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Why NT Prophecy does NOT result in "Scripture-quality" revelatory words (a response to the most frequently cited cessationist argument against the contemporary validity of spiritual gifts)

November 4, 2013 | by: Sam Storms| 15 Comments

15 Comments

Dee

Nov 7, 2013

If you truly believe this to be a secondary issue Sam, I am a little confused about a statement you made last Sunday night. As I understand it a secondary issue is one that may be unclear in scripture as to what is right and wrong or leaves the interpretation up for debate. Secondary issues such as alcohol, head coverings, etc. would be ones where grace toward those of different positions should rule. If I recall correctly you made a dogmatic statement at the beginning of your teaching. You were speaking to 1 Cor 14:1 which says “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” You said something to the effect of “If you are not pursuing these gifts as commanded here then you are in sin.” I can’t quote it exactly but maybe when the video is available on the Frontline website we can see. I suppose I may have “misunderheard” you. If that’s the case I apologize. If not then how is that any different than MacArthur saying things in a similar style and how can you say it's a secondary issue in your opinion? I don't believe sin can ever be called a secondary issue.

Michael Taylor

Nov 5, 2013

Hi Jim. I am inclined to agree with you since the context of those passages talk about "weighing" and "testing" prophecy, which seems to imply that they can contain error. I'm not sure if the Agabus example works as well, since it doesn't seem to be the accuracy of his prophecy, but rather the application/interpretation of it that was at issue. The Holy Spirit clearly told Paul of the dangers awaiting him in Jerusalem. But it doesn't follow that he wasn't supposed to go there.

Be that as it may, my overall point is that the continuationist isn't being unreasonable in expecting that present day manifestations of the Spirit ought to look like they did in the NT. But if you're correct, such manifestations were "hit and miss" even then. Giving this more thought.....

you mentioned Michael, you say that a cessationist could reasonably demand that a prophesy be as accurate as Scripture without the normative authority of Scripture. Such a demand may be 'reasonable', but if Acts 21 (Agabus), I Cor. 14:29, and I Thes. 5:19 - 22 are normative, then the demand is not Biblical. -

Mandy Finley

Nov 5, 2013

Hi Sam,
Thank you for posting this. I am a college student and claim to know very little about these issues. I haven't "camped" anywhere, but negative personal experiences with questionable prophecies led me to seriously question the validity of the prophetic gifts, especially since they were coupled with uncomfortable assertions about gold dust from heaven and such. Tension between rejecting the traditional Pentecostal views, but drawing from the character and nature of God as one who wants to reveal himself; its been a really frustrating journey of learning. The recent debates between "big wig" theologians about it has made it more confusing. The bottom line comes to the fact that it is indeed a secondary issue, and that not practicing such gifts isn't a reason for condemnation. I think the more we talk about it on a public level, and involve the "laity" in understanding these theological views, the more we will come to a collective understanding of what options we have available for tangible practice. Unity for the sake of unity isn't necessarily helpful, and the debate also drives the scholarship of these crucial passages; if for anything but our human nature and desire to be right about something; which God takes and transforms into an instrument of His glory. I would say in all things, the heart of a child is necessary. Sorry for ramblings, just wanted to encourage you and appreciate your careful study of the passages and the sound logic by which you explain them. I will continue to study these issues and hope that we can redeem these gifts in a way which neither offends weaker brothers (myself included in that) or come to see that perhaps God has chosen different ways to reveal himself today. Regardless, most people base their theology on personal experience, for better or worse.

Jim W.

Nov 5, 2013

Michael, you say that a cessationist could reasonably demand that a prophesy be as accurate as Scripture without the normative authority of Scripture. Such a demand may be 'reasonable', but if Acts 21 (Agabus), I Cor. 14:29, and I Thes. 5:19 - 22 are normative, then the demand is not Biblical.

Mosala

Nov 5, 2013

Excellent post Sam; I so appreciate your careful exposition, and thanks for sticking your head up at a such moment of vociferous onslaught against continuationism! Love you lots...

Kathy Law

Nov 4, 2013

Wow!! Spot on!! Thank you also for such a clear presentation of truth last night at Frontline! The Church so needs this balanced teaching!! Bless you BIG!

Michael Taylor

Nov 4, 2013

I've been following the continuationst/cessationist debate for some time now sort of from the sidelines. I would identify myself as continuationist "in theory" but cessationist in practice, if for no other reason than I haven't personally experienced any of the revelatory gifts and because, as an outsider looking in, it's difficult to take at face value what others have claimed to experience. In other words, it's the "verification" problem that I haven't solved.

Further, while I appreciate and agree with Sam's 10 reasons for why prophecy/word of knowledge would not have to be "scripture-quality," I still have a few misgivings. First, it seems perfectly reasonable to me that any prophecy, if it is truly from God, could be "scripture quality" without having to be "scripture normative." In other words, why should prophecy or visions or a word of knowledge be any less true than scripture if the divine intent for those gifts is limited to a specific time and place rather than being normative for the entire church? In still other words, it seems that the cessationist could reasonably demand that any alleged prophecy/word of knowledge, what have you, be every bit as accurate and true as what we read in scripture without having the normative authority that scripture has over the church.

And what about tongues? I'm really confused on this one. It seems to me that tongues were foreign languages (at least in Acts). If tongues are being spoken today, wouldn't it be reasonable to suppose that they are primarily (if not exclusively) foreign languages? Why is it today that virtually the *only* manifestation of tongues is of the kind in which no body understands the language?

All of this is only to say that if we are going to claim that Acts is paradigmatic for the church and that the Christianity we find there is in fact normative for the entire church age, then to be consistent, ought we not claim that the miracles and prophecies and tongues and other gifts we find there (including raising people from the dead) ought to be identical to what we find today? If Acts is our standard, then I think it's fair to ask continuationists to produce evidence of the spiritual gifts that is "Acts-quality."

My church is trying to figure out how to allow charismatics some more freedom of expression within the worship service. But there is great push-back and fear on the part of the pastor and elders that things will get messy and out of control. I must admit that I share their concern, even as I remain theoretically open to the gifts. So how do we know when they're "real" and when they're not? Ought we not use Acts as our basis for comparison? If not, why not? If so, then can we reasonably demand miracles and manifestation of the Spirit that are on par with that we find among Apostles and those associated with the Apostles in the Book of Acts?

Matthew Abate

Nov 4, 2013

This was an excellent post: very organized and well articulated. You mentioned a book early on in your article that you contributed to called Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views. Is that the best work on the subject of cessationism and continuationism?

Sam

Nov 4, 2013

Dear Bach ratt or whatever your name is, I haven't seen or spoken with Paul Cain in 10 years and have no idea where he is or what he is doing; nor do I endorse him today, and won't until he repents. And I assure you, neither Josh nor I are hiding behind anyone!

Bach ratt

Nov 4, 2013

i want to meet your friend Paul Cain, is he still in the "business". I would have pulled a driscoll and crashed the Q&A last night but they didnt even ask any of my 20 questions I submitted, i see Josh hiding behind you and you hiding behind Grudem\. why is that?

Geoff Chapman

Nov 4, 2013

On a side note, regarding Grudem's differentiation between OT prophecy and NT prophecy, I'm not sure that the OT/NT split is necessary to establish a less-than-infallible model for prophecy in the NT.

The OT arguably makes it clear that there were prophets who did not speak the inspired, infallible words of God. There were companies of prophet's, e.g. 1 Samuel 10:11, 1 Kings,18:4. Also, Jeremiah sees a providential sign as a confirmation that the word he received was from the Lord (Jeremiah 32:8), meaning that he too had to use discernment and weigh the prophetic words that he received (well, at least once!) It could be that we are giving too much ground by conceding that all OT prophecy was inspired-infallible, and in doing so weakening the case for continuation. I don't know if Grudem discusses these at all. I'd be interested to know what you think Sam.

David Washington

Nov 4, 2013

I think there are a lot of false presuppositions that you're bringing to the table here Dwayne.

This is a secondary issue but as Sam has stated, this issue was brought back to the forefront of cessationist who, though saying it is secondary, they contradict themselves and state that it's major effectively treating it as a primary issue. You can see this over at Tim Challies website (http://www.challies.com/interviews/john-macarthur-answers-his-critics).

Personally, I was never a cessationist. I've always been a continuationist. That position just has continued to be more affirmed through deeper study of the scriptures.

As far as how evangelicals perform, that's not my concern. My concern, as it should be with every Christian, is to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling", and not have my beliefs based on the latest evangelical polling data so to speak. In answer to the gifts, I believe everyone has one (at least) and I believe the scriptures present that pretty explicitly (1 Corinthians 7:7, 12;7). Like muscles, some people's are more more pronounced or show more because they exercise and work it more. No one is a second class individual in the body of Christ and that is not insinuated anywhere. I believe where you may be getting that is the erroneous belief by some in the Pentecostal movement who say that if you don't speak it tongues then you don't have the Holy Spirit, you don't have spiritual power, all patently false and just a twisting of the scriptures in all but the right way.

Lastly, just because you've seen churches split over the issue doesn't mean that all Christians are that immature. For example, the editor of my books is a cessationist. Yet, he works one on one with me to help get my books out. He doesn't agree necessarily with every point but we agree on the vast majority of things that I write. So there can be diversity in unity. Personal experience is not representative of every situation. Unity for the sake of unity is unbiblical. Let all things be done for the glory of God for it is for that reason we were created.

Sam

Nov 4, 2013

To answer you briefly and to the point: The issue of spiritual gifts is a secondary issue . . . the recent debate was sparked by cessationists, not continuationists . . . we are simply responding to misrepresentations of our view . . . yes I was a cessationist and a dispensational premillennialist and yes my study of Scripture led me to reject both views . . . no, I make no claim to be 100% accurate in my views and never have . . . no, continuationists are not more Christ-like . . . whoever made such a claim anyway? . . . .if you don't believe in the gifts you won't seek them, pray for them, or make room for their presence in your life or in the church, so it shouldn't come as any surprise that you haven't received them . . . yes, our goal is unity.

David Washington

Nov 4, 2013

Very informative and more of a strict exegesis than the cessationist position. Excellent work here. Blessings to you.

dwayne

Nov 4, 2013

One of my favorite Bible teaches said many times "Separating over secondary issues is not a secondary issue". I once attended a church that split over the issue of spiritual gifts. In fact, most of the elders were continuationists and left the body after being part of its leadership for many years. Based on the volume, especially recently, of blogs regarding cessationist and non-cessationist and defense of the continued use of the gifts, one might assume that this is not a secondary issue with you. Is that true or false? Would it also be true to say that you were once a cessationist and also a premillennialist but have changed your positions based on the study of scripture?
If your current positions are 100% accurate, does that mean that being more "Christ-like" requires us to perform as the Charismatics perform? Since the majority of evangelicals in the US don't perform this way, what are those of us who don't supposed to believe? Are we second-class or non-Christian since we haven't received these miraculous gifts. Since these gifts are sovereignly given, has God left us out? It appears that the rift is widening and the unity that Christ speaks of is never to be. Since both sides cannot be right, the true answers will only be known in heaven. Perhaps our goal should be unity and not "we're right, you're wrong, see you later".

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