This article was originally posted at my site. Only some of my articles are posted on SBC Voices. If you would like access to all of my articles, you can follow my feed here. You can also connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.
Dave Miller recently wrote an article titled “God told me that the Bible does NOT teach Cessationism.” Cessationism is the belief that the miraculous spiritual gifts detailed in Scripture have ceased, and are no longer present in the church. I disagree with Miller’s article for many reasons:
1) He’s overly simplistic and dismissive. It’s undeniable that for over 1600 years of church history, the miraculous spiritual gifts were inactive in the church. They were only present among heretics. In spite of this fact, Miller believes cessationism is “hermeneutical wishful thinking.” There must be a lot of wishful thinkers in church history! You cannot dismiss hundreds of years of church history as hermeneutical wishful thinking.
2) The reason I’m a cessationist is because I believe the purpose of the miraculous gifts has ceased. It’s not because of wishful thinking. I was raised a charismatic! The reason I’m a cessationist is because I asked what Scripture identified as the purpose of the miraculous spiritual gifts. The answer is that the miraculous gifts were given for the building up of the church so that early Christians could trust the truth being presented as coming from God (See where Christ healed one person out of a multitude in John 5:2-9 to validate His identity: Acts 2:22-23 ; Paul speaks of the signs of an apostle as proof for his apostleship in 2 Cor. 12:12; miracles were random in Scripture; and spiritual gifts were given to individual Christians to encourage and build up other Christians/the church: 1 Cor. 12:7 and the context of the chapter; Rom. 12:1-8; 1 Pet. 4:10-11). Thus, the question is if this purpose is still needed today. Does the message of Christ and the apostles need to be revalidated with each generation? No. The gospel spread without repeated validation for over 1600 years. Furthermore, it’s a wicked generation who seeks a sign beyond the signs that have already been provided (Matt. 12:39). The person who says, “I’ll only believe the gospel if God . . .” reveals his or her unrepentant heart. If he or she will not hear Scripture, he or she will not hear the message accompanied by miracles either (Luke 16:31).
3) He argues from silence. There’s no where in Scripture where God spoke to an individual through his or her feelings, causing his or her heart to burn, etc. Yet, Miller insists that God not only spoke this way in Scripture, but that He speaks to all Christians this way today as well. I hope the reader sees the danger here. Miller doesn’t realize it, but when he provides no Scripture and appeals to experience alone as the basis for His belief in God speaking through feelings, impressions, etc., he’s appealing to natural theology (creation) for the doctrine of the Spirit relatively leading Christians through feelings, impressions, etc. In other words, he’s appealing to old liberalism. See Nieubhr. He’s appealing to an authority outside of Scripture, a theology derived from the world around him; particularly, a theology derived from within himself. To Miller’s credit, he argues that doctrine should be derived from Scripture, not the subjective voice of the Spirit; nevertheless, the only reason Miller believes the doctrine that the Spirit leads through feelings, emotions, etc. is because he’s experienced this leading Himself. Thus, he takes this subjective claim and reads it back into Scripture. You won’t find subjective leading through feeling, burning in one’s bosom, etc. in Scripture. It’s not there. Miller may argue that “we don’t know how they were lead in Scripture,” which is an inaccurate statement. In most cases we do know, and in the cases we don’t, why would we assume God used a different method than in previous encounters with His people? The common denominator, at the very least, is that when God spoke, He always led His people through their minds, not their feelings or emotions.
4) Cessationists believe in miracles. I understand that miracles are occasionally reported on the mission field today. Cessationism allows for such miracles. The reality, however, is that miracles are not miraculous gifts. Miraculous gifts were used at the discretion of the person who received the gift. These gifts weren’t given, then taken away, given again, then taken away again. They were given once for the person’s lifetime (as far as we know) “according to the grace given to us” (Rom. 12:6). For example, in 1 Corinthians 14:27-28, the apostle Paul tells those who speak in tongues to be silent if there is no interpreter. So, these Corinthians have the gift of tongues, but must be silent if there is no interpreter. If the gift of tongues is given and taken away, It makes no sense that God would give someone something to say if no interpreter was present, since they couldn’t speak His word. Paul also tells prophets to be silent if another prophet receives a revelation from the Spirit (1 Cor. 14:29-33). Thus, it appears the gifts of tongues and prophecy are for life, and are used at the discretion of the people who possess them. Granted, these people may not always have a tongue or prophecy, but they always possess the gift from salvation onward, since these gifts are given according to the grace given to us at salvation (Rom. 12:6).
5) The Bible never says the miraculous will cease (except prophecies and tongues, 1 Cor. 13:8), but it also never says they will continue either. As a matter of fact, based on how there are clear periods of the miraculous in Scripture and clear periods when the miraculous was absent in Scripture, we should only assume that the miraculous will cease at least temporarily at various points in history. The reality is that both sides are making assumptions. Both sides are making exegetical leaps. The cessationist side, however, has history on her side. The only way non-Cessationists can answer the absence of the miraculous for over 1600 years in church history is to either argue for a third wave of miracles today or to add extra stipulations to the possession and use of miraculous gifts. Some affirm a third-wave of the miraculous today, meaning that the first wave was during Elijah’s time, the 2nd wave was in the time of the New Testament, and the third wave is today. Some also add stipulations to the possession and use of miraculous gifts, such as “you must possess enough faith,” “you must have a short list of sins,” “you must immerse yourself in Scripture,” etc. In Scripture, however, there are no stipulations for spiritual gifts other than being a Christian (Rom. 12:6). The person who possesses the gift of teaching, for example, has this gift regardless of his spiritual obedience. The same goes for miraculous spiritual gifts as well.
6) God talked to very few people from Genesis to Revelation. Miller argues that God spoke to individuals throughout Scripture. What he fails to mention is that God spoke to a few individuals, and did not speak to millions of individuals. Yet, Miller argues God speaks to all Christians today. Where’s the textual warrant for such a claim? How can you make something that was rare in Scripture, normative for all Christians today? The way Miller does this is by redefining the way God speaks. Miller isn’t claiming that every Christian hears God’s voice. Instead, he’s claiming that every Christian is led by unction, impressions, feelings, etc. from God. He, however, has yet to prove how he knows these impressions, feelings, etc. are from God. Where’s the Scriptural proof? Until Miller provides Scriptural proof for the Spirit speaking through relative feelings, emotions, etc., he’s appealing to the relative voice of the Spirit for more than “details,” he’s appealing to the relative voice of the Spirit for doctrine as well. At this point, Miller is appealing to natural theology (his own subjective experience) as the basis for the Spirit relatively leading individual Christians through feelings, impressions, unction, etc., which directly goes against his claim that the subjective voice of the Spirit does not give us new doctrine.
7) Miller makes fideistic leaps. He claims,
God revealed himself, his purposes, his ways and his will in the Word of God. All that we know about God is found there. Every truth, every doctrine must be drawn from it. It is our sufficient guide and standard of truth.
But God also gave us his Spirit to indwell us and to communicate to us the specifics of his will . Go here, not there. Do this, not that. He speaks to us, leading and guiding us in the details of life that are not covered in the doctrine and teaching of God’s Word.
We should not look to that subjective and inner work of the Spirit for truth or doctrine, but for details.
Cessationists believe as well that God revealed Himself in His self-revelation: Scripture. They also believe that we have the Holy Spirit who leads and guides us. The difference is that we believe the Holy Sprit operates through His Word, not in giving us daily “details.” Where’s the textual warrant for Miller’s claim? So, we can trust the subjective voice of the Spirit for “details,” but not for truth or doctrine? Why not? That doesn’t make any sense, if you’re really hearing the voice of the Spirit on a daily basis. You should be able to trust the Spirit’s voice always. If He’s willing to tell us what to do on a daily basis, why can’t He give us progressive revelation as well? Why should we study Scripture to show ourselves approved, if the Scriptures aren’t sufficient for the daily details? Also, Miller argues that the subjective voice of the Spirit doesn’t give new doctrine, but I wonder if he believes the Spirit repeats doctrine found in Scripture. If so, then why study Scripture at all? This is what I run into in the local church. Why spend hours in the Word studying if the Spirit will mystically tell us what to believe after praying for a minute?
Furthermore, what about the Scriptures that argue Scripture is sufficient for even the daily “details”? Paul in Romans 12: 2 writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The relative leading of the Spirit is not even hinted at here. Yet, after declaring a summary of the doctrine of salvation (Rom. 1-11), Paul says our minds must be renewed based on these aforementioned truths. The result of our minds being renewed by these truths is the ability to discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect! This brings the question to Miller’s assumptions, “If understanding Scripture provides us with the perfect revealed will of God, what do we need the subjective leading of the Spirit beyond Scripture for?” How can the subjective leading of the Spirit improve on perfection?
8) Cessationism is in the pattern. Miller argues that God speaking to individuals is the pattern throughout Scripture. He misses the reality that God rarely spoke, and when He did, there were sometimes hundreds of years between each time He spoke. In other words, there were times in Scripture where God didn’t speak. That’s the “normal pattern” in Scripture. Frankly, there’s no point in Scripture where all of God’s people individually heard God’s voice and were individually guided by Him. It’s not in the text, Old or New Testament.
9) Relative leading is selfish. What’s interesting about spiritual gifts is that they are not for the individuals who possess them. They’re provided for the good of the whole church (1 Cor. 12:7, and the context of the chapter; Rom. 12:1-8; 1 Pet. 4:10-11). Yet, Miller argues for a spiritual gift (subjective leading of the Spirit; also known as a “word of wisdom”) that is somewhat selfish. Being led subjectively is about our own daily lives or the “details” as Miller calls them. Granted, other Christians may benefit sometimes, but the point is that “the Spirit leads me.” Miller even appeals to a greater intimacy with the Lord due to such leading, which implies that he has a closer relationship with Christ than those who disagree with him. He acts as if reading, hearing, and understanding the Word of God in Scripture is not intimate enough! He writes,
I think that some in the cessationist movement have adopted what I call biblical deism. Deism believed in an impersonal God, one who created the world then stood back and let it operate according to certain principles. Biblical deism creates a somewhat impersonal God today. He does not walk with me and talk with me. He gave me his word and stands back while I read and determine the details on my own. Our God is personal. He speaks and listens and enters into relationship with us.
This statement is a caricature. What evangelical cessationist argues that God speaking through His Word is not intimate?! The reality is that all Scripture is only spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:12-15). Understanding the Scriptures as truth is an intimate work of the Spirit in the heart of believers! Miller is on dangerous ground here (I don’t think he meant to diminish the intimacy Christians experience as the Word of God is spiritually discerned in their hearts; although, I think that’s exactly what his words say).
10) The Word of God is sufficient for discernment. After arguing that the Bible is sufficient for doctrine and truth, and that the subjective leading of the Spirit is only necessary for the “details,” Miller argues that if the Spirit was no longer speaking, then why did Paul warn the Corinthians to be discerning of the spirits? The answer is simple. Paul wrote this in the First Century when the Spirit was still speaking. Furthermore, we still must discern the spirits today based on Scriptural truth. Some in the church indeed still have the ability to exercise discernment moreso than others, as is evident based on how many Christians freely choose to follow false teachers.
11) Miller redefines “words of wisdom.” Without citing any Scripture, Miller argues there’s a difference between OT prophecy and the NT manifestation of the Spirit and guidance. He believes he receives words from the Lord that are not authoritative for anyone else but him. He argues that we shouldn’t immediately obey this subjective voice, but should instead test it by Scripture. My concern is that if you cannot trust the subjective voice of the Spirit, then what’s the point of Him speaking? Furthermore, Miller redefines words from God as “words of wisdom,” while denying the context surrounding this spiritual gift. The purpose of “words of wisdom” is the edification of the church, not the benefit of the individual (1 Cor. 12:7, and the context of the chapter; Rom. 12:1-8; 1 Pet. 4:10-11). Miller turns this gift inwardly instead of arguing for its purpose, which is outward.
12) Miller redefines the Trinity. In jest, Miller quotes Mark Driscoll as saying that cessationists have replaced the biblical Trinity with a new one, “Father, Son, and Holy Bible.” To this I simply say, in jest, that Miller and others like him have replaced the biblical Trinity with a new one, “Father, Son, and Holy Self.” Driscoll and Miller both believe they’re defending the work of the Spirit, when in reality, they’re claiming the Spirit is doing something the Scriptures do not claim. They’re appealing to natural theology as the source of the Spirit’s voice without textual warrant.
13) God speaking through Scripture is personal enough. I don’t need relative, personal revelation in order to have an intimate relationship with God. I have His Word! He speaks to me on a daily basis, and I speak to Him as well. The Spirit speaks to me constantly. We have an intimate relationship, and I don’t need more revelation. Cessationists aren’t less intimate with God than non-Cessationists (which Miller implies). Once again, I thought the purpose of spiritual gifts was the building up of the church, not increased intimacy between God and the person who receives the gift?
14) The sufficiency of Scripture is the issue. Miller says non-Cessationists believe Scripture is sufficient. He believes the Scripture is sufficient for doctrine and truth, but not for the daily “details” of life. That’s not “sufficient” enough for me. The Scriptures are sufficient even for the daily details of our lives. When you’re faced with two decisions, and neither violates Scripture, do what you want! I tell you this based on the authority of God’s Word, not based on the so-called authority of natural theology.
15) Non-Cessationism destroys Christian freedom. Cessationists are consistently free to do what they want beyond Scripture. When we’re faced with a big or small decision, we don’t have to wait for the Spirit’s subjective voice; we are free in Christ to make the decision based on Scripture. If Scripture is explicitly and implicitly silent on the issue, we can do what we want! Non-Cessationists on the other hand are tied to the subjective leading of the Spirit, even though there is no textual warrant for “waiting on the Spirit to speak.”
16) Those who affirm the subjective leading of the Spirit are dreadfully inconsistent. Those of you who believe you’re led subjectively by the Spirit, do you wait for the Spirit’s subjective voice before you do everything? For example, did you wait for the Spirit’s subjective leading before you chose which restaurant to eat at? If not, then why not? Do you only wait for the Spirit’s leading on what you deem are “big decisions”? If you have enough wisdom to discern what decisions you should “wait on the Spirit’s subjective voice for,” then you have enough wisdom to make these decisions yourself.
17) Your conscience, as informed by Scripture, is what’s really leading you. The fact that you cannot trust the subjective leading of the Spirit means that you’re not a prophet and the Spirit isn’t leading you. Something less authoritative and less powerful is leading you: your conscience, desire, etc. Why put God’s name on something that may or may not be true? You realize if you claim God led you to do something, but then you change your mind later realizing that God wasn’t leading you, then you’re a false prophet to yourself. This means you’re incapable of accurately hearing what the Lord is saying.
18) Non-cessationists wrongly assume that the New Testament church had more revelation than we possess today. All the words that Christ spoke while physically on Earth are not included in Scripture. We only possess what we need. If we don’t possess it in Scripture, we don’t need it. Thus, it’s rightful to assume that the early church did not need it as well. We must view the rest of revelation given in the early church as simply a repeat of what we possess in Scripture, unless one wants to argue that the New Testament church possessed more doctrine than we do. Remember that the New Testament church did not possess the New Testament. They needed extra revelation from God, as proven by miracles and tongues, because they did not have the New Testament. (I realize this is speculation, but even Miller agrees, since he and I both affirm that the canon is closed. There are no new doctrines given today. In other words, we don’t need any new doctrines, and even if God leads His people relatively, He’s not presenting any doctrines in doing so.) What you and I possess today in the New Testament is simply the various prophecies and proclamations the early church relatively possessed through the empowering and gifting of the Spirit. Therefore, since we have exactly as much revelation in Scripture as the New Testament church had through their tongues, prophecies, interpretations, words of wisdom, words of knowledge, etc., we have no need for these miracles today. We possess in Scripture the revelation these miracles were given to validate.
What are your thoughts?