With this post, Marv and I conclude our series in which we have interacted 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 previous posts, they are here:
Michael Patton’s final section in his series, section 8, is his concluding explanation as to why he is a ‘de facto cessationist’, meaning, he is a cessationist because there is not enough compelling evidence in his personal life as to persuade him otherwise. He still maintains God’s sovereignty as to overstep the experiential boundaries of his life. But, in all, this is simply where Patton finds himself.
I do not despise one’s experience shaping their theology. Though some might disregard experience altogether, I believe it is part and parcel to our faith, as I have shared here. But what I would challenge any cessationist, de facto or whatever, is that we acknowledge and allow for experience to shape our theology right across the whole body of Christ (I am not saying Patton would not allow this).
It doesn’t mean we should not judge our experience by Scripture, as well as those we are connected to who are responsible members of the body of Christ. But our experience many times helps us understand God’s revelation in Scripture. That’s how it was in biblical times and that’s how it has always been right down unto today. All Christian, cessationist or continuationist, need to allow for such.
There are a few things Marv and I have already dealt with that come up in Patton’s final section of the series. And, so as not to repeat ourselves, I only bullet point them and point to other articles for consideration (or re-consideration).
- On God’s sovereignty and our responsibility with the gifts of the Spirit – read part 6 (point #1)
- On the terminology of normative and expectation – read part 1 (point #2) and part 6 (point #2)
- On the gifts ceasing in church history – read part 5, as well as this other article on the charismata in church history
But let me pick up two more comments of Michael’s and then I shall finish with some closing thoughts.
1) Healings and miracles as gifts and via prayer
Just as there can be so much confusion over such terms as sign-gifts, normative and expectation, here is another case where confusion can easily come about – the means by which healings and miracles are outworked in our human world. So I want to break down some things practically as I see them from Scripture and I hope they are helpful in giving us a more holistic practical theology in regards to things like healings and miracles.
Specifically, many cessationists like to hold to what I would say is a more dualistic view with regards to healings and miracles. They would typically argue something like what Patton has stated in his article:
Most healings and miracles I have seen come through prayer, not through a divine conduit with this particular gift. (italics mine)
Do you see the two varying means put forth in this statement?
I believe such a person would further argue that the first apostles, and some of the other early church leaders, were able to see healings and miracles through both of these means: 1) commanding the healing and 2) prayer. But, following the exhaustion of their purpose in confirming the gospel message in the first century, a healing could take place through the channel of prayer and seeing someone get well, even get well rather quickly. But to walk up to someone and make an authoritative command such as, ‘In the name of Jesus, be well and receive healing from the Lord of heaven of earth,’ well, that really does not happen much any more.
You see the difference being pointed out? 1) Prayer and 2) Authoritative command because one has the gift.
Thus, I think we can easily fall into the trap of viewing prayer in somewhat of an unhelpful way, something like that set aside time, with our eyes closed, whether privately or publicly, to ask God to intervene on our behalf. Something like that. So, by praying to God in this kind of way for a healing or miracle, it becomes distinguished from the more instantaneous command that we might read about in places like Acts (or hear of others sharing such stories today). A case and example is here:
6But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. (Acts 3:6-7)
Now, I know that my above description of prayer is a very basic and naive concept, one that Patton and many cessationists would typically deny as their specific definition of prayer. But my challenge is that, some kind of dualistic thinking has developed amongst many Christians with regards to healings and miracles and how they are exhibited within our human world.
Of course, healing can come through prayer, as we read in these well-known words of James:
14Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (James 5:14-15)
And I suppose such statements below by Jesus will also cover the areas of healings and miracles:
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14)
But I believe we confuse the situation when we don’t recognise all things as flowing out of prayer with God, or the relational communication we have with Him. For didn’t James also remind us:
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)
Whether healing comes as a process (yes, it can be a process) or instantaneous, Jesus is still Lord of heaven and earth, and He is still the one we ask and rely on for healing. No matter if that is a set aside time of prayer with a gathered group or if it is out on the street as we interact with a broken (both physically and internally) world. We are in a place of desperate reliance upon God Himself.
Even if we want to divide healings and miracles into the two categories of instantaneous and non-instantaneous, both still ultimately come as a product of prayer communication and reliance upon God. And I suppose that anything we, then, command by the authority of Jesus would flow from the relationship we have with the Father as we listen to what He is saying (like Jesus in John 5:19).
I believe this prayerful focus and reliance upon God is going on ‘behind the scenes’ in places like this:
6But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. (Acts 3:6-7; the healing of the lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate)
And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31; this is not a healing but still quite miraculous)
But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. (Acts 9:40; prayer and instantaneous healing, and here is an example of Peter’s command for a miracle following his prayer)
9The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. (Acts 10:9-11; Peter went up to pray and had quite a miraculous vision and revelation)
5So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. 6Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. 7And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. (Acts 12:5-9; a miraculous deliverance in response to earnest prayer)
Shall I keep going?
My point is that I think it unhelpful to put some healings and miracles over in one category called prayer and the rest in another category called instantaneous via authoritative command. Whether such is instantaneous or not, whether it happens at the command of a human vehicle in Jesus’ name or not, it all comes via prayer communication in the name of the Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ.
While I understand the desire to designate healings and miracles in these two ways, these categories do get easily broken down at times, overlapping together, and all sorts of intertwining. And if we hold to these kinds of categories, as it seems Michael Patton and others do, I think we will 1) not be as prone to recognise the power of healings and miracles as God’s response to specific prayer times and 2) believe that healings and miracles no longer happen via an authoritative command in Jesus’ name.
The first instance is just as beautiful and powerful as the second, and the second instance still occurs today.
2) Relating to the closing of the canon
After hinting at this in part 7 of his series, Michael Patton revisits what he believes is a good analogy in explaining why he is a de facto cessationist. It has to do with how we, as evangelicals, believe in a de facto closed canon.
We believe the canon of Scripture is closed and should not be added to. This does not come about by really quoting any one particular verse or plethora of verses, but rather considering the theological ramifications with regards to the canon of Scripture (for evangelicals, the 66 books of the OT and NT) and its overall purpose. Christ is the full and final word of God’s redemptive and covenant revelation for humanity. Thus, our fathers long ago recognised that there is no need to add to such and, therefore, ‘closed’ the canon. To this, we would agree. Not to mention that this also allowed for greater protection against heresy.
Therefore, Patton believes this analogy is very helpful in considering the purpose of the ‘sign gifts’ (prophecy, tongues, healings, etc). Patton remarks:
I don’t think that one can make a solid case for the ceasing of the gifts from Scripture. However, I don’t think that one can make a solid case from Scripture for the closing of the canon. I believe that both of these issues are very similar. Could God add books to the Bible if it were his purpose? Of course. Could we cry “foul” and say “You cannot do that because our traditions and councils have said you cannot? No. We (Protestants) believe in the de facto closing of the canon. What does that mean? We believe in the closing of the canon because it, indeed, closed. It is a historical and experiential reality. God just quit adding books to the canon. Only after this does our theology step in and attempt to explain this by saying it closed because soteriological history was completed.
Yet, as you could imagine, I cannot agree with this kind of thinking with regards to the gifts of the Spirit (or one wants to call them ‘sign gifts’).
Though I am sure some will disagree, I think we can recognise that God’s revelation can be identified in varying categories. Interesting I say this, right? Because I just noted the insufficiency of the two categories many cessationists create with regards to the means by which healings and miracles are outworked in our human world. But I think identifying two categories or purposes of God’s revelation can be established.
I might identify God’s revelation in these categories: 1) redemptive and 2) non-redemptive. Or, those two categories might be too dubious for some, so maybe we should prefer these two classifications: 1) canonical and 2) non-canonical.
But what I am getting at is that every single bit of God’s revelation that has been given since the beginning of time has not always found its way into the canon of Scripture. It’s really that simple.
Now, we are assured of the God-breathed nature of the 66-book canon of Scripture. It comes to us as the word of God testifying to the Word of God, Jesus. But by no means does it contain all that God has revealed, communicated, spoken and done since the creation. If we think it does, we are simply misled.
God’s revelation has always continued on even outside the formation of the canon of Scripture, both when it was being written and since it was finished and closed. Not just in the ‘general revelation’ sense that we all agree with, like in physical creation or in the conscience of humanity (typically pointed out from Romans 1 and 2). But also in the specific sense of God’s purposes and what He is doing in the earth via His people. None of this would contradict the full summary of God’s revelation that we have in the Scripture. But, nevertheless, His revelation and deeds were not confined within the formation of our canon.
I will give you a couple of examples:
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
In his Gospel, John specifically took the time to record specific signs to help us believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in Him we may have life. But he also tells us there were many other things, significant things, Jesus did. Those many other things were not any less a revelation as to who Christ is and God’s purpose through the gospel. But John specifically gave testimony to certain acts of Jesus and left out others. Think about some of those other acts Jesus did, which John did not record, that brought people to believe He was who He said He was. But thankfully we have a continuing testimony of what Jesus did, in John’s Gospel, the other three Gospels, and the rest of the New Testament.
Now, some will say – That’s the point! We have in Scripture what was necessary and sufficient, but we need no more.
No, that’s not the point. The point is that the Scripture gives what is sufficient. But, by no means, does this rule out any less that God was actively revealing and doing things to attest to who Christ was. That’s what John said. And that is how it was prior to the arrival of the Messiah and that is how it has been with the sending out of His body. I can almost bank on it that plenty of people came to know who Jesus was via things He taught and did that were not recorded in the Gospels, but nevertheless were extremely important.
Another favourite example of mine is found in 1 Timothy 1:18-19:
18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience…
These words, these prophecies, were never penned in any part of Scripture, that we know of. Yet Paul makes it clear that these prophecies could be utilised in waging good warfare, as well as holding to the faith and a good conscience. Must have been pretty powerful prophecies!
And I don’t even think all of the words came from Paul. In 1 Timothy 4:14, we read that a gift was imparted to Timothy through prophecy and that this was done by the ‘council of elders’. Paul was probably there as well (see 2 Timothy 1:6), but it was highly probable that a few different people spoke forth the prophecies (notice the plural in prophecies).
Again, these prophecies were never recorded in Scripture, but they were worth holding onto. Timothy could actually live out the faith with greater strength by remembering these words of revelation.
And, if we are honest, we will truly recognise that every revelatory word spoken by a prophet, apostle, or any man or woman of God, did not find its way into Scripture. I don’t believe God ever planned it that way. Well, actually, I’m certain He didn’t plan it that way, even if I only had the two examples above.
Not to mention the plethora of prophets in the Old Testament that never penned a word, but were still actively speaking on behalf of God. Nor would Acts have recorded every single thing that the church participated in during the first century, especially noting that it mainly followed the activity of three apostles – Peter, John and Paul – and a few handful of others.
So, how does this relate into Michael’s analogy?
A closed canon of Scripture, as our measuring stick for our faith, does not point to the ending of God’s revelatory words and deeds. This is because the greater purpose of God’s revelation was not a canon of Scripture, though that was extremely important. The purpose of God’s revelation is to reveal who He is, His character, His purposes, and His plan to see His rule and glory expand across planet earth.
God’s revelation and God’s miraculous activity was never confined to our canon. So the analogy does not quite hold up. Instead, God has not only been desirous, but has actually continued to unveil Himself in accordance with the pattern that He has always revealed Himself. This is our constant and consistent God.
Both Marv and I are extremely grateful for Michael Patton. We constantly interact with his blog, Parchment & Pen, as well as on the theological discussion network, Theologica, that he began just over two years ago. We have a deep respect for Michael and none of our interaction with his series should be seen as ‘cheap-shots’, but rather as a desire to interact with and challenge a man we do respect.
I personally appreciate Michael’s openness to all the gifts of the Spirit. I believe his interaction with the wider body of Christ has allowed for such, and this will allow for continued healthy discussion on the topic. I can only hope that one day soon we shall also see Michael encouraging and exhorting the body of Christ about the continued activity of the Holy Spirit in all the gifts of the Spirit. Until then……