Sunday, November 06, 2005

"Cessationism": ragged dress for a rich lady

Why is it that the better words, names, titles are always held by the poorer positions? Why are the better positions so often forced to take leftovers, or tarred by negative words, words that define the position by what it isn't, or by what it rejects?

Take the matter of abortion. If the thought of ripping a living baby to pieces for the high crime of being imperfect or inconvenient doesn't trouble you, what are you? Anti-life? No. Anti-baby? No. Pro-infanticide? No. You're pro-choice. That sounds like a nice, uplifting, affirming, positive thing.

And if you think that babies should be valued and protected, that people really should not be allowed to have babies killed thus, what are you? Pro-life? Well, yes, to yourself. But to most of the world you're anti, you're defined by what you oppose. You're anti-abortion, or even anti-choice.

Take some of the better church names. All of these are great, Biblical names owned by groups either with cultish or at least defective doctrine(s):

The Way
The Church of Christ
The Church of God
Jehovah's Witnesses
Children of God
Assemblies of God
Latter-Day Saints
Churches with more Biblical doctrine are left to style themselves by names highlighting relatively minor issues. Baptist. Presbyterian. Independent Fundamentalist. Evangelical Free. Lutheran.

All this brings me to cessationism.

For years, since leaving Charismatic (ah! another lovely, positive-sounding label!) doctrine for what I believe to be a more Biblical position, I had nothing at all to call myself. I had to describe myself, without a label. That's not altogether bad, of course, but it's not so catchy or memorable. That, or I had to use a negative: non-Charismatic. Thus I couldn't describe what I did believe; I had to describe myself by what I no longer believed.

Then along comes -- drumroll -- "Cessationism." And so yet again, I'm describing myself by what I don't believe, or by what I believe is no longer happening, or used-to-happen-but-no-longer-does. Sigh.

This is sad, to me, because I believe that it is a robust, fulsome, wonderful position. It is the position held by most Biblically-oriented Christians throughout the ages, insofar as they thought about it at all.

Of course, for most of church history they didn't have to get into it too deeply. Prior to 1906, no Christian group seriously argued that revelational gifts were to be expected in Christian circles. Like the modern position that God has a pinpoint will, that if you didn't listen to that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit that the Bible never calls us to seek after, you would buy the wrong brand of beans and end up out of God's three-atom-wide will forever.

So you don't see, in earlier writers, the sort of precise re-examination of texts like 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 that modern times have mae necessary. I don't know if John Owen ever said "Duh!" in his life, but if you'd asked him whether or not the Bible really contains all we need as Christians to know, serve, and glorify God, he might have been tempted to invent it.

But now, tragically (in my view), all this has changed. The notion that the Bible isn't quite complete, isn't quite sufficient; that it contains "[p]robably [only] 95 per cent of all the guidance we need as Christians" (as Pat Robertson wrote), has spread in Christian churches like a nasty rash. No longer is the wildfire advocate on the defensive, expected to defend his position; it is the man or woman who affirms the Bible's sufficiency who is thought extreme and radical and out-of-it.

And we're stuck with the label "Cessationist." Pathetic.

Listen to how I defined the doctrine of Scripture, when I authored a Statement of Faith for a church I labored to plant:

The thirty-nine books known as the Hebrew Old Testament are God-breathed, products of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, and thus free from error in all that they affirm (cf. Deuteronomy 18:18, 19; Psalms 19:7, 8; 119:89, 142, 151, 160; Matthew 5:17-19; John 10:35; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20, 21).

Similarly, the twenty-seven books known as the Greek New Testament are the eternally abiding words of Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:35), and are thus the words of God (John 7:16; 12:49). The Holy Spirit enabled the writers both to recall what the Lord said (John 14:26), and to continue to receive His revelation (John 16: 12-15). As a result, the writings of the New Testament are the commandment of the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37), are Scripture (2 Peter 3:15, 16), and are God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).

For this reason, the sinner finds the way of salvation through Scripture (Romans 10:17; 2 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 2: 1-3). The believer is made fruitful (Psalm 1:2, 3) and successful in the will of God (Joshua 1:8), warned and kept from sin (Psalms 19:11; 119:9,11), made holy (John 17:17), given wisdom (Psalm 9:7) and freeing knowledge of the truth (John 8: 31, 32), taught the fear of God (Psalm 119:38), counseled (Psalm 119:24), taught, reproved, corrected, and disciplined in the way of righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) by Scripture. Scripture is, in short, the fully adequate revelation of the person, ways, and will of God.

Does that sound like a negative, or even a defensive position? Does that sound like a what-I-don't-believe position? After all, all it really is is a summarizing, a weaving-together of what the Bible says about itself, what all of us as Christians are called and bound to believe. These Biblical truths are magnificent, glorious, joyous claims that should excite, thrill, bless, embolden, and motivate every Christian to deepening confidence in and reliance upon the Word of God.

In fact, read that over again. Or just read 2 Timothy 3:15-17 alone. Then ask yourself these questions -- which, itself, I think are fatal to the open-Canon position necessarily held de facto by Charismaticism: "What more do I need? What did God leave out? What did He neglect to say?"

After you've seriously thought those through, ask yourself this: "What has almost one hundred years of Charismatic/Pentecostal/open-Canon blithering added to Biblical revelation?"

Let me unpack that a bit. Every day of the week, on TV and in churches and in home fellowships, people are claiming to hear God speak apart from Scripture. People are speaking in God's name. People impersonate God and speak as Isaiah and Jeremiah did: "Thus saith the Lord" (God often still uses Jacobean English, apparently).

What syllable of necessary truth has one hundred years of this nonsense added to Christendom? What new doctrine, what light on an old doctrine, has ever been added by these supposedly revelational activities?

Note, I do not ask what Charismatics have added. There are and have been many fine folks who, in my opinion, are mistaken in this one area, but who have contributed some wonderful labor and teaching, in spite of their Charismaticism. Take Wayne Grudem. When he's not spouting nonsense about semi-hemi-demi revelations still going on through erring-but-genuine prophets, he teaches some wonderful, Biblical doctrine. His Systematic Theology is a great book.
But what have literally hundreds of millions of supposedly prophetic experiences added to the Bible? Have they really filled in that missing 5% that Robertson sees?

Think of it. I just got home from church, where the pastor preached from something written almost 2000 years ago (Ephesians 4). If the Lord tarries, pastors will still preach from that same text 2000 years from now.

But during that same hour, in countless other churches, "the Lord" was "speaking" apart from the Scriptures. Yet I would put good money on the proposition that not one word that "He" "said" will be remembered one year from now, let alone one hundred, or one thousand.

This "open-Canon" position has produced nothing in the last century but meaningless trivia or rehashes of Scripture at best, or distractions and false prophecy at worst. Not a good track record, when the argument is made that the same august Spirit who breathed Genesis 1, Psalm 23, Isaiah 40, and Romans 8 is supposedly speaking through these prophets -- or, as I prefer to call them, "pop-offets."

So, given the richness and fulsomeness of the position, why are we stuck with such a pallid, puny label? Can't someone come up with a better one?

I've been unable. The "closed-Canon" position sounds equally negative, and the same folks who are de facto open-Canoners are de jure closed-Canoners. "Really-closed-Canon"? Nah. How about "sufficient Scripture"? Again, formally many Charismatics affirm that position, whileactually undermining it in fact with every argument for their stance. "Really-sufficient-Scripture"? Nah. "Completed revelation"? Better, but clumsy.

Maybe some unheard-of faithful laborer with a flock of 27 in Nowhere, Missouri has the perfect term. If so, brother, tell me, and I'll spread the word. Because this beautiful lady deserves a beautiful garment, not a burlap bag.

[NOTE: my mind ran down these lines partly due the Phil Johnson starting a related (but different) thread of thought, first with Invasion of the evangelical soothsayers, and then with Rubber prophecies. Be sure to track Phil's upcoming posts on this subject. Don't know whether he's as "hardcore" as I on this issue, but I am sure he'll be worth reading.]

UPDATE: I love the way Dave Ulrick styles the modern Charismatic's un-Biblical notion of prophecy as Two tiers of inspiration. Great read -- go there. In fact, you could say the same for every revelatory or sign gift attested in the New Testament, and anemically imitated today: "you can't have that, but" -- moderns have a pale facsimile, complete with "explanation." They're all "two-tier": the real item, and the modern cheap knock-off.

Jollyblogger wades in as well, bringing the discussion forward with some links, as well as comments of his own.

Phil himself rises from his sneezebed to contribute Spurgeon on private prophecies and new revelation. This Spurgeon-lover found it a fascinating read. Phil both provides passages from CHS used by charismatics to indicate that the great man was in their camp, as well as flat denials that we should look anywhere but to Scripture, or give over the use of our judgment, in walking with the Lord. None of the passages used by the open-Canon set indicate any such thing. At the most, they are times when Spurgeon later came to see that something he did or said was providentially used by God. Not one is an instance of him setting aside his Bible, slapping his mental gearshift into Neutral, and looking to peeps and mutters to tell him what to do.

UPDATE II: Ray over at Observations and Opinions issues A Call to Brotherhood, reminding us to watch our tone in this discussion. It is worth the read if only for this well-worded apothegm: "We are known by our fruits, NOT by our gifts."

UPDATE III: Jollyblogger makes a great contribution on the topic of providence, reflecting a bit of what I said just above but from a slightly different angle, in The Doctrine of Providence and the Charismatic Debate (h-t to the indispensable Phil Johnson who -- and this is really getting on my nerves -- has yet more helpful comments, with specific illustrations (and photos!) to the discussion).

UPDATE IV: Rob Wilkerson has a ton of links to contributions to this discussion in A Running and Terribly Disorganized List of Online Resources for the Charismatic Pillow Fight and A Theological Pillow Fight (Updated 11/11/05) . (Somehow, in all his comprehensiveness, he missed my little widow's mite. Sniff!)


Barbara said...

The "closed-Canon" position sounds equally negative, and the same folks who are de facto open-Canoners are de jure closed-Canoners. "Really-closed-Canon"? Nah. How about "sufficient Scripture"? Again, formally many Charismatics affirm that position, whileactually undermining it in fact with every argument for their stance. "Really-sufficient-Scripture"? Nah. "Completed revelation"? Better, but clumsy.

Sola Scriptura?

DJP said...

I've thought that, and I like it. But how to make it (A) a substantive, and (B) a single word.

I mean, are these people "Sola Scripturists"? "Sola Scripturians"? "Sola Scripturoids"? "Solenoids"?

Hm. That last one... maybe....

Barbara said...

You know, I had a very radical, powerful conversion that included the Holy Spirit coming through the Throne Room of Ezekiel 1 and showing me just who God is and just who I am and brought me to dust as I agreed with my own damnation for deigning to hold my own wisdom above Scripture, thereby holding myself above Himself in value and worth...and it was then as I held back the vomit from the view inside the blackness of my own heart that the cross that I'd always believed about showed up in the darkness of my swollen-eyed/tear-filled vision and became very real and I was filled with gratitude and then His love was literally shed abroad in my heart. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is an amazing thing at that time and ongoing, and as the Scripture says, the Holy Spirit will exalt Christ and teach us and convict us and comfort us. And He does it by illuminating the Scripture and by giving a love for it that can only come through the Spirit of the One who authored it in love.

So I tend to knd of get a "hiccup" when I hear people say that they affirm what Scripture says on one hand and in the next breath add a "but" usually followed by "I prayed about it and God told me...." Been there, done that, saw and agreed with my own damnation for it.

That said, I have had some powerful experiences since then, either in prayer or in Scripture but in every single case it always affirms Scriptural truths, humbles me more, and exalts Christ more as it comforts me and leads me to a deeper faith in and love for the Bread of Life as He nourishes me through His word while I wait upon Him and am driven deeper into a joyful submission to Him and just a more grateful, even exalted worship from what it had been before. It really is living and active and sufficient in truth, and He is most definitely with me always, as He has promised. When I have a question about something the Scripture means, I study it out and I take it to the Throne and ask about it, to be taught its truth and for the grace to bow the knee to it.

So I just have to wonder what it is that people need if the Word-made-flesh, the Living Water, the Bread of Life, that which proclaims itself to be adequate in equipping the man of God for every good work...isn't enough for them. The One who authored that book isn't going to change His mind and come out with something new.

Zac Dredge said...

While I'm not saying I necessarily associate as being a 'cessationist' I do see your plight. I have no congregation or seminary degree, and am not from the US of A(let alone Missouri, though a friend of mine is), but I do have a penchant for naming things. As such I will endeavor to find you a name of positive nature and thoughtfully descriptive dimensions to apply to the doctrine which you so adamantly associate with.

Here are some ideas:

-Scripturalist's/Scripturalism; to side-step the 'suffinceincy-there-of-lengthening clause' and communicate a sense that this is implicit. Scripture alone is the defining factor; let the association of it's reliability follow in the causal sense. If it catches on people will get this without it being in the title.

-Authoritarian's/Authoritism; to reference the Word of God as having all authority. Not quite as positive but possibly more descriptive. Someone can acknowledge the Bible as Scripture and stil not be clear on the authority this indicates.

-Follower's of the Word/Church of the Word; Simple reference to John 1 and other such descriptions of Jesus, the Christ, as the Word 'who became flesh'. Therefore swapping 'Christ' for 'Word' is still a completely accurate term for a Christ-ian, yet could be used to reference a specific doctrine as it's currently an un-used substitution in the official sense.

-Leather-Bound Arsonists... okay, so that's all for now. I can probably think of more if none of those three suffice.

Zac Dredge said...

Sorry to make an extra post, but this one is more about my opinion and personal story on the topic, so I guess there's no helping that...

Anyway, when I first heard the term 'cessationist', and even until recently, I had the entirely wrong idea what this meant. The doctrine I imagined it to be was actually something like Christadelphianism, or thereabouts. Thanks for being the one to clarify that 'cessationism' relates to the issue of Spiritul gifts, in the contemporary sense, rather than the presence of the Spirit in believers in the past nineteen hundred years.
I'm not sure how much you claim has stopped or when that is supposed to have occurred, but if it hasn't then that implies Scripture is just as evolutionary as naturalism. That is to say, total rubbish. Given God's Word is not 'total rubbish' and is Spirit-inspired, so I can only assume that there was a cessation of some sort at some point.
The third option could mean we may all staple together a variety of the Christian help books which most relate to us + the Torah + our favourite Biblical stories + our preferred 'Gospel accounts' + that letter from the un-Godly pastor who said it's okay to explore our identity outside of Christ + whatever else that supports our egotistical, sinful ways, then call it 'scripture'.

So yes, I identify with Scripture being 'closed' and that any inspiration the Spirit may give today cannot be the Scriptural kind. I don't necessarily acknowledge Cessationism in what I would consider it's fullest scope, but I do acknowledge the concept in regards to the completion of Scripture, which can't be added unto(Deuteronomy 4:2) in anything less than a command from God to a prophet or apostle. This rules out modern apostles being able to write authoritative works in the Spiritually inspired sense.

In saying all this, and as much as I'm not appealed by the 'Charismatic Church' I also don't see the benefit of assuming God's Spirit can't operate through us today. Nor do I know of Biblical contradictions to this possibility being founded in sound interpretation of an intended verse. I have read some of your articles relating to this, so I'll share the relevant questions and concerns I have where they belong; I'm simply expressing my changing definition of 'cessationism' and how it now differs from my initial assumptions, yet not completely.