Wednesday, August 01, 2007

More on the Continuation vs Cessation Front...

Tim Challies about two years ago brought together Dr. Samuel E. Waldron and Dr. Wayne Grudem to discuss the Cessationist and Continuationist position from a Reformed perspective. I think a more Academic discussion may help those who fall on either side of the issue to better understand how the other feels. Feel free to discuss the merits of either position.

Pro-Cessationist: Dr. Samuel E. Waldron

Pro-Continuation: Dr. Wayne Grudem


Bayou Christian said...

I've read Dr. Waldron's argument. It is clearly meant to be brief. I have to say - I don't buy it. He asserts all kinds of biblical certainty on several key steps of his argument but cites 0.

I think it is also telling that John Piper is among the continuaist camp. I'm not sure there are many better examples of , Pastor/Theologian/Calvinist out there than Piper at this time.

I think it is extremely telling that one must first agree that a certain thing described in the bible "Apostles of Christ" no longer exists to be able to accept that another thing mentioned in the Bible - miraculous signs. No longer exists. I find that when an entire argument depends upon a single presumption that it rarely holds up.

As I understand his argument it runs like this:

Since we agree that item "a" in the Bible is no longer true, then it is reasonable to assume that item "b" no longer exists.

As far as Grudem goes he states my sentiments well - I've used the term "cautious charismatic" and I am nearly as comfortable with charismatics as I am with cessationalists.

Thanks for the study.

My experience is this - what you are comfortable with you will do. When I worship in a charismatic church I have charismatic experiences of God when I worship in a cessationalist church I have a cessationalist experience of God.

I have found the charismatic to be the more balanced - mind, body, and soul. While the cessationalist is much more an intellectual event. Some find this superior - i do not.

It would be interesting to get to a little deeper study but probably wouldn't attract many readers (even I may not have time for it). I would Commend Gordon Fee (not reformed though) Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God.

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...


I agree that the piece was not well written. But I think his argument is more sound than it appears on the surface. The link between miraculous signs and apostleship is plain.

"The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance." 2 Cor 12:12.

Jesus did signs and wonders to establish his identity and authority:

"And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them." Luke 7:18-22

Traditional cessationists assert that the Apostles were given the same authority for the same reason.

And the idea that God has done away with one mode of revelation and moved on to another is actually found in the NT itself:

"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son..." (Heb 1:1-2)

Thirdly, it is a viable interpretation of 1 Cor 13 that these things have ceased because their function in the church has ceased. Tongues, prophecy and knowledge are specifically mentioned earlier in the chapter:

"But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears."

Cessationists believe that God gave these gifts to the church for a short time, in lieu of the scriptures. "The perfect," then, is the completed scriptures. It is a historical fact that these gifts did disappear by the early 2nd century, and only "returned" with the Asuza St. Revival in the early 20th century. Those folks, (who were dispensationalists, a position that is at odds with historic Reformed theology) thought it marked the beginning of the "last days" mentioned in Joel 2 and Acts 1.

Finally, I have yet to hear a continuationist wrestle with the implications of having an ongoing gift of prophecy (or tongues plus interpretation, which they claim is the equivalent) that is errant and fallible. And some men are teaching their "prophecies" from the pulpit beside and even in lieu of the scriptures. I've got one of those jokers in the ministerium with me right now. God is always telling him things, but the things God is telling him contradict what God has actually told him in the scriptures. This is the same sin that Rome commits with its dogma of the Pope speaking ex cathedra.

In OT times, if a prophet spoke something that did not come true, he was to be stoned to death. If we had a few executions in church parking lots, I might take some of what they say a little more seriously.

Bayou Christian said...


Thanks for the clear and cogent response. I am often neither so I enjoy seeing it at work!

Signs and wonders also were part of the ministry of the OT prophets, as well as the 70 being sent out, also the Deacons performed signs and wonders.

Your use of the Hebrews text could be used to say that the early church should not have had signs and wonders either.

1 Corinthians also is a dangerous use of the text as it would imply then - since the signs and wonders have ceased then the perfection has come. As a member of the PCUSA I would say strongly the Church has not been perfected as of yet.

As to your last point and I think the most important. I beleive there are all kinds of responses to that but understand I do not spend much time argueing the case one way or the other. I prefer to simply teach biblical Christianity. I do not train people to be charismatics, nor would I train them not to be. I train them to be followers of the Word.

I suspect a simple answer is that those prophets who exemplified the behavior you share - simply never made it into the text.

I believe there are a number of NT prophets/prophetesses refered to indirectly.

I would avoid both errors which I consider to be unbiblical:

Build your entire view of church upon signs and wonders.

Or build your view of church exclusive of signs and wonders.

And there is the one and final authority on all words - the Word. If at any time a "word" does not glorify Christ and is not consistent with the "Word" it is at best error.

The problem IMO for most ceasationalists is that the ongoing practice of the gifts is not easily ordered (as Paul points out by his attention to ordering them)many of us in the Conservative, Reformed tradition have a high expectation of order.

As I have said elsewhere I am a cautious charismatic - the gifts rarely come into play in my daily life -but - they can and God willing they should since their existence is consistent throughout scripture I believe the only manner in which they could be overturned would be a clearly prescriptive text which does not exist.

In conclusion let me say clearly what I hope is implied throughout -this is not an essential tenet- I understand that it is much harder for a cessationist to ignore this practice of the faith than the reverse. I have almost no problems in fellowshiping with cessationists because they are in my experience such incredibly biblical people.

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...


Stephen and Phillip did signs and wonders, but I don't think the text indicates that it was a general diaconal gift, and the signs done by these two were always done in service of authoritative proclaimation. Surely it is also significant that these two men were a. The first Christian martyr and b. the first man that we know caused Christianity to be carried outside of Judea/Galilee.

I am using the Hebrews text to argue that the early church did not have signs and wonders. The scriptures make no reference to the early church having signs and wonders. Only to certain individuals doing signs and wonders.

I think it is significant, for instance, that Timothy, Luke, Barnabas, Silas, and Apollos did no signs or wonders.

Now, I am separating in my mind signs and wonders from other gifts like tongues or prophecy or even possibly casting out demons. I think those are a different category of gift, though the demons thing is kind of blurred in my mind. I can't think of any responsible charismatic who would say, "The ability to do miracles is located in me, in my person, just like the Apostle Paul. If you want healing, or water turned into wine, come to me." I'm not arguing that God does no miracles from time to time, in response to prayer. I am arguing that there is no such thing as a "wonder worker" anymore. I believe those gifts were given to authenticate the gospel message to its first hearers.

As for prophecy and tongues, I still stick with my original interpretation of 1 Cor 13. Please note that I did not say the church was "the perfect." I said the scriptures were "the perfect."

Also, I do not put God in a box as much as some cessationists do. I think during extraordinary times (such as the persecution during the Covenanting times) that God sometimes does extraordinary things and gives "special providences," to quote Hodge. But these are not the norm and are not to be sought for their own sake.

As for the PCUSA, it fails (taken as a whole) the marks the Reformers laid down of a true visible church: Word rightly preached, sacraments rightly administered, discipline rightly upheld.

Lastly, I do not think that continuationism "strikes at the vitals of religion" of necessity. Many charismatics do commit gross errors that do strike at the vitals of religion, however.


Bayou Christian said...


I think that your distinction between the church and individuals doing these works of wonder is an important one. I too doubt seriously that there are individual "wonder workers" on the level of the original 12 apostles. I will gladly reject much of what Benny Hin teaches for example. However, ultimately the Church does still do miracles (as the Body of Christ through the power of the Spirit) and the Church is made up of individual members - so I don't think the distinction cesationists (as you describe them) are making is clear or necessary.

I appreciate all of your clarifications. I think you have clarified your possition well but I am unconvinced. I am not going to bother regurgitating the work of other much wiser men than myself. I have read broadly on the topic. And it is clear that you have as well. Call me hardheaded if you must - I won't argue.

It appears that a key part of the cessationest opinion is based not at all upon what the bible does say - but what it doesn't say. It is ultimately an argument from silence.

It is just such an argument for instance that is used by oneness pentacostals to reject the Trinitarian formula. "Since all of the baptisms that occur in the book of Acts are in the "name of Jesus" then there should only be baptisms in one name" (they conclude). I have never gotten a good answer about Matthew 28 in case you are wondering.

We both of course reject that view. It is useful to reference it in that it shows the danger of drawing conclusions from silence (even partial silence).

Ultimately I find that we have many of the same critiques/ concerns regarding the charismatic movement.

Nor do I find that cessationists reject the core of the faith although many practice a legalism that is a grave error and strikes at the core of grace - often putting theology into the category of works righteousness.

That is a blade that cuts many ways. All of our theological camps have a tendency to extremes. Charismatics are often among the easiest to pick on. But many continuationalists do not fit either into the Benny Hinn nor the Pentacostal category.

Order is the desire of many of us who would simply say we are practicing a biblical faith - I doubt our practice of faith looks all that different from your congregation's. We are both filled with awe and wonder at the power of God at display in His Church

Peace - I really do not think we disagree that much. Only at the level of the most particular.

Rev. Brian Carpenter said...

Peace from my end as well, Brother.