As is the case in most blogging debates, by the time we have discussed something for a few rounds, there is an assumption that the two sides are wildly far apart. That is the nature of blogging. We do not discuss our agreements, but our disagreements. We also tend to forget that in most debates, there are not simply two positions that stand in opposition to one another, but a continuum of positions between those extremes. Both of these tendencies have been in evidence in our recent discussions of the present day ministry of the Holy Spirit in the church.
In this debate, there are two extremes (I do not intend the word extreme here to be pejorative or to imply extremism; it just means the end of the continuum):
- The Cessationist extreme holds that God does not speak in any way directly to the individual human since the canon has been closed. Christians should read their Bible, do what it says and make their decisions based solely on what they understand of biblical principles. They would argue that the “sign gifts’ or “miracle gifts” passed away once their purpose was fulfilled in the early church.
- The Continuationist extreme holds that God continues to reveal truth today that is authoritative for the church – almost at a level with the revelation in scripture. You could call this the Benny Hinn/Kenneth Copeland option. They would argue that the gifts of the Spirit should continue today in every way, and at the same magnitude, that they did during the days of the early church.
The simple fact is that a small number of us in this Baptist debate are at the end of the Cessationist side of the continuum, and almost none of us are at the continuationist extreme. Even some who argued counter to my position admitted they do not completely reject the charismata or the subjective voice of God. I have argued forcefully for the subjective voice of God still being present today and that the Spirit still manifests himself in the church today, as he wills, in the ways described in 1 Corinthians 12. But if I had to plot myself on a graph, I would be much closer to the cessationist extreme on many issues than I would be on the continuationist extreme.
As I have studied and discussed this for years and have been involved in Baptist debates about this here, I have formulated the following opinions and assertions. Concerning the Baptist debate of continuationism and cessationism, I would put forward the following for your consideration:
1) We ALL agree that the Bible is the final revelation of God and holds all truth, all doctrine and all revelation of the character of God.
None of us, (Baptist) continuationists or cessationists, believe that God is still giving scripture-level revelation today, or that any prophecy, dream, vision, word of wisdom, word of knowledge or message in tongues would have the authority (or anywhere near it) that scripture has. We agree that Scripture is the all-sufficient revelation of God.
Where we disagree is whether God gives guidance on details of life directly to the human heart in addition to working through the Word. Did God just give me a set of principles for choosing a wife or did he lead me to the woman I”ve been married to for 34 years? Did God call me to the ministry? Did God call me to minister at this church. Continuations would give different answers to these questions based on our understanding of the Word of God than cessationists would.
But neither side has a corner on commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.
2) We ALL agree that God does his work in us by the Holy Spirit using the Word of God as the primary tool of sanctification.
My motto for my ministry is, “The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to do the Work of God in the People of God.” I think we would all agree that it is through the study of the inspired scripture that we are taught, rebuked, corrected and trained in righteousness so that we may all be thoroughly equipped for every good work. We agree that the Word of God is the Spirit’s primary tool.
Where we differ is whether God uses other more personal, subjective communication as well. Is the Word the primary or the only tool?
3) We ALL agree that charlatans and false prophets have abounded in the spiritual realm.
Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 12 to teach the truth about spiritual things because there was so much going on that was false and fleshly. That is still true today. False prophets have announced messages from God that the Bible clearly condemns and charlatans have tricked people into believing they had miraculous powers they do not. We agree, to a large extent, that the televangelists and the prosperity cult and others teach dangerously false doctrines.
Baptist continuationists agree with cessationists judgment on these issues.
Where we disagree (seemingly) is whether the stain of these abuses undermines continuationist doctrines completely. We would ask if the fact that a $100 bill can be counterfeited means that all $100 bills are counterfeit.
4) We ALL agree that decisions should be made on the basis of the wisdom and guidance of the Word.
When we are making decisions, we agree that we should study God’s Word for guidance. If it is commanded in the Word, no further “word” from God is needed. If it is forbidden in Scripture, there is no “word” from God that will countermand or nullify what the Bible says. God does not tell us to leave our spouses or refuse to pay our taxes. No vision, dream or prophecy can undo the clear teaching of the Bible.
The issue is more simple than that. On many of the big decisions of life, the Bible does not speak directly. Whom should I marry? Where should I live? What work should I do? Should I go into the ministry? Should I accept this new job offer or not? Should our church build this new building or enter into this new ministry? Does God, by his Holy Spirit, give us wisdom and direction on those details that are not dealt with in the Bible.
No “word from the lord” can countermand, nullify or contradict scripture. On that we agree. But does God’s Spirit give us guidance where the Word does not?
The Debate Goes On…
The cessationist/continuationist debate is not going away any time soon. My point in this post is to attempt to define where we as Baptists agree on these doctrines and where we disagree. As we have discussed this, too much of the discussion has focused on Benny Hinn and Joel Osteen and such. Those of us who are continuationists share the disdain that cessationists feel toward false teachers in the church. We agree that the Bible is the all-sufficient standard for truth and doctrine and is God’s final and sufficient revelation.
The question is simple: Does God give guidance beyond that? Does he speak directly to the human heart? Does he still give tongues and prophecy and words of wisdom and knowledge? That is where the debate should lie, and it can be a lively debate. But if we focus on the true points of the debate, it will be more productive.