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(18 posts)

Oh, yeah? Prove it!

Tuesday··2011·01·25 · 14 Comments
I have received some push-back (thanks to Tim Challies) on yesterday’s posting of John MacArthur’s comments on the charismatic movement. The content of the comments is no surprise, nor is what is conspicuously absent from them. This post is your opportunity to remedy that, and set me straight once and for all. The cessationist argument—my argument—begins with the fact that, according to Scripture, tongues will cease; that’s not debatable. The question is, when? Assuming (erroneously) that Scripture gives us no clue, how would we know? What if, like Noah, we were told of a coming event, but not told when it would happen, how would we know that it had? Well, it was easy for Noah: the flood came; he knew it had, and consequently, he didn’t lose any sleep about it as a future event thereafter. Cessationists believe the cessation has come, and that it came at or before the end of the apostolic age. We offer as evidence the only evidence there could be, the only evidence that should be necessary: Tongues are absent from church history. This post offers you an opportunity to refute that. This is not the place for philosophy or personal anecdotes. Your refutation must come in the form of citations from the Fathers, Reformers, Puritans, or similar sources demonstrating that tongues were an issue among them. I am not asking for their opinions on the subject, or their treatment of any biblical text; I am not asking for your opinions; I am asking for historical evidence that they were actually experiencing these things. No anecdotes or opinions, only actual documentation from cited sources. Anything less will be deleted. Read before commenting You may offer direct quotes from orthodox sources (not pagans or heretics), e.g. the Fathers, Reformers, Puritans (as in comment #1) and discuss those quotes (as in comments #2, 3, & 4). You may not tell me what you think about cessationists charismatics this challenge MacArthur, Piper, Grudem, Mahaney, etc. I will delete my own mother’s comments if she violates these rules. What I want: Unmistakable accounts of legitimate tongues, e.g., And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” Acts 2:4–11 Is this not clear?

Not Without Assignable Reason

Miracles do not appear on the pages of Scripture vagrantly, here, there, and elsewhere indifferently, without assignable reason. They belong to revelation periods, and appear only when God is speaking to His people through accredited messengers, declaring his gracious purposes. Their abundant display in the Apostolic Church is the mark of the richness of the Apostolic age in revelation; and when this revelation period closed, the period of miracle-working had passed by also, as a mere matter of course. —B. B. Warfield, quoted in The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 77. [original source]

By Signs and Wonders

In a bit of humorous irony, charismatics believe in continuing revelation, yet demand Scripture references to prove any argument against them. For example: “Oh yeah? Where does the Bible say that the miraculous gifts were for authentication of the Word?” Well, alright then, since you asked, For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. —Hebrews 2:1–4.

Expect a Miracle?

Have you ever been told to “expect a miracle”? Well, don’t. Many Charismatic believers insist that God wants to do a special miracle for every believer. They often say, “God has a special miracle just for you.” Are Christians supposed to seek their own private miracles? If you take all the miracles done by Jesus and chart them, the result will show that none of those miracles were ever done privately. While Jesus healed to cure people’s ailments and relieve suffering, these were secondary benefits. His major purpose was to authenticate His messiahship (John 20:30–31). Similarly, while the apostles also healed people, their primary purpose was to authenticate new revelation—and new revelation is never a private issue. B. B. Warfield wrote: It has not been God’s way to communicate to each and every man a separate store of divine knowledge of his own, to meet his separate needs; but He had rather spread a common board for all, and invites all to come and partake of the richness of the great feast. He had given the world one organically complete revelation. Adapted to all, sufficient for all, provided for all, and from this one completed revelation He requires each to draw his whole spiritual sustenance. Therefore, it is that the miraculous working which is but a sign of God’s revealing power cannot be expected to continue, and in point of fact does not continue, after the revelation of which it is the accompaniment has been completed. [original source] Charismatics circumvent this by insisting that today we have new revelation in addition to new miracles and new apostles. But apostles were special people for a special time. What they did does not need continual repetition. In none of his letters did Paul tell believers to seek the Spirit’s manifestations of signs and wonders. He simply said to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25) or, putting it another way, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you” (see Col. 3:16).* Revelation is a book full of vision, wonders, and signs. It would be a perfect place for the writer to urge believers to seek these wonders and signs, but what does he say? “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it” (Rev. 1:3). Romans 15:4 states: “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” If we want hope, if we want an anchor, if we want something to carry us through life, it isn’t a miracle we need. We need the Scriptures. —John MacArthur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 78–79. * See here.
Phonity noun: superficial unity for which fundamental differences are ignored. I wrote several introductions to this article, but each time I found myself politely beating around the bush, which, as you will see, goes exactly opposite my purpose. So I’m just going to skip the howdies and handshakes and spill it: As long as Reformed—which I assume to be cessationist (Sola Scriptura)—and Charismatic Christians continue to pretend the differences between them are minor and sweep them under the couch, their unity is fake, false, phony, fraudulent, and fraught with failure. If a movie was made about it, it might be called Irreconcilable Differences. Here’s why: Positively, we (Cessationists) believe that God has given his Word in full, therefore, prophesy (in the divine revelation, “thus saith the Lord,” sense) is ended; the gifts of tongues and healing were given to authenticate divine revelation, therefore, since revelation is finished for our time, so are tongues and healing. Negatively, we believe that if you “speak in tongues,” you are faking it, under some kind of hypnotic influence, or under demonic influence; when you say, “God told me . . .” without following with a Scripture reference, you are delusional, fatuous, or making it up; all “faith healers” are frauds. In view of all that—and setting aside who is right and who is wrong—I can understand how Cessationists can lovingly bear with Charismatic brothers, though I cannot see how they can quietly “agree to disagree.” The latter does not seem loving at all. What really boggles my mind is how Charismatics can brush aside what Cessationists believe about those things that identify them as Charismatic—that is, that they are all fake—as though it is no big deal. But my bewilderment is of no importance to you. How this can be is less important than the question, “Should this be?” I know the current rapport between Charismatic and Reformed Christians is very fashionable and celebrated, but is it, as it stands, a good thing? Is a unity based on near silence a genuine unity? Regardless of which side you are on, you must agree that these are very serious disagreements. One of us is terribly wrong, and in serious need of correction. If we sincerely aspire to any kind of genuine unity, we need to talk about this. That is why both Cessationists and Charismatics, rather than becoming pugnatious, should welcome events like Grace Community Church’s Strange Fire conference as an opening of constructive dialogue. Charismatics should listen when the sessions become available online, and by all means, respond intelligently. (Note: “Shut up and stop ‘quenching the Spirit’” is not an intelligent response.) And if we can’t talk about it, we should stop pretending and call it quits.

By Signs and Wonders: Apostolic Authority

Last week, I posted the scriptural testimony on the purpose of the miraculous gifts in authenticating divine revelation. Here, John MacArthur demonstrates the uniqueness of the apostolic office to the age of revelation: Scripture makes it plain that the period of New Testament revelation and the apostles are inextricably connected. Paul said as much when he wrote to the Corinthians and said: “I have become foolish in glorying; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am nobody. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:11–12). Paul was clearly defending his apostleship to the Corinthians (who had challenged him concerning his apostolic authority) by referring to the signs, wonders, and miracles that he did among them. Now, if that kind of thing were common to all Christians, it would be a rather foolish way for Paul to prove his apostleship. Obviously, even during the apostolic age all Christians couldn’t do signs, wonders, and mighty deeds. But if that type of thing were unique to apostles, then it would certainly be proof of their power and authority. —John MacArthur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 79–80.

Has God Lost His Zip?

The charismatic caricature of cessationists portrays a belief in an inactive holy spirit, and a god who no longer works in the world, who has, as one charismatic quipped, “lost all of his zip.” John MacArthur responds: Has God lost His zip? Has he done nothing significant in two thousand years? All around us we see evidence of God’s marvelous work: in the miracle new birth in the lives of millions around the world; in the healing of illness in answer to prayer; in the matching of people and resources in providential circumstances to bring glory to Himself; in the resilience of His church which has survived ruthless persecution and attack through the centuries and continues to do so today. Ephesians 3:20 gives a promise for our age and it is this: Our Lord “is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.” What God does in us and through us today is not the same thing that He did in the apostolic age because He had a special purpose for the apostles, and that purpose was served. He also had a special purpose for us, and what he does in us and for us and through us will be marvelous because He is God and what he does is always marvelous. —John MacArthur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 84.

Blaspheming the Spirit

The mailman was received with great joy, trumpet fanfare, etc. today, as John MacArthur’s Strange Fire was delivered into my grasping hands. Cessationist zealot that I am, you might have expected this sooner. On the other hand, no one would ever accuse me of riding the cutting edge of anything, so maybe not. Anyway, here I am, and better late than never. I love an adult who can deal in straight talk, and MacArthur, as usual, wastes no time in getting to the point, and tells it like it is. It is a sad twist of irony that those who claim to be most focused on the Holy Spirit are in actuality the ones doing the most to abuse, grieve, insult, misrepresent, quench, and dishonor Him. How do they do it? By attributing to Him words He did not say, deeds He did not do, phenomena He did not produce, and experiences that have nothing to do with Him. They boldly plaster His name on that which is not His work. In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders of Israel blasphemously attributed the work of the Spirit to Satan (Matt. 12:24). The modern Charismatic Movement does the inverse, attributing the work of the devil to the Holy Spirit. Satan’s armies of false teachers, marching to the beat of their own illicit desires, gladly propagate his errors. They are spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans. We can see an endless parade of them simply by turning on the television. Jude called them clouds without water, raging waves, and wandering stars “for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (v. 13). Yet they claim to be angels of light—gaining credibility for their lies by invoking the name of the Holy Spirit, as if there’s no penalty to pay for that kind of blasphemy. The Bible is clear that God demands to be worshipped for who He truly is. No one can honor the Father unless the Son is honored; likewise, it is impossible to honor the Father and the Son while dishonoring the Spirit. Yet every day, millions of charismatics offer praise to a patently false image of the Holy Spirit. They have become like the Israelites of Exodus 32, who compelled Aaron to fashion a golden calf while Moses was away. The idolatrous Israelites claimed to be honoring the Lord (vv. 4–8), but instead they were worshipping a grotesque misrepresentation, dancing around it in dishonorable disarray (v. 25). God’s response to their disobedience was swift and severe. Before the day was over, thousands had been put to death. Here’s the point: we can’t make God into any form we would like. We cannot mold Him into our own image, according to our own specifications and imaginations. Yet that is what many Pentecostals and charismatics have done. They have created their own golden-calf version of the Holy Spirit. They have thrown their theology into the fires of human experience and worshipped the false spirit that came out—parading themselves before it with bizarre antics and unrestrained behavior. As a movement, they have persistently ignored the truth about the Holy Spirit and with reckless license set up an idol spirit in the house of God, dishonoring the third member of the Trinity in His own name. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014) viii–ix.

The Fatal Flaw

According to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, more than ninety percent of self-identified Pentecostals in most countries hold to the beliefs known as the “prosperity gospel.” How is this possible for such a blatantly heretical philosophy to so thoroughly infest the movement? The answer explains more than just the embrace of prosperity teaching. It is a critical and systemic defect within charismatic theology—a flaw that accounts for just about every theological aberration or abnormality that makes its home within the Charismatic Movement. It is this: Pentecostals and charismatics elevate religious experience over biblical truth. Though many of them pay lip service to the authority of God’s Word, in practice they deny it. If Scripture alone were truly their final authority, charismatic Christians would never tolerate patently unbiblical practices— like mumbling in nonsensical prayer languages, uttering fallible prophecies, worshipping in disorderly ways, or being knocked senseless by the supposed power of the Holy Spirit. They ought to reinterpret their experiences to match the Bible; instead, they reinterpret Scripture in novel and unorthodox ways in order to justify their experiences. As a result, any aberrant teaching or practice can be legitimized, especially when a new “revelation from God” conveniently authenticates it as having His approval. Though written nearly a half century ago, the words of René Pache still ring true: The excessive preeminence given to the Holy Spirit in their devotions and their preoccupation with gifts, ecstasies, and “prophecies” has tended to neglect of the Scriptures. Why be tied to a Book out of the past when one can communicate every day with the living God? But this is exactly the danger point. Apart from the constant control of the written revelation, we soon find ourselves engulfed in subjectivity; and the believer, even if he has the best intentions, can sink rapidly into deviations, illuminism or exaltation. Let each remind himself of the prohibition of taking anything away from Scripture or adding anything to it (Deut. 4: 2; Rev. 22:18–19). Almost every heresy and sect has originated in a supposed revelation or a new experience on the part of its founder, something outside the strictly biblical framework. By abandoning the final authority of the text, the Charismatic Movement has made itself susceptible to the worst kinds of doctrinal deception and spiritual exploitation. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014) 16–17.

Missionaries to the Gibbers

The Gibbers are, of course, the inhabitants of Gibb, speakers of—well, you figure it out. Pentecostal father Charles Parham was a nut by anyone’s standard. Contrary to cessationist—i.e., biblical—orthodoxy, he expected the gift of tongues. Contrary to today’s Pentecostal/charismatic dogma, he believed that biblical tongues were actual languages, intended to be understood. He boasted to the Topeka State Journal, “The Lord will give us the power of speech to talk to the people of the various nations without having to study them in schools.” Several weeks later, he told the Kansas City Times, “A part of our labor will be to teach the church the uselessness of spending years of time preparing missionaries for work in foreign lands when all they have to do is ask God for power.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 22. As the best laid plans of mice and mystics often go awry, so Parham’s plans were to be disappointed. S. C. Todd of the Bible Missionary Society investigated eighteen Pentecostals who went to Japan, China, and India “expecting to preach to the natives in those countries in their own tongue,” and found that by their own admission “in no single instance have [they] been able to do so.” As these and other missionaries returned in disappointment and failure, Pentecostals were compelled to rethink their original view of speaking in tongues. — Ibid., 23.

Apostolic Qualifications

Charismatics, and others who build entire theological systems on single verses or even words, will ask, “Where does the Bible say the apostolic office is no more?” This is unlikely to satisfy them, but it should convince you, the logical, biblical thinker. It would be impossible for any contemporary Christian to meet the biblical qualifications required for someone to be considered an apostle. The New Testament articulates at least three necessary criteria:(1) an apostle had to be a physical eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:22; 10:39–41; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:7–8); (2) an apostle had to be personally appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 3:14; Luke 6:13; Acts 1:2, 24; 10:41; Gal. 1:1); and (3) an apostle had to be able to authenticate his apostolic appointment with miraculous signs (Matt. 10:1 –2; Acts 1:5–8; 2:43; 4:33; 5:12; 8:14; 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3–4). Those qualifications alone conclusively demonstrate that there are no apostles in the church today. No living person has seen the risen Christ with his or her own eyes; no one is able to perform miraculous signs like those done by the apostles in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 3:3–11; 5:15–16; 9:36–42; 20:6–12; 28:1–6); and—in spite of presumptuous claims to the contrary—no one in the modern church has been personally and directly appointed as an apostle by the Lord Jesus. Of course, there are some charismatics who claim to have seen visions of the resurrected Lord. Not only are such claims highly suspect and impossible to verify; they simply do not meet the apostolic criteria—since an apostle had to see the resurrected Christ in the flesh with his own eyes. . . . Wayne Grudem, popular author and professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary, is a committed charismatic himself and perhaps the best theologian and apologist for the movement. But even he acknowledges that “since no one today can meet the qualification of having seen the risen Christ with his own eyes, there are no apostles today.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 92–93.

A Foundation and a Blueprint

Jesus built the foundation. When writing his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul explained that his readers were part of God’s household, “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the corner stone” (Eph. 2:19–20 NASB). That passage equates the apostles with the church’s foundation. It means nothing if it doesn’t decisively limit apostleship to the earliest stages of church history. After all, a foundation is not something that can be rebuilt during every phase of construction. The foundation is unique, and it is always laid first, with the rest of the structure resting firmly above it. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 96–97. The Holy Spirit gave instructions for the completion of the building. When the apostles gave instruction regarding the future of the church and how the church ought to be organized, they did not suggest new apostles should be appointed. Instead, they spoke of pastors, elders, and deacons. Thus, Peter instructed elders to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2 NASB). And Paul told Titus to “appoint elders in every city as I directed you” (Titus 1:5 NASB); he similarly outlined the qualifications for both elders and deacons in the third chapter of 1 Timothy. Nowhere in the Pastoral Epistles does Paul say anything about the perpetuation of apostleship, but he says a lot about the organization of the church under the leadership of qualified elders and deacons. As faithful men filled those offices, the church would thrive. Thus, Paul told Timothy, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2 NASB). —Ibid., 97–98.

Judging Modern Prophesy

Charismatics insist that God continues to give fresh revelation but, like the other miraculous gifts they claim, today’s revelation is not to be held to biblical standards. Today’s revelation may be erroneous. One wonders, then, how to tell what is genuine revelation and what isn’t. John MacArthur looks to Wayne Grudem for an answer. Wayne Grudem, for example, wrote his doctoral thesis at Cambridge University in defense of the idea that God regularly gives Christians prophetic messages by bringing spontaneous thoughts to mind. Strong impressions should be reported as prophecy, he says, though he freely admits that such prophetic words “can frequently contain errors.” Grudem goes on, “There is almost uniform testimony from all sections of the charismatic movement that prophecy is imperfect and impure, and will contain elements which are not to be obeyed or trusted.” In light of such an admission, one wonders, how can Christians differentiate a revelatory word of divine origin from one concocted in their own imaginations? Grudem struggles to find an adequate answer to that question: Did the revelation “seem like” something from the Holy Spirit; did it seem to be similar to other experiences of the Holy Spirit which [the person] had known previously in worship. . . . Beyond this it is difficult to specify much further, except to say that over time a congregation would probably become more adept at making evaluations of prophecies, . . . and become more adept at recognizing a genuine revelation from the Holy Spirit and distinguishing it from their own thoughts. Elsewhere, Grudem compared the evaluation of modern prophecy to a game of baseball: “You call it as you see it. I have to use an American analogy. It’s an umpire calling balls and strikes as the pitcher pitches the ball across the plate.” In other words, within charismatic circles, there are no objective criteria for differentiating prophetic words from imaginary ones. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 114–115.

Who Is the Cessationist Now?

It is another wonderful irony of the Charismatic debate: continuationists claim that with the New Testament age came a cessation of the Old Testament standard for prophesy, while cessationists insist on a continuation of the Old Testament standard of infallibility. John MacArthur responds to one Charismatic appeal to Scripture in defense of fallible prophesy: No doubt, someone will object by pointing to Romans 12:6, where Paul wrote, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith.” Charismatics use this verse to argue that the accuracy of prophecy is dependent on the measure of a person’s faith. However, that is not even close to Paul’s true meaning in that verse . The word translated “our” in the New King James is actually the definite article in Greek. It is most accurately translated simply as “the.” Hence, Paul is instructing his readers that those with the gift of prophecy must prophesy in accordance with the faith—the body of previously revealed biblical truth (cf. Jude 3–4). Furthermore, the word prophecy in this context does not necessarily refer to future predictions or new revelation. The word simply means “to speak forth,” and it applies to any authoritative proclamation of God’s Word where the person gifted to declare God’s truth “speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men” (1 Cor. 14:3). So a fitting paraphrase of Romans 12:6 would be: “If your gift is proclaiming God’s Word, do it according to the faith.” Again, the idea is that whatever is proclaimed must conform perfectly with the true faith, being consistent with previous biblical revelation. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 121.

A Process of Elimination

Jesus and the apostles performed miracles for a specific purpose. Knowing that purpose should make cessationists of us all, but at the very least, it enables us to rule out any possibility of genuine divine miracles through Benny Hinn and heretics like him. A final characteristic of New Testament healings is that they served as a sign to authenticate the gospel message preached by Christ and the apostles. As Peter explained on the day of Pentecost, the Lord Jesus was “a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs” (Acts 2:22). Christ Himself told the skeptical Pharisees, “Though you do not believe Me, believe the works , that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him” (John 10:38). And the apostle John explained the purpose of his gospel with these words: “Truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30–31). The apostles, as Christ’s ambassadors, were similarly authenticated by the miraculous signs they performed (cf. Rom . 15:18–19; 2 Cor. 12:12). Speaking of that apostolic witness, the author of Hebrews explained, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?” (Heb. 2:3–4). Those signs validated the fact that the apostles were truly who they claimed to be—authorized representatives of God who preached the true gospel. Those who would preach any gospel other than that established by Christ and proclaimed by the apostles show themselves to be “false apostles” and “deceitful workers” (2 Cor. 11:13). Paul cursed such people—twice in quick succession , to make the point as emphatic as possible: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8 –9). The God of truth only validates the true gospel. He would not authenticate bad theology or give supernatural power to people who teach bad theology. Thus, self-proclaimed miracle workers who teach a false gospel either cannot perform miracles or do so by a power that does not come from God (cf. 2 Thess. 2:9). —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 173–174.

God’s Power Has Not Ceased

Biblical miracles had recognizable characteristics not found in today’s “healing ministries.” The miracle-working ministries of Christ and the apostles were unique. . . . the healings they performed were supernaturally powerful, entirely successful, undeniable, immediate, spontaneous, and purposeful—serving as signs that authenticated the message of the gospel. They were not predicated on the faith of the recipient, they were not performed for the sake of money or popularity, and they were not preplanned or choreographed in any way. They were true miracles that resulted in real diseases being instantly cured: the blind saw, the lame walked, the deaf heard, and even the dead were raised to life. Such biblical-quality healing miracles are not being performed today. Benny Hinn may claim to have an apostolic healing ministry, but he obviously does not. Healing miracles of the kind recorded in the Gospels and Acts were unique to the first-century church. After the time of the apostles, healings such as those ceased and have never since been part of church history. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 175–176. Charismatics like to misrepresent cessationism as diminishing or denying the power of God, but it is not God’s ability to heal that has ceased. God still can and does do as he pleases, according to his own purposes and in his own way. It is the revelatory purpose for and the accompanying means that has ceased. While the New Testament does instruct believers to pray for those who are sick and suffering, trusting the Great Physician to do that which is according to His sovereign purposes (cf. James 5:14–15), that is not equivalent to the supernatural gift of healing described in Scripture. Anyone who claims otherwise is fooling himself. —Ibid., 176.

“This May Seem a Bit Strange …”

Continuationists who are otherwise orthodox like to think that they represent the mainstream of charismaticism, and that the extreme errors of the movement are found only on the fringes. In fact, it is they who reside on the fringe of an aberrant movement, performing the service not of moderating it, but of lending it credibility. Doing so requires either a redefining of the miraculous gifts, or, as seen below, some pretty amazing gymnastics. One of the most respected New Testament scholars in the evangelical world provides an example of this very thing [i.e., lending credibility to the broad charismatic movement]. As a careful exegete who seeks to be faithful to the New Testament text, this man correctly identifies the gift of tongues with authentic languages. However, his continuationist presuppositions inhibit him from concluding that the gift of languages has ceased. As a result, he is forced to devise a baffling hypothesis in which he asserts that modern babbling may seem like gibberish, but can constitute a rational language at the same time. In an extended discussion on this point, he provides the following example to illustrate his view: Suppose the message is: Praise the Lord, for his mercy endures forever. Remove the vowels to achieve: PRS TH LRD FR HS MRC NDRS FRVR. This may seem a bit strange; but when we remember that modern Hebrew is written without most vowels, we can imagine that with practice this could be read quite smoothly. Now remove the spaces and, beginning with the first letter, rewrite the sequence using every third letter, repeatedly going through the sequence until all the letters are used up. The result is: PTRRMNSVRHDHRDFRSLFSCRR. Now add an “a” sound after each consonant, and break up the unit into arbitrary bits: PATARA RAMA NA SAVARAHA DAHARA DAFARASALA FASA CARARA. I think that is indistinguishable from transcriptions of certain modern tongues. Certainly it is very similar to some I have heard. But the important point is that it conveys information provided you know the code. Anyone who knows the steps I have taken could reverse them in order to retrieve the original message. . . . It appears, then, that tongues may bear cognitive information even though they are not known human languages—just as a computer program is a “language” that conveys a great deal of information, even though it is not a “language” that anyone actually speaks. While such a suggestion is innovative, it has no exegetical basis and adds layers of unnecessary complexity that are not warranted by the New Testament description of the gift of languages. Unique explanations like this, though well intentioned, attempt to do the impossible. All efforts to reconcile the biblical miracle of speaking foreign languages and the modern practice of nonsensical jabber fail. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 235–236. The “respected New Testament scholar” quoted above is none other than D. A. Carson (Showing the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987), 85–86.), a man whose scholarship has indeed earned the respect he receives. That his charismatic presuppositions, juxtaposed on a biblical understanding of tongues, force him to concoct such a risible theory should be an obvious indicator of the impossibility of reconciling continuationism with biblical Christianity.

Early Church Cessationists

Once upon a time, I issued a challenge to charismatics to show historical proof that the gift of tongues did not pass away with the apostolic age. That challenge has yet to be met. On the other hand, John MacArthur provides several quotes from the Early Church Fathers, Reformers, Puritans, and notable theologians from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries supporting the cessation of the miraculous gifts. Most telling, of course, are the words of these two second century fathers: This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. —John Chrysostom, Commenting on 1 Corinthians 12, cited in Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 252. In the earliest times, the Holy Spirit fell upon them that believe and they spoke with tongues, which they had not learned, as the Spirit gave them utterance. These were signs adapted to the time. For there was this betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues to show that the gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a sign, and it passed away. —Augustine, Ibid., 252–253. For who expects in these days that those on whom hands are laid that they may receive the Holy Spirit should forthwith begin to speak with tongues? But it is understood that invisibly and imperceptibly, on account of the bond of peace, divine love is breathed into their hearts, so that they may be able to say, “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” —Ibid., 253.


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