*Okay, I’m joking.
I’ve been lead of the Lord to do things in the past, but this came not from some leading, but when I was reading the book of Acts and noticed once again how often God spoke directly to his people to give them directions on their lives – where to go, what to do, what to say. A similar headline got me in trouble a few years ago when the anti-charismatics out west labeled me a “charismatic Baptist” because of the post.
It seems to me, though, that those same folks would skewer such people as Paul and Peter if they wrote today what they wrote then. Imagine this scenario. First Baptist Church, Antioch, announces that during a time of worship and fasting the Spirit spoke to them and told them to set aside Barnabas and Saul for a lengthy mission trip. Can you imagine the disdain and sarcasm in the blog-posts? When evangelist Philip put out his monthly newsletter and told his followers that he had been told by God to leave the great work going on in Samaria to stand beside the wilderness road to Gaza, the Twitter posse would have been all over him, withering him with derision.
Cessationists are pretty rough on us continuationists sometimes – you really are. Perhaps it goes both ways, I don’t know, but in this one it seems like the disdain and disrespect tend to be directed primarily in one direction. Those who are cessationists feel they are upholding the Scriptures that we who believe in the continuation of spiritual manifestations do not. The tone of the debate often strays more toward ridicule and disdain than exegesis and biblical discussion.
Here are some specific observations I have made about how cessationists tend to regard continuationists.
- Refusal to distinguish differences. For many cessationists, it’s an either/or proposition. If you believe, like I do, that God speaks by the Spirit to the heart, that the spiritual manifestations of 1 Corinthians 12 are still active today, then you are Benny Hinn without the comb-over. All Calvinists are not alike. All Baptists are not alike. All continuationists are not alike. Just because I am no longer a cessationist it doesn’t mean I’m a charismatic or a supporter of the excesses of the charismatic movement. There’s middle ground, guys. There really is!
- Appeal to nut-case. Really, this is just a restatement of the previous observation. But every position has its oddballs. The fact that some charismatic goes off the rails and says something nutty doesn’t prove cessationism.
- Assuming “leading of the Spirit” is tantamount to “new revelation.” Yes, there are charismatic groups who put as much or more stock in their prophetic revelations as they do in the perfect word. Most of us who believe that the Lord leads us to a specific church, to go here and not there, to do this and not that, are not idiots. We have the ability to distinguish between the absolute authority of Scripture of and prompting of the Spirit.
- Assuming that the “Sufficiency of Scripture” demands cessationism. It does not. Time does not allow a full development here, but one cannot smugly appeal to Scripture’s sufficiency as proof of the cessationist position. One must PROVE that position from those Scriptures.
- Resorting to ridiculous arguments. Every time we bring this discussion up, it seems someone brings up tired old arguments like, “Well, why doesn’t someone just go in all the hospitals and heal all the sick people.” That might work if you were arguing against Benny Hinn, but that’s not what Baptist continuationists argue, and foolish straw men do not advance the discussion.
- Engaging with ridicule and derision. I’m not sure if you realize how often you do it or if some of my friends realize I’m not “in the club.” But I see so much verbal abuse directed against those who do not hold to the cessationist line. If your position is biblical, then the ridicule is unnecessary. If it is not biblical, then it is ungodly. A new tactic is needed.
I’d like to try something different here today. This is going to be a LONG post (yes, when are my posts not long, right?). But it’s also going to be simple.
- I’m going to do a quick survey of the book of Acts and show incidents of God’s leading.
- Then I’m going to point out the pattern that seems to be consistent.
- Then I’m going to challenge my cessationist friends to use the Scripture to rebut the pattern if they can.
I am aware that some will simply use this post as grounds for attack. I’ve long since given up trying to please those types. But I hope we can have a profitable and forthright discussion of these issues without some of the rancor that may occur on other sites (which I ignore on purpose!). Let’s engage the substance of this debate.
God’s Leading in Acts.
1. In Acts 2, the Spirit of God descended on the church, baptizing believers and empowering them, becoming an ever-present power and help.
2. Acts 4:8, Peter was called before the high priest to give account. It says that he was “filled with the Spirit” and then spoke.
This brings to mind Matthew 10:17-20
Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Note here that the Spirit would give the words in the hour of need – some sort of direct leading or prompting, what we might call a “word from the Lord.”
3. There are a series of decisions made in the early chapters of Acts, for which no process is given. How did Peter know that Ananias and Sapphira were lying? How was the decision made to select the seven in Acts 6? How were the 7 chosen? We must resist arguing from silence.
4. Acts 8:26 is the first clear instance of God’s leading to Philip. The Spirit directed him on details – where he should go to meet a particular person (the Eunuch) God wanted him to meet.
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”
In verse 29, the Spirit told Philip, “Go over and join the chariot.”
Again, a specific direction.
5. In Acts 9, after Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, God spoke to Ananias in verses 11-12.
“Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”
God gave specific directions to Ananias to go to Straight Street and meet Saul.
Later, in verses 15-16, he revealed to Ananias that Saul was God’s chosen instrument to carry the gospel to the Gentiles. This was slightly more than simple details. God was revealing his plan and purpose for the “Apostle to the Gentiles.”
6. Acts 10:3-6, God spoke to Cornelius, telling him to seek out Peter in Joppa.
“Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
7. Acts 10:9-18, God gave an extensive vision to Peter, revealing to him that considering the Gentiles as unclean was contrary to God’s heart. Peter was an apostle and God revealed this truth to him so that he could lead the church in reaching out to the Gentile world.
8. Acts 10:19-20, The Spirit spoke to Peter that men were at his door and he should go with them.
“Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.
9. Acts 12:7-8 An angel spoke to imprisoned Peter to give him directions to get out of the jail.
And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.”
10. Acts 13:1-3, The Spirit spoke to the church in Antioch, calling them to begin the missionary movement.
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
In a time of worship, a direct message came from the Spirit to send two specific people – Barnabas and Saul – off on a work, spreading the gospel to the Gentiles.
11. Acts 16:6-10 provides a series of 3 clear instances of the Spirit’s leading.
And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
- First, as Paul was going through the Galatian region, he was forbidden by the Spirit to go to Asia Minor (Ephesus) to preach the gospel. That was his intent, but God said no.
- Then, he went to Mysia and decided to head north into Bithynia, but once again the Spirit of God would not permit it. Twice, the Spirit prevented Paul from going somewhere to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ!
- Finally, in the night, Paul had a vision of the Macedonian who invited him to “Come and help” and he realized it was a call from God to come and preach there (Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea).
So, Paul wanted to go to Ephesus, but God said no. He wanted to go to Bithynia, but God said no. Then God said “go to Macedonia” and Paul went – a specific call to ministry in a specific place.
12. Acts 17:11, Luke praises the Bereans who were “more noble” than those in Thessalonica because they searched the Scriptures for truth.
Though being led of the Spirit was an ever-present reality, truth and doctrine were seen as rooting in the word, not in promptings, leadings, and revelations.
13. Acts 18:9-10, the Lord spoke to Paul to let him know that staying in Corinth was safe and good.
And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”
14. Acts 18:27, Paul “wished to cross to Achaia” from Ephesus. Again, we are not told why he wished to do this – was this his own volition or the result of some sort of leading. But it seems evident that Paul went about his work, not simply following every prompting he had, but strategizing and following the wisdom he gained as he did ministry, always willing to follow a prompting from God.
15. Acts 19:21 begins a strange saga that culminates in Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem and his trip to Rome. It has some complicated issues which I cannot and will not deal with today since we are simply looking at the facts.
Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”
Here, Paul “resolved in the Spirit” to go to Jerusalem and then to go to Rome. Though it is not clear here what that means, it is made clear later that this is a direct word from the Spirit.
In Acts 20:22-23, Paul reveals the process a little more clearly.
And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.
He is told by the Spirit that he must go to Jerusalem and that imprisonment will be the result. Evidently, though he does not say so here, a trip to Rome was also part of that word.
This episode gets stranger in chapter 21 when people who are also under the leading of the Spirit try to talk him out of going to Jerusalem. It begins in Acts 21:4, then continues in verses 11-12.
And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. (4)
And coming to us, he (Agabus the prophet) took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. (11-12)
So, the Spirit tells Paul to go to Jerusalem and he leads others to warn him against going? That is strange. Again, there is not time to develop this fully, but this does show that while the Spirit always speaks truth, his leadings are personal and not scripturally authoritative as they were with the apostles and prophets. My belief here is that God was trying to make clear to Paul, through these warnings, that difficult days lay ahead.
16. Acts 22:10, in retelling his testimony, Paul shares that after his conversion experience, the Lord spoke to him and told him to go to Damascus where Ananias would meet him.
17. Acts 22:17-21, Paul is warned to leave Jerusalem to go to the Gentiles.
“When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
18. Acts 23:11, the Lord again speaks to Paul and tells him that he is on his way to Rome to testify. This is specific and clear in the direction of his ministry.
The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”
19. Acts 26:17, Paul again, in retelling his testimony, recounts the specific words the Lord spoke to him, especially his call to be an apostle to the Gentiles.
20. Acts 27:10, as they were considering leaving Fair Havens, Paul had what appears to be some kind of prophetic warning that their journey would not end well, and passed that on to those who ran the ship.
“Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.”
21. Acts 27:23-26, Paul warns those on the now disabled ship not to abandon ship.
For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”
God has given him a specific direction about not only his own future but theirs as well.
The Pattern of God’s Leading
1. The people of God walked in obedience to God and his word.
Peter and Paul did not seem to get up in the morning and ask for a “word from the Lord” about whether they should do this or that. They proclaimed Christ. They obeyed the word. The cessationists are right when they say that the pattern of scripture is that we walk in obedience to God’s word. I didn’t get up this morning and pray about whether to wear the gray pants or the blue. I just went about my day. Simple obedience to God and the word is the norm.
2. The apostles of God received revelation of God’s truth.
God revealed the word, the gospel, the truth, and other authoritative directions to the apostles. I am working on a series (technically, I’m thinking through and planning) called “Apostolic Cessationism, Spiritual Continuationism.” The problem is that we fail to distinguish the apostolic gifts of revelation and massive miraculous power and the more normal manifestation of the Spirit in Acts and in 1 Corinthians 12. The apostolic ministry ceased when the Apostles….well…ceased! But the manifestation of the Spirit continued. God revealed his truth through the apostles.
So, as some will say is my wont, I think there is a middle ground between cessationism and charismatic doctrine in which the truth is found.
3. God directed his disciples in specifics by the Spirit.
Paul could read every OT scroll and never find that he should go to Macedonia, not Asia or Bithynia. Peter would have never known he should go with the three men at the door just from Scripture. So, the Spirit gave specific and detailed directions on things.
I moved from Cedar Rapids to Sioux City not because I wanted to, but because I sensed the call of God that my time in Cedar Rapids was over and Sioux City was now my place of service. In my seminary days, I had a much more dramatic leading when I was at Dallas and sensed God’s call to go to Southwestern and return to the Southern Baptist fold. God directed me by his Spirit in details and specifics that Scripture didn’t speak to.
A Challenge to Cessationists
Can we leave the sarcastic derision behind here? I know it will likely appear on other sites, but let’s leave it alone here. I’d like to challenge my cessationist friends to:
Give a biblical explanation as to why the clear pattern from both the Old Testament and the New Testament of God giving details and specifics to his followers is no longer in effect. By what Scriptural authority do you say that what God did from Genesis to Revelation he no longer does?
If God spoke in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, if he spoke not only to Apostles like Peter and Paul, but also to Ananias, Philip, and many other believers, why is it so out of line for us to believe that the Spirit would still give wisdom and direction today?
I have heard many times, “God only speaks through the word.” But I don’t find that in the word! Can you explain from the word how you defend that blanket statement- biblically and exegetically, not logically, creedally, or theologically? If God spoke so often in addition to his word throughout Scripture, where is the authoritative word from the word that such is no longer the case?