by C Michael PattonApril 15th, 2009 93 Comments
Ok, after the first seven parts of this series it should be almost clear where I stand on this issue. But I ended the last post by saying that I am neither a continuationist or cessationist. Let me clarify just what I am . . .
I define a Charismatic as one who thinks that the supernatural sign gifts such as tongues, prophecy, healings, etc. are normative for the church today. Therefore, believers should expect them. A cessationist is one who believes that these gifts ceased due to an exhaustion in purpose around the first century (some would say with the death of the last Apostle).
I don’t think that one can make a solid case for the ceasing of the gifts from Scripture. However, I don’t think that one can make a solid case from Scripture for the closing of the canon. I believe that both of these issues are very similar. Could God add books to the Bible if it were his purpose? Of course. Could we cry “foul” and say “You cannot do that because our traditions and councils have said you cannot? No. We (Protestants) believe in the de facto closing of the canon. What does that mean? We believe in the closing of the canon because it, indeed, closed. It is a historical and experiential reality. God just quit adding books to the canon. Only after this does our theology step in and attempt to explain this by saying it closed because soteriological history was completed.
I believe the same about the gift of prophecy, tongues, and other supernatural sign gifts. I believe they have ceased because they ceased in church history (as I argued) and I, personally, have never experienced them. Therefore, I am a “De Facto Cessationist.” Some may call it “Soft cessationist” and that is fine, but I like the term de facto since it describes the reasoning behind my position.
To those of you who are Charismatics out there:
I think that you have to understand my reasoning and the reasoning of those like me. It is not as if we are putting God in a box. We are just being responsible with our beliefs (which are precious to God) by attempting to explain the way we see things. I don’t judge all claims with the same standard. I don’t have a “guilt by association” default drive with this issue, tagging the back of the shirts of all Charismatics with a Benny Hinn label. I respect many who are Charismatic and think they are very bright and have something going on that persuades them to believe as they do. But I have been in the church all my life, traveled the world on missions trips, and partaken in many Charismatic services and never seen anything that would make me change my positions. Were I to see something that compels me to change, I would change.
With prophecy, for instance, if I were to see someone who claimed to be a prophet, speaking on behalf of God, and he, for example, raised someone from the dead, so long as he spoke in accordance with sound doctrine, I would most certainly listen (at least I hope I would). If someone claimed to have the gift of healing and came and healed my mother, I would believe and change my stance. If someone would have healed my sister before she died, again, things would be different. But the fact is that I have not ever witnessed such. I don’t even have any good first hand testimony of such happenings. Sure, I believe that God heals, so coming to me with a story of healing is already in line with my theology. But what I lack—the essential component—is God gifting an individual with the particular gift of healing. Most healings and miracles I have seen come through prayer, not through a divine conduit with this particular gift.
Therefore, I remain a de facto Cessationist.
Two Important Points:
1. Am I Putting God in a “Box”?
I often hear it said that people like me put God in a box due to my unbelief. You need to be very careful with this line of thought. It could very well be that you are the one putting him in a box. Let me explain.
I remember studying the great prayer revivals in American history with John Hannah. While discussing these movements, we, the students, inquired about why God moved so much during this time in our history. His answer was rather odd. He said there was no reason he knew of. He went on to describe similar events where revival did not occur though the actions of men were the same. The moral of Hannah’s lesson was that God moves when and where he will and we just don’t know why.You cannot map Him. You cannot put him in a box one way or the other.
If God chooses to send a prophet or a man with the gift of healing, it is his own accord, purpose, and will which sanctions such. To have a “theology of expectation” not only sets many up for disillusionment, but can also be putting God in the box that you accuse others of. God’s movements are mysterious. It could very well be that a revival breaks out. It could very well be that he decides to gift people with supernatural gifts. It is possible that he could send a prophet to your door. But this does not make it normative. It just says he did it. Praise God.
Remember the passage from the early life of Samuel where Samuel was hearing God’s voice calling him but he did not know it was God? The preface to this narrative is very interesting: 1 Samuel 3:1: “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD before Eli. And word from the LORD was rare in those days, visions were infrequent.” Why were visions infrequent? We have no idea. They just were. De facto.
2. Is God waiting on me to believe?
Also, you must remember that God’s movements in his people’s lives are not characteristically coy. When he is going to move in your life or mine, he is not waiting for us to believe in certain gifts or movements before we are qualified to receive such. He did not wait for Paul to be a believe before he hit him with a ton of bricks on the road to kill Christians. He blinded him and spoke. De facto, God was speaking. He did not wait for the Apostles to believe in tongues before they received them on the day of Pentecost. De facto, they were speaking in tongues.
If God wanted me to be a Charismatic, I would be one. He is not waiting for me to become one so that he can finally do his work.
The Spirit moves in mysterious ways. Outside of his general promises, it is very hard for us to hold his feet to the fire of the details. We wait, watch, pray, and follow his guidance. We can all put him in a box, but he won’t stay there, believe me.
I am not Charismatic. I am not necessarily cessationist either. I am, right now, a de facto cessationist who lives with a high expectation that God is going to move in the way he will. I hope that I am always ready to follow.
Thus ends the series, de facto.
When commenting, please try to make sure you have read the previous posts. I am sure that they will answer many of your questions.
- Why I am Not Charismatic (Part 5): An Argument from History
- Why I am Not Charismatic (Part 6): Excursus: It's Not About Miracles!
- Why I am Not Charismatic (Part 7): Building a Theology of the Sign Gifts
- Why I am Not Charismatic (Part 1)
- Why I am Not Charismatic (Part 3): Prophecy and Healings