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