Adrian Warnock and I never really got our great debate on finding the will of God off the ground. It's difficult to have a heated debate when the two combatants keep saying, "Oh, I see your point," "I agree with what you just said" and "oh, that makes sense." As we discussed it, it turned out that our differences were more over nuances and degrees of validity of subjective experience. In case you are new to this blog, I got the ball rolling with these posts, in this order - Is Finding the Will of God Biblical, and More on Finding the Will of God. Adrian responded to those with a post titled Finding God's Will. I responded to that post with my post called Still More on The Will of God. Adrian then replied with his post Cessationists and Hearing the Voice of God. Adrian and I aren't the only ones talking about this issue, in fact it has been beat to death in the blogdom of God, but if you want to see what others are saying about these things just check out the links in some of my posts and be sure and check the comments - lots of good comments have come in on this.
With that last post I mentioned from Adrian, the debate has now taken a turn into the whole issue of the charismatic movement and cessationism. If you read Adrian's post you see that he references a prophecy that was given in reference to C. H. Spurgeon. In a private IM conversation with Adrian I told him that I give up, he wins. After all, in theological debate a Spurgeon quote settles any issue. A Spurgeon quote is like four aces in poker, its like sinking a sixty foot putt for eagle on the 18th at Augusta (or St. Andrews) to win the Masters (British Open), its Michael Jordan's buzzer beater that defeats the Jazz in the NBA finals - in short, a Spurgeon quote settles any theological argument.
However, I couldn't let it go that easy, yes I had to find my own Spurgeon quote to come back at him with. I shared with Adrian the website from Eric Hayden where some reference is made to the charismatic gifts. Adrian posted that on his blog here. It seems to me that this shows Spurgeon to be a Cessationist - especially considering the following quote:
It is a rule of the kingdom to keep the best wine to the last; and therefore, I conclude that you and I are not left to partake of the dregs, but that those gifts of the Holy Spirit which are at this time vouchsafed to the church of God are every way as valuable as those earlier miraculous gifts which are departed from us.(Now that I had my own Spurgeon quote, I figured that I was at least even in the debate again). Adrian agreed but he also pointed out that, if Spurgeon was a Cessationist, then he was far more open to supernatural manifestations than are the cessationists of today are. Hmm, . . . good point. Adrian's post on the views of the Good Doctor (Martin Lloyd-Jones) would back that contention up. I guess I'll never win this debate if I keep agreeing with my opponents points.
As best I can tell, the issue revolves around the question of "what do we make of the charismatic phenomena." The issue is not so much "that" something is happening, but rather "how do we interpret that which is happening and what does it mean?" It is to those questions that I want to address my thoughts.
You can probably tell by now that I am in the Cessationist camp. I would accept the basic cessationist exegesis of somone like R. Fowler White in his articles "Gaffin and Grudem on Ephesians 2:20," and "Does God Speak Today Apart from the Bible?"I would agree with all those who believe that the canon is closed, and with the closing of the canon, God no longer speaks to us as He did the Biblical writers.
However, I do believe that God still acts supernaturally today. Adrian mentions that Cessationists claim the Doctor and if he was indeed a cessationist, I find nothing particularly troubling about his longing for a tremendous outpouring of the Spirit.
I think we all ought to acknowledge that there are phenomena in our world today that appears supernatural. I realize there are some extreme cessationists who would argue that there aren't. I heard the story of a seminary student who had some type of experience that he considered supernatural. When he told the story to his professors, he says that they said that couldn't have happened. The reason is that their theology wouldn't allow for it.
I find that kind of argument has little weight. Granted, people can deceive themselves, but not everyone who has this kind of experience is deceiving themselves. I had the chance to meet Dr. William Edgar from Westminster Seminary one time and ask him about charismatic manifestations. He said we all agree that God is doing some wonderful things, the disagreement is over how to interpret them. I find that a better approach. The cessationist often tries to tell the non-cessationist that his experiences didn't happen. To do so has the effect of either calling the non-cessationist a liar or mentally ill. And, there are cessationists who I am sure believe that. Edgar was wiser in acknowledging the reality of the phenemena, and letting the debate rest on the interpretation.
Before getting to the meat and potatoes of what I want to say I want to share a personal point of view on terminology. Personally, I don't like to use the terms "supernatural" and "miracles" to describe the charismatic phenomena. I prefer the old historical distinction between ordinary and extraordinary providence, as propounded by men like Jonathan Edwards. My reason for this is not because I think that terms like "supernatural" and "miraculous" make too much of the extraordinary, rather they make too little of the ordinary. If it is true that Christ holds all things together (Colossians 1:17) and that "in Him, we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28), then the fact that my arms are still attached to my trunk, my heart is beating and I am able to lift finger to keyboard to type this are just as much the work of God as parting the Red Sea. God accomplishes both, its just that He ordinarily permits hearts to beat and limbs to remain attached, but He only parts seas on very special and extraordinary occasions.
Having said that, the church has historically recognized that God sometimes does "extraordinary" things. Hence, the church has always acknowledged things like the "Spurgeon-prophecy" have happened, but those were extraordinary things, not to be expected by all, and not be be expected very often. I think the great divide between the cessationists and the charismatics came when the charismatics (probably around the time of the Azusa Street revivals) began to claim that that which the church had always considered to be extraordinary should now become ordinary.
Another divide came with the idea that God speaks today in the same manner as He did with the apostles and prophets of Biblical times. Hence, many think that what they think they hear God saying to them has the same authority for them as the Word of God. Just anecdotally I can think of someone who had a word from God for me, about me. After delivering the word, I asked this person if he would be willing to entertain the notion that he could be wrong. He said he had considered that, but he decided that it was definitely God speaking to him, so no, he could not be wrong. I happened to know from others to whom this person had given "words from God" that he had been wrong in the past, but he was undaunted. I think of someone I know who believes that God gave them a specific promise regarding a specific life event that was to come to pass. After years, that event has not come to pass and they struggle with feelings of abandonment by God.
I realize there is a sense in which you could accuse me of playing dirty pool by bringing out those examples. Charismatics have often pointed out that when cessationists want to make a point, they drag out the most far out, whacky examples they can find. In some respects I think this is what has hindered John MacArthur from making much of an impact on the charismatic movement with his book Charismatic Chaos. In that book MacArthur found a veritable rhogues gallery of kooks, lunatics, and wackos who were an embarassment to most of their fellow charismatics. This made it difficult for charismatics to want to be willing to listen to his theological arguments.
But I bring up those extremes to point out that, for good or for ill, the extremists defined the charismatic movement in most people's eyes for a long period of time. For many years, when you thought of a charismatic pictures of Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggert, Jim Bakker, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland and their ilk came to mind. Its just that they were the ones on TV, they were the ones making the big splashes, and so they were the ones you thought about when you thought about a charismatic.
Furthermore, the problems escalated from the cessationist point of view when the extraordinary became the expected and codified in doctrinal statements of denominations like the Assembly of God, where it was expected that all believers would receive a post-regeneration of baptism in the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in tongues.
The phenomena associated with the modern day charismatic movement seems to be irregular in the Bible, and furthermore, it is subject to different interpretations. For instance, here are just a handful of things we have to take into account in regard to some of this "extraordinary" phenomena.
1. Satan can produce extraordinary phenomena - II Thessalonians 2:9.
2. Extraordinary gifts are not peculiar to believers - Jonathan Edwards says this:
The gifts of tongues, of miracles, of prophecy, &c., although they are not ordinarily bestowed on the Christian Church, but only on extraordinary occasions, yet are not peculiar to the godly, for many ungodly men have had these gifts (Matt. vii. 22, 23) - " Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils ? and in thy name done many wonderful works? and then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.Consider the following examples of unbelievers who were enabled, sometimes by God, sometimes by Satan, to exhibit extraordinary phenomena:
a. The magicians of Egypt (Exodus 7:11, 22, 8:7)Speaking of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, Edwards says this:
b. The Witch of Endor - I Samuel 28
c. Balaam's Donkey - Numbers 22:22-30
d. Balaam himself - in Numbers 22-23, God speaks to him and through him. This was no satanic delusion, it was God Himself speaking. Yet, in II Peter 2, Jude 11 and Revelation 2, Balaam becomes a warning to others, an example of ungodliness.
In the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, the Holy Ghost does indeed produce effects, in men, or by men; but not so as properly to communicate himself, in his own proper nature, to men. A man may have an extraordinary impulse in his mind by the Spirit of God, whereby some future thing may be revealed to him; or he may have an extraordinary vision given him, representing some future event; and yet the Spirit may not at all impart himself, in his holy nature, by that. The Spirit of God may produce effects in things in which he does not communicate himself to us. Thus the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters, but not SO as to impart himself to the water.I would also point out that these Scriptural truths are demonstrated in many places in our day. A few months ago I was researching the charismatic phenomena in other religions and found that such things do indeed take place. Regarding the experience of speaking in tongues, my friend Terry Pruitt says this:
People in almost every religion practice some form of ecstatic utterance and it is a common human experience.As to casting out of demons, this is done in the Jewish faith, and the Islamic faith. Regarding charismatic phenomena in general, consider these words from Lynn Ridenour, a Baptist who converted to Mormonism:
Next. Sounds like you've discovered a friendly, exciting Charismatic, non-denominational fellowship——called Community Chapel where people probably raise their hands in worship, clap, shout (at times), where healings and miracles are witnessed, and demonic deliverances occur, and where spiritual gifts operate. That's great. I mean that. Here's the irony. All of the above is why I embraced the restoration gospel. I've often said, if Joseph Smith were alive today, he would "out-charismatic" the charismatics! Joseph Smith was a "non-denominational charismatic." He moved in the gifts of the Spirit; his leaders moved in the gifts. Worship services were exciting, filled with the glory of the Lord, and the anointing of His presence. Angels visited, sang, and ministered in their meetings. Joseph Smith's meetings were much like today's Benny Hinn's healing crusades——filled with spontaneous supernatural manifestations. I sometimes tell my charismatic friends, the modern-day pentecostal outpouring occurred in the midwest, not out west in California on Azusa street. A tremendous outpouring of the Holy Spirit first occurred in 1836 in Kirtland, Ohio. Not 1900 in California.That's 64 years before the renowned Azusa street visitation.
Coupled with all of this, I would point out a few insights gleaned from the book Seeing God by Gerald R. McDermott. This is a study and modernization of Jonathan Edwards Religious Affections. McDermott lists several attributes, gleaned from Edwards, of those who are deceived.
1. They have no fear of deception - they don't realize that spiritual deception is common and easy to fall into.McDermott and Edwards apply these thoughts to people who are deceived about their salvation, but it could just as easily apply here. Please note, I am not saying that those who have had extraordinary experiences are deceived, only that they might be, and they ought to recognize this. On several occasions I have run into people who have had extraordinary experiences who are quite certain of the deceitfulness of my heart, but are unwilling to consider that there could be any deceit in their hearts.
2. They don't question their own spiritual judgments because they don't know that their own hearts are often blind and deceitful. True Christians recognize this problem and bemoan the duplicity of their own hearts.
3. They don't comprehend their own sinfulness. They think they are virtuous and even better than most.
There is a certain kind of person who is prone to this. Colossians 2:18-19 says this:
18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not sholding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.There are those in the charismatic movement for whom their experiences has caused them to be humble and there are those for whom their experiences have caused them to become "puffed up," to the point of defrauding others. These are those who have no fear of deception, who don't question their own spiritual judgments and don't know their own sinfulness.
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (electronic ed.) (Col 2:18-19). Wheaton: Good News Publishers.
In all fairness, let me admit that these things happen amongst every group of Christians and are very prevalent in my own beloved little Reformed camp, and sadly, in my own life. I look back at ways I have deceived myself in the past and hang my head in shame and I also tremble to consider what I will find when I look back on this period in my life years from now.
Now, for all of my charismatic friends whom I have offended thus far, let me say that I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, trying to lump charismatics in with the Muslims, the Mormons and Balaam. What I am arguing against is the use of anecdotal accounts of particular phenomena to prove a doctrine.
Fortunately, in our day, the charismatic movement has matured. My guess is that Adrian would be in much agreement with my last point - that the phenomena themselves don't verify the doctrine, and I would be curious to know what my friend Bob at Mister Standfast, would say to the idea that the phenomena in and of themselves don't prove the doctrine. So, what do we do with the phenomena themselves? To answer that I would point to an article in the Journal of Evangelical Theology, (39/1) of March 1996, by Vern Poythress of Westminster Seminary, called Modern Spiritual Gifts As Analogous To Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works Of The Spirit Within Cessationist Theology. Sorry, I couldn't find it online. Poythress refers to extraordinary phenomena such as the things Spurgeon experienced, as well as others in the experiences of people like Samuel Rutherford, Cotton and Increase Mather, Os Guiness, R. C. Sproul, Peter Marshall and John Flavel. Some comments from Rutherford seem particularly helpful here. He speaks of certain men who had received prophecies of a sort which did in fact come true. Of these men, he says they:
1. Never tied any man to believe their prophecies as they believed the Scriptures.In contrast, Anne Hutchinson believed that her revelations about future events were as infallible as any Scripture, and she was as bound to believe them as the Scriptures as they were both inspired by the same Holy Spirit.
2. Never claimed to be immediately inspired by the Holy Spirit.
3. Never proclaimed any kind of judgment against those who did not believe their "prophecies."
Even though I disagree with Wayne Grudem's position on the gift of prophecy, he provides plenty of cautions, which, if heeded, could prevent a lot of confusion. MacArthur quotes him favorably in his book Reckless Faith. Grudem says:
"I am asking that charismatics . . . stop calling [prophecy] 'a word from the Lord' - simply because that label makes it sound exactly like the Bible in authority."Grudem also says:
"Remember that what is spoken in any prophecy today is not the word of God, but is simply a human being reporting in merely human words something which God has brought to mind."I agree with the main idea of that statement, although as you can imagine I don't think there is any objective way of verifying that that "which God has brought to mind" is really from God, if it is not a verse of Scripture. Still, his point is good - those who claim to prophecy ought not to equate their words with God's words. Also, Grudem warns that modern prophecy:
should not be thought of as "God's very words," nor should the speaker preface his or her remarks with words which would give that impression, such as "Thus says the Lord," or "Hear the words of God," etc - those statements should be reserved for Scripture alone. Something like, "I think the Lord is showing me that . . . " or "I think the Lord is indicating that . . . " or, "It seems that the Lord is putting on my heart a concern that . . . " would all be much more appopriate and far less misleading.
I would be curious to see if my charismatic friends would accept this assessment given by R. Fowler White:
For some, the words "God speaks today" are simply a popular, if misleading, way of describing the fact that God guides and directs His people by His Spirit in the application of His written word through promptings, impressions, insights, and the like. Most non-Pentecostals and noncharismatics have explained these (more or less) intuitive experiences in terms of the Spirit’s works of illumination, leading, and conviction. A few would even acknowledge that, among those who fit a given psycho-spiritual profile, these experiences might be accompanied by things seen or heard. All of these experiences are, however, carefully distinguished from the Spirit’s work of revelation. Hence, though the Spirit’s illumination and guidance may sometimes focus on phenomena such as promptings or impressions, those phenomena are not specifically interpreted as involving the biblical ministry-gifts of revelation, such as prophecy and tongues or their correlates (e.g., visions, dreams, auditions).John Murray has similar thoughts in "The Guidance of the Holy Spirit," in volume 1 of his Collected Writings:
We must rely upon the Holy Spirit to direct and guide us in the understanding and application of God’s will as revealed in Scripture, and we must be constantly conscious of our need of the Holy Spirit to apply the Word effectively to us in each situation. The function of the Holy Spirit in such matters is that of illumination as to what the will of the Lord is, and of imparting to us the willingness and strength to do that will. . . As we are the subjects of this illumination and are responsive to it, and as the Holy Spirit is operative in us to the doing of God’s will, we shall have feelings, impressions, convictions, urges, inhibitions, impulses, burdens, resolutions. Illumination and direction by the Spirit through the Word of God will focus themselves in our consciousness in these ways. . . It is here, however, that careful distinction is necessary The moment we desire or expect or think that a state of our consciousness is the effect of a direct intimation to us of the Holy Spirit’s will, or consists in such an intimation and is therefore in the category of special direction from him, then we have given way to the notion of special, direct, detached communication from the Holy Spirit. And this, in respect of its nature, belongs to the same category as belief in special revelation. The only way whereby we can avoid this error is to maintain that the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit is through the means which he has provided, and that his work is to enable us rightly to interpret and apply the Scripture in the various situations of life, and to enable us to, interpret all the factors which enter into each situation in the light of Scripture. (pp. 188-89)In both cases, the authors acknowledge the reality of the phenomena, but interpret those phenomena different than some of the more extreme charismatics.
People like Adrian and Bob at Mister Standfast, and Wayne Grudem are examples of the maturity of the modern charismatic movement. Back in the 80's and 90's it seemed like every charismatic I met was of the more, shall we say, excessive variety. It is not that way anymore. In fact, my favorite pastor in town, outside of my own denomination, is the local Vineyard pastor. I have had some terrific fellowship with him. When I have a Sunday off, I do my best to attend Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD, a "Reformed-Charismatic" pastored by C. J. Mahaney, and now Josh Harris. I have to confess that my historical aversion to many things in the charismatic movement came because of exposure only to the extremists, the Benny Hinn's, Kenneth Copeland's and others like them. I wonder how things would be different if C. J. Mahaney had become the face of the charismatic movement instead of some of these other guys.
There is a wonderful rapprochement going on these days between charismatics and cessationists. The article by Vern Poythress that I previously mentioned was his attempt to show the validity of the supernatural in a cessationist environment. I heard a story awhile back about a debate between a member of the Vineyard Association and Richard Gaffin, one of the leading cessationists. An observer was very impressed when Gaffin shared a hymnal with his debate opponent before the debate began and by the cordial tone in which the issues were argued. For all of his bluster against the charismatic movement, I was impressed to see that John MacArthur's church is sponsoring a singles conference next year where C. J. Mahaney will be one of the featured speakers. In one of his earlier editions of Charismatic Chaos, MacArthur noted that there were no great theologians who came out of the charismatic movement. This can't be said anymore. Although most of us don't accept his teaching on prophecy, you would be surprised at how often dyed in the wool Reformed cessationists quote Wayne Grudem's systematic theology. It's just an outstanding work and no one can accuse him of any inferior scholarship. The same can be said of Gordon Fee, one of the leading New Testament scholars of our day.
As you can tell by the horrible length of this post, I have given this matter a fair amount of thought. Although I have kind of laid out my case as to the problems I have with the charismatic movement, I hope it has been respectful and fair, and I stand ready to be corrected by my friends in the movement. In this post I have laid out what I see as the dangers, after all I had to, I'm arguing with Adrian, remember ;-) At the same time I am willing to admit that people like Spurgeon and many people today have been greatly blessed by the extraordinary phenomena, and in case I haven't said it, yes I do believe that God does do this from time to time.
I am wondering if, as a way forward, our charismatic friends could realize the cessationists allergic reaction when they say they have received a "word from God," and simply follow the advice of Grudem, to tone down the language, and recognize they could be wrong. Also, could they admit that these things are truly extraordinary, and therefore, not to be expected on a regular basis.
On the other hand, I wonder if we cessationists could quit trying to disprove the phenomena and acknowledge, a la Martin Lloyd Jones, that God can and may do extraordinary things in our day. Also, could we quit seeing Benny Hinn, Jimmy Swaggert and people like that every time we see a charismatic brother and sister. James Davison Hunter, in his book Culture Wars, showed that it is always the extremists who get the press. The rank and file of any movement usually are not extremists, yet they get tarred with the same brush as the extremists. We can count on the Benny Hinn's of the world to continue doing outlandish things to keep themselves in the news, but there are millions of brothers and sisters in the charismatic movement who are alot closer to us than they are to him.
May God give us the grace to listen to and learn from one another.