Until recently I was a fence-sitter on the continuation/cessation of spiritual gifts debate topic, never really researching it enough to pick a side. My position was that while the gifts could continue, I’d never seen them done properly (e.g., those enamored with the gift of tongues never obeyed the handful of verses governing their use, the faith healers were obvious fakes, etc.). Other than some “sloppy God talk” that I’ve addressed many times, I never went to a church where leaders took things too far (e.g., the Benny Hinn / Bill Johnson – Bethel / etc. nonsense). And most importantly, I didn’t understand that the point of cessationism isn’t that all gifts ceased, just the apostolic gifts.
Now that I’ve done more research (including reading Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship by John MacArthur) and understand the history and Bible verses better, I’m a cessationist.
But in a very real and relevant sense, both sides are cessasionists, just with one side being less so than the other. Many who believe in the continuation of the “sign” gifts (healings, tongues, prophecies) are very sound when it comes to the essentials of the faith, the inerrancy of scripture, etc. , yet they concede that many things have indeed ceased since the 1st century. Consider these:
- The canon of scripture is closed. Even when you point out the claims made by books like Jesus Calling, which insist that the authors heard directly from Jesus, the continuationists don’t think that anything should be added to the Bible.
- The New Testament-style healings have ceased. The healings of Jesus and his apostles were vastly different from what charismatics claim to do today. Biblical healings were 100% successful, immediate and public. The continuationists explicitly redefine “healings” to be private, partial and not always successful — and of course, dependent on the faith of the healer and/or the sick person.
- Things like Philip’s miraculous transportation to see the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 ceased. If Charismatic leaders thought that sort of thing continued they wouldn’t ask for money to buy top end jets.
- Things like Paul’s encounter with the snake in Acts 28 have ceased. Wait, I take that back . . . some Pentecostal pastor did try to replicate that. And died.
- Church discipline a la Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 has ceased. Ironically, if it hadn’t ceased, these Charismatic leaders would be the first to be slain for lying about the Holy Spirit.
- The office of apostle has ceased. Even charlatans like Bill Johnson and Bethel don’t embrace the “New Apostolic Reformation” tag (although their buddies consider them part of it).
- The gift of foreign language tongues has ceased. In Acts 2, people miraculously spoke in foreign languages that they previously didn’t know, and the other references to tongues use the same terms. Continuationists explicitly redefine what “speaking in tongues” means because none of them have that gift of speaking in foreign languages. That is why their “tongues” aren’t recognizable to anyone.
- Infallible prophets ceased. Continuationists explicitly redefine what prophecy is to allow for the obvious errors of their “prophets.” In the Bible, prophets had to be 100% right 100% of the time – and the penalties for being wrong were severe. The charismatic “prophets” readily concede many errors and can’t name a single infallible prophet among them, yet they cling to their belief that their random correct “prophesies” are divinely inspired. They have to ignore 2 Peter 1:21 and more to do that (For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit).
- The receiving of gifts has also been redefined. In the Bible, the gifts were immediate and full. With the continuationists you usually need to be trained to heal, prophesy or speak in tongues — hence the
Harry Potter Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (it makes up for its cost by being unaccredited).
That is a significant list of things that we agree have ceased or significantly changed. So there is no debate with these folks that some things have ceased, just about what other things have ceased.
And I think it is significant that, as noted above, they have had to redefine healings, tongues and fallability of prophets from the original biblical definitions and even the nature of what a gift is. That is a huge liability for them. If the three main things they focus on don’t resemble what we see in the Bible and now you have to be trained in the “gifts,” have they truly continued?
And even with the redefined gifts, did they really continue? No. History is clear that they did not, so the continuationists need to twist scripture to say that they did cease for 19 centuries but are back now. Again, most agree that even the redefined gifts didn’t exist during that time frame.
- If babble tongues (my term for non-real foreign language tongues) is a gift of the spirit, why do some fringe Catholics and many other non-Christians practice them? Since when does the Holy Spirit give supernatural gifts to non-believers?
- These healing ministries unwittingly breed contempt for those without enough “faith” to be healed. The sick and hurting people feel pressure to at least show some improvement so they don’t let the healers down or give “evidence” of a lack of faith. Then groups like Bethel chalk up those improvements (not even full healings) as miracles.
- John Piper acknowledged that one charismatic leader was completely wrong about multiple prophecies about him, but then was impressed when the guy got one right about someone else. But the prophecy was about a guy who was nervous about whether a visa was going to come through. How do people like Piper forget about Satan and his demons?! The man’s visa issues were easily known to the demons, and the “prophet” got one right. So what? But Piper et al have let the charismatics’ redefinition of a prophet stand, so they can’t be dismissed even when they get loads of prophesies wrong.
- If the gifts have really continued, why would the charismatics have to argue for their position and not just show us with legitimate signs and wonders?
So many things have ceased and even those that allegedly continued have significantly different definitions, which would make them more like new gifts — if real — than continued ones. How is that biblical?
One of the biggest problems with the continuationist/charismatic movement is that it conditions people to look outside the Bible for new revelations and experiences. It also encourages people to speak for God when He hasn’t spoken. And it makes newer believers question their faith unnecessarily since God isn’t “speaking” to them that way. Those things are dangerous and blasphemous. The movement claims to be all about the Holy Spirit but they ignore what He really does and fixate on things that He doesn’t do. Giving lip service to the Bible while constantly seeking experiences and allegedly new revelations from God is not Christianity.