Thanks for your careful approach to this question. I appreciate your desire to properly honor our common heroes of the faith throughout these past 2,000 years of church history. But I have to say that I remain utterly unmoved and altogether unconvinced by your appeal to this argument from the life of the church these past two millennia. I can’t address all your points, and on several occasions I will simply encourage the reader to go back and examine my article and the evidence I cited one more time. But I do have a few important points to make.
(1) First, I don’t think you honestly believe what I’m about to say (at least I hope you don’t), but much of what you wrote in your article, together with several comments in previous entries, suggests that it may be hiding just beneath the surface and I want our readers to reckon with it.
In all your talk of how experience or the lack thereof shapes your beliefs and practices, you’ve made several good points. But a danger lurks when one question is pressed: “What should I do when my experience does not line up with Scripture?” I put it this way because you have conceded on several occasions that the NT does not teach hard cessationism. You have even conceded that the exegetical case for continuationism is stronger than the one for cessationism. Your response has been to rely on the argument of what you call de facto cessation (“How do we know the gifts ceased? We know they have ceased because they in fact ceased”).
You do not argue that they have ceased because Scripture teaches they have. You concede that Scripture appears to teach otherwise. So, in my opinion, we have one of two available responses: either (1) marginalize Scripture on the subject of our responsibility with regard to spiritual gifts, or (2) do what we can, with God’s help, to alter our experience and repent of what we have believed or done that has led us to fall short of what Scripture truly says and commands. It strikes me that the only legitimate response to the alleged de facto cessation of gifts (which I’m only conceding for the sake of argument; as you can see from my article, I don’t believe they ever altogether ceased) is to admit that this must mean the problem is with us, the people of God, and not the Word of God.
I guess what I’m getting at is this: I struggle to understand how your view can be made consistent with a high view of biblical authority. If you concede that the NT makes a stronger case for continuationism than cessationism, then embrace the former and do everything within your power (as empowered by God) to pursue and facilitate and practice the gifts, regardless of what anyone else in any age of church history may believe or do. Otherwise, I don’t know how the Bible functions authoritatively in your life. Now, as I said above, I don’t believe you deny the functional authority of Scripture (I know you too well for that), but I fear that your arguments betray the subtle and perhaps unconscious influence of a tendency to invest more authority in your and others’ experience than in that of Paul and his precepts.
(2) Second, you write that “the cumulative experience of the historic body of Christ, at this point, is one of the things that keeps me from being charismatic.” In keeping with the previous point, I’m very sad to hear you say that. I would have hoped you had said, “the cumulative evidence from God’s inspired Word, at this point, is the primary thing that prompts me to be a charismatic, the experience or lack thereof in other believers notwithstanding.”
(3) Third, you insist that, subsequent to the first two centuries of church life, spiritual gifts were in decline and were at best infrequent and on the fringe for the next 1,800 years or so. I’m not going to continue to argue that point, but would ask only one question: “Why were they purportedly in decline and infrequent?” I would simply ask that you and our readers consider the several possible explanations for this found in my article. One explanation that you will not find, because Scripture won’t allow it, is that it was God’s design that the gifts only operate during the initial stages of the church’s existence. The Bible simply nowhere says that.
(4) Fourth, I will not respond to your quotations from church history but choose to stand by the evidence cited in my article. I would simply encourage the reader to go back and carefully read the statements from prominent figures and ask if what they believed and saw and experienced is consistent with de facto cessationism. In my opinion, it most certainly isn’t.
(5) Fifth, you argue that “the loss of the [truth] of the Gospel was a loss of an understanding of a doctrine (sola fide), not a loss of the effectiveness of this doctrine,” and thus can’t be compared with the decline or relative loss of the exercise of spiritual gifts in the church. You go on to say with regard to tongues that “you never have as a prerequisite a belief in the truthfulness of a doctrine of continuationism before Christians experience their effectiveness.”
I honestly can’t believe you believe this. Are you actually saying that one’s theological convictions about the validity or cessation of tongues and other gifts has no effect on whether or not a person eventually experiences them? I would insist that our beliefs control and shape our zeal, our expectations, our prayer life, and especially how we respond to and interpret claims people make regarding their experience of supernatural phenomena. Let me develop this point at greater length, because I think it is of crucial importance.
I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but your understanding of when and why spiritual gifts either are or are not present in the life of the church appears to be influenced by what strikes me as hyper-Calvinism, or at least a somewhat fatalistic approach to the Christian life that undermines both prayer and human responsibility. Can you believe that a committed 5-point Calvinist just wrote that? Well, yes, he (I) did.
You point to the gift of tongues in Acts and argue that in all three instances where it appears it came “sovereignly,” so to speak, without regard to the prayer or spiritual posture of those who received it. I think this is misleading for a couple of reasons.
For one, those present on the Day of Pentecost were there in obedience to the command of Jesus: “But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49: cf. Acts 1:5,8). The reason all received the gift of tongues on that Day is due to at least two factors. First, they were obedient in responding to Jesus’ command. There is no reason to believe, at least in my opinion, that if some had disbelieved Jesus’ promise, disobeyed his command, and had refused to wait with the others in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Spirit that they would have received tongues anyway, irrespective of their response to him. Continue Reading →