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The Anti-Community Conspiracy in Biblical Scholarship
Extremely few Protestants live in a community of goods similar to that of the apostolic church in Acts 2 and 4. In fact, most Protestant denominations don’t have any single community connected to them. Just like charismatic, supernatural gifts used to be a rarity within Protestantism due to cessationism, something that has drastically changed over the last century, so is having everything in common. Both miraculous power and community life are biblical practices that many Christians simply don’t want, and both charismatic cessationism and economic cessationism have been defended and strengthened by forms of academic theology which quite frankly use very bad arguments.
Mennonite scholar Reta Halteman Finger wrote an excellent paper back in 2004 called ”Cultural attitudes in western Christianity toward the community of goods in Acts 2 and 4” (Mennonite quarterly review, vol. 78, no. 2). It’s a baffling read. An obvious mistake from Catholic and Orthodox theologians during pre-Reformation times was to equate the apostolic community of goods in Acts with the community of goods in the monastic movement, even though the latter is only available for celibates.
When Luther and Calvin protested in the 16th century, they rejected the monastic movement and thereby community of goods. Both argued that the only lesson we should learn from Acts 2 and 4 is that we should give a little gift sometimes to a poor person, not that we should have everything in common with them. They criticized Anabaptists for wanting to live apostolically; Luther argued that it is impossible to do what the apostles did for modern believers. The Hutterites proved him wrong, having lived in total community for over 400 years.
As liberal theology and the historical-critical method in biblical scholarship sprung up during the 19th and 20th century, Protestant academics such as Eduard Zeller, Ernst Hanchen, Hans Conzelman and Luke T. Johnson questioned the historicity of Luke’s account in Acts 2 and 4. Their main argument for this was that community of goods in their eyes is extreme and difficult, therefore the author of Acts must be making it up. Haenschen for example argued that only celibates can manage to live in community, suggesting that Hutterites don’t exist. (more…)
Holy Hangout: Cessationism
Mine and Zane Welton’s Google Hangout session on Biblical discernment and the differences between charismatic Christianity and new age was pretty popular, and so last Friday we did a new hangout on cessationism, the idea that miraculous Spiritual gifts ceased with the apostles. Cessationism didn’t exist throughout most of church history, but was invented by Jean Calvin and Martin Luther in the 16th century when they wanted to explain why they didn’t experience any miracles.
In the Hangout cession, we were joined by former Vineyard pastor Joshua Hopping, discuss what cessationism is, its problems and how we can introduce our cessationist brothers and sisters to a glorious, miraculous life with the Holy Spirit. Hope you enjoy it!
If you would like to join a future Holy Hangout to discuss a topic relating to Spiritual gifts, evangelism or peace and justice, feel free to contact me!
William Lane Craig on Miracles
William Lane Craig is in my view a very good Christian apologist and philosopher, and I regularly listen to his Reasonable Faith podcast. Even though I think he could use some more revival fires and hands-on mission work in the dirt, his intellectual defense for the Christian faith has undoubtedly helped many and led several people to the Lord. In a recent podcast, Craig and Kevin Harris discussed miracles and whether it is rational to believe in these. As a charismactivist, I find the topic highly interesting.
There are many different forms of philosophical and theological objections against the existence of miracles that all are quite easy to respond to. Cessationism is a Christian view which says that miracles did exist in the times of the Bible but then ceased when the Bible was written; ironically, this idea is not found in the Bible. Naturalism is the idea that the supernatural – obviously including miracles – does not exist, but this cannot be proven just as atheism cannot be proven. In fact, as long as the existence of God is not disproven and thus possible, it is entirely possible that miracles exist, as Craig points out in this short video:
In the podcast, Craig and Harris discussed another form of objections against miracles that is quite unique. Philosopher Hans Halvorson has argued that under no circumstances should one believe that a miracle occurs today: “for any event you experience in your life, no matter how strange, surprising, or wonderful, you should not believe that it is a miracle. Similarly, if somebody tells you that a miracle occurred, you should not believe him.” Yet, he also says “it can be rational to believe in the miracle stories of the Bible—because the miracle stories in the Bible are relevantly different than the purported miracles of today.” This is some kind of secular cessationism – miracles don’t happen today, but it’s possible to believe in Biblical miracles because they’re different.
Listen to Craig’s and Harris’ response to Halvorson’s article below:
“That Ceased with the Apostles” Comedy Sketch
What if cessationists applied their reasoning to other things than miracles? Cessationism is the belief that miraculous gifts ceased with the apostles and that we don’t need them anymore now that we have the Bible. Many Christians sincerely believe this, especially conservative evangelicals in the US, but how would their arguments sound if they were applied to other things that the gifts of the Spirit? Yesterday, my friend Andreas Lundström and myself made a sketch about this:
Feel free to spread it on if you like it. And for you who like bloopers, here comes some bloopers:
Why Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Aren’t Good Christian Categories
In school, I learned that there are three major branches of Christianity: Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christianity. I haven’t questioned this until recently: why aren’t Orthodoxs called protestants, since they’ve rebelled against the Catholic church just as we have (or perhaps, from their perspective, Rome rebelled against them during the great schism)?
An argument against that is that the Orthodox church(es) claim, just like the Roman Catholic church, to be the uncorrupted church with direct historic lineage to the holy community of the Biblical apostles. Protestant churches, however, recognize that these churches are not that uncorrupted, but that false doctrines and practices has developed during the millennia.
In fact, many Catholics and Orthodoxs will admit that they believe in things that there is no evidence that the Biblical church believed in, but they will argue that when the church(es) introduced these things it was because it (they) had matured, and got to think about more fundamental things than how to survive persecution.
So basically, we have two streams of thought here: those who think that the church changed in a good way (which we, for simplicity’s sake, can call evolutionism) and those who think it changed in a bad way. Those who think the church changed in a bad way, usually propose that we should go back to the good way. This is commonly called restorationism or Christian primitivism, the idea that we should restore Christianity to its Biblical, primitive form. As many of you know, I am a restorationist Christian.
Why You Cannot Be Cessationist and Claim to Restore the Biblical Church at the Same Time
In this video, I present my chapter “Charismatic Anabaptism: Combining Signs and Wonders with Peace and Justice”, which is included in the new anthology A Living Alternative. In the chapter I argue that Christians should use the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit in order to promote nonviolence and economic equality. To defend this thesis, I use the Bible, church history as well as modern testimonies.
The church historical part can be a bit mind-blowing to some – not many Anabaptists know that their movement initially was very charismatic, with an emphasis on prophetic visions, healing and miracles. Likewise, most Pentecostals and charismatics are unaware of that the early Pentecostals were pacifists and criticised capitalism. Even though they are hardly connected historically, early Anabaptism and early Pentecostalism were extremely similar, which I interpret as the work of the Holy Spirit, whom both movements wanted to be influenced by.
Both Anabaptism and Pentecostalism are restorationist, that is, they want to restore the New Testament church. Now, Calvinism and Lutheranism – Protestant movements that also originated during the 16th century reformation just like Anabaptism, that were far more positive to violence, economic inequality and pesecution than the Anabaptists – also argued that they restored the Biblical church, basing their theology on “Scripture alone” instead of relying on Catholic unbiblical tradition. (more…)
Movie Review: Holy Ghost
There are three things that basically all Christian youths I know of here in Sweden are aware of: Hillsong music, Shane Claiborne’s books, and Darren Wilson’s F-movie trilogy: Finger of God, Furious Love and Father of Lights. These charismatic documentaries are extremely popular among the kids I hang around with, I have seen them all and love them. Finger of God focused on amazing miracles like manna appearing from thin air and dead people being raised, Furious Love focused on exorcism and bringing the love of God to the darkest places, and Father of Lights focused on the heart and nature of the heavenly Father and how His supernatural actions bring people to faith in Him. Two days ago, Darren Wilson released a new documentary in the same style and format: Holy Ghost.
The concept is simple: no script, no plans, just going wherever the Spirit leads. Wilson and his team travels to the Mormons in Salt Lake City, the Hindus in Varenasi and the wealthy in Monte Carlo to see what the Holy Spirit will do. Without spoiling too much, I can reveal that you will witness some really crazy stuff – countless salvations, healings and prophetic foretellings. One of my favourite moments was when two street healing evangelists recieved tons of words of knowledge about a guy in Salt Lake City – sharp, specific bits of information concerning his problems – and he got healed from a ten-year-old injury as well!
The film discusses the nature, character and role of the Holy Spirit, cessationism and the Western split between the Word and the Spirit (which from a Swedish perspective is quite unusual, here the split is rather between Christians who believe in both the Word and the Spirit and Christians who believe in neither), and how Christian culture and art must be less cowardly and dare to be real and wild. One of the most memorable parts of the film is when the documentary crew follows Head and Fieldy from the metal band Korn together with street healing evangelist Todd White, as they pray for people who are entering the Korn concert.
Living like the Apostles at the Jesus Army
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. (Acts 2:44-45)
Yesterday, me and my friend Frida arrived in Kettering, England, to visit one of my favourite churches, the Jesus Army. As I’ve pointed out several times before, the Jesus Army is one of the very few examples of when the Jesus hippies of the 70’s organized themselves in their own church instead of joining existing churches, and this has made them able to sustain the radicality, fire and passion for God that characterised the Jesus revival. What is most noticable is that the Jesus Army practices community of goods just like the apostolic New Testament church, something that unfortunately has become very rare among Protestant Christians.
You see, cessationism is sadly not just a doctrine of the margins within the Protestant movement, but a key factor in how both Luther and Calvin viewed Scripture. While claiming that they based their theology on Scripture alone, they deliberately ignored large parts of the Bible that didn’t fit with their theology. Cessationism is generally defined as the idea that miraculous gifts have ceased with the apostles, but within Protestantism we also teach that the community of goods we read about in Acts 2 and 4 ceased with the apostles.
With cessationism, you basically are your own god who make your own bible. Jack Deere, a former cessationist, writes in Surprised by the Power of the Spirit how he didn’t like fasting very much, so he claimed that fasting has ceased with the apostles as well. After all, there are not so many people fasting in the later books of the New Testament. But the problem is of course that the Bible never says that anything – miracles, community, fasting or whatever – would cease with the apostles, and so cessationism is just a way for Christians who claim to be Bible-believing to have a reason not to believe in all of the Bible.
Are there Apostles Today?
The issue of modern apostles is a controversial one; since the apostles had such authority in the early church, modern-day apostles obviously would have a great degree of spiritual authority, and people usually doesn’t like that. The historical churches argue that their bishops are sort-of modern day apostles, and several Pentecostal and charismatic churches use the a-word when describing some of its leaders, especially in the majority (so-called “third”) world. Some evangelicals protest against this, arguing that there are no apostles today. I think they’re wrong.
To solve this question we obviously have to define what an apostle is. The word apostolos means “being sent out”, and when we look at what the apostles did in the New Testament, they were translocal church planting leaders who did miracles (Paul says that miracles are the sign of an apostle in 2 Cor 12:12). Now, these people do hang around today. Surprise Sithole, Heidi Baker and Hans Sundberg are just some people that have those kinds of ministries. Still, some are not ready to call these people apostles.
The main reason for this is that they point to Acts 1 where Matthias is elected to be an apostle since he has witnessed Jesus life from His baptism until his ascending to Heaven. Thus, since nobody has seen that today there are no apostles today, the argument goes. But if one thinks that the Acts 1 description is the definition of apostle, then Paul isn’t an apostle.
The key is of course that “the twelve” and apostles are not the same thing – there are many apostles, Paul lists additional ones in his letters (e.g. Rom 16:7). I would say that the Biblical understanding of an apostle is what we today call missionary – somebody travelling around planting churches, spreading revival and equipping the body of Christ. We’ve got rid of the title, not the ministry.
Can God say something prophetically that the Bible DOESN’T say?
In my last blog post, I said that prophecy has multiple purposes: practical information about the state of things here on earth; personal revelation about God’s plan for an individual’s life; and repetative teaching about God and the spiritual realms that are in line with the Bible. I argued that evangelicals do not need to worry about that these kinds of prophecies would challenge the authority of Scripture, and thus there is no need to ban all prophetic activity or to wrongly argue that the prophetic gift has ceased. However, now I want to turn to the dangerous type of prophecy – that reveals stuff about the Lord and His Kingdom that you can’t find in the Bible.
Let me take one example. Many of you have probably heard about Colton Burpo, a young boy who started to tell his parents when he was four years old about how Heaven looked like. Amazingly, he even knew about dead relatives that his parents had never told him about. Colton’s visions of Heaven were in large parts in line with the Bible’s visions – something his parents also were really amazed by since they hadn’t taught much of that to him – but it also exceeded the Bible. For example, he said that Jesus had a rainbow horse. And that the Holy Spirit was blue.
Now, evangelical heresy hunters weren’t late to proclaim Colton Burpo as a young false prophet. On my Swedish blog, one of them told me “This is totally non-biblical! Show me in the Bible where the Holy Spirit is blue!” And I simply answered: “Would it had been more biblical if the Holy Spirit had been transparent?”
Can God say something prophetically that the Bible already says?
The strange Strange Fire conference has put me into debate with some cessationists, especially when making this video. One common cessationist argument is that if the gift of prophecy still exists, the Bible isn’t our only source for doctrine about God, and thus the door to heresy stands wide open. Tom Pennington also uses this argument in his (bad) case for cessationism.
What I try to explain then is that firstly, prophecy has multiple purposes. 1 Samuel 9 contains a fascinating story about how Saul is looking for his father’s donkeys, and walks to prophet Samuel to see if he can use his prophetic gift to find out where they are. Before he even says something, Samuel invites him to dinner and adds “As for the donkeys you lost three days ago, do not worry about them; they have been found.” Then he reveals that the Lord has showed him that Saul is the new king of Israel, and anoints him.
Now, neither the revelation about the donkeys nor that Saul was to be king was doctrinal revelation; rather, they revealed a practical circumstance and God’s plan for an individual. These prophetic aspects should of course always be tested (1 Th 5:19-22), but there is not much need to worry about false doctrines here.
Furthermore, God can also confirm what He has previously said in the Bible. For example, God can, if He wants to, send an angel to me to tell me that He loves me. I told this to a cessationist, whereby he asked “Why would God send an angel to tell me that He loves me if that information has already been revealed to me in the bible?”
The Top Seven Strange “Strange Fire” Statements
As I’ve written before, evangelical pastor John MacArthur has recently organized a conference called “Strange Fire” and will publish a book by the same name, where he argues that the majority of the charismatic movement is a crazy, heretic, demonic mess. As I’ve gone through what MacArthur said at the conference I’ve realized that the event really lives up to its name. Here are the top seven strange Strange Fire statements!
- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in John MacArthur’s Opening Address (marccortez.com)
- Not All Charismatics Bark Like Dogs (sacredprofane.wordpress.com)
- ‘Strange Fire’ Conference: Oh, MacArthur… (amyhopefrancis.com)
- John MacArthur’s #StrangeFire And Arlene Sanchez Walsh’s Latino Pentecostal Identity (politicaljesus.com)
A Response to Tom Pennington’s Seven Cessationist Arguments
While the strange Strange Fire conference mostly was dedicated to accuse the majority of charismatics for being weird, heretic non-Christians (yes, John MacArthur did say that most of us are non-Christians), at least one session was about the root cause of these people’s uncomfortability with the charismatic movement: their cessationist belief. I gave a short summary of why I think cessationism is unbiblical in my previous post, but I felt that the cessationist arguments given at Strange Fire were so bad that I cannot let them pass unanswered. The session was held by Tom Pennington and here are a short summary and a longer transcription of his lecture.
Before Pennington even starts to give his seven “biblical” arguments for cessationism, he admits that “the New Testament nowhere directly states that the miraculous gifts will cease during the church age.” Amen to that. But then he simply states that this is irrelevant “because the New Testament doesn’t directly say they’ll continue either.”
Wow, now I feel tempted to produce my own gospel. I don’t like to pray very much, so I’ll just preach that we don’t have to pray in the post-apostolic age. And if someone would say to me “The Bible actually never says that we should cease to pray” I will simply answer “it doesn’t directly say we should continue praying either.”
For a Bible-believing Christian who thinks that we should base our lives on the life and teaching of Christ, the burden of proof lies on the cessationist, not on the continuationist. Jesus commanded his disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons (Mt 10:6-8), and then he ordered them after His miraculous resurrection to teach their disciples everything He had commanded them (Mt 28:20). It’s Tom Pennington’s job to prove that we should not do the stuff that Jesus and His disciples did, the burden of proof does not lie on the charismatics.
All right, here are Pennington’s arguments:
1) “There were only 3 primary periods in which God worked miracles through unique men. The first was with Moses; the second was during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha; the third was with Christ and his apostles. The primary purpose of miracles were to establish the credibility of one who speaks the word of God—not just any teacher, but those who had been given direct words by God.”
I thought people didn’t believe in the “three miraculous periods” stuff anymore. The book of Judges is filled with miracles and prophecies. The book of Daniel as well. Genesis, Isaiah, Jonah – they all account for amazing miracles. And the whole Bible is per definition filled with the gift of prophecy!
Why Cessationism is Unbiblical, Irrational and Boring
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.
Is the Church of Acts Abnormal?
In my pursuit for combining signs and wonders with peace and justice, I often get to see parallells between the Charismatic and activist streams of Christianity. One is that both want to get back to the original church; Pentecostals, as you probably know, want to resurrect the charismatic explosion of Acts 2, and radical Christian activists want to see the community of goods and the overflowing love and unity of Acts 2.
But then there’s a problem both parties face. Some Christians don’t want to return to Acts, basically because they argue that Acts was temporary – we’re not supposed to live like that any longer. You will find this among cessationists, who argue that the miracles in the book of Acts died with the apostles, and among most other Christians as well who argue that the community of goods and radical economic equality of the early church was just a temporary experiment. The church of Acts may have been good for that time but is not very relevant for our churches today. Guess we’re smarter now, or something.
This view has always surprised me since the very reason we value the New Testament as the Word of God is that it’s written by the apostles, or their direct disciples. The apostles had authority (Acts 2:42) since they were elected by Jesus and were the first church leaders. How come that we value their words more than their lives? If they were healing the sick and practicing community of goods, how could that possible be abnormal Christian living?
Jack Deere has written about this. He’s an ex-cessationist who became one of the main leaders in the Charismatic Vineyard movement after the Vineyard pastor John White went to his church and healed som people and drove out some demons. He really nails the problems with the theology of the abnormal Acts in his book Surprised by the Voice of God (Kingston 1996, ss. 61-63), which I qoute below: (more…)