In light of the Strange Fire Conference from last week, and the apparently negative press that John MacArthur is receiving, this may be a good time to demonstrate that Reformed Charismatics are cessationists too.
Of the gifts listed in Scripture, there are basically four that summarize the entire debate about charismaticism. Are these gifts still operating today: apostles, tongues, healing, and prophecy? Paul lists other gifts like the word of knowledge and interpreting tongues, but we can classify each of those under their parents.
Wayne Grudem argues that apostles are not for today because apostles aren’t gifts, they are offices. Because they were offices given to the church and not gifts given to individual members to be exercised like mercy or administration, then we can validly allow that gift office to have been closed.
Then we could recast the argument this way: In the book of Acts there was a very important “thing” that was given by God to the church. “It” worked in unusual ways exercising great control over the churches and thus over the worship experience and Christian lives of all believers. But it’s not being given or used today.
If that is an accurate reflection of his position, then it sounds like something has ceased. The Spirit of God had been working in a certain way, and now He is not. Grudem may call it an office or a gift or a blessing or a man, but it works out to the same thing: cessationism.
Acts 2 clearly describes speaking in tongues as speaking known, earthly languages, and again this is acknowledged by some or all Reformed Charismatics. They would simply argue that the definition for tongues is changed in 1 Corinthians 12-14 to also include speaking in angelic languages in prayer and worship. So, tongues has two aspects: earthly AND angelic languages. However, the earthly aspect of the gift of tongues is evidently different in modern times because most missionaries have to learn languages.
It would seem that a fair representation of this point would be: The gift of tongues in Scripture comes in two kinds. One of those two kinds is very common today. The other one—earthly languages—is very uncommon even though many missionaries need this gift and it could hasten the work of the gospel in unreached areas.
So, 50% of the tongues category has ceased. The angelic prayer language, according to Charismatics, is still going on, but not the earthly languages. Charismatics are cessationists again.
I don’t have academically acceptable documentation for this point, but I have had private conversations and years of observation to see that the “miracles” being done today are different from the miracles in Biblical times.
- Biblical miracles usually healed all present, not merely some.
- Biblical miracles often healed visible diseases, not only back pain, and diseases that required expensive tests.
- Biblical miracles included raising people from the dead, controlling nature, and creating matter.
Are there Reformed Charismatics who claim to be able to raise the dead, multiply bread for the hungry, cause fish to overwhelm a poor fisherman’s net, and heal all the people in a rural village? I know there are wacko prosperity Charismatics who claim that they can do such things, but their evidence is not worth the dignity of discussion. If Reformed Charismatics cannot present evidence of the same, then what can we conclude except another cessation of gifts from the NT pattern?
A common view of prophecy for the Reformed Charismatic claims that there are two kinds of prophecy following the division between the OT and the NT. The NT prophet does not have to be 100% accurate like the OT prophet so they are not liable to the same harsh penalty as their ministerial counterpart.
Thus, there are really two kinds of prophecy. Some prophecy given by God is infallible and must be completely obeyed because the Spirit of God delivered it in such a way that it cannot be wrong. Some prophecy given by God must be interpreted by the believer and delivered through a mixture of his human frailty and divine inspiration. But one of those two kinds of prophecy is not being given anymore according to the Reformed Charismatic.
What believer today is going to call for the death penalty if a man claims to have a word from God and then turns out to be inaccurate? Something has ceased in this gift of prophecy, but that shouldn’t surprise us because it is the Charismatic modus operandi.
What if someone argues that this shouldn’t bother me since all it means is that both I and the continuationist are now on equal footing? We both see some differences between the NT record and the current state of affairs, so we’re equal, right? No, on two accounts.
First, continuationists that I have read or spoken to do not want to admit that there is a difference between the NT and the present day church. He and I are not equal because I readily and happily admit that there is a lot of discontinuity, but I am not familiar with Charismatics who want to do the same.
Secondly, and this is by far more important, cessationists have a standard by which to judge the lack of continuity. We say that all the miraculous gifts have ceased. God can still enter history, but He has chosen not to intervene in a usual, consistent, or programmatic way. Rather, His ways have changed or He has ceased to act the way He had been acting. All the gifts are still active except the miraculous ones. There is our standard. How can a continuationist answer that same question? On what basis does he cut out apostles and not prophets? How does he know that the angelic aspect of tongues is still valid if the earthly aspect is not? How does he know that miracles are still happening if full, NT-quality miracles are not? On what basis can the Charismatic banish the OT prophet, but not the NT prophet?
All serious Christian students of the Holy Spirit are cessationists, but only one of the two groups can account for the cessation. Inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument.