Cessationism and Continuationism and Strange Fire, Oh MY! (part 1)

Where will you be October 16-18, 2013 and what will you be doing?

I’ll likely be in Abbotsford and I’ll be watching the livestream of the Strange Fire Conference (and I’ll wish I was in California to be there for it live).  I know some other people that are just itching to hear what will be said there, but some others are wondering exactly what is this all about and are wondering why John MacArthur is having a conference to simply be divisive or bash people who speak in tongues (or something along those lines).

Well, for those of you who don’t know, there is a serious battle brewing in evangelical circles, and in a majority of evangelicalism the debate is already over and one side has clearly won, mostly because there has been little opposition.  The debate has to do with the issues of the charismatic movement and the 2 camps are the continuationist and cessationist camps.  I’ve been asked by some of my readers to briefly explain those 2 camps and provide some resources for further understanding, so I’m going to break a rather large blog post into 3 parts.  This first part will give an overview of the positions.  The second part will give a little background to the conference.  The third part will give a series of links to both continuationist and cessationist media for anyone who wants to read/watch further and learn more.  Then, I’ll close off the series with a fourth post about my journey from being a charismatic to being a committed cessationist.

So here we go with a brief overview of the continuationist and cessationist camps:

Those in the continuationist camp are called by many names (“Charismatics”, “Pentecostals”, “3rd Wavers”, etc.) but the one unifying belief among all those camps is that continuationists believe that the sign gifts continued after the apostolic age.  This means that the gifts/manifestations of the Spirit that were experienced in the New Testament (specifically tongues, prophecy and apostolic healing) continue to manifest in this current age, much like they did in the age of the apostles.  This leads to 3 generally accepted points:

a. Tongues continues.  There are lots of various positions on the definition and usage of tongues, but continuationists are at least open to the modern practice of speaking in tongues.  Some would teach the doctrine of subsequence, which would separate the indwelling and the filling of the Spirit to be 2 separate experiences, one subsequent to the other.  I’ve often heard of it as the indwelling happens when you hear the gospel and get saved, but the filling is when you are under the control of the Spirit, get “on fire” for Jesus (usually using Matthew 3:11 as biblical support), or in some other way “get serious” about Christianity.

b.  Prophecy continues. Continuationists believe that God can/should “speak” directly to believers, outside of scripture, and give them some form of direction/revelation that is propositional in nature.  Many continuationists understand what this sounds like (prophecy), and many continuationists would suggest that what they’re doing is not what the prophets Isaiah or Ezekiel were doing.  Some express this difference as the difference between the gift and the office of prophet, others express this as a difference between the New and Old Covenant, others simply don’t use the word prophecy but replace it with another word (like “listening prayer” or “hearing the voice of God”), and others simply call it “prophecy” and proudly proclaim “THUS SAITH THE LORD!”  All things considered, continuationists get extra-biblical propositional communication from God and believe that prophecy (with an appropriately modified definition of “prophecy”) continues to be an experience of believers in this century.

c.  Apostolic healing continues.  Many, if not most, continuationists believe in what I call apostolic healing; healing done in the same manner as Jesus and the apostles.  All Christians believe that God can heal sickness/infirmity, but most continuationists believe that certain Christians have the spiritual gift of healing, and it often looks like it did with the apostles.  Some continuationists cast out demons of infirmity, some pray over cloths or items of clothing and lay them on sick people, and some simply pray over the sick and ask God to heal them (which I would argue is not “healing” like Jesus and the apostles did at all), but I have heard of all 3 of those as having the “gift of healing”.

Those in the cessationist camp are called only a few names (usually “partial” or “total” cessationist., meaning either the sign gifts are no longer around or all spiritual gifts are no longer around…), but the one unifying belief among cessationists is that cessationists believe that the sign gifts have ceased with the closing of the apostolic age (and 99% of cessationists that I’m aware of are “partial” cessationists).  This means that the gifts/manifestations of the Spirit that were experienced in the New Testament (specifically tongues, prophecy and apostolic healing) do not continue  to manifest in this current age.  This leads to 3 generally accepted points:

a. Tongues have ceased. There is a general agreement among cessationists regarding the definition and purpose of tongues: tongues were human languages spoken by the power of the Spirit that were a sign evidencing the outpouring of the spirit, a sign showing the inclusion of the Gentiles into the church, and a sign of judgment against unbelieving Israel.  There is a little bit of debate regarding when tongues and the other 2 gifts ceased (the writing of the final book of scripture, the death of the final apostle, the maturation of the church), but all cessationists believe that all modern manifestations of tongues are not the same as the tongues found in the scripture.

b.  Prophecy has ceased. This is a bit of debated topic in cessationist circles, but only because of the definition of prophecy in the New Testament.  Some folks think that the act of preaching is a form of prophecy, but cessationists all agree that nobody gets extra-biblical revelation today.  Prophecy, in the sense of the “thus saith the Lord” speech of  Ezekiel and Isaiah, is no longer around and hasn’t been for about 1,900 years.

c.  Apostolic healing has ceased.  This one is both the most widely agreed upon and easiest to prove.  Cessationists understand from the Scriptures that healing, as performed by the apostles, was instantaneous, unchallenged, public, and complete physical healing of outwardly manifest and obvious physical infirmities (blindness, paralysis, etc.) via a human agent, performed without prayer (The scripture doesn’t record a single instance of Jesus or the apostles praying for healing before they actually healed someone).  Cessationists agree that this sort of healing has not occurred since the end of the apostolic age (the last recorded healing was on Malta in Acts 28:8-9) and nobody in the modern era who claims to have the gift of healing does this sort of healing.  Continuationists would easily smash the cessationist position if any one of the thousands of people who claim to have the spiritual gift of healing would simply clean out a cancer ward on camera with verification by medical staff (and Jesus did this repeatedly – Matthew 4:24, 8:16; Luke 4:40), but the fact that nobody ever tries to attempt this is suggestive.

As you may have imagined, I’m transparently and passionately cessationist.  That being said, it’s also not my goal to give any substantial critique or interaction, but rather to attempt to lay out the beliefs of the 2 camps clearly.  Stay tuned for parts 2, 3 and 4!

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “The Armchair Cessationist” Unger

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23 thoughts on “Cessationism and Continuationism and Strange Fire, Oh MY! (part 1)

  1. Really interested in what you have to say on this issue. I have a number of friends who are either interested or deeply involved in either Bethel or IHOP.

      • Well, IHOP is definitely associated with “bananas”. I would prefer if you leave corporate conflict and your assaults on IHOP (or any of your other commercial competition) off the blog though, Mr. Waffle.

        As far as the International House of Pancakes has officially declared, they do not take a stand on any issues associated to the New Testament ministry of the Holy Spirit.

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  3. Thanks for the information and clarifying the cessationist position. I have never been Pentecostal or charismatic (Even though I’ve been plenty of places that insist that “speaking in tongues” is the sign of being a true Christian). I have served in and experienced ministries in other countries that were all Pentecostal in origin, and while they meant well when they were established they have crumbled into complete chaos, heresy, and corruption…the fruit of a very weak theological foundation. The legacy of stuff being preached there by “prophets” would make your skin crawl. I’ve seen the fruit and damage of leaders who claim to speak for God, and can’t be questioned. While I have always been suspicious of that type of thing for obvious reasons, I think I also would have flatly rejected the cessationist view a few years ago too. In the great wide spectrum between “word of faith” “in the spirit” “signs and wonders” churches and cessationism I’d say I’m leaning up against the second camp, and eager to understand more….because like with many things, once I actually understand it I realize it’s not what I thought it was. That was totally the case with reformed theology. Anyway I respect and learn from many solid preachers and theologians aren’t cessationist (but aren’t charismatic wack nuts either) as well as teachers like John MacArthur who are cessationists.
    Carla the “learning and growing, hungry for theology” pentamom

  4. Pingback: Cessationism and Continuationism and Strange Fire, Oh MY! (part 3) | Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely...

  5. Re: “…nobody in the modern era who claims to have the gift of healing does this sort of healing.”

    I would beg to differ. Many Modern-day believers and Christians throughout church history who have seen many people healed (or claim to) would not pray to God for healing, but rather use the authority they have been given in Christ to command sickness to leave, command eyes to see etc. This is very much like how the Apostles and Jesus healed. I’m not saying you have to believe their reports, but it should be noted that they are, indeed, healing in the same manner that the early church did.

    • Nathan,

      There are millions of reports of those kinds of healings out there, but nobody anywhere is coming forward and substantiating those reports. There are people out there (like Justin Peters or Hank Hannegraff) who spend a whole lot of time contacting every healing ministry under the sun and offering money and publicity for any documentation to back up their claims, but nobody ever collects the reward money.

      I’ve seen a whole lot of guys who could “heal” people of blindness or paralysis, but when I asked a few questions, I found out that the “blind” person was “legally blind” (and thus demonstrated their new found sight by catching a 3-foot red ball in front of 5,000 people…which they could easily do before hand) or the person with “paralysis” was actually in a later stage of MS and could technically walk on their own before they went in their wheelchair to see the faith healer.

      I wrote: “healing, as performed by the apostles, was instantaneous, unchallenged, public, and complete physical healing of outwardly manifest and obvious physical infirmities (blindness, paralysis, etc.) via a human agent, performed without prayer”

      In John 9, nobody at all challenged whether the man born blind was actually blind before or could see after (not the Pharisees, not the crowd, not anyone). I do not see this type of public and obvious healing anywhere, and every report of it happening in “Africa” or “Brazil” or wherever turns out to be a bunch of exaggerations/fabrications when I talk with friends who live in those areas and ask them to check into it.

      I hear reports that sound questionable in the first place, and when I research those reports I find absolutely no reasons to believe those reports and a whole bunch of reasons to disbelieve those reports.

      If a healing is a demonstrable fraud, then that healing is most certainly NOT in the same manner as the apostles and Jesus.

    • I believe in the power of healing and the power that the Holy Spirit gives to those who are willing to call upon him, The Holy Spirit has power and he is a gentleman…Healing through the word of God as Jesus did and commanding the power we have to call upon the name of Jesus…for their is power in the name of JESUS…In Oct. 2012, my cousin’s 12 year old son “Justin” was hit by a car while riding his bike…as a result of this accident his brain was damage and injured to the point of death…the doctors had given up! But God, as we prayed and cried out to a living God…In the name of JESUS…Justin was completely healed! No damage at all to his brain, he is now giving God the glory!

      • Well, I have no problem with your story. If Justin was healed after you prayed for him, but God directly did the healing instead of you, then we are in agreement; we’re both cessationists.

        The Holy Spirit directly heals people in response to prayer. Nobody is challenging that.

  6. And young friend of mine who is involved in Bethel reported to me with great excitement that an entire hospital in Seattle had been emptied in a single day by faith healers. When I pointed out that it had never had any news coverage, he said with apparent shock at my naivety, “Well of course not. You don’t think the world wants anyone to know about it, do you? ” Like the instance you referred to, a genuine healing of the Apostolic variety will be apparent. Even Jesus’ opponents didn’t (couldn’t) deny them. The best they could do was to attribute them to sorcery.
    Thanks for clarifying the difference between prayer for healing, and healing as a result of an authoritative command. Where does the healing gift of 1Cor. 12 fit in here? Or the effecting of miracles, for that matter?

    • Wow. A whole hospital? If only I could be given a SINGLE reason to believe him (outside his own questionable testimony)…and the “secular conspiracy” idea is unbelievably absurd. Do you think a news agency wouldn’t LOVE the ratings a story like that would get? Advertising during that broadcast would be more expensive than the superbowl!

      By Mark 3, the crowds were looking to the Pharisees to give any OTHER explanation for Jesus’ obvious and widely acknowledged healings, other than he was who he claimed to be. Nobody said “show me” or “give me evidence”; Jesus healed people in front of the Pharisees very eyes. The best alternate explanation they could come up with was the other spiritual power they knew about; Satan. That answer didn’t hold water for long…(Mark 3:22-30). It is interesting how modern healings always seem to happen “somewhere ele”, and usually in another country where it’s difficult to verify.

      I would suggest that the gift of healing in 1 Cor. 12 is exactly what we’re talking about, and the working of miracles is just that; some sort of performing of miracles other than healing (i.e. Paul’s shaking off of the snake in Acts 28:1-6).

  7. So if I’m hearing you correctly, the gift of healing is one of the “sign” gifts as opposed to a gift given for the health and maintenance of the church, and as such has ceased, and that healing now would follow the Ja 5:13-15 model. That makes sense to me. I’m amazed at how many people say to me, “So as a cessationist, you don’t believe that God will (can) heal anymore.” The other problem I’m constantly running into is that since Paul wrote about the gifts in the present tense, some interpret this as present tense forever.

    • You’re about right on Ed. One wonders why at the end of ministry, Paul advised Timothy to “use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Tim. 5:23) instead of “come to me so I can heal you”.

      God can heal and still heals. He hasn’t given the power of healing to specific individuals to heal (or harm in some cases – Acts 13:9-11) in this era. God still answers prayer and directly performed miraculous healings…just without the “middle man”.

      Also, present tense doesn’t mean “forever”. Basically 90% of the claims of “it says in the Greek” are simply incorrect, or at least inaccurate. Pastors NEED to know their Greek for 2 reasons:

      (a) unpacking the fine details of the scripture (done while doing sermon/lesson prep)

      (b) refuting the goofy ideas that all the self-proclaimed “Greek scholars” spread throughout evangelicalism (that’s the whole rest of a pastor’s week).

      If you pastor doesn’t have adequate training in Greek, his work in (a) will lead to another pastors’ week getting busier with (b).

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  9. Does “Apostolic healing” mean healings that are done exclusively by the apostles (and Christ), or the type of healings performed in the apostolic era? Which includes the apostles plus Barnabas and Stephen if “signs and wonders” includes healing.

    A friend of mine mentioned that the Bible doesn’t indicate that healing (and miracles) are ONLY for the apostles or the apostolic era. That 2 Cor. 12:12 and Heb. 2:3-4 may prove that apostles (or people from the apostolic era) performed signs and wonders to confirm their message, but it doesn’t follow to say that signs and wonders are exclusively for the apostles (or the era).

    What would a cessationist response be?

  10. Since “the Comforter” came, as God sent him… Nothing has changed. At least on Heavens side. But here sin in the believers heart still thrives. John McArthur, and those in his camp believe Santificaion, Holiness is not possible in this life. Thus his followers with this testimomny in heart and hand live in bondage to their sin. The difference, at least one, between the saints living then verses now is the separation caused by this foundational belief of “sin”. I do believe this current challenge to many leaders in the Charasmatic/Pentecostal camp is a very good thing. I watched Justin Peters video showing the the blatant false teachings of Word of Faith television evangelists and it was spot on! And I do believe these same preachers are fakes when it comes to their staged healings. – Though going back to what I mentioned earlier, a person who is regenerated onto a life of holiness here on earth will open God’s ability to do greater works through them verses those who live in a continued life of sinful bondage waiting for death to release them from it. This is a false mindset of today’s believer. This belief exists in both camps. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are able to sanctify now. Yes we walk through the Refiners fire, and through faith and grace we grow but believe holiness is possible in this life… And you will step into eternity a much different person already released to serve Him.

  11. Hi; this is one I am working my way through at the moment. I’m between ” I find it hard to believe that God NEVER speaks to believers outside of scripture” and “I spent over 30 years in charismatic churches and their version of knowing God did not live up to their claims of healing and anointing present, powerful and on tap”) at all. Whether the present day lack of God’s presence made manifest, anointing and power is because of sin and unbelief, or its becuase sign gifts have truly been intended to cease, I am not sure. There is, after all, huge difference between the modern, commercialized christianity practiced today and the kind of christian faith practied in yesteryear and bible times, and I seriously doubt that is because we have some kind of superior revelation. So I will be reading through this series with interest.

    • Thanks for the thoughts PR!

      I spent a decade+ in those circles and arrived at similar conclusions. After leaving, I was finally free to attack the scriptural case and I came to the conclusion that God does not give propositional to people as a normative part of their religious experience.

      A. He NEVER has done that. Even in Israel, Isaiah and Elijah weren’t the normal example of a relationship with YHWH that all the Israelites aspired to emulate.

      B. Getting revelation from God makes you a prophet. God may indeed still have a prophet somewhere (i.e. it is certainly possible), but the modern guys who claim to be ‘prophets’ aren’t actually prophets. When you ask the right questions of the Bible, one is forced to the exegetical conclusion that we are in an expected time of prophetic silence (as most of history was a time of prophetic silence).

      C. God regularly guides via the conscience and orchestration of the events of life, and this is where much of the confusion comes from. People who confuse ‘guidance’ with ‘speaking’ throw themselves into a pit of unnecessary confusion.

      As you read, feel free to toss questions and interaction up on the posts. I’ll do my best to help you find answers from the scriptures.

  12. Thanks Menno! I have a lot of questions but they aren’t easy to articulate. Maybe I could ask a few like this: If I am reformed, does that mean I will never get to know the actual manifest presence of God in my life? Does it mean not having intimacy with God? Just a text based relationship where I know Him by things I’ve learned about Him but not in any kind of personal fellowship? What about faith? Jesus said that greater things than these would those do who believe in His name. Yet some of the reformed camp I’ve spoken to not only refute charismania, they seem to refute faith itself beyond believing the bible is the word of God and having saving faith in Jesus. I have not seen a reformed website that includes testimonies of christians stepping out in faith and seeing God do something that can only be attributed to God’s response to someone actually believing Him .You know, twenty people prayed for rain but only one brought an umbrella sort of thing.I realize that charismatics, especially the nut bar types abuse faith and use it to manipulate people, often financially by making promises that God Himslf has not authorized them to make. But there is too much in both the OT and NT about the power of believing prayer to ignore. What do you think on this one? My personal observation so far of charismatics is that they cannot tell the difference between the flesh and the Spirit. The flesh, if I am correct, can duplicate all manner of spiritual things yet there are from a deceiving source. I’ve also noted that the movement attracts people who are very wounded and suffering from lack of safety and nurture growing up and the promise of an attentive God who carries us and heals us and meets our every need is quite appealing. But this then results in a fiath that is actually all about self validation and affirmation and not about holiness. Thanks for your time and for responding to my thoughts, appreciate it – iron sharpens iron ( and man , or in my case, woman, is born into trouble as the sparks fly upward, lol)

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