Why Cessationism is Unbiblical, Irrational and Boring

John MacArthur

John MacArthur

John MacArthur is one of the leading cessationist theologians of today (cessationist meaning someone who thinks the miraculous gifts of the Spirit have ceased), and you may remember his name from my post What if Jesus Preached what Modern Preachers are Preaching where I tried to show how stupid it would look if Jesus had said what MacArthur is saying. MacArthur’s teaching has been widely criticized by many, and one of the best rebutals is in my opinion Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, where he explains how he went from being a cessationist to a charismatic evangelical and where he basically brings up all cessationist arguments used by MacArthur and crushes them to little tiny pieces.

It seems like MacArthur has changed tactics since then. Right now he is organizing a conference called Strange Fire which isn’t arguing for cessationism so much as it is accusing the majority of the charismatic movement to be heretic, demonic and a dangerous cult. Nothing new, already G. Campbell Morgan said that Pentecostalism is “the last vomit of Satan”, so MacArthur is basically continuing an embarassing evangelical tradition of demonizing Christians who don’t agree with him.

MacArthur’s argument is of course ridiculous and its main accusation, that most charismatics offer false worship, is non-valid since even if you disagree with charismatics you have to admit that their worship to Jesus is extremely passionate compared to many other churches. But I’m not going to waste ink on arguing for the sanity of the charismatic movement but bring the discussion back to its original issue: the cessation or continuity of the gifts. In my opinion, it is cessationism that is truly “strange”, it’s an unbiblical, irrational and, quite frankly, very boring theology.

Cessationists do not argue that all gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased with the apostles, simply because knowledge, compassion and faith (Rom 12:8, 1 Cor 12:8-9) clearly are still around. Instead, they argue that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit have ceased while non-supernatural (like the ones I just mentioned) are still here. Problem is: this distinction is totally unbiblical. When Paul talks about Spiritual gifts he never categorised them in supernatural and non-supernatural, and he doesn’t label some cessational and others continual.

Or does he? 1 Cor 13:8-10 says:

Love never fails. 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 completeness comes, what is in part disappears. (NIV)

Cessationists often argue that the “completeness” in verse 10 refers to the Bible, meaning that there are no longer prophecies, tongues and… knowledge, I guess. But Paul says in the same letter says that the gifts will continue to exist until the second coming of Christ (1 Cor 1:7), which is much more logical that “the completeness” refers to when looking at the context of 1 Cor 13 (“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face”, v. 11). Besides, healing, miracles and deliverance are not even mentioned in 1 Cor 13, why it is irrational to use that text to claim that those gifts have ceased as well.

And speaking of deliverance – that’s not even listed as a Spiritual gift, and yet cessationists claim that it doesn’t exist anymore. Meanwhile, most of them believe that Satan still is doing false signs and wonders and that demons still possess people (this is why MacArthur can say that parts of the charismatic movement is demonic). Now think about it, demons still possess people, but we’re unable to cast those out of there! What’s the point of that? Why would God do that?

The same is true for healing – people are still sick even in post-apostolic times! People still need healing even when we got the complete Bible. I mean, the Bible is great, but in itself it cannot heal people. Thus, it cannot sufficiently replace healing. And more importantly, it never says that it will!

Finally, cessationism is boring. John Wimber, my favourite theologian, was saved in a cessationist church. He read the Bible, saw some huge differences between it and the church, and asked his pastor “When are we gonna do the stuff?” – “What stuff?” the pastor replied. “The stuff Jesus did! You know, healing the sick, raising the dead, that sort of stuff.”

“Well, we don’t do that any more.” the pastor said. “What do we do then?” – “What we did this morning! Going to the church service and drinking coffee.” John Wimber gasped, “For this I gave up drugs?”

Seriously folks, MacArthur may accuse us to have strange fire but he himself has no fire at all. This is what the Kingdom looks like:

Receive ye the Holy Ghost!

13 responses to “Why Cessationism is Unbiblical, Irrational and Boring

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  7. Just came across your blog by accident… I used to be a Charismatic until I woke up and smelled the coffee that much of what was being taught in that movement was unbiblical. Many people, including myself were deceived into believing that I could hear God apart from Scripture by some subjective means. Many of my friends were led into error, were bullied and intimidated by leaders trying to confront their errors, and many of my friends were extremely disappointed by the many false claims about apparent hearings that never happened, or being led astray by alleged prophetic words from self-proclaimed prophets (many of the them were leaders and elders in the church) that proved to be untrue. One of the major deviations from the truth of Scripture in the Charismatic movement, is the limited focus upon the need for the gospel and expositional teaching, so that people get a biblical view of God and Christ, and their need to to turn to Christ alone for the salvation of their souls. I cannot think of anything more important or serious than the need for the gospel that is the power of God to save sinners from the wrath of God and bring people into the wonderful blessing of adoption and ALL the promises of God in Christ… the Charismatic movement does not major on this most important subject. I used to work away from home and travelling around the country in my car, I began listening to long extracts of the bible. It became obvious to me that the God of the Charismatic movement and the worldview it purported bore no resemblance to the God of Scripture. I realised that God was in charge and is providentially ruling all of His creation by His own divine power and will. I have spent the past seven years reviewing and comparing the Charismatic movement to what Scripture teaches and had already drawn the same conclusions about that movement long before the “Strange Fire” conference was aired. Suffice to say, I left the Charismatic movement a number of years ago and have encouraged anyone who will listen to simply read and study the Scriptures and they will see (like I did) the many errors in that movement. And before you suggest that I was hurt or angry or suffering some kind of trauma, I was not. I left the Charismatic movement because the Holy Spirit opened my mind to understand and believe the plain truth of Scripture, which revealed the erroneous teaching of that movement, but the wonderfully saving truth about what Christ has done, which I now possess by faith in Him alone. I don’t want to take Scripture out of context, but the implications of this biblical text when applied to errors of the Charismatic movement says it all: “Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions; and have not exposed your iniquity so as to restore you from captivity, but have seen for you false and misleading oracles” (Lamentations 2:14 (NAS)… Selah…!

    • Hello Earl!

      Actually, hearing the voice of God outside Scripture by subjective means is what you find throughout the entire Bible. So the Biblical worldview was defenitely charismatic. There are abuses, yes, but also a lot of blessings. I’ve seen several healings, I’ve met people who have been raised from the dead, I’ve cast out demons and I’ve heard the voice of God and seen Jesus in a vision. Our times is Bible times, fortunately. :)

      Blessings!

  8. Hello Michael,

    I appreciate that you have taken the time to read and respond to my response. I would also like to thank you for acknowledging that there are abuses… I’m aware that abuses can occur anywhere in the body of Christ, but in this case, I’m specifically referring to abuses in the Charismatic movement because of the specific worldview of that movement. Can I also say, I have some wonderful Charismatic friends who don’t share my views but we share the love of Christ together. Obviously, my “beef” is not about the people, but the Charismatic worldview… This leads me onto my main point:

    Satan is the open and declared enemy of God, of all human beings, and in particular, of all true believers in Jesus Christ. Satan constantly tries to undermine the authority, inerrancy, clarity, reliability and sufficiency of Scripture as the final rule for Christian faith and practice. As you know, Satan employs philosophies, evil schemes, unbiblical world-views and false systems of belief that promote a lofty view of self, a low view or denial of sin or the sin nature, he promotes self-reliance and rebellion against God, and a denial of the truth of Scripture.

    Who’s to say that just because a person believes they are “hearing the voice of God outside Scripture by subjective means”, and that what was conveyed to them was accurate, how do we know that it wasn’t Satan conveying this information to them, in order to seduce them into believing that hearing from God by some subjective means is legitimate, when in fact, Satan has deceived them into trusting in a false system of belief? Are they now prime candidates to do Satan’s bidding?

    Is it possible for Satan to work through the subjective lifestyles of those who purport hear and speak words from God? Is it possible that such a false system of belief feeds fleshly attitudes rather than honouring God?

    I cannot deny that God can miraculously heal people… of course God can miraculously heal, He’s God. However, I’m also aware from Scripture that Satan can counterfeit apparent miraculous events for nefarious reasons. With such a subjective approach that you advocate, how do we tell the difference between a God-ordained miraculous occurrence and a Satanically inspired one? Is the ability to discern the difference a matter of subjectivity reasoning or an objective and external evaluation based upon the biblical text?

    Someone being raised from the dead is a significant event. It’s interesting that we very rarely hear anything in the secular news about such hearing! I presume such an event would make headline news!

    Now, I do believe that God can raise someone from the dead… Why? coz He’s God. However, many in the Charismatic movement make such bold claims, and when closely examined, unfortunately many such claims fall short of the original claim made. I’m not suggesting this in your case, but even in Scripture, such events were uncommon and very unusual. Today, we hear of a Charismatic claiming that they have raised someone from the dead almost every week… please forgive me if I sound skeptical about such claims!

    Even though you claim to have heard the voice of God and have seen Jesus in a vision, unfortunately, you have no way of verifying that it was the God of Scripture that you heard or Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture that you saw…. Why? because you are the source… and you are not divine or infallible…! Who’s to say it wasn’t a demon revealing himself to you? Who’s to say that because you are open to believing that God speaks and reveals Himself in subjective ways that you have not been deceived by Satan to believe that it is God doing these things?

    For me, these are significant questions that our Charismatic brethren fail to answer adequately. Unfortunately, experience seems to trump Scripture as the final authority for Charismatics… surely, this cannot be a safe or sensible way of developing a deeper and biblically sound understanding and relationship with God… As you can probably guess, that’s why I’m no longer a Charismatic!

    It seems to me that believers must use the means that God provides to resist Satan and his evil intentions. Ephesians 6:10-18 commands true believers to submit to God and use the divine means that He provides to resist Satan and his evil intentions. The primary means of protection and offensive action is Scripture, prayer and trusting in the finished work of Christ.

    In Christ!

    • Earl, I would love to see some of your 7 years of scripture study on this subject. . . Would you be willing to share? I agree with all of your comments and have become pretty close friends with a charismatic sister. . . We can fellowship in Christ , but discussion is upon me and I am seeking wise counsel. . . Meditating on the whole counsel of God, believing the Spirit has made me friends with her during this season for His reason, asking the Lord to equip me, for His glory. Prayers would be appreciated.

  9. Hi Charlene,

    It’s good to hear from you…

    The past 7 years have been a joy and a challenge. My wife and I have grown at a different pace, so we have not always grasped the truth together… However, I thank God that the gospel, continually preached and believed has transformed us both. So, I do understand the challenge you face with your Charismatic sister… Please, please, please persevere, it will be worth it in the end. How can I be so sure? Well, firstly, you will certainly grow in grace and love through the process, and secondly, God may grant your charismatic sister “eyes to see the truth”. That is worth more than any amount of money can buy!

    The areas of study that I have covered over the years have been numerous, so, it’s difficult to know where to start…

    Daily reading of my bible and being a Berean (Acts 17), examining the Scriptures (which incidentally is my final authority on all things) has been the approach that I have taken. When studying the scriptures, proper exegesis of the biblical text is vital. This allows us to draw out proper implications from the text, which are binding. Only then can we draw forth trustworthy applications for our lives that can be relied upon. A good church will make expositional preaching and teaching of Scripture central to all they do – it is the means by which God speaks to His people.

    A good starting point might to review the Critical Issues Commentaries website (see attached link http://cicministry.org).

    This website features articles and radio broadcasts by a great bible teacher. Bob Dewaay is a pastor who came out of the charismatic movement in the 1970s. He has written numerous articles that ‘debunk’ false doctrine and teaching that is central to charismatic, emergent, mystical and post-modern worldviews. The articles and radio broadcasts were extremely helpful to me. They helped me ‘detangle’ the mass of myths and old wives tales that had clouded my mind and helped clarifying the true meaning of Scripture in many areas that I was trapped in as a charismatic.

    I would also recommend this website (see attached link http://www.monergism.com). It was a life-saver for me. There are many great sermons, articles, free ebooks and links to other useful websites that helped me to ‘join-the-dots’ together of the historic Christian faith that Scriptures commands that I must believe as a Christian. It helped me to build a clear picture in my mind of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ and the ‘rich stream of biblical truth’ that has been preserved throughout the church age by faithful men and women to this present day. It helped me to identify many of the heresies and false teachings that have dogged the church over that past 2 thousand years. You will find that many of the false teachings are ‘rehashed’ heresies that have been dealt with by the church over the centuries… Once you start to study church history, you will find that you don’t need to keep fighting the same battles over and over again… many of the false and dubious teachings today are just old heresies that have resurfaced.

    Let me encourage you…

    Alongside the Scriptures (the OT and NT writings), try and read some of the historical documents written by some of those that have gone before us – for example: Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God’; John Owen’s classic article on ‘The Freedom Of The Will’; Martin Luther’s excellent treatise entitled: ‘The Bondage Of The Will’; The ‘Canons of Dordt’; The Heidelberg Catechism’; The ‘Westminster Confession Of Faith’; The ‘Westminster Larger Catechism’; The ‘Apostles Creed’; The ‘Athanasian Creed’ and the Nicene Creed’. These are just few historic documents that will give you a sense that our Christian faith is an historic faith. Those who have gone before us have been defended and preserved our wonderful body of truth throughout the centuries. It will help build a sense of wonder of the sovereignty and power of God in building and preserving His church. It will help to realise that God is not absent from His creation or redundant from the lives of His people. It help to realise that throughout the generations, God is with His people and that He raises people up to bring His extraordinary message of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ to needy world.

    God, by the power of His Spirit, is with us now, glorifying Jesus Christ throughout our discussion (see John 16:14) and has providentially led us to interact on this website for the glory of His name… without having to resort to mysticism, divination or unscriptural methods.

    The next website that I can recommend is is Grace To You, in particular, a sermon series taught and a book of the same title taught and written by Dr. John MacArthur entitled: Charismatic Chaos (see attached link http://www.gty.org/products/audio-series/219). I read the book, listened to the sermon series and read the accompanying articles. They were life-savers because they helped me to see what was misleading about the Charismatic worldview.

    I’ll provide two more references (coz I don’t want to blow your mind… or enthusiasm just yet), It’s Dr. James White’s YouTube website (see attached http://www.youtube.com/user/DrOakley1689/featured). Dr. White is a great Christian apologist. He has conducted debates with Islamic scholars, Mormons, Roman Catholics, King James Onlyists etc. Dr. White is my ‘go-to-pastor’ for apologetics. The other reference is Pastor Jim McClarty (see attached link http://www.salvationbygrace.org). Pastor McClarty unpacks and explains the Scriptures so well. He’s another pastor that ‘debunks’ myths like tithing as unbiblical for the present-day church.

    Originally, I came across this particular blog by accident. Obviously, I didn’t agree with the position that was being taken and felt the need to respond. It is a bonus and blessing that God has allowed my comments to reach and encourage others (for which I give God the glory). Therefore, I would like to recommend that you go to the Grace To You website and watch the ‘Strange Fire’ conference (see attached link http://www.gty.org/strangefire) and draw your own conclusions about the Charismatic movement that they discuss. I’m sure you will find, like me, that they have raised some very interesting issues and questions that our Charismatic brethren will find both challenging, but life-changing, if they are willing to step back and honestly engage with the biblical text, treating it as the final rule for faith and practice.

    I hope these websites open up a whole new stream of biblical truth and equip you in your loving interaction with our Charismatic sister.

    My prayer for you…

    I pray that the Lord will providentially use this information and these websites to guide you into all truth. I pray that the Holy Spirit will open your mind to understand and believe the truth revealed and use this material to sanctify you and cause you to grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. I pray that the Word of God would transform you so that you become more like Christ every day; and that He would equip and enable you to be an effective witness to preach the gospel to lost souls in your circle of influence, and that through your faithful service, God would bring your Charismatic sister, and many others, to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, all for the glory of God.

    May the Lord richly bless your endeavours.

    Earl

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