Monday, July 08, 2013

Pulpit Magazine: Did tongues Cease or Not? Part 2

Here is the second part continued from last time. Click here for the whole thing. Reminder: If you click the link you will need to scroll down about 19 pages {No, this isn't 19 pages}]

Furthermore, it seems to me that the continuationist position is both logically and
exegetically indefensible. The distinctive claim of contemporary charismatic and Pentecostal
teaching is that all the charismata are available today just as they were in apostolic times. In
particular, continuationists teach that he miraculous and revelatory gifts seen in the very early
church never ceased. Supposedly, everything the Holy Spirit was doing throughout the book of
Acts and 1 Corinthians 12-14 should still be happening today. That's the inevitable implication of
true, consistent continuationism.

The problem is that virtually no one really believes that. Consistent continuationists are not
only extremely rare; they are also exceedingly dangerous—often claiming apostolic authority for
themselves and usually acting as if they believed the most vital and authoritative revelation
available to the church today is to be found not in Scripture, but in their own dreams and
prophecies about the latest "move of God."

It is a clear and indisputable implication of Scripture that the miraculous gifts of the
apostolic era had a specific and clearly defined purpose. It is likewise clear from Scripture that
apostolic miracles did diminish in both frequency and importance, and they faded from use after
the era described in the book of Acts.

In the earliest days of the church, Peter and John healed a man who had been lame since
birth (Acts 3:2-8). Even Peter's shadow had healing power(Acts 5:15-16). When the gospel first
came to Ephesus, the sick could be healed and demonized people liberated by contact with pieces
of fabric that Paul had touched (Acts 19:12).

But at the end of his ministry, Paul left Trophimus sick at Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20), and he
counseled Timothy to drink wine medicinally for "frequent ailments" (1 Timothy 5:23). That, by the
way, was years before the New Testament canon was complete. Moreover, the decline of miracle
gifts was fully to be expected based on what Scripture does say about miracles. Miracles validated
the apostles' authority and confirmed their testimony "at the first" (Hebrews 2:3-4). They were not
permanently normative, even in the apostolic era. They were an essential corroboration of the
preached message in that transitional era between the covenants.
There is no question that many important things were in flux during the transition from the
Old Covenant era to the New. The whole point of the book of Hebrews is that the ceremonial law
of the Old Testament is no longer binding on believers in the New Testament era. The priesthood,
and the Tabernacle, and the whole sacrificial system are no longer part of God's relationship with
His people.
Why? Because those things all pointed to something better.And now that the better thing
has come, the inferior things are done away with. (That is the very same point the apostle Paul
makes in 1 Corinthians 14, where he deals with the gift of tongues.) It is the very principle that
makes some degree of cessationism a necessity for people who take the Bible seriously.

Charismatics and continuationists will inevitably return to the main point they think settles
the issue: there is no passage or proof-text that tells us the miracle-gifts would cease at the end of
the apostolic era. Furthermore, continuationists believe they do have proof-texts for their position.
Hebrews 13:5: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." There's also John 14:12,
where Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do
also; and greater works than these he will do." But consider what those verses actually teach. Hebrews 13:8 says nothing about the apostolic gifts. It's about the immutability of Christ's character.

In fact, the problem with the Hebrews 13:8 argument is that it proves too much. If that
verse proves that everything in the book of Acts should be happening "forever," what about
"yesterday"? Does the verse also suggest that these things must have been happening throughout
redemptive history? Weremiracles commonplace throughout the Old Testament? For that matter,
did anyone ever repeat the miracles Moses performed? If the principle of Hebrews 13:8 proves
continuationism, why are miracles relatively rare not only in the Old Testament, but also in the
later narrative passages of the New Testament?

After Moses, we see multiple miracles from Joshua, Elijah, and Elisha. Scripture also
describes a handful of isolated miracles involving some of the Judges and prophets. But miracles
were by no means commonplace—nor were they a reliable gauge of whether God is working or
not. God is alwaysworking providentially, but miracle-gifts are extremely rare.

Consider John the Baptist. In Matthew 11:11, Jesus said: "Truly, I say to you, among those
born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist." If miracle-working ability
were a valid measure of one's greatness and power, we might expect someone like John the
Baptist to be an amazing miracle worker. After all, according to Luke 1:17, John was sent to
prepare the way for Jesus "in the spirit and power of Elijah." Elijah, of course, did many miracles.
Miracles were practically the emblem of his ministry. But John 10:41 says "John did no miracle."
What happens to the typical charismatic application of Hebrews 13:8 in light of John the Baptist's

For that matter, what about John 14:12? When charismatics cite that verse, it's fair to ask:
Is there any miracle-worker in the entire charismatic realm who has ever actually performed
greater signs and wondersthan Jesus did? The answer, definitively, is no. But that's not the
promise of John 14:12 anyway. The text promises "greater works," not more spectacular signs. The
apostles' work of preaching the gospel exceeded Jesus' ministry in immediate scope—not in power
or perfection. They "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6).

As a cessationist, I'm willing to concede that there is no easy proof-text that furnishes a
ready explanation in a single, explicit biblical statement about when and how the apostolic
outpouring of miracles ceased. But I don't find that argument particularly persuasive. It's not really
different from the argument of the Jehovah's Witness who points out that there's not a single
proof-text that proves the doctrine of the Trinity. What is the appropriate answer to that? The
doctrine of the Trinity is the fruit of comparing Scripture with Scripture and understanding
everything the Bible teaches about the Godhead.

The same principle applies to cessationism.

Cessationists base their conviction not on a single proof text or exegetical argument. It is a
theological conclusion drawn from a number of biblical arguments, borne out by the plain facts of

Again, Scripture does teach that the charismata had a specific, foundational, temporary
purpose. They are part of a hierarchy of supernatural signs and wonders associated with the
founding of the church. That hierarchy is clearly outlined in 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, and the text
expressly states that the miraculous gifts are not given universally to everyone in the church:
God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then
miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they?

All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are
not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not
speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?

Not every church leader is an apostle. By that very same principle, gifts of tongues and miracles
were never intended for every believer.

Nowhere in Scripture are we taught that the life of every Christian is supposed to be one
long string of miracles. "Signs and wonders and mighty works" are expressly called "the signs of a
true apostle" in 2 Corinthians 12:12. The miraculous elements that were so common in the early
apostolic church were given to validate and authenticate the apostles' authority.Apostles were
instruments of divine revelation. The miracles were undeniable verification thatthese men who
claimed to be speaking for God were indeed speaking the truth of God with God's authorization. In
the words of Hebrews 2:4, "God [was bearing them] witness by signs and wonders and various
miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will."

Regardless of your views about the charismatic gifts—unless you are someone who is far
out on the fringe of charismatic lunacy—you probably believe the apostolic office ended with the
death of the apostle John. Here's the thing: There is no proof text for that.

Can we agree also with the historic Protestant conviction that the canon of Scripture is
complete and closed? New, inspired, inerrant, authoritative Scripture is not being written today.
But there is no easy, irrefutable proof text for that, either.

The biblical and historical rationale all Protestants use to justify our belief that the canon is
closed is the very same biblical and theological logic that persuades me the miraculous gifts served
their purpose in the apostolic generation and no longer function in the church.

I'll go further: I think in their hearts, even the best charismatics believe that more than they
might wish to admit.No one but the rankest crackpot charlatan (or a pope) would ever claim to be
a pure and complete open-canon non-cessationist with infallible apostolic authority. Consider this
carefully: charismatics who acknowledge that the canon is closed and the gift of apostleship has
ceased have already conceded the very heart of the cessationist argument, proof text or no.

That's not all. Continuationists who genuinely seek to be biblical cannot possibly defend
the assertion that all the charismatic gifts are functioning today in exactly the same way they did in
the book of Acts. And even though many will loudly claim otherwise, they have not shown any
willingness to put that claim to the test. I became a Christian 40 years ago in Tulsa, a thriving
center of charismatic activity. For decades I have been challengingmy charismatic friends to
document a single verifiable, authenticated, apostolic-quality miracle-gift. (For example: identify
someone who has the ability regularly and reliably to command healings, the way Peter and Paul
did.) I have yet to meet a charismatic miracle-worker who is willing to subject his
miracle-gift-claims to any kind of careful, biblical scrutiny.

Think about this: millions of people claim to be speaking in tongues, but there is not a
single well-attested, tape-recorded, verifiable case of a recognizable, translatable, identifiable
language such as we see at Pentecost. Has any charismatic preacher truly raised a Eutychus from
the dead? With the 20th century's proliferation of charismatic faith-healers, why do the healings
nearly always involve invisible ailments? Why are people with congenital disabilities, complete
blindness, and other permanent infirmities routinely screened from the healing lines?

Wayne Grudem has more or less conceded that the charismatic phenomena of today are
not really apostolic-quality spiritual gifts. His book The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and
Today (Wheaton: Crossway, 1988) was written to defend the practice of seeking personal
prophecies directly from God. A hundred pages or so into the book, Grudemmakes the startling
claim that "no responsible charismatic holds" the view that prophecy today is infallible and
inerrant revelation from God.4

He says charismatics are arguing for a "lesser kind of prophecy,"5
which is not on the same level as the inspired prophecies of the Old Testament prophets or the
New Testament apostles—and which will probably be fallible more often than not.
Grudem writes, “there is almost uniform testimony from all sections of the charismatic
movement that [today's] prophecy is impure, and will contain elements which are not to be
obeyed or trusted.”

In Surprised by the Power of the Holy Spirit(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), Jack Deere
likewise admits that he has not seen anyone today performing miracles or possessing gifts of the
same quality as those that were being manifest in the apostolic era. Deere argues throughout his
book that modern charismatics do not really claim to have apostolic-quality gifts and miracle
abilities. One of Deere's main lines of defense against critics of the charismatic movement is his
claim that modern charismatic gifts are actually lesser gifts than those available in the apostolic
era, and therefore, he suggests, today’s charismatics should not be held to apostolic standards.

Consider the implications of that claim: The chief apologists for charismatic theology have,
in effect, conceded the entire cessationist argument. They have virtually admitted that they are
themselves cessationists of sorts. They are in effect confessing that the true apostolic gifts and
miracles have ceased, admitting that what they are doing today is not what is described in the
New Testament.

Contemporary tongues-speakers do not speak in understandable or translatable dialects,
the way the apostles and their followers did at Pentecost. Not one tongues speaker has ever gone
to a foreign mission-field and miraculously been able to preach the gospel in the tongue of his
hearers. Charismatics have to go to language school like everyone else.

No modern worker of signs and wonders can really duplicate apostolic power.

Even the most vocal advocates of the gift of prophecy admit that no modern prophet can
legitimately claim to have infallible authority.

No modern faith healer can actually produce instant, visible healings that are like the
healings we see in the New Testament. Though some make fantastic claims, no modern faith
healer is opening the eyes of people born blind, and no one is able to make truly lame people

Above all, despite many fanciful and unsubstantiated legends that have been circulated,
despite the vast numbers of charismatics who claim the ability to do even greater works than Jesus
Himself, there is not one credible, verifiable case of a charismatic miracle-worker who can raise
the dead.
Grudem, p. 111.
Ibid, p. 112.

The simple fact is that the gifts that operate in the charismatic movement today are not
the same gifts described in the New Testament, and even most charismatics are ultimately forced
to admit that.

It’s time for Reformed continuationists to face these facts humbly honestly. Instead of
stifling debate about charismatic doctrine in the name of charity and unity, we ought to be
pursuing the debate with greater vigor, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith” (Ephesians

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