Thursday, July 11, 2013

Why I Am Not a Cessationist

I used to be a hard cessationist. I believed that God only spoke today through His Word, rightly interpreted, and that any tendency to see any impressions or subjective experiences as God's leading was wrong. I also believed that tongues and similar manifestations had passed away. I still feel an emotional attraction for that view; it feels safer. The thing that caused me to change my mind was not an experience or series of experiences. (I did have the occasional experience during that time, but I dismissed them and explained them away.) The thing that convinced me to change my mind was the simple fact that the Bible does not teach cessationism. Now I have had some experiences since reaching this conclusion that I would have a hard time explaining away. But I would find a way to do so if I felt Scripture really taught it.

The case for the ceasing of the miraculous gifts is extremely dubious.There is a passage that, in context, refers to when we stand before God (1 Corinthians 13:9-12). The other verses do not really seem to be to the point (Hebrews 1:2,3; 2:4, 1 Corinthians 14:21), and it is difficult to see how they even apply. We are told not to forbid to speak in tongues, which does not fit in well with the the idea they were about to pass away (1 Corinthians 14:39). Regarding healing, it is frequently assumed that at one time God always healed and He ceased doing so. But God never always healed. Jesus at the pool of Bethesda healed only one man, though there were many there (John 5:1-9). Paul at Ephesus saw people healed from touching his articles of clothing (Acts 19:11,12) and continued to see healings until the end of the book of Acts (Acts 28:7-9). But at the same time, God refused to heal Paul's thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). The cases where Jesus is said to have healed them all refer to all types of illness or everyone that was in that place on that day (Matthew 4:23,24; 8:16; Luke 6:19).

I would like to have a sound argument that the canon is closed and the gifts of prophet and apostle have passed away. I have not found one. Revelation 22:18,19 clearly refers to the book of Revelation. 2 Timothy 3:16,17 says that Scripture gives what we need for teaching, reproof, correction, and training, for faith and practice. There cannot be any new teaching or practice introduced not based in Scripture (Jude 3; Romans 16:17; Deuteronomy 13:1-5). But that does not mean God cannot give guidance in specifics. The only good arguments are Ephesians 2:20 (you do not lay a foundation again on the seventh story) and Revelation 21:14 (there are only twelve apostles). These are fairly weak. I am convinced that we are left to discern the truth of various claims by testing them (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22; 1 John 4:1-6; 1 Corinthians 12:3). Checking whether they accord with Scripture (Acts 17:11; Isaiah 8:20; Galatians 1:8,9), along with other criteria (Deuteronomy 18:16-22; John 17:17; Ezekiel 14:3,4). I am not at all convinced there is anyone in the church today speaking full Scripture-level prophecy. If there was, in our current divided state I think we would all catch it hot. But as convenient as it would be, I do not believe there is an adequate basis for throwing such claims out without examining them each on their own merits.

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