CESSATIONISMTHE ULTIMATE STRAW MAN
Thursday, October 24, 2013
John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in California, held a conference a few days ago entitled “Strange Fire”. The theme was basically about the charismatic movement and about the validity of spiritual gifts in the church today. Here is the opening message given by MacArthur.
And as always I am struck by MacArthur’s doctrinal hubris because he castigated the entire movement and then openly suggested that reformed theology is God’s modern revelation of the unbroken stream of truth beginning at Pentecost. He never missed a chance to present reformed theology as the exclusive bastion of truth. In fact, sometimes subtly and sometimes not so subtly MacArthur makes the truth of the Scriptures and the reformed interpretation of those Scriptures as interchangeable.
But what really struck me was that he gave his opinion and read from John Owen and other Puritans, but he did not and could not exegete Scripture to show where the gifts have ceased which would Scripturally suggest that the entire foundation for Pentecostalism is flawed. There is a very real and obvious reason for that. There are no Scriptures that even hint at cessationism.
And yet these are the people who say they reject experience and adhere strictly to the teachings of Scripture even to the point of hubris. But when it suits them they can use their opinions and abuses by others to form their doctrine. They do not need Scripture because they already know what they believe. And as I have said in a former post this conference was professional in every detail complete with air conditioned sessions, accomplished speakers, material tables, motels and restaurant accommodation, and all the “blessings” of a hedonist society. The whole construct is like having a “I love chocolate ice cream” conference and have everyone who loves chocolate ice cream come from all over the world in order to hear how chocolate ice cream is the best and to eat much chocolate ice cream. Everyone goes home to eat more chocolate ice cream and castigate those who have no ice cream. Oh yes, even before they left their homes and headed for the chocolate ice cream conference their refrigerators were already stuffed with chocolate ice cream. Can you not see the irony and vacuous nature of such an event? And yet we are in the midst of a spiritual need much greater than ice cream.
But the people who came already believed what was going to be said and touted. And in spite of the hundreds of thousands of dollars that were spent and the finely crafted atmosphere of the event, in the end it was “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” despite MacArthur’s self serving contention that his camp were warriors in the end times sent and anointed to do warfare with the evil Charismatics.
Yes, there are many false teachers and many damnable heresies in sections of what we call the Charismatic or Pentecostal movement, but the world is in desperate need of something much greater than a doctrinal slugfest fought with self righteousness. The world needs to see and experience Jesus through the thoughts, the words, and the lives of those who know and follow Him. And that, my friends, is a challenge which most of the church has no thirst for. And where are the conferences that are free and call for a serious and sacrificial commitment to day and night praying and a serious return to living what Jesus taught? Making Jesus a champion of reformed or any other theology makes Him your own personal talisman and reduces Him to a doctrinal Savior. And in the end we strip Him of His Redeemer status and we make the gospel our own doctrinal message instead of the everlasting message of hope that it truly is!
But those who are militant about rightly interpreting God’s Word by comparing Scripture with Scripture seem to lose their moorings as it pertains to the gifts of the Spirit. They will quickly condemn anyone who pulls out one unsupported verse and create some doctrine. And yet here is the one, and only one, verse upon which these same people create the doctrine known as cessationalism, which means that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased.
I Cor.13: 8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
And this Scripture, which is in the context of the supremacy of love, is what is suggested as foundational concerning the cessation of some of the gifts of the Spirit. So how then can you defend a cessationalist view?
In order for you to be a cessationist you must:
* Take one verse from I Cor.13 and expand it to mean something where there is no other supportive Scriptural hint anywhere else.
* Make unscriptural classes of the gifts ( sign gifts, etc.) because most would agree that helps, governments, teachers, etc. are still in effect today.
* Base your view primarily upon the abuse and misuse of spiritual gifts evident today.
* Believe that God the Spirit wrote how the gifts operated to a very small group and that many New Testament verses are now worthless because the gifts are now obsolete.
* Base most of the argument around the “sign gifts: which are connected to the Pentecostal/Charismatic realm primarily.
* You must deny documented evidence from different parts of the world which point to the miraculous working of the Spirit which seem to be identified as spiritual gifts.
And if you listen to MacArthur and others like him you will hear the points on this list. Are there misuses and abuses and bizarre manifestations which claim to be the gifts of the Spirit prevalent today? Of course, just like there are many bizarre variations and false teachings about the gospel, the Scriptures, and the Person of Christ as well. But the falsehoods do not diminish the authentic. And even though some of the falsehoods are extremely grievous and even blasphemous they still should not be the basis for suggesting that the genuine do not still exist. That contention must be fully supported by Scripture which in the case of spiritual gifts it is not. And in MacArthur’s case he presents a straw man without presenting clear Scriptural truth.
But the cessationist claims are used to form certain doctrinal cliques and they create quite an amen corner. I am no Calvinist. That has always been clear and I have never sought to hide that fact. I take strong difference with MacArthur and others over the five points of Calvinism. But I have been edified by many of MacArthur’s teachings, his Calvinism aside. I can even understand why they embrace their reformed doctrine and the Scriptures they use to support it. I disagree but I understand.
But on this issue I find his Scriptural support to be nonexistent and his Biblical exegesis to be disregarded. And although false teachings must be addressed within the body of Christ, we must not be altogether consumed with them and their teachers. Our calling by our Master is not to go into all the world and confront Charismatics. Our calling is to preach and live the everlasting gospel and the Lord Jesus Christ. That kind of conference I just might attend.
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