False Assumptions in Cessationism, part 1

I haven’t done a real blog post in a while, mainly book reviews.  And this post is from a book, but to include it in a formal review will make it unwieldy.  Note, in saying these are false assumptions in cessationist arguments I do not imply that cessationism is necessarily false.  I think it is, but that’s not the argument in question.

Deere’s most important chapter is “The Real Reason Christians Do not believe in the miraculous Gifts” and in it he undoes a number of cessationist non-arguments.

False Assumption 1: NT Healing was “Automatic,” meaning the NT Christian could heal anyone at anytime.  But the NT never claims this and makes statements that are quite odd if true: “And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick” (Luke 5.17, quoted in Deere, 59). If Jesus could heal “any place, any time,” then why did Scripture mention the power of the Lord being present?

Why at some places does Jesus heal all yet at Bethesda he only heals one person?  In fact, at Nazareth Jesus did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (Matt. 13.58).

Finally, the answer is that the NT does not see spiritual power as “automatic.”  Jesus gave the apostles all authority over demons and sickness (Matt. 10.1; Luke 9.1), yet they could not heal a demonized boy (Matt 17.16).  What gives?  I thought healing power was automatic?  Obviously, the cessationist is wrong.

Can cessationist pray Eph. 1:17?

Paul writes,

“That God would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.”

What does “revelation” mean?  The bible lists several types:

  1. Natural revelation (creation, logic, science, etc).
  2. Special revelation (God’s speaking, theophanic appearances, etc).
    2a. The Bible.
    2b. Words of knowledge/prophetic utterances
  3. Jesus

So when Paul wants God to give them a spirit of revelation, which kind does he mean? I think all sides can rule out (1), since it wouldn’t make much sense in the context of Paul’s prayer.  Let’s leave aside all varieties of (2) for a moment.  (3) could work but I am not sure Paul means that.  Strictly speaking, if (3) obtains then we have the following:

(3*) God would give a spirit of wisdom and Jesus in the knowledge of him.

Technically, that’s true.  And that’s not a bad way to pray.  But from our perspective I’m not sure that adds too much to the discussion.  What does it mean to have a spirit of Jesus?  Well, basic Sunday School lessons could work here, and the Bible elsewhere commends the Spirit of Christ.  But if revelation = Jesus, then what content does that add to our knowledge?  It’s not immediately clear.  And I don’t think that’s what cessationists have in mind when they say “revelation.”  Sure, they will quote Hebrews 1, thinking revelation ceased with the coming of Christ, but that only proves that Jesus is the final word, not the Bible.

Therefore, I suggest that when a cessationist reads Ephesians 1:17, he sees it as saying,

(2a*) God will give you a spirit of the closed canon of Scripture.

It’s not immediately wrong, but it’s clunky and almost certainly not what Paul had in mind.

Strange Fire (Review)

Macarthur, John. Strange Fire.

Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a chapter on basic logic in this book.

For the review

Chapter 1 is simply a string of recycled sermon notes on how silly and evil various brands of charismania are. Okay, but anyone can play this game. I agree there are hucksters and there is a special place in hell for them, but this is not an argument. Macarthur does actually get to something like an argument:

Thesis: “It is the elevation of experience over the authority of Scripture that grieves and demeans the Holy Spirit most of all” (Macarthur 17).

I have several observations: 1) it is dangerous to elevate experience over theology, but where is the proof that it grieves the Holy Spirit most of all? How does Macarthur know this? The Scriptures he cites are about the Holy Spirit’s inspiring the Word and the Spirit’s testifying to Christ. Great, but that is immaterial to this thesis. Indeed, is this not Macarthur’s own experience?

2) If this is Macarthur’s thesis, and if he is successful in proving it (I don’t think he can be), then we should note that the truth of continuationism stands or falls independent of this thesis.

Chapter 2

This is a history of the modern Pentecostal movement and most of it, while interesting, is irrelevant to his thesis. Except for one part:

But here is the point to all of this history: if the Holy Spirit intended to recreate the day of Pentecost, is this really how he would do it? (27)

I really don’t know what to say. I suppose some early Pentecostals said something like this.

Why focus on these two men [Charles Parham and E. W. Kenyon]? The answer is simple. These two men are responsible for the theological foundations upon which the entire charismatic system is built (31)

At this point I have no idea if this historiography is true. I am not persuaded that one can make a 1:1 connection between the early Pentecostals and Wayne Grudem. Genealogical arguments are always dangerous to make and they rarely deliver on their promises.

Chapter 4, same contd.

Most of this chapter reads like the tabloids. Interesting, mind you, but not really germane to the thesis, except where noted above.

Chapter 5: Apostles Among Us

Macarthur has a twofold argument: the apostolic office has expired, and if the apostolic office expired, then other gifts may have expired (MacArthur 91). He further argues, “The Charismatic movement operates on the premise that everything that happened in the early church ought to be expected and experienced in the church today” (91). I agree with Macarthur’s definition of apostleship, but I dispute the conclusions he draws from it.

Quoting Sam Storms, he says, “But even he [Storms] acknowledges that ‘since no one today can meet the qualification of having seen the risen Christ with his own eyes, there are no apostles today’” (93). If Storms is correct, and I think he is, and if Macarthur thinks Storms is correct, and I think he does think that, then Macarthur has just contradicted his earlier statement on page 91 that the Charismatic Movement operates on the premise that everything” is in effect today (emphasis original).

We can leave that contradiction aside for the moment. Macarthur’s real target is Peter Wagner. I don’t feel a need to defend Wagner, so I’ll move on.

Macarthur argues that “The New Testament apostles were recognized as the revelatory agents of God, and as such they possessed an unsurpassed level of authority in church history” (94). This is a good statement and I think it lends evidence to the claim that prophetic words of wisdom are not in the same category as Scriptural revelations.

Can Prophecy be fallible?

(Edit: I don’t intend to prove whether prophecy is fallible of infallible, as I used to. Suffice to say this:  if it is indeed always infallible, then Paul should have given a warning in his letters that he would kill all fallible prophets.  This he did not do)

This is the toughest objection and where Macarthur is initially on stronger ground. Mind you, this objection, if it carries, presents a huge difficulty for continuationism but it does not prove the book’s thesis. Before we answer the question whether prophecy can be fallible, let’s ask if it is always authoritative? Presumably, the cessationist would answer “yes.” We’ll come back to that.

I think both sides are confusing an issue. Divine prophecy itself is always infallible because it comes from God, but does that mean that the prophet is always giving divine prophecy? Could he just be mistaken? Macarthur is quick to respond that false prophets in the Old Testament should die. Well, yes, because their false prophecy almost always involved going after other gods.

Still, the cessationist will urge that the Bible said fallible prophets should die. Okay, let’s reread some of Paul’s statements, like in 1 Corinthians 14: “Earnestly desire to prophecy but if you get it wrong I will kill you.” The text just doesn’t read that way. I think something else is going on.

The real question is this: Is prophecy-in-the-church always binding on me? Surprisingly, the answer is no. This leads us to the Agabus case (Acts 21 passim). Let’s grant Macarthur his point that Agabus prophecied with 100% accuracy. Here is the problem: Did Paul sin in not obeying Agabus? I don’t know of anyone who says he did.

One more point: if we should always expect prophets to be 100% accurate and if prophets are giving forth potential-Scripture, then why does Paul tell us to test the prophecies (1 Cor. 5:21)? If it is a divinely binding Revelation, you should not test it but obey!

Formal Criticisms

The first and most obvious criticism is Macarthur’s oscillating thesis. From earlier in the book he appeared to attack the elevation of experience over theology, which thesis is independent of whether the gifts continue today. So even if his thesis is successful, he has not disproven continuing gifts. Much of the book, however, is either a running catalogue of charismatic abuses or it is a comparison of all forms of Charismatic theology with cults like Mormonism.

Misleading Statements and Inaccuracies

Macarthur’s account suffers from a number of either misleading statements or theological inaccuracies. These errors aren’t serious enough to refute the whole book, but they are worth pointing out. I think at best they show that Macarthur’s arguments aren’t serious enough to fully take down the continuationist thesis.

The Canon

What makes a book canonical? Or rather, what gives it apostolic authority? Macarthur answers, “If a book or epistle claiming to speak with prophetic authority was written by an apostles or under apostolic oversight, it was recognized as inspired and authoritative” (95). Please note that Macarthur gives at least two necessary conditions for canonicity: 1) prophetic authority AND 2) apostolic connection. (1) isn’t the issue under question, which makes (2) the clincher. Here is the problem: who wrote Hebrews? This is where Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists have a field day with us, and who can fault them?

On another point, if the canon is “closed” today, then how do you know it is closed? Mind you, I think the canon is closed for all functional purposes, but I don’t see how you can have fully epistemic confidence it is closed. Which book of the Bible says it is closed? Revelation 22 doesn’t count, because it’s just talking about Revelation (and this is a bigger problem if you accept an early date for Revelation). If you can’t prove the canon is closed from Scripture alone, which is impossible to prove, then you can’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that people are adding to the canon.

Theological inaccuracies

Macarthur defines sola scriptura as “the only divinely revealed word and therefore the believer’s true authority for sound doctrine and righteous living” (214). This is a half-truth. For the Reformers, Scripture was first of all the norm that normed lesser norms. It is not the only source of truth, but the final source of truth.

Leaps in Logic

Speaking of the charismatic movement, he writes, “The entire movement is nothing more than a sham religion run by counterfeit ministers” (113). Yikes. The entire movement? How do you get from cases like Oral Roberts and Benny Hinn and then derive a universal statement from them? This would fail a freshman logic class.

And then we have basic, old-fashioned “begging the question.” He writes, “It is also important to remember that Paul wrote these words [1 Thess. 5:20-22] at a time when the revelatory gift of prophecy was still active” (126). He is using this to explain away Paul’s command not to despise prophetic utterances, but he is assuming the very thing he is trying to prove.

Factual Inaccuracies

Speaking of miracles and healings, Macarthur asserts (not argues!) “Such biblical-quality healing miracles are not being performed today” (175). So what of sane, sober accounts where people were healed? Macarthur, like David Hume, would simply say that’s not possible. Don’t let facts get in the way of theory.

Scriptural Contradictions

Macarthur: “There is no warrant anywhere in Scripture for Christians to listen to fresh revelations from God beyond what he has already given us in his written word” (115).
The Apostle Paul: “especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1); “desire earnestly to prophesy” (v. 39).

Cessationism and the missing premise:

Cessationists use “revelation” in an equivocal sense. This is a problem when we examine practices in the 1st century church. Paul tells the church to prophesy (and one can find numerous other examples). How does the cessationist respond?

First, let’s look at the argument:

1: God’s speaking is what constitutes revelation, and revelation was eventually codified in the canon.
This seems to entail the following:

2: The canon is closed (let’s leave aside messy issues like who had the authority to close the canon and how do you know).

I think Ephesians 2:20 affords the cessationist another premise:

3. The church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Assuming apostles means those associated in one way or another with Jesus’s ministry, I think we can safely affirm (and this would be the position of many continuationists) that apostles aren’t around today. Therefore,

3.1. Prophets aren’t around, either.

The Continuationist Responds,

Is (P1) true? I agree with the first half if it is phrased like this: God reveals himself and this usually happens by speech or in words (whether internal or external). The second half of P1 is unproven.

What about P2? Practically, we have to assume that the canon is closed, but we have no evidence from God that it is. Honestly, how do you know the canon is closed? I think wiser Protestants were right to say that the Canon is “a fallible collection of infallible books” and leave it at that.

As to P3, my question is: are all acts of “prophesying” in the New Testament establishing the foundation of the church? Are Phillip’s daughters part of that foundation? When Paul acknowledges different men are prophesying is that, too, part of the foundation? Maybe, but we have no evidence that such is what Paul meant.

The only way the cessationist can salvage this position is to add another premise:

P4: Paul’s command to prophesy only functioned until the canon was closed.

The main problem with that statement is there isn’t a single verse that says

Evaluation:

Not all of the book is bad. The sections on the Holy Spirit and Sanctification were quite good. Unfortunately, Macarthur engages in huge leaps of logic, misleading statements, and unfocused arguments. I think this is the end of cessationism.

Macarthur and Defeaters

These are observations about claims Mac and Co. make.   They are not intended as a point-by-point analysis of Strange Fire.  That will come in due time, Lord willing.  My goal here is to protect John MacArthur’s admitted hero Martyn Lloyd-Jones from John Macarthur.
Edit: I had originally written this several years ago, before the current controversy about Grudem’s Trinitarianism.

In chapters 3 and 4 JM relies on Edwards’ analysis of revival, and I think it is a good–if incomplete–analysis of any “spiritual” movement.

  1. Does the work exalt the true Christ?
  2. Does it oppose worldliness?
  3. Does it point people to the Scriptures?
  4. Does it elevate the truth?
  5. Does it produce love for God and others?

It is a good list.  However, I would say with the apostle Paul, “I would that you all prophesy.”  But back to the points above.  The logical danger with rhetorical questions is that if the opposition can bite the bullet and the position is logically unchanged, your entire argument, such that it is, evaporates.

Case study:  Wayne Grudem.

 

 

No one can accuse Wayne Grudem of not exalting Christ.  I don’t know him personally, though we did exchange friendly emails some months ago, but I highly doubt he is worldly.  Does he point people to the Scriptures?  Seriously?  As an inerrantist, I am certain Grudem can affirm 3 and 4.  5 is a given.

How would a Word-Faither do?  That’s a fair question, but if you lump Wayne Grudem and Sam Storms in the same camp with Copeland and Hinn, you are sinning against your brothers and violating the 9th commandment.  Only a party spirit can remain untouched by such a rebuke.

The Missing Case of Martyn Lloyd-Jones

 

A search engine on Strange Fire lists only seven appearances of Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
p.44 lists MLJ saying that the Spirit exalts Christ.  Presumably this is a slam against much of charismatic worship.  Fair enough.  (I do wonder if the Spirit wants us to worship like Dutch-American amillennialists).
p.261 has MLJ saying the office of prophet has ceased.  Okay, he said that.  He also said other things, and in any case I don’t think that exegesis stands up to Grudem’s scholarship.
p.117-118 say basically the same thing.
p.312 lists MLJ’s Christian Unity.
p.319 is the index.
p.281 is an endnote for Great Doctrines of the Bible.
And that’s it for MLJ.  So what’s the big deal?  Well, here is what Macarthur has to say about Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

He influenced countless preachers (myself included), and he stood steadfastly against the superficial, entertainment-oriented approach to preaching that seemed to dominate the evangelical world then as it does now. Lloyd-Jones still desperately needs to be heard today.

Again, you might ask, “What’s the big deal?  Anybody should say that about MLJ.”Macarthur elsewhere says,

There is a stream of sound teaching, sound doctrine, sound theology that runs all the way back to the apostles.  It runs through Athanasius and Augustine…and runs through the pathway of Charles Spurgeon, and David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and it keeps running.

 

Real quick side note: I wish quasi-Reformed people would stop referencing Augustine.  Let’s be honest. You don’t know what he teaches.  He isn’t an easy writer and his work isn’t systematic.  You have to spend about half a decade working through different treatises to get an idea of what he is saying.  And to make matters worse, he believed that miracles happen today.   Read City of God, Book 22, chapter 8.  This is embarrassing.
Well, here is the problem.  Macarthur does not allow (de facto) the distinction between continuationism (myself) and charismaticism (insert favorite bad guy).  He notes

Number seven, by asserting the gift of healing has continued to be present, the continuationist position affirms the same basic premise that undergirds the fraudulent ministry of charismatic faith healers.  If you say the gift of healing is still around, and you say it whimsically, there’s no evidence it’s around, either experimentally or biblically, but if you say it’s still around, then you have just validated healers.

Who would want to do that?  Are they not the lowest of the low?  Are they not the worst of the worst?  They don’t go to hospitals.  They prey on the most desperate, the most severely ill, the most hopeless, the most destitute, very often the poorest, telling them lies and getting rich.  Who would want to do anything to aid and abet them?

Said another way:
Premise 1: If continuationists assert “the miraculous,” then they validate faith healers.
Premise 2: They assert the miraculous.
(3)Conclusion: They validate faith healers (Modus Ponens)
Prem. (4): Faith healers are the lowest of the low (agreed)
Prem. (5): If anyone validates them, they, too are the lowest of the low [4, 1]
(6) If person A asserts the miraculous, then he, too, validates faith healers [2, 5]
Of course, I challenge premises 1 and 3.  Someone could still say, “Yeah, so.  You are the lowest of the low because you believe in the miraculous.”  Fair enough.  I will now lower the boom.
Lloyd-Jones states,

Those people who say that [baptism with the Holy Spirit] happens to everybody at regeneration seem to me not only to be denying the New Testament but to be definitely quenching the Spirit” (Joy Unspeakable, p. 141).

 

“If the apostles were incapable of being true witnesses without unusual power, who are we to claim that we can be witnesses without such power?” (The Sovereign Spirit, p. 46.)

 

I think it is quite without scriptural warrant to say that all these gifts ended with the apostles or the Apostolic Era. I believe there have been undoubted miracles since then (Joy Unspeakable, p. 246.)

 

Was it only meant to be true of the early church? … The Scriptures never anywhere say that these things were only temporary—never! There is no such statement anywhere (The Sovereign Spirit, pp. 31-32.)
“To hold such a view,” he says, “is simply to quench the Spirit” (The Sovereign Spirit, p. 46)

Premise (7) Martyn Lloyd-Jones asserts the miraculous.
Now the Strange Fire Brigade faces a painful difficulty:  reject (1)–(6) or accept Premise (8)
(8) Martyn Lloyd-Jones validates faith-healers.  [6, 7 MP]
Conclusion
 
Someone could still respond, “Well, MLJ is not God. He isn’t right on everything.”  No he isn’t.  He is an amillennialist, for one.  But let’s go back to Macarthur’s claim: “anyone holding these views gives credence to faith healers and is the lowest of the low.”  He must apply that to MLJ.  The logic is impeccable (up to a point, anyway).
In analytic philosophy we call this a “defeater.”  It shows his position is either counter to the evidence or it cannot be held simultaneously with the evidence. Either his view of Martyn Lloyd-Jones is wrong and it has to be abandoned (as the evidence makes abundantly clear), or he must give the defeater to his claim that continuationists validate faith healers.
He will do neither.
His position collapses

Cessationist Posts

An Orthodox friend asked me about my position on cessationism.  I told him I had some posts on the other blog, so I will start transferring them here.

Whenever I doubt the truth of presuppositional apologetics, I read discussions where TRs doubt that God’s power gifts continue today.  Now, I have no problem with someone coming up with a logical argument that the Spirit’s power isn’t active today.  Fair enough.  I just think a lot of the conversations are funny.
A note on prophesy:  this is one of the most debated terms in the Bible. The problem is that the NT really doesn’t give a neat usage of the term.  Older Puritan writers often equated it with Preaching, in which case the gift obviously continues today.   Most people, cessationist or otherwise, see that usage won’t stand up to five minutes of Scrutiny.  Even worse, some say it is the Spirit applying the truths (timeless, of course; not messy historical contingencies) to day-to-day situations.  In that case, everyone of God’s children should prophesy.  But that seems inadequate and ignores almost all of the NT texts.
A quick rejoinder:  But prophesy doesn’t always mean telling the future.  Sure.  But that did happen.
But God’s word meant the death penalty if your prophesy didn’t come true.   Okay, I’ll grant that for the moment (though I think you can find examples in the OT where godly men were less than 100% accurate and they didn’t die).  But even with that terrifying injunction, you really don’t see NT believers afraid to prophesy.  That’s just the plain truth of the matter.  In fact–and it’s funny that the most rabid anti-theonomists become theonomists on this point–Paul urges all to prophesy.   I doubt the conversation went like this:
Paul:  Pursue all gifts, especially that you may prophesy, but be careful because if you are less than 100% accurate I am going to kill you.
Anyway, to the conversation.
Cessationist:  Show me one example of a Reformed Christian believing continuation of gifts continue.
Continuationist:  (insert example of Richard Cameron and Donald Cargill prophesying/speaking the truth)
Cessationist:  Yeah, well that doesn’t count.
Translation:  you have your facts and I have my theory.  Too bad for your facts.
Why continue the conversation?

They shall expel demons (Prince)

Prince, Derek. They Shall Expel Demons.  Chosen Publishers.

Derek Prince gives an overview of demonology roughly in the same vein as John Wimber and Charles Kraft. This book is level-headed, practical, and filled with sane advice.  Only in a few places does Prince advance strange ideas and even then he is hesitant.  Very accessible and thorough.

Sin and Demons

Prince notes that sometimes our problems are due to our sinful nature and not to demons.  In which case we just need to apply the cross and crucify the flesh.  In other areas it is demonic oppression.

What is a Demon?

This part is tough.  Prince backs up everything he says with Scripture and a lot of it seems to “jive” with observation, yet some of his conclusions run against conventional wisdom.  He notes that the scriptures use several different terms for supernatural entities.  Paul notes that those entities that live in the heavenly places, principalities and powers (Eph. 6:12) are more august, if evil.  I could be mistaken but Paul never (or Daniel for that matter) calls these entities “demons.”  

On the other hand, when Jesus deals with demonic activity it seems to be with earth-bound entities.  Why would angelic beings who rule territories in the heavenly places reduce and limit themselves, for example, to pigs and graveyards?  

Prince notes we “wrestle” with principalities and powers; we “command” demons (95).  If Prince simply wants to make the claim that what we call “demons” is not in the same category as “principalities/powers/dark angels,” then he is probably correct.

Being demonized

A constant variable in demonization is the occult.  Parents who are into the occult, while not necessarily passing a demon on to their kids, bring their kids into a demonic environment.  Another “trigger” is sexual assault, social shock, etc.

Interestingly enough, he warns against the facile laying on of hands. No, we can’t “get a demon” that way, but we can receive negative effects from the one who had the demon (albeit these effects are easily dealt with).

Chemical activities in the brain aren’t demonic manifestations (e.g., smoking, alcoholism) but they can function as a gateway.

The Occult

Two main branches:

(a) Divinization (fortune telling, psychics, ESP; Acts 16:16-22).

(b) Sorcery.  (Drugs, potions, charms, magic, spells, incantations, various forms of music).

Witchcraft

“Witchcraft is the universal, primeval religion of fallen humanity” (129).  Prince shows four levels of modern witchcraft:

(1) Open, public, “respectable.”  This is the Church of Satan and the CIA-handler Anton La Vey.

(2) Underground –Covens. This is the classic idea of “witchery.”

(3) Fifth Column, Disguised.  Rock music.  The danger is anything that breaks down one’s moral reasoning faculties (drugs, certain beats, etc).  Another 5th column is New Age.

(4) Work of the Flesh.  Desire for domination.

Do Christians Need Deliverance?

He notes that the new birth is real and shouldn’t be doubted.  But he also points out that when Christians receive the new birth, they might not have had all forces exorcised from them (especially true in more occult cases). Philip’s ministry in Samaria is instructive:  if demons automatically leave a person upon conversion, then why did Philip even bother to cast them out?

Key Points

(1) Demons operate in gangs (180).

(2) If we have opened the door to a demon by saying the wrong thing, we need to cancel it by saying the right thing (183).

(3) The authority to bind or loose. If there is a gang of demons, then bind the strongman first.

Pros

(1) Exposes Freemasonry (105, 134).

(2) Breaks new ground in our understanding of demonic activity.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones: A Clean Power

The following  is from John Piper’s talk on Martyn Lloyd-Jones, though I had read the works in question long before I had heard the talk.

Martin Lloyd-Jones’ Personal Experiences of Unusual Power

Lloyd-Jones had enough extraordinary experiences of his own to make him know that he had better be open to what the sovereign God might do.
Another illustration comes from his earlier days at Sandfields. A woman who had been a well-known spirit-medium attended his church one evening. She later testified after her conversion:

 

 The moment I entered your chapel and sat down on a seat amongst the people, I was conscious of a supernatural power. I was conscious of the same sort of supernatural power I was accustomed to in our spiritist meetings, but there was one big difference; I had the feeling that the power in your chapel was a clean power.”
Iain H. Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years (Piper’s website lists the reference as being in volume 2, The Fight of Faith, p. 221, but that is incorrect.  It is in volume 1, page 221.)