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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?”
All right, I will soon stop talking about Strange Fire (most of my Swedish Christian friends have no idea what I’m talking about when I mention the conference, John MacArthur or even cessationism – those things aren’t so hot over here) but I have to comment Conrad Mbewe’s lectures before I move on to funnier things. Being the only non-Western speaker at the event, Mbewe shared his opinions on the charismatic movement in Africa. Those opinions were negative, to say the least. You can find transcriptions of his lectures here and here.
Mbewe’s main argument is that the popularity of the “charismatic chaos” in Africa is caused by how well it fits with traditional African spirituality. They share the same worldview. In African animism, belief in spirits is prevalent, and people go to the witchdoctors to be healed, delivered from evil spirits and to have prosperous crops. African charismatics behave just the same – they go to the “man of God” to be healed, delivered from evil spirits and to prosper. Thus, Mbewe argues, charismatic preachers are just like witchdoctors.
When I saw how Mbewe talks about worldviews, I immediately got flashbacks to good ol’ Power Evangelism by John Wimber. He dedicates a whole chapter to worldviews and describes the African and other non-Western worldviews in the same manner as Mbewe does – it is a worldview where the supernatural is natural and where supernatural healing, prophetic messages and deliverance from spirits are part of normal life. However, Wimber rightly argued that this is the biblical worldview as well.
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)
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!
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.