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Friday, November 08, 2013

Cessationism, Continuationism, and the Charismata

Last night I listened to a well presented debate between Dr. Michael Brown (charismatic) and Dr. Sam Waldron (cessationist) as they addressed the issue of charismatic gifts. It was helpful that both men presented primarily Scriptural arguments. Here it is:

On reflection it struck me that Dr. Waldron's argument against ongoing spiritual gifts would be equivalent to saying that authentic writing about the Christian faith can no longer occur because the actual writing of Scripture has ceased. Authentic preaching can no longer occur because the authoritative preaching of the first Apostles has ceased. Authentic missionary work can no longer occur because Apostolic authority was not conferred on individuals after the first century. Dr. Waldron does not hold to these conclusions, but on what basis? His argument for cessation of spiritual gifts could be equally applied to the three issues mentioned above. If there can be writing, preaching and missionary work beyond the passing of the Apostles, why can't there be a form of spiritual gifting that continues without them? We have the written Canon by which all writing and preaching and missionary calling can be judged as genuine or spurious. Why shouldn't the canonized Apostolic authority of the Bible be sufficient to guide us in the proper use of spiritual gifts? In an ironic way, cessationism becomes an argument against the sufficiency of Scripture! Isn't Scripture sufficient for the proper management of the spiritual gifts?

We are not talking about people having the ability to heal or prophesy at will; we are talking about godly, Spirit-empowered, doctrinally sound Gospel preachers who walk by the Spirit and submit themselves to His holy leading while regularly engaging in particular spiritual gifts when and as He enables them for the spreading of the Word of Christ. Why won't more cessationist apologists address this kind of continuationism? Is their argument so weak that it needs the shock effect of obviously false charismatic abuses and heresies in order to stand? 

In comparing the Biblical merits of Dr. Waldron's arguments as opposed to Dr. Brown's, I have to conclude that the answer is "yes." Gratefully, Dr. Waldron did not resort to that kind of sensationalism in presenting his cessationist arguments.

With all of that said, I should add that the only safe way to be "charismatic" is to be firmly grounded in a Reformed understanding of the sovereignty of God, the Great Gift Giver, and in sound Biblical doctrine. Then again, that is the only safe way to do anything.

I should also add that I would much prefer a Biblically sound, Gospel-centered cessationist to an off-balance and unstable charismatic clown of the type that is so often showcased in today's "charismatic" circles (you've probably seen them on TV and YouTube). Interestingly enough, many of my Pentecostal friends would agree with the statement I have just made.

Feel free to share your thoughts, dear friends.


  1. I'm not sure the Pentecostals would actually agree about that.

  2. Phil,

    I know it seems hard to believe, but I spent a number of years studying and serving among conservative classical Pentecostals who were just as offended and disgusted by TBN and the like as you and I are today. I left all of that more than 10 years ago. Back in the day, however, I walked closely with Pentecostal men who were Biblically grounded, preached the cross, rejected hyper-faith, despised the prosperity gospel, and publicly spoke out against things like the Brownsville "Revival" and the Toronto "Blessing." There is a surprisingly wide range of belief among those who self-identify as Charismatic and/or Pentecostal.

    Another interesting thing I observed: some classical Pentecostals refused to accept the label, "Charismatic." They would say, "We are PENTECOSTAL, not charismatic!" And this distinction seemed very important to them.

    Blessings, my friend.

  3. Thank you for your post. It would seem that one may come to a ceasationist view 1. by over dividing the Scripture (1 Corinthians 13 has been butchered) or 2. by the so call "christians" making a mockery of themselves and putting a shame on the name of Jesus Christ with so called gifts, who disregard and twist the Scriptures.This makes any Bible believing, God fearing person want to walk in the opposite dirrection.

    We should not extricate ourselves from the moving of the Holy Spirit, but embrace it in the way in which the Father desires to be worshiped, not chasing after the vainity of this world which is so often the case of this modern "churches" that have unseen high places devoted to their gods.

    A slew of great God loving and fearing men and women have graced us who believe in the continuous work of God among His people. To note David Wilkerson, Art Kats, A.W. Tozer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Corrie Ten Boom, Chuck Smith, Etc...

  4. As one of your pentecostal friends, I do agree with your conclusions, Derek! I didn't have time to listen to the debate, but your summary is similar to what I often hear regarding objections to continuationism. The focus seems to always shift to the abuses and to the fringe elements - and these examples can't rightly be labeled "pentecostal" anyway, because they behave unbiblically, and to be truly pentecostal, one must be biblical.


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