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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Cessationism vs. Continuationism -- an attempt to take it piece by piece

I'm not going to link again to the discussion that is prompting this post because my linking to it in the previous post apparently was misunderstood! But, as you know, there is a discussion taking place again in the blogosphere regarding cessationism vs. continuationism.

This topic is a really good one, in my opinion, but has unfortunately sparked a lot of emotional debate and a lot of anecdotal arguments on both sides. Unlike others who have tried to mask their position while stating their arguments, I'm going to just tell you up front where I'm coming from. I think it will help you analyze my writing on this topic better, and hopefully we can think through this together. I'm open to the possibility that I could be wrong, and maybe someone will post a comment that will help me see where I'm mistaken.

So, for the record, I am not a cessationist. I am a continuationist. Personally, I just heard the word "continuationist" recently, and I love it. Because prior to that, the only terms I heard were "cessationist" and "charismatic." The term "charismatic", unfortunately, has a lot of baggage associated with it, and so I am glad to be able to use a different term!

Now, in case you are not familiar with these terms, in a nutshell, this is what they refer to. The position of cessationism says that some (not all) of the spiritual gifts discussed in Scripture were only in existence during the time of the Apostles, and they have ceased (hence the term "cessationism") to exist. Usually, the gifts relegated to this concept of cessationism are: tongues, healings, and prophecy.

In contrast to cessationism, continuationism asserts that all of the gifts still exist, and are valid. Because the gifts include tongues/interpretation, healings, and prophecy, this belief is usually associated with Charismatic and Pentecostal believers.

Now, I'm not sure how exactly to approach this discussion, but I'm launching off of some comments made on the other blog between myself and Ray. We got into a bit of a discussion regarding prophecy in general, and I think we'll start there.

What I would like to do over the next few posts is take some bits and pieces of the debate and approach them from a biblical perspective. What does the Bible say about prophecy, and how does that relate to the evaluation of the gift of prophecy today? Some seem to want to use the fact that false prophecies have been uttered by famous people in our day as evidence that the gift of prophecy no longer exists. I disagree, because false prophecy has been around as long as prophecy has been!

One of the points I have tried to make in other discussions is that people have always been given the responsibility to judge prophecies and act accordingly to whether or not the prophecy is true. For example, in Deuteronomy 18, God tells the Israelites that if a prophet claims to speak for God but isn't really speaking for God, they can ignore him. The text anticipates the question "How will we know?" to which God replies, "If what they prophesy does not come true, it wasn't from Me." (I'm paraphrasing) I think there is a parallel between this instruction in Deut 18 and what Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 14. Specifically Paul says that after two or three have prophesied in a meeting that the prophecies should be weighed.

Now, as I'm typing on this, I have come to the realization that we can begin to define prophecy a bit clearer by thinking through what Paul is saying. If a prophecy in the church can be weighed "on the spot", then we can't be talking about foretelling the future, can we? How would you know if it came true or not at the moment it was given?

So, let me try to bring this post to a close by suggesting that the term "prophecy" in the New Testament usage (with regard to spiritual gifts) is not merely foretelling the future. Therefore, I would suggest that it has more to do with speaking the mind of God (which OT prophets also did). While it is entirely possible that it could relate to foretelling an event (and we can look at some of these examples in the New Testament as we go), the instruction to weigh it seems to imply something other than that.

And how would they weigh the prophecies? By comparing them to what God has already revealed. In other words, by holding them up to the Scriptures and seeing if it "fit". This is what the Bereans did when Paul preached. They "weighed" what he taught against the Old Testament Scriptures, and found his teaching to be true.

I realize I'm rambling here, but am trying to build bit by bit an understanding of what it is we're even talking about. Ray brought up in the comments on "the other blog" a mention of Hebrews 1:1,2 as a suggestion that perhaps prophecy has ceased with the advent of Jesus Christ -- THE Word. He also talked about how "sign gifts" in general were always to authenticate and validate a new leader or new ministry and raised the question, "If these gifts are active today, what are they validating?" These are great questions, and we'll dialogue more about them in the next post.

Until next time,

steve :)

3 comment(s):

That's the final kicker for me, actually Steve, that 'sign gift' thing. I'm still working through a lot of it, and I do still believe the Lord intervenes in very practical ways, with healings and providence and so on. I just don't think these things are specific giftings for specific folks anymore.
Perhaps you and I could dialogue about it here, without all the attendant noise of the other blog he he. Poor Phil. I should think he'll be relieved when he's said his piece and can move on to more productive topics. Still, I do appreciate his input massively.

aaanyway..

By Blogger Libbie, at Friday, January 13, 2006 3:31:00 AM  

Libbie, I sure appreciate you coming over here and commenting. I think there can be really good dialogue about it, and I think and hope that you're right about there being less "noise" here. For once, I'm glad to have so little traffic on my blog!! ;) hehe

Would you rather I take a few steps back and go through my biblical reasoning for thinking the gifts still exist? Because I really want to do this from a biblical perspective coming forward, rather than looking back from what we see here in the 21st century.

I should have added in my "disclosure" that I was a cessationist for almost 30 years of my life. It was interesting to me to read on Phil's blog a comment by someone who said they were charismatic, but then finally searched the Scriptures and became a cessationist. For me, it was the exact opposite!! Isn't that odd?

At any rate, thanks again for reading and interacting. Feel free to make any and all points that you feel need to be made. I welcome the dialogue.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Friday, January 13, 2006 6:15:00 AM  

Libbie and Steve -- I made it; last check there were 114 comments on poor Phil's blog... Whew, I am glad we can actually sit over here and discuss this without the rancor that is going on over there...

This is definitely an emotional topic on both sides, but I think you have done an admirable job in stating your position Steve.. And funny enough, I come from a similar perspective as you...

What I hope we can do at your blog is simply wrestle, as brothers and sisters in Christ, with the subject, and see if we cannot get some clarity. I don't mind being proven wrong, but I do mind simply being lambasted for the sheer joy of proving how smart someone is.

I believe your comment about 1st Corinthians 14 being an immediate evaluation is very true, hence my thoughts regarding prophecy. It is not always a foretelling event, but (as some friends of mine state) forthtelling, i.e. as you said: telling the mind of God.

Now, when I say that, I do not mean -- EXTRA-revelatory, I mean; God moving in a person to provide guidance in a SPECIFIC thing. Now, the problem that always arises is how do we judge this: I think that is clear -- via the Scriptural record.

Also, while we are on this subject: What if there is no clear Scriptural stance... Let me give you an example:

Benny Hinn states in 1990 that all homosexuals will die in a fire by 1995, or that Castro will die in the 90's. How do you judge that? Only by looking BACK, as there is not a Scriptural reference to turn to...

These are false prophecies, but they could not have been judged on the spot -- what Scripture would you turn to? I think that is where my dis-ease comes in.

Thoughts I wanted to throw out as we begin, what I hope will be, a fruitful discussion.

By Blogger Ray, at Friday, January 13, 2006 10:03:00 AM  

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