John MacArthur is one of the leading cessationist theologians of today (cessationist meaning someone who thinks the miraculous gifts of the Spirit have ceased), and you may remember his name from my post What if Jesus Preached what Modern Preachers are Preaching where I tried to show how stupid it would look if Jesus had said what MacArthur is saying. MacArthur’s teaching has been widely criticized by many, and one of the best rebutals is in my opinion Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, where he explains how he went from being a cessationist to a charismatic evangelical and where he basically brings up all cessationist arguments used by MacArthur and crushes them to little tiny pieces.
It seems like MacArthur has changed tactics since then. Right now he is organizing a conference called Strange Fire which isn’t arguing for cessationism so much as it is accusing the majority of the charismatic movement to be heretic, demonic and a dangerous cult. Nothing new, already G. Campbell Morgan said that Pentecostalism is “the last vomit of Satan”, so MacArthur is basically continuing an embarassing evangelical tradition of demonizing Christians who don’t agree with him.
MacArthur’s argument is of course ridiculous and its main accusation, that most charismatics offer false worship, is non-valid since even if you disagree with charismatics you have to admit that their worship to Jesus is extremely passionate compared to many other churches. But I’m not going to waste ink on arguing for the sanity of the charismatic movement but bring the discussion back to its original issue: the cessation or continuity of the gifts. In my opinion, it is cessationism that is truly “strange”, it’s an unbiblical, irrational and, quite frankly, very boring theology.
Cessationists do not argue that all gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased with the apostles, simply because knowledge, compassion and faith (Rom 12:8, 1 Cor 12:8-9) clearly are still around. Instead, they argue that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit have ceased while non-supernatural (like the ones I just mentioned) are still here. Problem is: this distinction is totally unbiblical. When Paul talks about Spiritual gifts he never categorised them in supernatural and non-supernatural, and he doesn’t label some cessational and others continual.
Or does he? 1 Cor 13:8-10 says:
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. (NIV)
Cessationists often argue that the “completeness” in verse 10 refers to the Bible, meaning that there are no longer prophecies, tongues and… knowledge, I guess. But Paul says in the same letter says that the gifts will continue to exist until the second coming of Christ (1 Cor 1:7), which is much more logical that “the completeness” refers to when looking at the context of 1 Cor 13 (“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face”, v. 11). Besides, healing, miracles and deliverance are not even mentioned in 1 Cor 13, why it is irrational to use that text to claim that those gifts have ceased as well.
And speaking of deliverance – that’s not even listed as a Spiritual gift, and yet cessationists claim that it doesn’t exist anymore. Meanwhile, most of them believe that Satan still is doing false signs and wonders and that demons still possess people (this is why MacArthur can say that parts of the charismatic movement is demonic). Now think about it, demons still possess people, but we’re unable to cast those out of there! What’s the point of that? Why would God do that?
The same is true for healing – people are still sick even in post-apostolic times! People still need healing even when we got the complete Bible. I mean, the Bible is great, but in itself it cannot heal people. Thus, it cannot sufficiently replace healing. And more importantly, it never says that it will!
Finally, cessationism is boring. John Wimber, my favourite theologian, was saved in a cessationist church. He read the Bible, saw some huge differences between it and the church, and asked his pastor “When are we gonna do the stuff?” – “What stuff?” the pastor replied. “The stuff Jesus did! You know, healing the sick, raising the dead, that sort of stuff.”
“Well, we don’t do that any more.” the pastor said. “What do we do then?” – “What we did this morning! Going to the church service and drinking coffee.” John Wimber gasped, “For this I gave up drugs?”
Seriously folks, MacArthur may accuse us to have strange fire but he himself has no fire at all. This is what the Kingdom looks like:
Receive ye the Holy Ghost!
- John MacArthur’s *Strange Fire* Conference, Charismatics, & Christ (bjstockman.wordpress.com)
- Where Cessationists Part Company With The Gospel (christianity201.wordpress.com)
- A Judgmental Charismalvinist: Part 2 (Those Crazy Charismatics) (brenthellendoorn.wordpress.com)
- John MacArthur causes a division in Church on false grounds – Strange Fire? (bjorkbloggen.wordpress.com)