Category Archives: sign gifts

Building with a Full Deck? (Response to CMP, part 7)

By Marv

This post is part of a series responding to C. Michael Patton’s eight-part series at Parchment and Pen “Why I am Not Charismatic,” which is also conveniently available for download as a single e-book here. This is in response to part seven.

 

Michael,

You admit to a history of deep-seated emotional bias against Continuationism (against Charismaticism,  really), but you insist you are all over that now.

You have weighed the Cessationists’ Scriptural arguments in the balance and found them wanting, correctly, I’d say.

You then offer up a subjective consideration of your personal experience, informed my some dubious expectations and shaky definitions.

You top this off with an argument from ignorance, based on selective evidence, ignoring contrary data, and out of all possible explanations you opt for the one that by an odd coincidence happens to correspond to your long-abandoned bias.  Go figure.

So, having laid a foundation such as this, you are now ready to build, it seems.

I don’t know, though.  At this point you loop back to some of the Scriptural arguments you previously said were underwhelming.  What, had they been pumping iron in the mean time? 

Just a few points in reaction:

1.  That whole “supernatural sign gifts” thing.  Not to repeat myself, but as I explain here, I really do call into question how valid that category is scripturally.  You post a chart in your part one, and then proceed to assume this concept for the duration of your series, but you never really derive it from the Bible.  Yet it controls your entire definition of “Cessationist.”

You understand, don’t you, that the fact that you choose to define Cessationism in terms of the sign gifts, doesn’t mean that Continuationism does or should.  I think Cessationism is wrong in part because the concept of “sign gifts” itself is spurious.

All “gifts” are empowered by the same Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:11, 28-29), but only some are “supernatural”?

Spiritual gifts in general are said to be God’s co-testimony to the gospel (Heb. 2:4).  So which ones are not “sign gifts”?

2.  You make a statement: “Everyone would agree that the work of Christ is not repeated over and over.” Well, yes, if what you mean is the finished work of Christ, His unique redemptive work.  However, you have here stumbled onto what I think is the main point you have missed all along.  In another aspect of Christ’s work, it certainly does continue—if you believe what Jesus says about it:

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.  (John 14:10-12).

Note two things:

a. What you say about “sign gifts” Jesus says about His works: they confirm His words and help to build faith.

b. “Whoever believes” in Jesus will do these same works.

Jesus does not suggest that this is the only reason the believer is to do these works.  In fact we would do them as He did them:  because they are the Fathers’ works (v. 10b).  And this is the fruit that brings Him glory (14:13; 15:8).  When does that purpose get exhausted?

3.  You say you don’t find compelling evidence that all this continues. Well, that “whoever” in v. 12 does seem to me to indicate continuation through this age.  Does it not to you?  What about when Jesus brings this subject up again, saying that the power given through the Holy Spirit was for testimony “to the end of the earth”?  And if the power to do His works was because God was with Him (Acts 10:38), what could it mean for Christ to promise to be with us to the “end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). End of the earth, end of the age, does that sound like two generations?

4. You use the “no longer any need” argument.  Whose “need” do you have in mind?  If you are talking about God, “need” is not a relevant category.  God does not act out of necessity or need, but because He has willed, and according to His plan.  And if we believe Jesus’ words, it is a matter of God’s plan and His will that believers are to do the same works that He did.

On the other hand, if you are talking about our need, Jesus says—of this very subject—that without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).  God’s need is 0%; our need for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to do the works of Jesus is 100%. 

5.  Now to your specific Scriptural citations, Paul refers to the “signs” of a true apostle (2 Cor. 12:12).

“The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.”

Now I think it is likely that the first use of “signs” here does not mean “miracles,” but simply “indications” (as the NIV takes it: “The things that mark an apostle…”).  But no matter, because we still have clear reference to “signs and wonders and mighty works.” 

It is not surprising that apostles would be marked out by, among other qualities, their wonder-working power.  I think they probably performed the works of Christ in fullness, that in others we would think of as individual gifts.  We know it was not only the apostles through whom these acts of power were manifested (Acts 6:8). At any rate, however, Jesus’ words are pretty clear: “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do.”  Limit this “whoever” as much as you like, considering the way Jesus uses the phrase (ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ) throughout the Gospel of John, and these are not including the variations on the wording:

 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. (John 7:38)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live (John 11:25).

And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me (John 12:44).

6. Draw what implications you will from Eph. 2:19-22: “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (v. 20), but the whole building, not just the foundation is the “into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (v. 22).  This takes us right back to one of the major themes of John 14-16, God dwells in the believer through the Spirit in order to bring forth His works:

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. (14:10).

In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. (14:20).

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”  (14:23)

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (15:5)

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (15:7-8).

7.  Finally, you resort to Heb. 2:3-4.  Again, I have dealt with this passage at some length (here), but there are a few remarks that need to be made about your citation:

a. You make a point of saying the gospel was confirmed “to them,” but not “by them.”  Apart from the fact that the author asserts the former, though not the latter, he is talking to people who are unconvinced of the gospel,  those in danger of “drifting away” (v. 1), of “neglecting so great a salvation” (v. 3).  Jesus said those with faith in Him would do His works.  Are we somehow surprised if those lacking faith do not?

b. Recall that what is being said here is in regard to “gifts of the Holy Spirit” (v. 4) in general, not some subcategory of “supernatural sign gifts.”

c. I have to question your use of “seems,”  which apparently serves in lieu of actual logic:

“This seems to indicate once again that the supernatural gifts primarily served a confirmatory purpose, not simply a benevolent purpose.  (emphasis mine)

“It also… seems to suggest that these confirmatory gifts were already beginning to exhaust their purpose.”

“The writer of Hebrews and his audience (the “us who heard”), it would seem, did not possess these gifts themselves, but relied upon the witness and testimony of those who did possess these gifts.”

None of these statements are at all indicated by the passage.  As Jesus Himself said, the works He did back up His words, but these were not their main purpose, which was to glorify His Father.  The author here makes the same point: believe the words, or at least believe because of the works.  There is no indication whatever in the author’s words that the works Jesus prophesied and promised were not continuing and were not to continue.

Response to Patton’s “Why I’m Not Charismatic” (Part 6)

by Scott

Marv and I are currently working through a series in which we are interacting with Michael Patton’s eight-part series entitled “Why I’m Not Charismatic”. You can also download Patton’s series in a 22-page PDF file.

If you want to read our first five posts, they are here:

To be honest, I believe this is the most difficult section of Patton’s series with which I have had to respond. It isn’t so much that the difficulty comes on biblical and theological grounds, but what has happened is that the lines have become extremely blurred. On a more positive note, this could be a good thing for the sake of seeing continuationists and cessationists come closer and closer to agreement, moving towards greater unity in this particular area of our theology (which includes practical theology or orthopraxy).

But with section 6 of “Why I’m Not a Charismatic”, this becomes difficult for at least two main reasons.

  1. Agreement that, because God is sovereign, He can do the miraculous.
  2. Terms like normative, expectations and sign gifts.

Now, I am aware some of these things have already been addressed previously in some form or manner. But they keep coming up, these same underlying statements. And, so, hence why I am re-addressing them, but hopefully with some newer thoughts.

1) God Is Sovereign and Can Do Miracles

This is where the blurring of lines, or confusion, begins. For example, Patton lays out this well-known argument from more modern-day cessationism:

Folks, we all believe in miracles to varying degrees. If you don’t then you have departed from the historic Christian worldview and slipped into some variation thereof (something of the deist sort).

I identify this as a more ‘modern-day’ argument because I am not sure you would have heard too many cessationists some 50 to 100 years ago arguing this. They would have believed that God certainly did (past tense) the miraculous in biblical times during the three main clusters of Moses-Joshua, Elijah-Elisha and Jesus-the first apostles. But the purpose of such had been fully exhausted long ago with the completion of the New Testament canon.

But, today, as Michael reminds us, we all believe in miracles to varying degrees.

I would identify these types of statements as a ‘get out of jail free’ card. I am not trying to be nasty here, but I am trying to be real. When it comes to discussion around these issues, many modern-day cessationists will slap this card on the table as if to say, ‘Yeah, well we believe in those things as well. We believe God is sovereign and can do whatever He wills.’ And, thus, this should settle the matter.

Now we must respect a cessationist’s acceptance that our God is truly a God of the miraculous. This is a starting point. And you even have people now, like Patton, who say they are open to all the gifts of the Spirit. But there is still much confusion when you start digging deeper into their belief, especially the more practical distinctions.

But I believe the arguments like, ‘Of course God is sovereign and, so, He can do miracles whenever He wants,’ can serve as a smoke screen. I suppose both Calvinists and Arminians believe in God’s foreknowledge and predestination, since the words show up in Scripture. But how does this break down for both groups? A lot differently.

So, Patton even notes some differences between the continuationist and cessationist.

A continuationist/charismatic is one who believes that the so-called supernatural sign gifts such as tongues, prophecy, worker of miracles, etc. are normative for the church and that we should commonly expect people to be gifted with them.

A cessationist is one who believes that the supernatural sign gifts ceased after the death of the last Apostle or shortly thereafter due to an exhaustion in their purpose. Therefore, we should not expect such gifts in the church today.

Differences? Yes, though oddly Patton makes this statement later on:

Even most cessationists believe that God could gift anyone with the gift of tongues or prophecy at his will.

This is where some can be left with a furrowed brow of confusion. What do cessationists believe here? Can God perform and give such gifts? Does God do such? Or does He not?

So, it seems at this rate, anyone could play a ‘get out of jail free’ card with regards to our beliefs. ‘Well, if God is really God and can do anything He wants, then He will do A or B or Y or Z.’ Or how about, ‘Well if God is really God, then He could reveal Himself to me.’ Or finally, ‘If God wants others to know about Him, He could tell them.’

Goodness, this all sounds like we are moving towards Christian-agnosticism. But don’t let the clay stand before the potter saying, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ There is responsibility with our faith. We cannot just claim something of black ink on white paper, or black type on a blog. There is responsibility given to the believer.

Listen, I am completely convinced of the sovereignty of King Jesus and that our Father in heaven can accomplish anything He wants. Nothing can thwart His plans. Nothing! But that will never stand as an excuse for the saints to not pursue all that God has for us in Christ by the His Spirit.

So, with regards to miracles, healings, prophecy, etc, we can’t just sit around and claim God’s sovereignty and go about our business as if we have ticked (checked) all the boxes that are required. We can’t even simply tick the box that says, ‘I’m open’ (see more here). Many have been open to Christ. But following is a different matter.

2) The Confusing Terms

Ah, but here comes the clarification of the contention and difference, this from Michael’s own words:

A charismatic, however, believes that these are normative and that we should expect them. Did you get those two important words? Normative. Expect.

The words normative and expect can cause the two groups to talk past one another, and even people within the same group can talk past one another due to these terms. Now, I already addressed the word normative in my part 2, but I thought I would reiterate some things and share some more thoughts.

I believe the use of these terms can become just another ‘get out of jail free’ card. Why? Because each person has a different definition of what is normative and what is to be expected. But just as I was not willing to grant the first pass, I cannot allow this one either.

Cessationist and continuationist would both agree that the fruit of the Spirit are normative and to be expected. I’ve yet to hear anyone claim for their ceasing and I don’t expect to ever hear such. But do we always see the fruit manifested? Heck, there are even periods when we might say the fruit of the Spirit seemed quite foreign to a portion of the church. I’m thinking the period of the Crusades, I’m thinking of western expansion into places like Africa or North America (all in the name of Christ many a times).

But, guess what? These are still normative and to be expected, right?

There have been times when polygamy was acceptable, but the norm and expectation, from a biblical standpoint, was to the contrary. There was a time when indulgences and penance were acceptable, but the Christlike norm and expectation should have been different. There was a time when slavery was acceptable, but the norm and expectation was to the contrary.

Ah, but this is much different with the issue of miracles and healings. Is it? I know what Scripture teaches as the norm and expectation of the body of Christ. Christ’s body is to be all of Christ in all the earth.

Michael goes on to remind us:

However, there may be times in history when miracles do happen much more regularly. God moves in time at his leisure and has complete freedom. We dare not attempt to bind his freedom with an artificial theological position of our own systematic comfort. I believe that there are times in history and places where miracles do seem to become regulars. But, generally speaking, they are extremely rare. Too much expectation can set us up for disillusionment. Most people don’t get healed. Everyone stays dead. Christian’s bills sometimes don’t get paid.

Wow! Let’s just hand out an infinite book of passes, those ‘get out of jail free’ cards. We need a bunch here today.

This kind of thinking, this kind of theology, this kind of practical theology leaves us with a bunch of theory and absolutely no expectation. In theory, we say it could happen. But we walk around with no expectation at all. That is not too healthy, is it? We never step out in faith to pray for the sick, we never take the time to listen to God as if He might speak, we never step out to utter that which we believe God is communicating.

Sure, we might fail or miss it at times. You know, just as those in the cloud of witnesses could have and did miss it at times, and all those since. I’m not trying to throw out my own ‘get out of jail free’ card. This is simply the reality that God’s people can and do miss things. God speaks and we don’t realise it. God doesn’t speak and we think He does. I’ve prayed for people before with a faith that they would be healed, and they weren’t. I’ve not prayed for people at times because I didn’t want to deal with the disillusionment of another non-healed person.

But, as a friend wrote in a song – Our disillusionment is how we grow. But I still want to take steps of faith. And as we keep journeying in hearing God, we will become more and more sensitive to the words of the Father, looking to emulate the Son’s own reliance upon the Father (John 5:19).

So, with the particular words normative and expectation, I think they become unhelpful on many counts. If a continuationist speaks of all gifts of the Spirit being normative or that we should expect them, I am pretty sure most don’t believe this necessarily warrants that we each walk around every single day laying hands on the sick and seeing healing or receiving revelation that we stand up an prophesy publicly. I’m not sure this was the mindset of even the early church. Maybe, maybe not.

But the problem begins when we take a more individualistic mindset on these things, or only viewing things from the standpoint of our own local church. We forget that Christ has a body of believers spread right across planet earth, possibly reaching the 2 billion mark now, which Patton testifies to himself on his own blog. Even if that number were a bit high, and even if we sliced that number to only consider those who were truly pursuing Jesus, we would be left with a large portion of people interested in pursuing the things of God. And to think that Jesus might even do something without the express permission of His people.

But in our western mindset, we only think about our lives or our local church. Yet Jesus is Lord of a body that spans across all 24 time zones. I’m thinking that, though you or I might not see a miracle today, God is quite actively at work all across the world and these things are taking place on a daily basis. Remember, 2 billion Christians today.

And please don’t put this off to just third-world areas. Yes, there is a lot more regular testimonies of miraculous activity in places like Africa, India and China. I have plenty of ministry friends that can testify to such. But I almost vomit when I hear someone argue that, the reason this happens more regularly in the third-world is because the testimony of Christ has not fully spread to those areas nor are the Scriptures fully distributed in these places. Huh? What?

So if these people in the third-world spread the gospel a little more, receive more copies of Scripture and acquire more theological training, then the norm and expectation would then be to see the miraculous fade? Are we serious? This only resembles the age-old argument that these things pretty much faded sometime after John, the apostle, died and the New Testament canon was completed. It’s just more suitable for the modern day. Please give me a break.

God’s activity, the norm of His activity, is to do that which only He can do – to reveal Himself, to testify to Himself, to break in with the kingdom rule of God which brings salvation, righteousness, healing, revelation, faith, hope, peace, joy, etc. That is God’s activity from Genesis to Revelation, which includes us since Christ has not returned to marry His bride.

As to our expectation, well Jesus did teach that those who believe in Him would do the works that He did (John 14:12), which is not only tied to miracles or healings or prophecy, but does include those. Luke starts off Acts by telling us that, in his first book, he wrote to tell all that Jesus began to do (Acts 1:1), thus expecting more to continue via His Spirit-empowered body. And Paul says to earnestly desire spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1), even telling us to not despise prophecy (1 Thessalonians 5:20) and to not forbid speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39). And remember, Michael tells us that Scripture actually does not teach that these gifts will end.

So, if they are not to end, and we have so much encouragement to continue on in these things of Jesus, then let’s get on with lining ourselves up with the challenge of the God-breathed Scripture. Let us take the free-pass cards back off the table.

Normative – Yes, knowing that Jesus has a people spread across planet earth.

Expectation – Yes, according to the teaching of Scripture, which Michael affirms.

As for sign gifts, those who frequent To Be Continued will note that we are not huge fans of categorising certain gifts of the Spirit as sign-gifts. It’s a dubious category that cessationists have created to serve their own purpose. I am a little more benevolent than Marv in recognising that this sign-gift category might be semantically sustained. But, if so, there is still nothing suggesting that this sign-gift group gets chucked out or becomes rare as the church moved into the second century AD.

Still, so we don’t get too repetitive, and so I don’t go on and on, I point you to this post and this post to read more about the sign gifts.

So, of course, it is quite easy for both cessationists and continuationists to espouse their belief in God’s sovereignty and that He can perform miracles whenever He wants. That’s great in one sense, but not too helpful in another. Doctrinal statements consisting of white paper and black ink don’t lead to something being a reality in our lives. Rather, we are challenged to align ourselves with Scripture’s teaching, this being true even if what we see around us is contrary to biblical teaching. And Michael Patton believes Scripture teaches that these gifts will not cease.

So, what is the next step? I think Marv already gave some practical points to consider in part 3.

Is That What History Really Teaches Us? (Response to CMP, part 5)

By Marv

This post is part of a series responding to C. Michael Patton’s eight-part series at Parchment and Pen “Why I am Not Charismatic,” which is also conveniently available for download as a single e-book here. This is in response to part five.

Michael,

The unspoken premise behind your historical argument is that over the centuries the church has looked pretty much the way Jesus intended.  Really?  Anything that goes missing, then, is like the dog that didn’t bark, prima facie evidence that the thing has dried up at the source.  It is something that God just isn’t doing any more.  Once we start playing that game, however, it is difficult to know when to stop.

There are a number of ways to respond to your part five, “An Argument from History.”  As for your specific citations of Chrysostom and Augustine, Scott has countered these quite handily in an earlier post here.  Jesse Wisnewski makes a similar argument at Reformed and Reforming here, and also makes the observation here that it illustrates the fallacy of an argument from ignorance.  Then there’s the point that you take us on a snipe hunt for the elusive “supernatural sign gifts”, showing that if you set your definitions and expectations just right, you can be assured of coming up empty handed.  This is your own “glaring weakness” in commenting on about Jack Deere’s argument, where you say:

He equates evidence that the historic church believed in the miraculous with evidence that they were continuationists. You can’t equate the two without misrepresenting what is at stake.  The historic Christian church has believed in the miraculous, they have not believed in the continuation of the supernatural sign gifts, by and large.

On the contrary, Michael, I’m afraid it is you who have misrepresented the situation by insisting on your own minimalist definition.  Continuationism in the first place is not about “gifts” but that Jesus Christ:

…continues His work of glorifying His Father, building His Church, and advancing His Kingdom through the ongoing, vital and dynamic interconnection He maintains with those who are in Him, accomplished through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit…

From my earlier post “What Continues?

This empowering presence is referenced in a number of forms such as prayer in Jesus’ name (John 14:13-14), the prayer of faith for healing (Jas. 5:15), and signs and wonders (Acts 4:30).  The phenomenon that this empowerment is parceled out through the different members of the body gives rise to the concept of “gifts” (1 Cor. 12:4).  Parallel terms here include “service,” (v. 5), “activities” (v. 6), “manifestations” (v. 7).  Elsewhere they are called “distributions” (Heb. 2:4, though typically translated “gifts”).

Isolating the term “gifts” only serves to distort the issue, particularly when pared down to the scripturally dubious category “sign gifts.”  This category serves as a nice sharp container where the used, hazardous and unwanted bits may be safely disposed of, but it is not only absent from church history, it doesn’t even appear in the Bible (more here.)  And I’ll have more to say as I respond to your part seven.

I want to take a somewhat different tack, however, in responding to your argument from history.  As I suggest in my first paragraph, the same kind of disappearing act occurs with other aspects of apostolic teaching, and I don’t think you, at least, would see these as evidence God is no longer doing that sort of thing.

1.  Salvation by grace alone through faith alone.  It is amazing how the sharp edge of this central apostolic truth goes blunt shortly after the death of the apostles.  The Shepherd of Hermas, for example (ca. AD 150), which is listed among the “Apostolic Fathers” proclaims that once you are baptized, you can sin and repent only one time (Mandate 4, chapter 3).  If this were true, we’d all be toast, of course.  Thank God for the butter of His grace!

We again pick up a clear understanding of grace with the Protestant Reformation, but what are we to say about the intervening centuries?  The truth wasn’t completely absent, but unmixed expressions of it are scarce for several centuries.  We now have some five centuries since the doctrine’s recovery, but do we conclude that in the interval God had withdrawn sola gratia?

2.  Believer’s baptism.  Speaking of baptism, I understand your ministry statement of faith is deliberately short and broad, but I think you personally hold to believer’s baptism by immersion, if I am not mistaken.  At any rate, I think this was the “normative” apostolic practice, but it did not fare so well in the history of the church.  Even the Protestant Reformation largely did not restore this, except in what some would designate as “fringe groups and cults.”  Some really do argue for de facto paedobaptism from the course of history.  Would you?

3.  Premillennialism.  Understand that I am directing this specifically to you, Michael.  A number of people will not agree with this point, including Scott, but it is given as an example.  I believe you hold that the apostolic hope was premillennial, but that this understanding disappeared for the most part early in church history.  It had a resurgence around the nineteenth century.  So in the sweep of history, it is not that different from the time frame you attribute to continuationism, which you say was not “in any way normative before the twentieth century.”

This historical premise is definitely used by some as an argument against premillennialism.  What about you?  Are you a de facto amillennialist?

So what do we really learn from history?  Don’t we end up proving a little too much if we take your approach?

These are just a few of examples.  You could probably suggest any number of reasons why particular doctrines or practices ceased to be “normative” over the years, without suggesting that God was “no longer doing that.”  Indeed, we ought to exhaust every other possibility before going with that option.  Ignorance?  Tradition?  Clerical status?  Biblical illiteracy?  Misunderstanding?  Distortion over time?  Fear?  Disbelief?  Poor leadership?  Politics?

The church is often likened to a ship.  Over the years wooden sailing vessels require periodic maintenance.  Their bottoms becomes fouled and their wood suffers from rot.  The barnacles need to be scraped off and the original woodwork restored.  Unfortunately, some of our ecclesiastical institutions of long standing over time became in many ways more barnacle than timber.

From time to time more extensive refits have been necessary. The best known is probably the Protestant Reformation, which largely focused on soteriology.  Today, I humbly suggest,  it is time for recovering apostolic pneumatology.

Semper reformanda.

“Charismatics are wrong ‘cuz it never happened to me” …and Other Stupid Statements. (Response to CMP, part 3)

By Marv

This post is part of a series responding to C. Michael Patton’s eight-part series at Parchment and PenWhy I am Not Charismatic,” which is also conveniently available for download as a single e-book here. This is in response to part three.

Michael,

First, please don’t take the title too seriously.  It is, as you might suspect, an hommage to your own provocatively titled series, last seen here.  Besides, you start your part three by admitting that its argument is (a) not a very good one and yet (b) one that works for you.

I appreciate the irony though.  In certain circles it is Self-Evident Truth that Continuationists (a) follow experience over Scripture, and (b) are doing that “evil and adulterous generation” sign-seeking thing (Matt. 12:39; 16:4).  Yet here you tell us, first, that while the preponderance of Scriptural evidence backs Continuationism, you remain a Cessationist due to your experience.  Then, second, you demand a sign, failing which, you remain a (de facto) Cessationist.  It’s refreshing, to say the least.

With that introduction, here are a few thoughts on your part three.

1.  You are “open” Biblically and theologically to Continuationism.

The other day I heard somebody on the radio giving the usual condescending admonition to Continuationists always to give Scripture priority over experience.  This same guy kept making reference to “the four sign gifts.”  It was the first time I’d heard these given a definite number.  (Does that mean tongues has ceased but interpretation of tongues continues?)  I’d really like for him to put his money where his mouth is and show me the Bible passage teaching “the four sign gifts.”

Be that as it may, of course Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith and practice.  Michael, you pointed out some strong Biblical support for Continuationism in your part two.  As Scott has observed, you did seem to leave out Christ’s own teaching on the eve of his crucifixion (John 14-16).  This, I submit, is the place to start, and really leaves no doubt that the Father’s plan, the Lord’s instruction, and the believer’s expectation should be:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

So, Michael, if the Bible teaches something, if Christ teaches something, what kind of response is it to be “open” to it?  Try saying, “I’m open to that salvation-by-grace-through-faith thing, but I’ve never had a genuine gospel experience.”  The apostle Paul tells us to: “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” (1 Cor. 14:1) I mean, you don’t suppose “be open to” is an adequate translation of zeloute here?

What I am trying to say, Michael, is that as far as you’ve come from your previous self-confessed bias against Continuationism, if the Bible supports it, then why not move beyond “openness”?  Your lack of experience, I suggest, is in part due to lack of conviction that the Bible really teaches this.  What you see depends on what you expect to see.

POLICE INSPECTOR: “By George! How ever did you see that?”
HOLMES:  “Because I looked for it.”

2. Your expectations.

So what are you looking for, Michael?  May I suggest, based on some of your remarks, that you may have spent some time barking up the wrong proverbial tree?

First, as odd as it seems there is a whole preconceived notion about just what a “gift” is that may need rethinking.  You remark:  “I have never witnessed anything that would lead me to believe that someone has, as their gift to the body of Christ, any of the particular gifts…”  Well, if by this you mean some kind of at-will wonder-worker, I don’t think this has ever been the case. 

The concept of “gifts” is a reference to the fact that the works of Jesus, done by the Body of Christ, are distributed among the members.  These are first of all gifts given by the Lord to us, not our gifts to the Body.  Second, I don’t think the Bible teaches us it was like a team of spiritual X-men:  X has the power of prophecy, Y has the power of healing, Z has the power of tongues.  Based on what Paul says, on a given day any believer may give a prophecy, though not all will (1 Cor. 14:26, 31).  It may have been that some people particularly excelled in a particular gift, and so may be associated with it, but I think it is fallacious to understand a rigid one-for-one correspondence.

Second, in regard to prophecy, you refer to “the surrendering of my mind.”  I don’t think that is what New Testament prophecy calls for.  Paul says prophecy gives “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3).  It may instantly resonate with someone (1 Cor. 14:24-25) or else is to be weighed (v. 29). 

As far as requiring a “sign” is concerned, well first, I thought you considered prophecy a “sign gift.”  Isn’t it already a sign, then?  “prophecy is [a sign] not for unbelievers but for believers,” Paul says (1 Cor. 14:22). 

Besides, with all the New Testament teaching on prophecy, and the clear “democratization” of prophecy in Acts 2, you go to Moses for the example of how things are to be done?  Deut. 34:10 states: “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”  It might be nice if all who prophesied lived up to Moses example, but I wouldn’t expect this.  Is this really reasonable?

Also (and I just love it when Cessationists tell Continuationists how spiritual gifts ought to work) you opine:

If someone claims to speak on behalf of God—if someone claims to have a prophetic gift—you have every right and obligation to demand an attesting sign. As well, if you think you are a prophet—if you sincerely believe that God has called you to such a ministry—you need to tell God that you cannot do so without such a sign.

Okaaay, kids, always remember to talk back to God.  Umm, Michael,  in the first place, you draw on the example of Moses, whose demand for authenticating sign was not so much a sign of faith, as of reluctance, hesitation, doubt.  God had already given him His word to proclaim, and Moses hemmed and hawed until he ran out of excuses.  Go and do thou likewise?  So say you, Michael?

Second, this whole thing isn’t about anyone’s claim to have this or that gift.  It’s about believers being the Body of Christ, and God giving His words and doing His works through us, as he did through Jesus (John 14:10).   

Furthermore, it isn’t only prophets who speak on behalf of God.  Teachers, such as yourself do. 

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God.  (1 Pet. 4:10-11)

 

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:20)

 

Are pastors, teachers, and evangelists also to demand from God a sign, since they too speak on behalf of God?  Well, the good news is, we don’t need to demand, because God has always planned to co-testify as we deliver His message (Heb. 2:4).

In regard to what you say about healing, again, I think you are under a misconception to imagine a “gift of healing” as attached permanently to a particular person.  This is not necessarily what we as Continuationists are saying.  Moreover, your conceptually separating  praying for healing from “gifts of healings” is also missing the point.

But you knew I would say this, didn’t you.  And you head this response off at the pass.  You are told “that’s not the way it works.”  And, of course, you, a Cessationist–never seen it–know better:

If you say, “It’s not like that. God simply uses me sometimes to heal. I never know when he is going to and when he will deny such a request.” I would say that we are simply talking past each other. In my estimation, you do not have the gift of healing. You, like everyone else, simply have the ability to pray for healing, leaving the answer in the hands of God.

 

I agree about the talking past each other here, but, Michael, let me say gently, it might behoove you back up, hold your preconceived notions loosely, and listen to that perspective–there just might be something to learn.

When you begin to learn, you first do not even know what you do not know.  Some things need to be unlearned before learning can take place.

3.  The learning curve.

I don’t say that, or write these posts, claiming vast amounts of knowledge.  Only, it is really is a strange thing when Cessationists are sure they know more about spiritual gifts than Continuationists.  You point out how others aren’t doing it right.  Their prophecy is banal.  Their prayer for healing and any subsequent answers to prayer is not “the gift.”  Well, I agree that the Continuationist side may not be doing everything quite right.  Yet they are believing the Lord’s instructions, and doing something, and mixed results are better than no results. 

The church today largely has to rediscover what has been forgotten.  As with any practice, there is a learning curve.  At one time, these were passed on.  Jesus instructed His disciples how to minister in power, and they taught others.  Well, we haven’t got that now, I grant you. And I am not for an instant suggesting that contemporary Continuationists are infallible guides.  Still, how wise is it to completely disregard these?

So where are we to begin today? To recover what the Scripture teaches but generations have not really practiced?  You begin with the Scriptures, of course.  You begin by being convinced from Scripture that the works that Jesus did ought to be in evidence in the church today. 

But what does this look like?  Prophecy, for example.  How do you do it?  How do you know when it is happening?  Does it feel like something?  Does the prophesier hear a voice?  Audibly?  Inaudibly?  How do you really know it’s God?

I submit, Michael, you won’t know the answers by sitting on the sidelines.  There is hit and miss here, trial and error.  Does that seem little too messy?  Well, what are we supposed to do?  Don’t like the whole glass-half-empty thing?  The Cessationist answer seems to be “I don’t see any New-Testament quality miracles,” so out it all goes. 

What about half full?  How about getting in there and helping?  Don’t quite like the way things look in the Pentecostal, Charismatic, Third-wave, whole Continuationist world? So many of the Bible-scholar, teacher types have retreated into Cessationism, and left others to fend without them.  Is there a lack of balance in Continationism?  Whose fault is that?  Those who are in the game or those who are not?  For my money, I’d point a finger or two at the armchair quarterbacks.

4.  Get in the game.

So what we’re talking about here is you’ve never had a “genuine charismatic experience.”  Well, okay, you used to go to a “third-wave” college.  These days, do you ever put yourself in an environment where you might just have such an experience?

I was going to point out, if you were not already aware, that you have a fabulous opportunity in Sam Storms having moved to Oklahoma City.  Then of course I saw here that he’s now on Theology Unplugged.  Okay, so you two have met.

Still, my point is Credo House is what, 3-1/2 miles from Bridgeway Church?  Dr. Storms is, as you know, top notch in Bible exposition and theology.  And I doubt you can find a better go-to-guy for Continuationism–in these United States, anyway.  I believe Dr. Storms was not in town when you wrote this series last year.  So okay.  Now, however, you have no excuse.

I’m not Charismatic, either, Michael. (Response to CMP, part 1)

By Marv

This post is part of a series responding to C. Michael Patton’s eight-part series at Parchment and Pen “Why I am Not Charismatic,” which is also conveniently available for download as a single e-book here.  This is in response to part one.

 

Michael,

Glad we could have this chat.  You know, Paul warns us against wrangling about words, but your first post was mainly geared toward setting some definitions.  So I think we’d better start with some of the terminology.

1. First of all, “Charismatic.”  Looks like we’re going to get tangled up there.  You seem to want to use this as a blanket term, the way I’d use “Continuationist.”  Trouble is, it isn’t a blanket term.  It’s a reference to a specific movement, circa mid-20th century, and adherents of that movement.  Now you might think it ought to refer to any non-cessationists, for etymological reasons, and you might even hear folk using it that way, but I can’t agree.

First of all, early in the 20th century the Pentecostal movement sprang up, and as far as I know they did not refer to themselves as Charismatics, even though they’d fit your definition. 

They had other distinctions, a particular doctrine about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, a second blessing.  Also they tended to found new denominations.  Mostly, I guess, because no one else would have them.  Anyway, at some point, a couple of generations or so later, their practices started to catch on among non-Pentecostals.  These people bought into the second blessing, baptism of the Spirit thing, with some modificatons, but stayed in their own denominations, and spread their understanding there.  They called themselves Charismatics.

Now, there are others who overlap with these people in terms of finding Biblical practices such as prophecy and healing… well, Biblical… Yet these people were never part of the Charismatic movement, and distance themselves from a great deal of the teaching and practice of that movement.  For example, they may not at all buy into the baptism of the Spirit thing à la the Charismatic movement.

So what do you call these people, who don’t self-identify as Charismatic, but are not Cessationist?  Well, Continuationist works well for me.  And that’s what I am.  (As if you haven’t already figured that out from our blog title.)

I understand that in part two you are going to refer to “Continuationism,” and you say “all Charismatics are Continuationists.”  And you should have said “not all Continuationists are Charismatics.”  But you didn’t; you said, “all continuationists, properly speaking, are charismatics (even if you must use a small ‘c’).”

Now, Michael, you had been going pretty well there, until then.  Maybe you can correct it on the next reprint.  (heh, heh, I know it’s an e-book…)

Look at it this way.  I hear a lot of people misuse the term “dispensationalist” as if it meant “cessationist.”  Now some people even think all dispensationalists are cessationists, which is also wrong.  But what if I decided, well, doggone it, I’m just going to use the word that way anyway.  So I say something like, “all cessationists, properly speaking are dispensationalists (even if you must use a small ‘d’).”  I mean, it does nothing, really, to the other guy, but it sure makes me look uninformed.  Just sayin’, Michael.

Nevertheless, I realize this is a bit unfair, since you’ve already written all your posts.  So anyway, I’ll read “Continuationist” when you say “Charismatic.”  But I might bring it up again.  Probably will.

2. The next word I want to bring up is “normative.”  That’s a great one.  I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone use it except a Cessationist (and by the way, I should disclose, I used to be one).  What does it even mean, anyway?  Does it mean the same as normal?  I google it, and I still can’t find anything that really fits in this context.  It’s simultaneously kind of an empty word and a loaded word.  Now, that’s hard to pull off.

Does it mean “something everyone should expect in his or her Christian life?”  I guess that would mean pastoring a church is not “normative.”  Does it mean when you see it happening, you don’t have to automatically assume it’s fake?  Well, I guess not, because you seem to believe in divine healing, and yet wouldn’t exactly call it “normative.”  Does it mean something God intended for the Church to be engaged in throughout the Church age?  Well, I think we’re getting somewhere with this one, but there certainly seem to have been ebbs and flows in history, for whatever reason. 

There was a period of time when for some centuries Israel had no prophets.  Does that mean prophecy wasn’t normative for Israel?  Or should we really describe historical oddities in a different way? 

3.  I love it that you define some gifts as ordinary and others as extra-ordinary.  Hey, here’s a question for you:  are the extra-ordinary gifts normative?  Heh, heh.  You picking up a hint of circularity there, Michael?  You practically say a Charismatic is one who believes the extra-ordinary is normative.  It’s kind of like saying X is someone who belives you can see the invisible or hear the inaudible.  It’s a great schtick, really it is, Michael. 

Only, yeah, you’re really begging the question by this “extra-ordinary” business.  It prejudices the discussion.  Similar ways to treat this are to refer to these as “dramatic” or “spectacular.”

The fact is, you’ve gotten yourself latched onto a faulty idea from the start.  Yes, God’s acts in our lives do often commend themselves as being of divine origin, unexplainable otherwise.  They do in fact, in a sense, make the invisible visible.  They call attention to the reality of God, his eternal power and divine nature, and such.  That is, they bring glory to him.  Yet what has that effect on someone maybe very, very ordinary.  It ought to be the case when looking at the starry sky, for example.  It’s something we experience when prayers are answered, divine timing, that sort of thing. 

But these aren’t characteristic of prophecy on the one hand and not of teaching on the other.  Or healing, but not encouragement.  When any of these are done in the power of the Holy Spirit, the extra-0rdinary, i.e. divine and not merely human, heavenly and not merely mundane, nature of these acts commend themselves.

4.  That brings us to supernatural.  Honestly, Michael, you are a teacher.  I suppose you avow the gift of teaching.  Anyway, I guess you see it as “normative.”  Yet it is not supernatural?

My goodness, your very faith is the gift of God given to you through the Spirit.  You can’t even believe in Christ apart from a supernatural act of God.  Cessationists are fond of saying conversion is the greatest miracle of all.  And so it is.  Yet, beyond that the obvious point goes missing.  Your ability to analyze, to express yourself, to persuade may all be “natural” abilities, but when you teach in the Body of Christ–I mean if you’re doing it right–you are exercizing the power of God through you.  Read Acts 1:8 for goodness sake. 

Michael there are no non-supernatural gifts of the Spirit, none.  To make that distinction for the so-called sign gifts is simply a failure to properly grasp what God is doing through his Body the Church.

5.  So let’s talk about “sign gifts.”  This is something of a personal bête noir for me.  I have a particular post just on that term.  I don’t need to repeat myself, or my other recent post on Heb. 2:3-4, but that verse states that God co-testifies to the gospel by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  It doesn’t say sign gifts, some gifts or the extra-ordinary, non-normative, spectacular, or dramatic gifts.  In fact, it says through signs, wonders, various miracles AND gifts of the Holy Spirit.  May we not understand from the Word of God that any gift ministered by the Holy Spirit functions as God’s witness to salvation in Christ?

6.  I won’t  take issue with your definition of Cessationist.  You lay out some particular claims made by this perspective.  You make a lot of distinctions, categories, lists to help define this camp.  I’m sorry, Michael, but I find this truly a house of cards: revelatory, confirmatory, temporary, permanent. (Egad, there’s that monstrosity “pastor-teacher.” Don’t get me started!)  Ever feel your boxes are a tad artificial?  Hey, I don’t think your charts are normative.

Essentially, by your own description, you say Cessationists are those who make the following assertions:

a.  Certain spiritual gifts serve to (and have the purpose of) confirming the gospel, while others don’t.  [I’ve already spoken to this one.]

b.  There is no other (primary/significant) reason for these confirmatory gifts to exist apart from this purpose.

c.  The close of the Canon makes this sole purpose of these confirmatory gifts obsolete.

d.  Since they are obsolete, we know that God no longer performs them through His church.

But, Michael, there is not a single one of these propositions that is taught in the Bible.

Yet the ongoing Spirit-empowered ministry of the Body of Christ is present all through the New Testament:  The Upper Room Discourse (John 14-16), Acts, Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12-14, Gal. 3:5, Heb. 2:3-4, and so on.

It’s there, but it’s obsolete, and should be understood to be such?  Is it like the Constitution of the U.S. the text of which still refers to senators as chosen by state legislatures, and still contains language about that deplorable 3/5 compromise?  Only we know when we read them they are no longer in force? 

So where are the amendments to the the New Testament, Michael?  Cessationists seem to be those who proclaim phantom amendments to our Church Constitution. 

All Continuationists are really saying is, old orders are good orders.