Cessationism and Continuationism and Strange Fire, Oh MY! (part 4) – My journey out of the charismatic movment

For those of you don’t just follow this blog but know me, you’ll know that from around 1991 (grade 9) until March of 2002, I was quite involved in the charismatic movement.  In 1992 I was scolded for arriving to youth group late and told “if you can’t come on time, don’t come at all”, so I took that as saying “you’re not welcome here”.   Being the angry and arrogant youth that I was, I shopped around for youth groups and ended up at 2 youth groups simultaneously; Hartland Baptist and Full Gospel Christian Fellowship (which was renamed to Gateway Christian Ministries).  The Baptist church was a North America Baptist Conference church and the Full Gospel Church was an Apostolic Churches of Pentecost church, both of which I was involved with until I graduated.

This meant that I was exposed to two very different theological streams and being very young, I liked the experience of the Full Gospel Church far more (they had a skatepark, rock music, and more attractive girls, etc.).  This also meant that I didn’t get taught on spiritual gifts and the whole charismatic movement from an ambiguously “open but cautious” Mennonite perspective alone, but I also got exposed to an unapologetic and boldly charismatic take on tongues speaking and doctrine of subsequence (meaning that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit happens at conversion but the filling of the Spirit happens sometime after and is manifest by the outward sign of tongues), prophecies that included the words “thus saith the Lord”, and “healings” of things like a sore elbow on a regular basis.  After I left Prince George for Bible College, I was affiliated with HillCrest Apostolic Church in Moose Jaw, Sask. (off and on) from 1995 to 2002, and when I finally left there I was the intern College & Career pastor.  By the time I had left I had found myself between the rock of God’s word and the “hard place” of charismatic theology, and I couldn’t ignore the pressure any longer.  From 2002-2006 I was in Bible College/Seminary (and finding myself being dragged by the scripture towards cessationism), and from 2006-2010 I was in seminary in Los Angeles, where I had the opportunity and resources to finally address some of the technical and complex issues I hadn’t yet tackled.  By 2010 I had become an firm and committed cessationist.

Now I was in the charismatic movement during the Toronto Blessing movement where people were barking, laughing, getting stuck to the floor with “holy glue” and even throwing up “in the spirit” (a practice referred to as holy vomiting.  No kidding).  I have been involved with at last 10 charismatic churches in multiple cities, I’ve visited another 30+, and I’ve lived, worked, and made circles of friends that included thousands of continuationists in 6 cities in Western Canada.  I have spoken in tongues, healed others, been healed and even prophesied, or at least I was told by the pastors, leaders, “apostles” and prophets in those circles that I actually did those things.  I’ve seen the third wave, the reformed charismatics, the Pentecostals, the “Pentelectuals” and several other streams of charismatic theology first hand.

I’ve also tried my best to learn about the movement from its strongest defenders.  In my struggling through the issue, I’ve read or listened to a biblical defense of all the various issues surrounding the charismatic movement (or charismatic related issues) from the best they have to offer: Sam Storms, DA Carson, Wayne Grudem, Vern Poythress, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, Jack Deere, Jack Hayford, Adrian Warnock, Henry Blackaby, etc. (and the worst they have to offer, like Benny Hinn, Rick Joyner, Oral Roberts, Tommy Tenney, etc.). Beyond that, I have worked through all the hundreds of pertinent passages of scripture (both Old and New Testament), many of them in the original languages.  I’ve contributed to an exegetical digest of 1 Corinthians 12-14 and part of that work involved reading everything published on 1 Corinthians 12-14 (and the issues of spiritual gifts) between 1996 and 2009 (I could post the bibliography, but it’s 24+ pages).

All this to say that I don’t come to my conclusions lightly or blindly.  I’ve almost exclusively read charismatic authors on the subject and critically engaged their arguments and exegesis, and I’ve had some good help from John MacArthur and David Jeremiah along the way (I would have linked David Jeremiah’s 1 Corinthians series as a resource in my previous post, but the sermon pack with 1 Cor. 12-14 in it is $78…).

I’ve read and critically interacted with every continuationist I could find, but I am inescapably bound by scripture and conscience to believe that the sign gift of tongues has fulfilled it’s purpose and ceased, the office of prophet is closed (until the tribulation), and the healing miracles of Jesus and the apostles are no longer manifest in the same way that they were in Jesus’ day.

I also don’t write this to give any sort of refutation of any one strain of continuationist theology, but rather to simply offer forward my own tale of exploration and discovery for, well, sheer personal interest to the people that are reading here.  I think I will write one more post that deals with some of the specific ideas/issues that have been watersheds in my journey…but that may come sometime next week.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “Mennoknight” Unger

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14 thoughts on “Cessationism and Continuationism and Strange Fire, Oh MY! (part 4) – My journey out of the charismatic movment

  1. This is a big surprise to me! You’re involvement with the ”full” charismatic movement. It’s full of surprise to me as well because as a child (being raised catholic, and getting in trouble ALOT for asking questions on the teachings), sometimes I would break out into just a brief babbling form of language. At that time, I did not even know about ”speaking in tongues”.
    I can recall running across the apt hall saying ”you’ve got to see these people!” to my neighbour/former best friend…I had happened across the Mr. and Mrs. Jim Baker and could not believe what I was seeing and hearing and was only channel-surfing, this is when they were ”young” and way before the scandals broke. Then there was the time there was a preacher in town had set-up a hostel for young boys homeless and another friend wanted to see him so I took her. I walked into that room and a chill came over me of pure evil and I told her “we’re leaving” she insisted on staying I ended up saying ”we’re leaving, this guy is NOT from God and is abusing some of those boys”. I was accused of defamation of character until he was arrested for molesting alot of those boys. And the list goes on and on….Schuller, Roberts, Hagin and more I can’t remember at this time.
    The verdict for me regarding MacArthur is already mixed….I’d heard him on Moody Bible Radio a few times….we’ll see, we’ll see. +++

  2. *”Decision” is a better and safer choice of word than ”verdict”. Judgment isn’t my job. Especially from a potato logo.

  3. It looks to me like your journey was not just out of the charismatic movement, but maybe out of Oneness, too. I am not sure about the Apostolic Churches of Pentecost (can’t find Stmt of Faith on their site) but the Hillcrest Church looks like a Oneness church. Did you know it was Oneness?

    • I’m not sure what you’re reading on the Hillcrest website to figure out that they’re oneness; their doctrinal statement refers to Christ as “very God and very man”. That’s consciously trinitarian language.

      When I was at Hillcrest, it was openly and consciously trinitarian. The previous pastor (Alan Buchanan) was, as far as I knew, a Trinitarian. Things may have changed their doctrine (they added the doctrine of subsequence back into their doctrinal statement; I believe that was removed when I was there 11 years ago), but I’m unaware of the ACOP being a oneness denomination.

      That being said, there’s often absorbtion of doctrine from a wide variety of sources in ACOP circles (with precious little discernment), and sometimes language creeps into sermons or documents that suggests a belief that nobody actually holds.

      • Perhaps it was the word “Apostolic” in the name that made her think it was a oneness church, since many of the oneness groups go by the name “Apostolic.”

  4. Vern Poythress is chariamatic? The last time I read something by him I thought he was very sympathetic but last minute in the essay came out clearly he was not Charismatic. I don’t remember where I read this but I believe this was his booklet, “Symphonic Theology.”

    • I’d say that Vern is “open but cautious”…which means continuationist, but in a limited way. I’m not sure exactly where he draws the lines, but he’s definitely not a cessationist.

  5. Pingback: Cessationism and Continuationism and Strange Fire, Oh MY! (part 4 … – Charismatic Feeds

  6. I discovered your blog last night and enjoyed many of your past posts. Thanks.

    I am looking forward to your fifth post concerning cessationism and continuationism.

    In reading your third post on the same subject, I followed your link to your own article on Apostleship. I enjoyed the content and printed it off for a more careful read. One question…where in your outline would you place “all the apostles” of 1 Cor. 15:5-7?

    The subject of cessationism and continuationism is very relevant to missions. Our family is changing mission organizations after 18 years, and we have discovered that relatively few agencies want to take a stand as cessationists. Rather, the general approach is to say, “We focus on the Gospel essentials” and then encourage members to hammer out charismatic issues at the team formation level.

    Blessings,
    Brian

    • Well, 1 Cor. 15:5-7 is clarified by 15:8-9. In 15:5, Paul is talking about Peter (Cephas) and the twelve (shorthand for the twelve disciples – a category that Paul was not a part of since he was a good Pharisee in those days). But, in 15:7 he says “Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (which separates the categories of “the twelve” and “the apostles” in his mind) and in 15:8-9 Paul writes:

      “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

      I think that Paul’s exclusion from “the twelve” but inclusion with “the apostles”, as well as him talking about his untimely birth (remember that the authentic apostles had to be a witness of Christ’s ministry and resurrection 0 Acts 1:21-22), seems to make it clear that Paul’s talking about the narrow office of apostle that was “the twelve plus Paul”.

      • I just re-read the entire message. I’m grateful your rebelliousness still was sheer commitment to The Lord. What a good ”re-route” you took. I’m also realizing I’ve always seen Paul as separate from “The” Apostles. When I examined why, it’s because Paul was so committed to his own faith in his zeal he murdered, tortured and scourged so many Believers. In his own strange way, he thought he was ”standing up for God”. “Strange” as in the way of thinking in today’s terms.

        It took the Intervention of Christ Himself to stop Paul, literally, in his horse’s tracks. Paul was “The Apostle to the Gentiles” and awed me when I read those words. How fitting, given his past background. The Gentiles were the least in eyes of the Jewish population at that time in History. Yet, the New Law had come into being. Paul seemingly WAS accepted after a few verbal skirmishes with Peter, if I recall. Paul, in my recall of reading the Scriptures, was eventually accepted as an Apostle: with the distinction of “Paul, The Apostle To The Gentiles”. Paul fascinates me. He left all behind.

        He was so committed to The Lord, he gave Peter a difficult time when Peter was eating with the “Gentiles” until some of Peter’s peers came along.

        Often, he would support himself by creating tents. Yet his entire background indicates he was quite well-off and had a family. When I would read of Paul, always I felt he carried comfort from God yet himself could not quite accept what he had himself done in the past to prior Christians. Actually, Judeo-Christians. “Paul, Paul, why do you persecute My people”

        You make me think and question. Yes, Paul was an Apostle. Yet, he is the only New Law/New Testament Apostle assigned specifically to minister to the Gentiles. He is separate from THE TWELVE, yet equal. He even ministered to them!!! Aw, my braincells are overtaxed now and I can’t hardly believe even in the pain I’m in right now I had to write this small perspective. Bless you and your family +++

  7. FINALLY!!! I just understood the “difference”!!! Paul was the one called upon to be “The Apostle to The Gentiles” and what a dirty job that was considered at that time!!!

    THE TWELVE were called upon to minister to the Jewish population to convert to Christianity, in today’s terms: “Messianic Jews”.

    Thank you for by your writing causing me to think and write and then…finally see the clear distinction. May God through Christ Bless your entire family.

  8. Hi Lyndon,

    I hope it’s not too late to get a response to my comment. I just found your blog through a link from Menno-Lites blog. I spent much of my life in Mennonite churches, though I now attend a community church, and so I am very interested in the direction of the Mennonite church.

    This comment IS about cessasionism vs continuism, I promise, but I just want to start off by saying that I a not Reformed or Calvinist, and so I started off by looking at Micheal Horton’s post via your link, but I confess I started to get really bogged down in “reformed this” and “five points that.” As I scroll through your different references, I recognize most of em as being so.

    So I am just going to talk directely with you, if you don’t mind. Your posts greatly interest me because my husband’s side of the family is of a Charismatic persuasion, though only recently am I really started to understand how much so. I’ve never seem any speaking in tongues or slain in the spirit while visiting their church, but just this last week I found out that the lead pastor is “very” connected to IHOP and goes out a few times a year to connect with them. This greatly concerned me, as did my sis-in-law putting a you-tube of a Bill Johnson sermon up (albeit a fairly benign one)

    Sorry the intro is so long! Getting to the point… your blog helped me in my thinking, because I can’t seem to figure out exactly where I stand on this issue… Reading YOUR definition of a cessasionist as rejecting the continuation of just those three specific works of the Holy Spirit seems to put me in that camp. But I think that I might be only a “partial” one (I kinda hate labels, however useful they might be). For example there is a very good blog “Beth Cavete” where I found lots of excellent thoughts and info on the subject of IHOP, Bethel Church, Toronto Blessing, etc, but she doesn’t seem to be a cessationist. However, her example is one that I would agree is a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. I’d link you there, but I read through the rules first so I know better! Ha ha…

    Anyway, she shares about how when witnessing to a neighbour, the neighbour told her that she wanted to become a Christian, but something was “blocking” her. So this lovely Christian woman prayed and asked God to show her what it was. And God gave her a vision of an event which when she relayed it to the neighbour, the neighbour recogized as a time she had an occult influence on her life. “Beth” could share the truth of Scripture with her, and she became a believer.

    Now I don’t believe there are Apostles today, or that what is being passed off as tongues has anything scriptual about it, or that the sorts of direct healing that you mention are happening today. But when I hear a story like this one (my mom has one herself) I can say, yes, I do believe that God may work in this way even today, though certainly not commonly, or because one is somehow “spiritually intune, ” etc. This is a story of God’s power setting a woman free to believe the Gospel.

    Anyway, what are your thoughts? Am I a cessationist? Or a partial one? I am working through Scripture right now, though as many passages as I can find that have to do with prophecy and false prophecy, so that when/if it comes up with my in-laws, I can show them all the Bible passages about it, but it would be nice to know where I stand, “officially” so to speak…

  9. I’ve studied Scripture intently for over 40 years (and am also a seminary graduate), and I have never ever EVER seen evidence for cessationism anywhere in Scripture. To begin with, nowhere does the Bible or the New Testament state that the gifts of the Spirit will cease any time before the eschaton. It’s simply not there. As Jack Deere states, the case for cessationism rests almost entirely on the perceived lack of the supernatural in the modern church as compared to what we observe in Scripture (which is a chilling commentary on the modern church). I am saddened by your conclusions.

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