner.)

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  • Default user Photo

    By Derek G. on 18/10/2013 at 14:22

    Spot on. “Strange Ire,” indeed…

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    By Glenn Innes on 18/10/2013 at 14:52

    Thank you for your graceful and clear headed response. Thank you also for choosing to respond to this part of the conference and not some of the more extreme statements that have been made.

    I wonder how people with such a commitment to scripture can go so badly wrong on 1 Cor 13, which seems at some level the doorway to cessationism.

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    By Matthew Hosier on 18/10/2013 at 15:20

    Tour de force!

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    By Andrew Larkin on 18/10/2013 at 15:36

    Good job Andrew.  The spirit and tone of much of this conference troubles me as well as the over-generalisations.  I can’t really see what good, if any, is going to come from it as it seems a rehash or MacArthur’s thinking in the late 80s and, as such, the critiques of his thought then still stands.

    Do you think that point 1 by Pennington plays into a dispensational outlook on the Bible which, I think it would be fair to say, is there in MacArthur’s thought?  Remove dispensationism and that would appear another count-point against the “primary periods of miracles” argument.

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    By James Davies on 18/10/2013 at 15:49

    I really appreciate your thoughtful and firm response. Good on ya.

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    By Owen Cottom on 18/10/2013 at 17:58

    Immense. Really helpful, Andrew.

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    By Sam Little on 18/10/2013 at 18:25

    Thanks Andrew. Great decision to avoid commenting on Macarthur’s general observations, and instead focus on deconstructing the case made by Pennington. Helpful example to set which I will follow

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    By Scott Lencke on 18/10/2013 at 20:18

    Andrew -

    Thanks for these thoughts. Your US counterpart (who blogs at thinktheology.org) has offered some good stuff as well. :)

    Under Pennington’s point #3 where he interacts with continuationist arguments, you people refer to the second group of apostles, those “who never witnessed the resurrection but were referred to as apostles anyway”. You, then, list some: Apollos, very likely Barnabas, etc.

    This is just a small point, but wouldn’t it be better stated Barnabas, very likely Apollos, etc - mainly based upon Acts 14:14?

    Also, if interested in some other fine quotes of early church fathers recognising gifts of the Spirit in their day, you might see this article. It has quotes of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Novatian, Gregory Neocaesarea and even shows how Augustine changed his mind near the latter part of his life.

    Blessings!

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    By Jack Griffiths on 18/10/2013 at 21:52

    This was fantastic. Thank you Andrew.

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    By Ian Munns on 18/10/2013 at 23:03

    Hi Andrew

    Thanks for the prompt and very helpful article. I share the concerns of many about the tone of the conference.

    On the NT chronology point, does it make a difference from the perspective of when the events occurred, rather than when the books were written ?

    Also, is it true to say that throughout church history, the majority of major Christian teachers were cessationist, and if so then why ?

    Using church history is a dangerous argument either way, but it does seem to me that , on many points of debate, not just this one, many today appeal to it when they believe its on their side, but note the danger when not.

    Finally, do you think we do enough to rebut the non biblical excesses in the charismatic world, or do we hold back from defining a clear line because we may be naturally more sympathetic?

    Ñb first time comment to this site!

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    By peter mayo on 18/10/2013 at 23:17

    Can u please give me some examples where tongues are used biblically in a church setting and prophesying.  (youtube video, etc…) I’m not wanting to argue, I just never grew up in a charasmatic church where this happens.

    Thanks

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    By Josh Kellard on 19/10/2013 at 02:04

    Tour de force indeed.

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    By Nate wagner on 19/10/2013 at 02:22

    Andrew

    As usual I love your clearly thought out, Biblical approach. I am myself reformed in my soteriology but I am not a cessationist. I am not a cessationist because, frankly, the Bible does not clearly indicate this or draw any clear line to this conclusion as I see it.

    I do, however, feel the strange fire discussion is one we need to have. The exercise of “gifts” out of order is troubling indeed. The bad doctrine behind so much of the movement is real. The over focus on music and under focus on preaching and theology is also troubling.

    My understanding of spiritual gifts is that they should always be pointing back glory to God. This is simply a discussion that needs to happen. I do find it unfortunate that the focus is much on cessation vs continuation but I find myself in agreement with much of the thrust and that is that the Holy Spirit is simply not who many in the charismatic movement and specifically the NAR think he is. And this should, at least, give us pause.

    Again great thought provoking post as always.

    God bless you.

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    By Geoff Chapman on 19/10/2013 at 08:58

    I think the exegetical arguments offered by MacArthur et al are a red-herring.  Practice and discernment seem to be the motivating forces behind the arguments presented.

    E.g. they highlight reformed charismatic leaders’ (Sam Storms, Jack Deere, R.T. Kendall’s) openness to Paul Cain’s ministry.  To them, whatever your exegetical basis for gifts, the guy was obviously a fake and yet people did not spot it for two decades.

    Likewise, for Phil Johnson, Mark Driscoll’s so called “pornographic divination”, is incontrovertible proof that the guy is lying or is influenced by occult forces.  This is based simply on the basis of the content of the revelation received.  The argument goes, “The Holy Spirit would never do that”.

    They believe, from their experience, that charismatic doctrine harms the body of Christ.  I think that for the sake of the Church we need to answer their critiques of our practice as much as their exegesis.

    The truth is we are far more catholic (little c) in our approach than our cessationist brothers.  They carry with them a Reformation-born pessimism about sin’s effects within the Church of Christ.  This goes hand in hand with the conviction that the only way to guard against sin in the church is to stick to Scripture as closely as possible in practice as well as doctrine.  Hence, for example, gold dust and feathers at Bethel, Redding, is excluded a priori on the grounds that it isn’t in Scripture.

    In practice, the charismatic position has been far more catholic (little c), having lesser concern with sin’s ability to warp the practice of the church.  We are less guarded against our own potential self-deception.  This leads to the “wait and see” attitude that had been referenced at the conference.  We are far more optimistic about believers’ ability to discern a genuine work of God from a fake one. 

    Strange Fire’s burning question is, where does this optimism within the charismatic movement come from and is it justified? 

  • Default user Photo

    By Subin Mathew on 19/10/2013 at 18:05

    Love this one.

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    By Luke Geraty on 20/10/2013 at 00:08

    Andrew,

    I was pleasantly surprised to find out that both of our responses to Pennington included many of the same thoughts! That was really cool to observe.

    I’ve noticed a number of blogs have linked to both of our articles so at least there is a somewhat consistent response being shared!

    Anyway, great stuff here… you said things much better than I…

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    By Aaron Schroeder-Tabah on 20/10/2013 at 02:57

    I’ve been pulling my hair out all day reading comments about the “strange fire” conference! I have been continually yelling “GOOD GRIEF!” (in my mind). I’ve been keeping away from my keyboard for fear of being ungracefull…

    Reading your post was like breath of fresh air.

    God bless you!

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    By Craig Bennett on 22/10/2013 at 08:22

    In Augustine’s City of God, he outlines carefully how miracles, healings, prophecy, exorcism and tongues continues in his own era. Because of the overwhelming evidence of this, he himself changed his earlier stance of cessationism to that of continuism.

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    By Andrew Wilson on 22/10/2013 at 10:23

    @Ian: hopefully your questions have been somewhat answered now by the article linked to from Scott (above) and mine on Monday; and for me, the dating of Acts still matters, because Luke gives no indication in the text that miracles are on the way out.
    @Peter: Jack Deere’s two “Surprised by ...” books give a lot of great examples.
    @Nate and @Geoff: I agree with your concerns, and posted a bit about them on Monday.
    Thanks, all!

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    By John Allister on 22/10/2013 at 12:51

    Thanks for this. One of the clearest arguments for the continuation of charismatic gifts is how much teaching there is in the NT about the importance of discernment. Why would we need 1 John 4 or 1 Thes 2 if all spiritual messages were wrong?

    Especially true if 1 John is late, which almost everyone agrees with…

    [I was almost a cessationist until I heard a well-known cessationist preach on 1 Cor 13 and saw how awful their exegesis was.]

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    By Chris E on 22/10/2013 at 13:46

    I do not disagree with much of what you say, yet your arguments could equally be applied to the (in my opinion terrible) attempt by Grudem et al to distinguish two types of prophetic giftings and thus deal with the issue that a large amount of charismatic prophecy in the present age has proven to be extremely fallible (as contra what one would expect from a straight reading of OT passages on the same).

    Secondly, on a practical level I suspect that MacAurthur is in part reacting to his own context (southern california), and this is confirmed to me by how he seems to trace everything back to the influences of Calvary Chapel and John Wimber.  Even though his previous writings on the subject show that he has a much better grasp on the historical roots of Pentecostalism.

    In dealing with that context, one can’t ignore the elephant in the room which is Bethel - a church which your particular movement has largely accepted uncritically, in spite of their somewhat extraordinary claims in the absence of extraordinary evidence.

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    By Jeff Stewart on 22/10/2013 at 17:48

    Andrew,
    Very good and well thought out comment on the Strange Fire. It would seem to me; one can believe the gifts are still in effect or not, take your pick.
    But the fact remains that many of the charismatics are way out in left field in regards to biblical doctrine. i.e. falling down laughing at a church service, claiming gold dust fills the room , barking like a dog and other way out and ridiculous things. This is the crux of the matter and we, as fundamental believers, need to be aware of the many false teachers, doctrines of demons and seducing spirits that are filling our minds and souls in these last days.

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    By nate on 22/10/2013 at 19:08

    To an extent I understand where JM is coming from. I do respect JM greatly and his teaching has helped me much in my walk. BC is in their back yard. The fringe of the charismatic movement is in his back yard and I think much of this is a response to that.

    The faces of much of the movement are KWS and the like. Here we have a woman who is on stage telling of her experiences with the Risen Christ. Unfortunately, she uses not scripture or exegesis to back up her claims. She doesn’t intend to because she’s not accountable to do so.

    What seems to compound the problem is that when I think of the faces of the Charismatic movement I don’t think Andrew Wilson. I don’t think Matt Chandler. I don’t even think John Piper.

    The face of the Charismatics are people like Kim Smith. It’s people like Bill Johnson. It’s people who simply do not hold to the scriptural model of who the Holy Spirit is and how he works. There is mass ignorance of how Paul spelled things out.

    Who is going to police the movement if it isn’t policing itself? Being a continuationist doesn’t mean that I’m necessarily a “Charismatic”. I have trouble with the broad stroke of that brush and much of what have become associated with it.
    So maybe a better question. Who is going to police this?

    Another question I had while I watched the strange fire conference was why MacArthur framed the debate in cessationism. It would seem he could have made many of the same points and perhaps had a wider demographic if he framed it with what we can find Biblical common ground on.

    I suppose it’s partly because if he believes those gifts to have ceased then those scriptures which outline the manner in which they are to be exercised are irrelevant? Sola Scriptura?

    But I digress. If you are primarily concerned with the extremities and the horrible theology then why not frame the argument in the following way? Lets assume all gifts are still active and relevant. What do we say about those who claim to be exercising these gifts but are doing so outside the scope of scripture. What do we do with those who essentially make up new gifts or new manifestations and attribute them to The Holy Spirit when there is no Biblical mandate to do so.

    It would seem this discussion would be best framed that way. I also find it interesting during one of the Q&A sessions that the issue of John Piper came up and MacArthur was quick to defend JP. So clearly there are continuationists who are not only saved, but also good friends who’s ministries can be endorsed.

    The greater question remains, and will remain as long as continuationist = charismatic. Who polices the movement and who sets the rules and boundaries by which we test the spirit?

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    By Philippa on 23/10/2013 at 12:56

    My favourite take on this so far came from Rachel Held Evans in her tweet of 18 October:

    “It’s the evangelical apocalypse over there! All these white men yelling and throwing books at each other! :-)”

    LOL. :D

    But I appreciate this thoughtful and measured response from the continuationist camp, Andrew. Thank you. :)  Like you, I am in that camp, not the cessationist one.  I am not satisfied, from a biblical POV, that spiritual gifts ended after the apostolic age.  However, I am equally not satisfied that everything claimed under the charismatic banner is legit. And whilst MacArthur painted with a mighty broad brush – what, every single charismatic is hell-bound?! —I can’t help wishing that responsible charismatics would take a leaf out of his book and sternly call out the excesses of the movement. 

    I’m sorry to have to say that one of the worst meetings I ever attended was hosted by a Newfrontiers church during the Toronto Blessing, in July 1994.  I was astonished and dismayed that not once – NOT ONCE – during the entire meeting was the Bible opened or even referred to.  Not once.  That is just … well, there are no words for how deeply worrying that is.  The usual Stuff followed: people falling over, rolling around the floor laughing hysterically.  (Derren Brown would have had a field day.)  If I could go back in time, I would plead with the guy in charge: “Mate … if you don’t even respect Scripture enough to open it, the Third Person of the Holy and Blessed Trinity JUST LEFT THE BUILDING.”

    Please don’t think that I judge Newfrontiers as a whole by that disastrous affair.  I know plenty of solidly biblical folk within the NF fold.  And many churches have Fails, not least my own.  But that meeting does stand out starkly in my mind as quite the Biblical Fail.

    No doubt the watching world, if it cares at all, finds this utterly ridiculous – what is this row, after all, but a bunch of privileged fundies busily pointing fingers at each other?  Perhaps, however, MacArthur has done the charismatic movement a favour.  The brouhaha should make all of us take a long, hard look at what we really believe and proclaim.

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    By Nathan Lambert on 25/10/2013 at 10:05

    @Chris E : “Bethel - a church which your particular movement has largely accepted uncritically” That’s not my personal experience, and I’m able to see quite a good sample of the movement, in the UK and abroad to some extent, through my activity. What I see is a movement not rejecting it entirely, taking what’s good & engaging critically with their teaching ; with some churches engaging and adopting less critically. From what I see, these churches are the exception, not the norm.

    @Andrew : great article, and a helpful summary of the crux of the event for someone who doesn’t want to spend valuable time crunching the whole thing. Thanks!

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    By Chris E on 25/10/2013 at 11:51

    @Nathan - So do you believe Kevin Dedmon’s son walked on water? Because I have yet to see the NFI ‘critically engage’ with that - even as some of the churches push his book.

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    By David Galloway on 26/10/2013 at 01:47

    Can’t say I read these much but can’t sleep and now feel like adding my thoughts.  I thoroughly enjoyed your clear and measured responses but have a niggling sadness that a brief internet search shows this is probably a) not a common theme to other responses and b) this makes it more likely to not be widely read.

    It feels very appropriate that an issue that I have spent my entire life having thrust upon me, and spent long hours struggling over with pretty much all my closest friends (including my wife) could pop up as an international conference and I wouldn’t know about it until I randomly read a blog cause of the fun name and a picture that appeals to the pyromanic in me.

    It took me a long time to realise that the church I grew up in wasn’t normal in the sense of stereotypical sunday experience.  It took me even longer to come to terms with the fact that other Christians would get very angry very quickly when they found out what did happen.  What hurt the most was being accused of being either a liar or an idiot.  What I didn’t realise for a very long time was the fear that sat behind this.  A God who moves today beyond feeling a bit more morally superior is worrying.  But so is thinking that the God who is Alpha and Omega is being reduced to falling over and laughing a lot.

    I’m looking forward to a (God willing) long life continuing to ponder this one.  It’s very difficult to engage with people objectively on this as I think we are all guilty of leaning on what I’VE felt (or not) and setting that as the standard.  I think though that scripture makes it very clear that the Spirit is for the communal good not really the individual (seeing as it was written before the enlightenment n all that fun) and that is probably the hardest thing to get beyond.  That and engaging in a productive conversation about what ‘truth’ actually is.

    I’m done waffling now.  Keep up the good work Andrew.  Stay humble before God and each other

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    By Ken Rich on 31/10/2013 at 14:09

    You make some very valid points and you do it in a concise manner. I incorporated links to your article in my own (linked above).

    Your position is quite close to mine, although I believe there is only one type of Biblical tongues - real languages, not ecstatic prayer language.

    I addressed some of the rhetoric and “attitude” spawned by the conference, that you left (perhaps wisely) unanswered.

    This is a very healthy debate, one that needs to happen on account of the foolishness and fakery that remains unchecked in charismatic circles. I’m glad you stepped up to the plate.

    The tares are obscuring the wheat, the counterfeit is causing some to discount the genuine, yet the Spirit of God is still preparing the Bride of Christ.

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