Friday, July 05, 2013

Pulpit Magazine: Did Tongues Cease or Not? Part 1

Here, Phil Johnson, deals with the cessation of tongues as a spiritual gift and he compares it to the way tongues seemed to be used Biblically and the way they are used by some today. He also suggests, rightly I think, that even many who 'practice' tongues, are cessationists in a significant way. [If you click the link, you will have to scroll down to page 19 of the PDF.]

Did Tongues Cease or Not?
By Phil Johnson

Time to face honestly the reality that contemporary charismata aren't anything like the
original Pentecostal miracles. Let's not be too quick to write off cessationism.
It is an irrefutable fact of history that the supernatural phenomena described in Acts 2 were
peculiar to that one day of Pentecost and have not been normative in the life of the church over
the centuries.

Several visible and audible supernatural features occurred when the Holy Spirit was sent to
empower the church at Pentecost. In all of Scripture and church history none of those miracles has
ever been credibly documented in any other incident. There was a "noise like a violent rushing
wind" (Acts 2:2); visible "tongues as of fire" that rested on the apostles (v. 3); and crowds of
thousands, all simultaneously hearing understandable, inspired revelation in their own languages
as the Spirit gave utterance (vv. 4-11).

In other words, the spoken "tongues" at Pentecost were known, translatable, human
languages. (Verses 9-11 list by name ten distinct language groups that were heard.) The human
instruments through whom the miracle occurred evidently included not only the apostles but
more than a hundred of their cohorts as well (cf. Acts 1:15). All of them spoke in tongues at once—
unscripted, unrehearsed, and totally unexpected. There simply is no parallel for what occurred on
that singular day. It was the inaugural day of the New Testament church. It was unique by God's
own design.

In all the narrative portions of the New Testament there are only two verses outside Acts 2
where speaking in tongues is even mentioned: Acts 10:46 and 19:6. Both texts record significant
transitional events in the establishment of the New Testament church.

Acts 10 describes the conversion of Cornelius and his household—the first graphic proof
that the middle wall of partition between the Jewish nation and the rest of the world had been
broken down. Tongues on that occasion furnished undeniable proof that the Spirit of God would
henceforth indwell Gentile believers exactly as He indwelt those original disciples in Jerusalem.

The Acts 19 incident symbolically marks the completion of the transition from Old
Covenant to New. With that transition came a new, unprecedented relationship with the Holy
Spirit, who would henceforth permanently indwell every believer. These disciples of John the
Baptist were Old Covenant saints—men who had come to saving faith and then evidently left the
region before Jesus announced the gospel and His ministry began to eclipse John the Baptist's.
Once John's disciples heard and believed the full truth about Jesus, they were immediately
brought into the New Covenant relationship. Tongues were the proof that they had received the
Spirit just like the disciples at Pentecost.

Other than Pentecost and those two subsequent transitional incidents, the only place in
the New Testament where speaking in tongues is mentioned is in Paul's first epistle to the
Corinthians. His main reason for dealing with the subject in that context was to correct those in
Corinth who had elevated tongues to a position of undue prominence. Notice: Paul ranked
tongues as the least of all spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:28). He expressly denied that jabbering noises devoid of discernible meaning were a legitimate expression of the Holy Spirit's gift of
tongues (14:10). On the contrary, he stressed that authentic tongues were a form of divine
revelation. (That's precisely what Acts 2:4 means: "as the Spirit was giving them utterance.") Paul
therefore forbade speaking in tongues unless the message could be translated and its meaning
confirmed (1 Corinthians 14:27-28).

None of those principles is given proper consideration by contemporary charismatics.
Indeed, the so-called charismatic phenomena that abound today don't really look anything like the
supernatural manifestations that occurred at Pentecost.
There is every biblical, historical, and theological reason to conclude that the gift of
tongues has ceased. That goes for all other forms of revelatory prophecy that were common in the
apostolic era.

Prior to the 20th century it would have been hard to find any Protestant who believed the
gift of tongues (or any of the revelatory gifts) continued uninterrupted from the time of the
apostles through all of church history. The evidence of history speaks loudly against that view.
Practically all biblically-minded believers prior to the 1900s regarded revelatory gifts and
miraculous abilities as "the signs of a true apostle" (2 Corinthians 12:12). Such gifts faded from
prominence in the early church even before most of the New Testament epistles were written. By
the time the apostolic era ended, trustworthy accounts of apostolic-quality signs and wonders had
ceased completely.

That view is known as cessationism. It was almost uncontested among evangelicals for
hundreds of years before the mid-twentieth century. Church history is of course peppered with
superstitious marvels, exaggerated urban legends, spurious relics, and fraudulent miracle-workers.
(Bogus miracle-claims increased dramatically in medieval times along with the rise of
extrabiblical sacerdotalism and the festering corruption of the Catholic priesthood.) But from the
post-apostolic era until the 1960s Christians who sought to be biblically-based and theologically
orthodox did not believe or claim that they had apostolic miracle-gifts at their disposal.

Things have certainly changed. Cessationism is categorically out of vogue today. Not only
has the charismatic movement become massively popular on a worldwide scale, but even many
non-charismatics have backed away from classic cessationism, giving it up for continuationism, the
belief that all the spiritual gifts of the apostolic era are still available to the church today—
particularly those gifts that involved prophetic and miraculous phenomena.

Continuationism typically fosters an undue fascination with (and craving for) gifts that
confer miraculous abilities. Of course, one of the hallmarks of charismatic teaching has always
been the idea that it is the birthright of every Christian to prophesy and do miracles. That belief is
based on a misunderstanding of Joel 2:28-32 (quoted by Peter in Acts 2:17-21). Notice that the
text speaks of apocalyptic signs—tokens of judgment, actually—in the sun, moon, and sky. That
aspect of Joel’s prophecy clearly points toward something yet future. Without getting sidetracked
with a lengthy analysis of the eschatological significance of Joel 2, it ought to be clear from the text
itself that Joel’s prophecy encompasses far more than the tongues of Pentecost. Joel’s main focus
is an unprecedented display of divine power in the heavens. Most of the signs he describes are undeniable cosmic wonders—something far more convincing than the questionable “miracles”
claimed by the contemporary charismatic movement.

In any case, when Peter quoted Joel’s prophecy at Pentecost, what he emphasized was the
promise of salvation: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” That was the
introduction to Peter’s sermon. He said nothing whatsoever about the apocalyptic elements of
Joel 2. He said nothing further about speaking in tongues or prophesying. Peter’s Pentecost
sermon was not a message about the charismata; it was about Christ’s work of redemption and
the guilt of the nation for having crucified their Messiah. Acts 2 and Joel 2 combined simply do not
bear the weight of continuationist doctrine.

All charismatics are continuationists by definition, of course. And not so long ago, virtually
all non-charismatics were convinced cessationists. The lines of difference and debate were clearly

Those distinctions have been severely blurred by the advent of a middle-road position.
Many non-charismatics now hold a continuationist view of the apostolic-era gifts. Typically they
say they find continuationism compelling not because they think today's charismatic phenomena
actually look like apostolic miracles (they clearly don't), but because they have concluded there is
no sound exegetical basis for the cessationist position.

On the surface, that may sound like a conscientiously biblical and objectively even-handed
position. In practice, however, it has led to a significant decline in critical thinking about
charismatic claims. The middle of the road is a hard place to hold one's ground, and there is a
relentless magnetism between continuationist presuppositions and charismatic practices.

Meanwhile, as cessationist conviction has fallen out of fashion, the voice of biblical
discernment has been all but silenced. Among Reformed and evangelical leaders, it sometimes
seems as if a moratorium has been declared against any negative assessment of modern
charismatic doctrine or practice. Over the past decade and a half, leading Reformed
continuationists have shown an almost obstinate unwillingness to voice any strong words of
caution against even the most outlandish charismatic fads.

To cite a few examples: John Piper and his pastoral staff investigated the Toronto Blessing
in the 1990s and declined to make any judgment about whether it was spurious or not. Sam
Storms lent his credibility the so-called Kansas City Prophets for at least a decade. Wayne Grudem
likewise aligned himself with some very bizarre prophetic abuses in his association with the
Vineyard movement and its offshoots. Jack Deere renounced cessationism in the 1980s and within
a few short years virtually engineered the spiritual train wreck that culminated in the public
disqualification of Paul Cain. And I can't think of a single Reformed continuationist leader who
sounded a clear warning (or even a mild disclaimer) about Todd Bentley's shenanigans when the
Lakeland disaster was at its peak.

It seems fair, then, to point out that the Reformed continuationist track record has been
less than stellar with regard to resisting dangerous and unbiblical elements in the charismatic
movement. That ought to be a burning embarrassment to our Reformed continuationist brethren.

Continued Next Time..

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