Monday, November 28, 2005
I was reminded of my underemployment during my church's recent Thanksgiving services. In these services, people of all ages rose to offer thanks to the Lord for His blessings during the last year. Almost without exception, each adult gave thanks for their spouse and their children, and many specifically thanked God for the blessing they enjoyed of serving as husband/father or wife/mother. It was clear from these testimonies that relationships are at the very center of their lives.
My situation is quite different than theirs. To be sure, I have relationships. All of my family members are alive and well: father, mother, and brother. I have relationships with people at church and with people at work. I have friends. However, during the time I spend at home, I'm on my own. I am responsible for one person: me.
This is a really peculiar situation, because I really, truly have a heart to give to others. During the preceding season when I enjoyed several close friendships, I was never happier than when I had opportunity to help my friend with this or that, even if all that I could do was to listen. Although (like all men) I'm a son of Adam, I believe that God gave me a measure of grace to be a help and encouragement to my friends. In the case of my last close friend, I was able to help her along through some very difficult times until she went and found herself a husband. Since then, I've found myself to be lacking in opportunities for building close relationships.
Since I have plenty of time on my own, I have lots of time to think, so one of the things I've thought about is whether there's anything I might do to help obtain fuller employment. For much of the last five years, I invested lots of time, effort, and expense in trying to meet single Christian women. Although I learned and grew a great deal through my efforts, the bottom line is that God didn't see fit to bless them. On some occasions, He most clearly hindered my efforts to spend one-on-one time with a single lady. As for friendships, I enjoy cordial and edifying contacts with several folks, but they're all busy people who already have a full slate of relationships and responsibilities, so there's really been no opportunity for me to get very close to any of them. As for the online world, I seem to be best suited to fill a small place there, too.
Thus, God has left me to pretty much fend for myself. In many ways, this has been good for me. For much of my life, I had a tendency to lean on other people rather than Christ for support, so this season has given me much opportunity to learn how to trust Him rather than man. This is a lesson that's helped me to put my human relationships in proper perspective. Also, I've learned to take care of more and more mundane day-to-day tasks without running to other people for help. In all this, I've learned much about how to take best advantage of the situation in which God has placed me.
Occasionally, I find myself thinking about one of my favorite Biblical persons: Joseph. During his lengthy stretch as a bondservant and prisoner, Joseph suffered much injustice and was no doubt lacking in close relationships, but yet by God's grace he managed to conduct himself in a God-honoring manner. Sadly, my attitude often falls far short compared to Joseph's. Instead of being content to fill a small place (should that be God's will), I often find myself resenting my lonely lot and pining for fuller employment and responsibility. Although I largely manage to submit to God's providence, I fear that I don't always do so cheerfully. No doubt my season of underemployment will continue until I learn to submit willingly and cheerfully to God's sovereign plan, even if the place He has for me is very, very small indeed. Perhaps this is why He's left a man who's eager and willing to give his life in loving service to others in an underemployed situation for such a long time. Hopefully, Lord willing, I will one day be blessed with greater opportunities for loving service. Until then, I must strive to be content with the small influence I have and use my ample free time in the most profitable way, trusting that God has a good purpose for everything He brings into my life.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
The example of this family is not an isolated one. In fact, I know of quite a few other families whom I could characterize in equally glowing terms. Contrary to today's worldly thinking, which presumes that pretty much any form of strict discipline is tantamount to child abuse, I have seen the evidence with my own eyes: strict but loving discipline carried out in a consistent and diligent manner is the very best favor we can do for our children. Although all people ought to abhor overly harsh discipline that's carried out in an angry, unloving manner, proper discipline is the most loving thing we can give our children.
Not (yet) a parent, but once a child,
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Punishing the good with the bad
Thus, it's with a fair degree of bewilderment that I've followed the recent developments surrounding Sony BMG's failed CD copy protection scheme. Please follow the link for details, but in a nutshell, the issue is that Sony started to put DRM (digital rights management) software on their new CDs, and that software turned out to mess up people's Windows PCs big time. (It has no effect on standalone CD players, Macs, or PCs that run Linux.) The software, intended to limit CD buyers to making a maximum of three copies, was so poorly designed that it provided a platform for at least one new Windows virus.
To be frank, I think Sony BMG's move was a big mistake in practically every way. On the other hand, I understand Sony's concerns about the rampant "sharing" of music, and can see why they'd like to come up with a way to stem the flow of illegally copied music. However, I am of the opinion that DRM is the exact wrong way to go about solving the problem. For one thing, DRM as implemented by Sony and other vendors has always caused the legitimate purchasers of CDs to suffer inconvenience and outright infringement of their rights as lawful customers. At least in the US, copyright law incorporates a concept called "fair use" that allows the person who buys a CD to make copies for his own personal use. (Fair use, as I understand it, does not allow one to make copies for friends, even for free.) Along with hindering the illegal distribution of digital media, Sony's implementation of DRM interferes with the fair use rights of legitimate purchasers. Thus, they end up hurting the very people they ought to encourage: the people who willingly pay money for their products!
Incidentally, DRM is not going to stop all forms of copying. Even if a DRM scheme could be perfected to the extent that it hinders making digital copies of the CD, there is no means that can prevent someone from hooking up an audio cable between their sound card output and the input of a PC or stereo device that is capable of capturing the music, albeit in analog form. (This method cannot be circumvented, to my knowledge, by any DRM scheme: the sound card output is the way the sound gets to the speakers or headphones, so without it there's no music to which to listen!) This method results in a degree of sonic degradation, naturally, but given that the very act of encoding a song into MP3 format degrades the sound quality to a degree, I suspect that most listeners would be willing to put up with the small amount of background noise or distortion that would be introduced by capturing CD tracks via an analog method. Mark my words: if Sony and company manage to hinder both legitimate purchasers and illegitimate copiers from making digital copies of their products, the bad guys will have no problem with switching to the analog approach for copying music from CDs.
Don't get me wrong. I think illegal file sharing is a violation of copyright law as well as a failure to respect the right of the musicians to be paid for their hard work. I have no sympathy for illegal file sharers. Nonetheless, I think the recording industry's response to them is wrong-headed at best. Instead of trying to persuade music lovers that illegal sharing is morally wrong, they are trying to hinder all types of copying, whether legal and illegal, thus incurring the risk of alienating many folks who presently do the right thing by paying for their music. In my opinion, this is exactly the wrong approach, one that Sony and its competitors will regret if they fail to come to their senses. If they were instead to treat their customers with respect, providing them with extra value in the legitimate product that cannot be had in a downloaded digital copy, and respecting their fair use rights, they might have a chance to restore their tattered reputation. If they don't wise up, I suspect that many folks whose consciences are not as sensitive as mine will give up on purchasing legitimate CDs entirely in favor of illegal file sharing. As for me, I might simply decide to be content with the many CDs I already own and no longer buy any more. Although I haven't been able to think of a good way to balance the rights of legal buyers with the abuse of illegal copiers, I am certain that it is counterproductive for a business to punish their good customers as Sony has just tried to do.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Notes from the field
As you'll note from the list of archive links to the left of this page, I've been writing this blog since February of this year. During most of this time, my readership has been small--usually fewer than ten visitors a day--friendly, and loyal. Practically everyone who visited was largely like-minded on most doctrinal issues. Once the cessationism issue came around, a lot of new folks started visiting, with a surprisingly large percentage who espoused views on some points that were quite different than my own. Thus, in one "swell foop", I found myself swept up in a tidal wave that carried me from quiet, peaceful waters to a turbulent sea. For a few days, adrenaline-fueled enthusiasm seemed to carry me through, but this weekend I began to realize that I'm not ready to sail the ocean blue quite yet. :-)
One of the things I've learned during this last tumultous week is that the blogsphere has some rather unique features that set it apart from the more old-fashioned means of written communication. One of these features has to do with the short article format of most blog posts, and the other has to do with the commenting feature. Whereas the first feature encourages bloggers to break up their thoughts into small chunks, the other encourages blog readers to immediately begin discussing, debating, praising, or decrying what the blogger has written. There are many benefits to this state of affairs, especially when the subject under discussion lends itself to short and sweet "sound bytes", but I've noticed this past week that it does not lend itself to subjects that require a more thoughtful and detailed exposition. Once I make a new blog post, my writing is fair game for any and all comers to praise to the skies, rip into shreds, or any combination thereof. :-) By comparison, a book is made up of chapters (similar to a blog post), but the one-piece format of the book tends to encourage the reader to react to it as a whole. When I read a chapter of a book, I may find myself saying, "Wait a minute! Where is this author taking his argument?", but I usually postpone final judgment until I've finished the book, for experience has taught me that the author may turn out to have had a very different meaning once I've read the whole book than what I'd thought upon reading only the first part of the book.
As several folks have remarked during The Great Cessation Debate, cessationism--or non-cessationism, for that matter--doesn't stand or fall on a single proof-text. Instead, it's a doctrine that must be gleaned from the examination of the whole of Scripture by comparing Scripture against Scripture in context using the rules of sound exegesis. A number of books have been written on the question of the cessation or continuation of the spiritual gifts. In each case, it took the author more than one chapter, and often hundreds of pages, to adequately defend his view. As I read such a book, I'm certainly evaluating the author's argument "on the fly", but yet I reserve final judgement until I've finished reading. During our present debate, I've noticed a tendency to do something very similar to reading just a chapter or two of a book before coming to a final judgment of the author's argument. Although this is an excellent way to generate lots of heat, I think it's not a great way to cast much light.
In our debate, I've noticed a peculiar thing. Although the vast majority of the participants would claim to hold to Reformed theology, and the vast majority of Reformed believers are cessationists (or so I thought), the majority of the folks who are actively involved in the debate seem to be non-cessationists. In a way, this makes a lot of sense. In the marketplace, a dissatisfied customer is much more likely to give feedback to a merchant than a satisfied customer. Likewise, in a debate, a party who has been put on the defensive (in this case, by Phil Johnson's criticism of modern-day prophecy) is likely to be more strongly motivated to take to the guns than the party who thinks that he's got the stronger forces behind him. I think this most likely explains why the cessationists have been less vocal than the non-cessationists. Thus, cessationists such as myself seem to find ourselves in the rather awkward position of being outnumbered by the minority. :-)
I have said all this so far with two purposes: (1) to share my "take" on the give and take of blogdom in general and the cessation debate in particular and (2) to explain that I'm going to be handling my future posts on cessationism in a slow and easy manner. As I mentioned earlier, some subjects require that time be taken to throughly deal with them, and I believe that cessationism is one of those subjects. Also, this is my very first Internet debate of any substance, so I've not had any previous occasion to engage in any kind of through exegesis. If I'm going to continue my expositions on cessationism, I'm simply going to have to take my time. I'm neither a theologian nor a pastor, just a church member who takes the sufficiency of Scripture very seriously, so I'm not well-practiced at this kind of thing. That's the biggest reason why you're likely to find the occasional hole in my argumentation: it's not that my position isn't tenable (I have many theological juggernauts on my side :-) ), but rather that I'm not the most qualified person to take the lead on defending an important doctrine of the faith. Although the cessationist position warrants a strong defense, I'm just not the man to lead it. Additionally, since it's going to take me time to lay out my position, I'm just not in a position to defend individual posts in a piecemeal manner until I've had a chance to speak my entire piece. Until I have, y'all are welcome to comment all you like, but I'm not going to be paying a whole lot of attention most of the time. For one thing, the questions and issues you come up with during the early stages of my argument may well end up being answered once I get farther along, so I'd rather invest my energies on writing the posts than writing up all sorts of comments that cover the same ground that I'm going to cover later.
So, here's what I have in mind at this point: I'm hoping to continue researching the Biblical texts that are relevant to the cessation of the spiritual gifts, and as I do so I'll write an occasional post on what I find. In between, I may write additional thoughts on cessation and spiritual gifts or even on unrelated subjects, or I might not even write at all. So long as I remain in the process of spelling out my position in detail, I'm not going to invest much effort in defending the "bleeding chunks" I write. Although I have no intention of turning off commenting on my blog, I'm not going to be writing many comments. (I'd really appreciate it, though, if my cessationist readers would help me by answering the non-cessationists.) Once I've said my piece, I'm sure I'll be in a much better position to conduct a reasonable debate with my very vocal "opponents", but until then I'm going to concentrate on saying my piece.
As for the cessationism debate in general, I'm just not the guy to be on the forefront of the cessationist forces. Don't even ask: I won't do it. I'm just a grunt in the trenches who'd like to get some experience with defending what I believe. If you're a non-cessationist and want to deal with the big guys, wait until someone like Phil Johnson gets around to writing on the subject. As my cessationist friends, I'd much appreciate it if we'd speak up and work together a little more. As a debate newbie, I'd very much appreciate your assistance in helping me to improve my posts as well as responding to the non-cessationist multitudes. I'm really, really not up to fighting this battle "solo", and in fact I don't think I should. After all, Christ Himself appointed twelve apostles, not just one super-apostle.
In closing, don't be surprised if you don't see any posts from me for a while. I may need some time to research and think about the issue before I write further. Although this is an important issue, it's not worth getting myself unnecessarily stressed about. In the meantime, thanks for your patience.
[Update: 11:54 AM Nov. 15 2005]
Since I wrote the above, Phil Johnson has reminded us, in his inimitable manner, that the subject he's discussing remains modern-day prophecy, not cessation. After reading his article, I've put some further thought into the issue, and have decided that I'm going to emulate his example and suspend posting on cessationism for the foreseeable future. To be honest, I didn't much enjoy the tone of much of the recent discussion. I thought it was a useful discussion at first, so I'm disappointed that it didn't turn out to be all that edifying in the end.
As for whether I'm going to post on the subject of modern-day prophecy, I'm not yet decided. For now, I'm most likely going to lurk in the background and listen to what other folks are saying. Personally, I think Phil and some of the commenters on his blog are saying a lot of the stuff I'd like to say, but better, so I think my side is in good hands.
So, unless I decide to plunge back into the debate later on, I think I'm most likely going to steer this blog back to its old, obscure, and (in)scrutable ways. It was fun to discuss prophecy, etc., and it was cool to have so many visitors for a few days, but this whole experience has taught me that I don't much enjoy contentious discussions. Besides, there's other things I'd rather talk about right now.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Cessation #1: the Perfect Has Come
However, there is a sense in which I've already grown up, for I attained the state of maturity over twenty years ago. No, I don't mean to say that my degree of maturity reached its peak way back then. In fact, I've matured a great deal since I first moved out of my family's house and set up a household of my own. Nonetheless, the fact remains that I attained maturity when I was no longer dependent on my parents to care for me and was able to take care of myself. At that time, I put aside childish things and became a grown man.
Although no analogy is perfect, I think this one can be used to shed considerable light on the history of the church of Jesus Christ. The church was born, as all agree, on the day of Pentecost with the mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and their cohorts. With the church's birth began the period we might call the childhood of the church. Many Christians have looked back on the early church with a nostalgic eye, thinking of its early history as something of a golden age. Although this thinking is not altogether unfounded, there remains a real sense in which the early church was immature. No one blames a young child for his immaturity: he is expected to be immature. Likewise, when I point out the immaturity of the early church, I do not mean to lay blame but merely to point out a self-evident fact. The early church, like a young child, had a great deal to learn, and needed much special teaching and guidance in shepherd it through to maturity. Through the ministry of the apostles, prophets, and other gifted men, many of whom possessed mighty spiritual gifts, God taught the church everything it needed to know in order to stand on its own two feet. In due time, once the church had reached the stage of maturity, He withdrew these gifted men and left the church to fend for itself with the twin aids of the completed Scriptures and the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit.
Paul, like all of the apostles, functioned as a prophet, and it is in this office that he provided the young church of Corinth with a prophetic nutshell history of the early church. This prophecy is found in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 (NKJV):
8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
One thing is clear about this passage right at the beginning: the gift of prophecy is going to cease along with all of the other extraordinary spiritual gifts that were so abundant during the childhood of the church. As for when the gift will cease, a casual reading of verse 10 might encourage the answer, "Why, with the return of Christ, of course. Surely the church won't enjoy perfection until He comes again." However, this reading of the word "perfect" falls short of doing justice to Paul's original language in Greek. Walter Chantry addresses this issue in his book, Signs of the Apostles (pages 50 and 51):
When and why they [the spiritual gifts] must disappear from the church is clearly stated in verses 9-12. Knowledge and prophecy were only partial and imperfect forms of revelation. But there is something 'perfect' coming. At once our minds think of heaven. That is the perfect state. But the word translated 'perfect', in its New Testament usage, does not always mean ideally perfect. The very same word is used again in 1 Corinthians 14:20, where it is translated 'men'. The idea is 'mature' in contrast with 'childish'. That this meaning of the word is intended in 13:10 is quite clear from the continuation of the contrast with 'childish' in verse 11. When fully-matured or adult revelation comes, then the partial revelations of a childish state will be put away.
The amazing gifts catalogued in chapter 12 would only serve for an inferior situation. There partial usefulness consigned them to a temporary state. But there is no need to cling to these gifts. Does a full-grown man cling to childish speech, understanding, and thought [v. 11]? When the man is mature he puts away childish things. Similarly the manly words, thoughts, and satisfying insights of a completed Scripture will cause the church to outgrow the childhood of charismatic revelations.
Regarding verse 12, Chantry goes on to explain that Paul is continuing to contrast the "now"--the childhood of the church--with the "then": the church's coming maturity. Given the context provided by the verses immediately preceding, Paul is talking about the near-future falling away of the gifts and not of the final heavenly state. According to Chantry, Paul is saying that the revelation that's imparted through the charismatic gifts is like "seeing through a glass darkly" compared with the knowledge that would be had once the Scriptures were completed and the need for prophecy done away. He writes (page 52):
In the Old Testament, Moses stood as the great prophet who spoke to God 'mouth to mouth, even apparently'. Other prophets received 'dark speeches' and 'similitudes' by the obscure means of 'visions' and 'dreams'. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ stands as the great prophet who dwelt in the bosom of the Father and has declared him. His full and complete revelation of the Father was inscripturated by the apostles. Other 'charismatic' revelations were the equivalent of seeing through a glass imperfectly transparent (like Old Testament dreams and visions). They gave only partial disclosure, 'darkly' (that is, 'in a riddle'). By comparison, receiving Scripture was coming 'face to face' with God. It is the 'familiar' approach to God by his Son, Jesus Christ. Verse 12 summarizes the necessity for miraculous gifts to cease!
This reminds me of Hebrews 9:1-10:18, which reveals how Christ is the fulfillment of the types and shadows of the Old Testament. Whereas the message of the Old Testament prophets revealed Christ through types and symbolic language, the completed New Testament reveals Him plainly in all His Glory. Thus, in the revelation of Christ we have come face-to-face with God!
I believe that Chantry has stated the case quite clearly. If in fact Paul used the Greek word translated "perfect" in 13:10 in the sense of "mature", then he was foretelling that the charismatic gifts would cease with the church's attainment of maturity. Paul's comparison of the 'types and shadows' of the OT with the clarity of NT revelation further confirms that prophecy was no longer needed once Christ was fully revealed. The history of the church shows that no further Scripture was written after John completed Revelation. By that time, the charismatic gifts had fallen out of use. Thus, history confirms that the maturity of the church took place with the completion of Scripture. The perfect has come, so the gifts have ceased.
Friday, November 11, 2005
Cessation: a position paper
This morning, it occurred to me that my church's Web site has a position paper on spiritual gifts. I've just finished reading it, and I must say I found it to be an excellent defense of the cessationist position on the spiritual gifts. As I read it, I didn't notice any disagreement with my view. In fact, I was struck by how many times the paper makes specific points that I myself have made on this blog and elsewhere. I especially appreciated this portion of the paper:
[Continuing prophecy] is sometimes presented as a difference between the infallible prophecy used for the objective revelation of Scripture and a lesser “congregational prophecy” which may be in error because of flawed communication through present-day vessels. Too much is made of Agabus’ prophecy as an example of prophecy only for local congregations. After all, it was recorded in Scripture. Further, some use Agabus as an example of prophecy which may not be communicated accurately by the vessel. The prophecy of Agabus has, by no means, been proved flawed. This is a very hermeneutically flawed argument, using a disputed historical text to establish a doctrine of continued lesser congregational prophecy.
Along with this view is the possibility of visions, dreams, tongues, interpretation of tongues, and words of wisdom as present-day revelations of God, yet not equal to the infallible revelations of Scripture because the vessel may not understand or communicate them accurately. This very argument has been used by some liberal theologians who hold to a form of biblical inspiration yet who deny inerrancy. As John A. T. Robinson once remarked, “I believe that John wrote the Gospel, but who can trust the memory of an old man.” There is little difference between Robinson’s view of inspired erroneous Scripture and this other view of possibly erroneous prophecy. What if the believer is prophesied to act upon a choice of an available job or marriage partner when he is still unlearned in many Scriptures having to do with guidance? Especially, when the prophecy may prove wrong over time? He is forced to choose on the basis of the possibly wrong prophecy instead of relying wholly on the Scripture alone.
The adoption of this lesser prophecy view will ultimately undermine the priority of and the dependence upon sola scriptura. Also, it may create a contradiction between wise counsel from ordained elders versus possibly erroneous prophecy, undermining biblical ecclesiology. Thus, according to this view, there may be continued revelations through revelatory gifts, yet the canon of Scripture is closed as the only infallible and inerrant revelation of God. The LBC [London Baptist Confession of Faith], however, includes prophecy and other revelatory gifts as having ceased since Scripture is closed.
The bibliography at the end is worthy of special note: it lists a number of books that I would recommend as admirable defenses of the cessationist position. As I post my own comments on cessationism in the days to come, I'll most likely be using this position paper as a guide, so I encourage you to take a few moments to look it over.
Just part of the picture
At one point, he comments that on account of my experience and not on account of Scripture, I've swung from charismatic extremism to the other extreme which is "fraught with legalism." Were his analysis of my spiritual journey accurate, I have most certainly jumped from the frying pan into the fire, because legalism as normally defined is the teaching that we are justified before God entirely or partially on account of our good works. If one has any doubt that legalism is a damnable doctrine, sit down for a few minutes and take a peek at Paul's letter to the Galatians: if I were to try to add even one single good work to Christ's imputed righteousness, I would be denying the faith and saying that Christ died in vain! Thankfully, though, I can report that far from moving towards legalism, I have moved away from it. Whereas as a charismatic I believed that one of my good works--my decision for Christ--was pivotal in my salvation, I have since been persuaded by Scripture that even the faith I exercised at conversion was a sovereignly bestowed gift of God. My works outside Christ are 100% filthy rags, so my entire hope for salvation is placed on Christ alone. Thus, I plead innocent to the charge of legalism.
However, I don't think that that's what Right & Blond means to say when he speaks of legalism. Instead (I hope he'll correct me if I'm mistaken), he sees that on account of my experience I've made a flying leap into a Scripture-only mindset that discounts the active role of the Holy Spirit. I suggest this possibility because in my charismatic days, I tended to think of non-charismatics as "Word-only" people: cold and dead in their faith. In fact, I sometimes characterized the non-Spirit-filled as legalistic because of my perception that they stuck only to the cold, literal text of Scripture and discounted the work of the Holy Spirit. If this is the charge against me, I again plead innocent, although I do plead most wholeheartedly guilty to the charge that I hold to the Scriptures alone--Sola Scriptura--as my sole and sufficient guide of faith and practice. Although my experiences were most certainly used by God as a catalyst towards making the transition from charismatic to Reformed doctrine, they were not pivotal or foundational. Whereas I held my former views first on account of personal experience and second because of Scripture, I have come to my present views through my study of Scripture. Although my former experiences help to confirm the counterfeit nature of the spiritual gifts in which I once professed to operate, it is through the study of Scripture that I have found the true doctrinal foundation for my present understanding of Scripture, a fact that I hope will become evident in my future posts.
Also, I feel that I must plead innocent to another charge that's often implicitly pronounced against those who are deemed guilty of holding to Sola Scriptura: the charge of denying the present-day operation of the Holy Spirit. If I were to deny the Holy Spirit's gracious work, I would be forced to deny my salvation, for it is through His work that I came to believe the Gospel and trust in Christ. If I had only the Word but not the Spirit, I would yet be in my sins on account of my depraved nature, for by nature I am utterly unwilling to repent of my sin or trust in Christ. To this day I completely depend on the Holy Spirit to open up the Scriptures to me and to apply them to my sin-prone heart. Moreover, I depend on the Holy Spirit's ongoing help as I go about my day-to-day life, for it is He who brings Scripture to mind as I make decisions and deal with my sinful neighbors. The Holy Spirit is my constant companion as I run the Christian race. Although a more through understanding of Scripture has led me to understand that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit as described in 1 Corinthians are no longer needed by the church and have therefore ceased operation, I most wholedheartedly acknowledge the ordinary operation of the Holy Spirit as He speaks to me through the Scriptures and guides me through God's work of Providence.
Finally, I plead innocent to any charge that I have changed my view on the gift of prophecy primarily on account of my negative experiences with the Word of Faith doctrine. In fact, on this blog, I have already shared some of my Scriptural reasons for my belief that the gift of prophecy that we see in Scripture is not in operation today. Lord willing, I hope to expand upon this aspect of my argument in greater detail in the days to come.
In some conversations, I notice that folks will sometimes listen to part of what I say, then jump in to interpret what I've said thus far as though I've finished expressing all my thoughts on the subject. Since I'm less articulate in spoken conversation than in writing, I occasionally have to catch my breath to gather my thoughts, so sometimes folks mistake my pause for breath as a signal that I've said all that I'm going to say. Such is the case with my posts on charismaticism: I've only begun to say everything that I have to say. Although I've concentrated on my personal experiences in most of my earlier posts, I've done so because of my observation that charismatic belief tends to be based on experience first, Scripture second. Therefore, I've so far concentrated on experience, but henceforth I will have more to say about the Scriptural reasons I have adopted a cessationist view. Once you've heard what I have to say about the true foundation for my view, you may be in a better position to accurately judge me and my position. I've so far divulged only part of the story. For the rest, stay tuned!
My detailed comments to him will have to wait for a little while, but in the meantime, I'd like to encourage him to double-check his usage of the word "legalism." Since leaving Charismaticism, I've come to believe that my salvation is 100% of grace and 0% of my own works. In fact, I don't even believe that I exercised my own initiative to trust Christ to begin with. Since legalism refers to the teaching that we are justified in whole or part by keeping the Law, my post-charismatic stance is the very opposite of legalism. Perhaps you are mistaking my espousal for Sola Scriptura (the sufficiency of Scripture) for legalism.
Just one more comment: although I've lately chosen to focus on the "experience" aspect of my exodus from Charismaticism, that aspect is far from the sole reason why I've made such a vast theological change. Since human communication by nature is made up of bits and pieces of conversation, it's easy to think that when you've heard all that a person has said so far that you've heard their whole argument, but in many cases including this one, you'd be quite mistaken. Although the WoF doctrine and the bad fruit of my experiences were surely catalysts in my exodus from Charismaticism, it was the Scriptures rather than experience that informed my conversion to Reformed Christianity. I will, Lord willing, have more to say about this aspect of my journey at a later time. Thanks to Right & Blond for prodding me to do so! :-)
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
The sufficiency of the Spirit
Little did I suspect way back in 1985 that in the year 2005, I'd have renounced my "baptism of the Spirit" as spurious, and that I'd be rejoicing in being "merely" born again. Wait a minute, let's scratch that word "merely", because I truly feel as though I am more complete than I ever was as a "spirit-filled" professor. After all, look at all the benefits I enjoy:
- All of my sins are forgiven and imputed to Christ's account, thus leaving me justified before God.
- In Christ, I have eternal life.
- I am indwelt and sealed by the Holy Spirit.
- I have the Word of God--the Scriptures--which are fully inspired by God, and which are sufficient pertaining to all matters of faith and practice.
- I enjoy the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit whenever I study the Scriptures or hear the Scriptures preached.
- By God's grace I enjoy the benefits of progressive sanctification, through which I see the continuing increase of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
- On a daily basis, I find that I am constantly in the perfect will of God, as He leads me through the Word as applied to my heart by the Holy Spirit in concert with the daily unfolding of His sovereign will through Providence. Every step of the way, He leads me perfectly and infallibly.
- God is working all things--both good and bad--out together for my ultimate good and for His glory.
Since I've left charismaticism and adopted the Reformed faith, I feel like anything but a second-class Christian. Although some may pity me or even look down on me for lacking the fullness of the Holy Spirit, I truly feel as though I lack absolutely nothing!
In particular, I am persuaded that I have all of the spiritual gifts and graces that I need--and then some. Although I no longer claim to move in the gift of prophecy in any sense of the term, I count myself as far better off than those of the early church who did move in that gift. During the apostolic age, the New Testament was in the process of being written and compiled, so the church's knowledge was not as complete as that which it now possesses in the form of the completed Scriptures. In the Scriptures, I find the words of the prophets and apostles, and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, their words are alive to me to this day. Although I freely grant that the early church had much need of prophetic ministry in the days when the Scriptures were not yet complete, I do not envy them their gift, for in the Scriptures I have all I need.
Moreover, when it comes to applying the Scriptures to my day-to-day life, I have no need of any kind of special revelation. In fact, I find that the Scriptures as applied to my heart by the illumination of the Holy Spirit are more than enough to lead me in the right direction. When it comes to choices and decisions that are not specifically addressed in Scripture--which job to take, which car to buy, whom to marry, etc.--I have found that God in His Providence always leads me in the direction that is best for me, whether that "best" involves pleasure or pain. I have no need for special revelation, a "still small voice", to lead me. He always leads me exactly where I ought to go.
With all due respect to those who insist that the gift of prophecy is still operational in the church today, I ask one simple question, "Why?" As my testimony has shown, God has given me everything that I need in Christ. As far as revelation is concerned, I have found that the Scriptures as illuminated through the Holy Spirit are sufficient for all of my needs, so I need no new words of revelation to add to my knowledge or to encourage me, and since God always guides me rightly through Scripture and Providence, I have no need for a still small voice. The ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit that I enjoy are more than enough to aid me to live the Christian life in a joyous and victorious manner! I have all the revelation I need in the Law, Prophets, and Apostles, and have no need for any new prophetic witness. I am complete in Christ.
Sunday, November 06, 2005
Two tiers of inspiration?
However, I'm not yet in 100% agreement with my friends, for they continue to insist that (1) the gifts have not entirely ceased, and (2) a gift of prophecy, albeit one of lesser authority and reliability, remains in operation. Since PyroManiac himself has promised (threatened?) to address the issue of cessation, I won't touch that subject for now, but I would like to address myself to the matter of today's alleged gift of prophecy.
To set the stage, let's consider the type of inspiration that was reflected in the ministry of the Biblical prophets and apostles. In both offices, an exceedingly standard of accuracy and truthfulness was expected, and rightly so. The prophet or apostle was expected to speak with 100% accuracy and trustworthiness whenever he spoke in the name of God. That was a good thing both for their contemporaries and for us, because the Bible is largely a compilation of the recorded utterances of these inspired men. When a true prophet or apostle spoke, you can take it to the bank: they were surely speaking for God, so you could be assured that you were hearing from God whenever they spoke. Although they were otherwise fallible sinners like you and I, whenever they spoke in God's name, they were always on the money. If they were not, the consequences for them were severe: under Mosaic Law, false prophets were to be stoned to death.
So that's what a prophet or apostle of Bible times was like, but what of today's prophets and prophesying? My continuist friends tell me that those who exercise the post-apostolic gift of prophecy are prone to error. They are sometimes right, but other times wrong. Moreover, authentic predictive prophecy is exceedingly rare, and that's if one grants that it takes place at all. Although no one has yet gone out and said so, I surmise that what they're saying is that today's prophet doesn't predict future events, but instead instructs, encourages, corrects, or comforts the Body of Christ with God-inspired words.
So far so good. I'm relieved to learn that my Reformed charismatic friends are so skeptical about the perpetuity of predictive prophecy. However, I'm not completely at ease, because they're still telling me that are still other types of inspired prophecy continuing on in the church. From what I understand, they have a few main reasons for holding to the perpetuity of a kind of low-octane prophecy:
On the surface, this seems like a fairly convincing argument. After all, the first two points are based on Scripture, and the third point is simply to explain that the same thing that Paul described in 1 Corinthians seems to be taking place today. However, things are in fact not nearly that simple, for in fact this argument opens up an absolutely huge can of worms.
As I see it, the crux of the problem with today's alleged low-octane gift of prophecy is this: although it is conceded that it doesn't hold a apostolic level of inspiration or authority, it nonetheless claims to have a degree (albeit a lesser degree) of God-given inspiration and authority. Thus, if we are to accept the perpetuity of this low-grade gift of prophecy, we must accept a two-tired system of divine inspiration and authority: (1) the Biblical level and (2) the post-apostolic level. The first tier is admitted to be fully inerrant and trustworthy, whereas the other is conceded to be fallible but yet is admitted to be "from God" when a prophecy is proven to in fact be of divine origin. We know quite a bit about the first tier of inspiration, for it is that type of inspiration that's behind the Bible itself, but the question that occurs regarding the second tier is this: what do we know about it? What has God revealed about the vitally important matter of how a lower degree of inspiration is to work? How is the gift to be exercised, and how are utterances to be tested? Let us make no mistake: if God has indeed ordained that there would be a lower-grade type of inspiration, we are in great need of instruction and wisdom regarding how to handle it. Whereas the old-style prophets and apostles were to be treated in an all-or-nothing manner--if they weren't right 100% of the time, they were known to be wolves in sheep's clothing--new-style prophets are allegedly supposed to be handled differently. But how? Where are the instructions?
In my charismatic days, I thought I knew the answer to that question: 1 Corinthians 14. Indeed, there's no other passage that goes on in such length or detail regarding how the spiritual gifts were to be exercised in the church, but yet I fear that Paul's instructions somehow fail to give us any idea of how to deal with a fallible gift of prophecy. Now, he does tell the church to reject the false and hold fast to what is good, excellent advice indeed: surely if a prophecy is evidently false, it ought to be rejected immediately. But what of the frequent modern-day cases in which it's unclear whether a prophecy is from God or simply from the imagination of a well-meaning believer? Often, nothing is blatantly wrong with the prophecy, but yet it seems to fall short of full-blown inspiration. For instance, "My children, I love you, and I have a wonderful plan for your life." I can't point out anything that's blatantly unscriptural about God saying that He loves His people or that He has a wonderful plan for them, but neither can I or should I conclude with any certainty that such a message was inspired by God. Would God have us accept every such "Hallmark greeting" type of prophecy as inspired or potentially inspired because it's not blatantly unbiblical? Neither Paul nor any other writer of Scripture tells us, but it seems to me that to accept such a "prophecy" as being of divine inspiration would tend to cheapen the value of divine inspiration and authority.
My friends, if there is in fact a post-apostolic gift of prophecy, the Scriptural guidance for exercising or testing such a gift just isn't there. Whereas Paul's advice in 1 Corinthians 14 would have been plenty for a church that knew only the 100% accurate type of prophecy--they would have known to kick out a prophet the first time he missed the mark--he leaves too many questions unanswered to be able to tell us how to properly handle a lesser degree of authority and inspiration. Moreover, Scripture is (to my knowledge) devoid of any example of the low-octane type of prophecy. (Yes, I know that some folks argue that Agabus in Acts wasn't 100% accurate, but I've read at least one convincing argument to the contrary, so I won't grant you Agabus without a fight. :-) )
Additionally, the notion of post-apostolic prophecy presents another serious problem: its lesser degree of authority tends to undermine the authority of Scripture itself. Whenever we read the Bible with the Holy Spirit's illumination or hear it rightly preached, we are literally hearing the mind of God. Scripture is 100% the Word of God, and so were the unrecorded utterances of the true prophets and apostles. However, the word of today's prophet is conceded by continuists to be less than 100% inspired, so when a prophet rises in church and says, "Thus says the Lord", you don't know for certain whether he's really speaking for God or not. What a contrast to Scripture, which speaks for God 100% of the time! But what of preaching? Isn't preaching prone to error, too? Yes, but a good preacher can claim to speak for God only when he rightly divides the Word of Truth; otherwise, he is evidently speaking only his own opinions. At no time does he claim to be passing on a freshly inspired "word" from God.
To conclude, I'm glad to hear some of my charismatic friends admit that the apostolic gift of prophecy has ceased, but yet I submit that they have opened up a huge can of worms by asserting the continued existence of a post-apostolic gift of prophecy. If they are indeed committed to teaching a two-tier scheme of inspiration and God-given authority, I call on them to provide the church with sound exegetical books and sermons that demonstrate from Scripture the perpetuity of such a gift in addition to the proper practice of that gift and proper testing of its manifestations. Otherwise, I suggest that the perpetuity of such a gift is open to serious doubt if its only warrant is a handful of Bible verses referring to prophecy, Scriptural silence regarding the date of cessation, and a bunch of personal experience. There are admittedly Scriptural difficulties attendant with the cessationist view, but I would argue that the ramifications of a two-tier scheme of inspiration/authority present immensely greater difficulties.
Saturday, November 05, 2005
The unanswerable argument
In the continuist camp, we have those who are convinced that the gift of prophecy has not ceased and therefore continues in operation to the present day. Some of these folks, perhaps all, will admit that the type of prophecy that was seen in Biblical times did indeed cease with the end of the apostolic age. Others say that predictive prophecy has largely ceased, but other forms of prophecy are still operational. I've noticed many nuances that distinguish the views of my continuist friends, but they seem to agree on several points: (1) the gift of prophecy continues in some form because (2) the Scriptures nowhere say that prophecy will cease with the close of the apostolic age and (3) their experience has shown them the Holy Spirit is still moving today through some form of the charismatic spiritual gifts: tongues, interpretation, prophecy, healing, miracles, etc..
Over in the cessationist camp, there is essential agreement that the charismatic gifts ceased once and for all some time ago, most likely with the end of the apostolic age. For evidence, the cessationists (including myself) point out that Scripture does teach eventual cessation (1 Corintians 13), as well as the evident fact that the gift of prophecy that's allegedly in operation today bears little resemblance to the gift that was exercised by the Prophets and Apostles. Additionally, we have strived to demonstrate that with the completion of Old and New Testaments, there is no need for further direct revelation, and thus no further need for the charismatic gifts. To us, the sufficiency of Scripture is the primary reason why we conclude that prophecy and the other gifts are no longer necessary and therefore no longer in operation.
Thus, the two camps find themselves at an impasse. Both sides are firmly entrenched, throughly persuaded of the rightness of their cause. Some folks do find their way from one camp to another, traffic that apparently travels down a two-way street. Both sides are convinced that they are right, and both profess to hold to the inerrent, inspired Scriptures, but yet they have come to such drastically different conclusions regarding the gift of prophecy. How can this be?
Well, books can and have been written to address this issue by far wiser men than yours truly, so I won't endeavor to supersede their work, but I would like to address one issue that I think lies at the crux of the matter: the relationship of Scripture with experience.
Although I am a cessationist, I will not for a minute argue that the experiences we encounter in the Christian life don't matter. Quite the contrary! In fact, I am fully persuaded that God uses all sorts of experiences--including the mundane trials, temptations, and ups and downs of life--to teach His people many things about Him and His ways. Given that God is sovereignly in control of everything that comes to pass, there is a sense in which every experience we have comes from the hand of God, and a sense in which God has a purpose for everything we experience in life.
This is very well and good when we're talking about the mundane trials and troubles of life, but what if I suddenly find my life disrupted by an experience that seems to be well beyond the ordinary: an inexplicable physical healing, an extraordinary material provision, or even a spiritual encounter that seems to bring me far closer to God than ever before? Such experiences can have a tremendous impact, and the fact is that they do happen to a great many people. Many of us will have at least one such extraordinary experience in our lifetime, and some such as myself will have more than that.
As a person who has had a number of extraordinary experiences, I can attest to the tremendous impact they had upon me. I found it to be impossible to take them in stride and carry on with my life as though they had never happened. Instead, I felt compelled to interpret and act upon my experiences in ways that resulted in my making major decisions, including several decisions that continue to have an impact on my life to the present day. During the last couple of weeks, I have described a number of these experiences in this blog. In the case of many of these experiences, I felt an extraordinary, often overwhelming sense that God must have a special purpose for allowing the experience to take place, perhaps a lesson He wanted me to learn or a message He wished to impart to me. When I first experienced speaking in tongues while praying alone at home, or when I had a demonic visitor appear at my bedside one night, or when a young girl was quickly and visibly healed in answer to my prayers, the meaning of these experiences seemed exceedingly clear: God was speaking to me and leading me, and the charismatic gifts of the Spirit mentioned in the New Testament were still in operation. God Himself had seen fit to meet with me in a very special way, so I felt compelled to react in the manner that seemed most appropriate to me. Thus, I cast my lot with the charismatic movement. Such was my experience, and such is the experience of some of the folks I encountered over on Pyromaniac's blog these last few days. My experience, and theirs, was so powerful and real that it just had to have an impact on what I did and believed. How can such experiences be wrong, especially when I could look in the Bible and find chapter-and-verse references that were so very similar to my experiences?
If you've read my blog recently, you know how my story turned out. Insofar as my time in charismaticism is concerned, my story had a miserable ending. My powerful experiences bore fruit alright, but the fruit was 100% rotten. Obviously, I had been deceived, but how? Didn't my experiences line up with Scripture? Didn't I pray that God would show me the right way? Hadn't I asked the Father for spiritual bread? Given that I had, why would He give me a stone instead? What went wrong?
In a nutshell, my error, I think, was this: I had turned the proper priority of Scripture and experience upside-down. Rather than take the teaching of Scriptures as a whole--rightly dividing the Word of truth--and evaluating my experiences in that light, I had used Scripture as a source of prooftexts, often taken grossly out of their context, as validation for my experiences. Thus, I put aside the charts and maps of Scripture and instead allowed the winds and waves of experience to pilot my ship of faith. Rather than subjecting experience to Scripture, I did the reverse: I used Scripture to validate my experience. Instead of practicing sound Biblical exegesis, I had practiced eisegesis: reading whatever I wanted to see into the Scripture.
In so doing, I managed to twist the Christian faith into a shadow of the real thing. For me, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, not the atonement of Jesus Christ, was the center of my faith life. Rather than cultivate spiritual fruit, I pursued greater gifts. Rather than lay up treasure in heaven, I heaped up treasure on earth. The Name of Jesus--the Name above every name--became an incantation with which I bound and rebuked devils and demons. Rather than seek after a greater knowledge of the Scriptures, I ran from one church meeting to another in search of more extraordinary experiences. Such was, sad to say, the fruit of my powerful encounter with the "Holy Spirit."
Such is my testimony. I have no hesitation in sharing it, primarily that God might be glorified as I speak of the great deliverance He granted me in the end, but also as a warning to others who might be tempted to go down the same path that has caused me such misery. However, as I meet folks who are where I was at twenty years ago--excited over the extraordinary spiritual experiences they've had--I find that they, like me, are so enraptured with the apparent joy, peace, and excitement of the experience that they cannot imagine how such a wonderful experience could ever lead to such a miserable end. In my case, Word of Faith doctrine played a major role in leading me astray, so some will attribute that teaching as the key source of my negative experience with charismaticism, but yet it cannot take all the blame: I had my most extraordinary experiences well before I ever heard of the Word of Faith teachings.
In my experience, practically everyone who loves their special experiences will end up disregarding stories such as mine. Although they will often express true, unfeigned sympathy for how my charismatic experience worked out for me, they are confident that their experience will bear better fruit. They have their experience, just as I once had mine, and that is the argument that I cannot answer.
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
In particular, let's consider the roles of men and women. Although I most heartily welcome the way in which Western society has granted women nearly equal liberty to exercise their gifts and talents in practically every way, and I remain convinced that women were shamefully under-utilized and disrespected in the past, I have noticed a movement to treat women as though they ought to strive to do whatever men do as well as men do it. To put it another way, if men do something, women ought to try to do it, too. Who hasn't seen an article about a woman who's pursuing a field of endeavor that is usually pursued only by men? In such articles, we read about how great of a job she's doing, so good that many of the men in her field are amazed by her talent and ability. Although in most cases I think it's commendable for a woman to pursue a given social or professional role, even if that role is non-traditional, I think it's rather sad to see how so often women who choose to pursue traditional roles are overlooked. Although it's wonderful if a woman becomes a great race car driver or rocket scientist, I think it's just as wonderful if she becomes a great wife or mother. In fact, I would argue that the self-sacrifice that's often involved in the pursuit of such traditional roles is worthy of just as much praise as the often considerable effort that's involved in pursuing a non-traditional role.
Long before human society grasped the notion of the equal value of men and women, Scripture revealed that "in Christ there is neither male nor female." (Galatians 3:28) Men and women stand equal in value before God, but yet Scripture also reveals that men and women are different in role. To be frank, this generation despises the notion that a person's role may be substantially determined by facts of birth. To be sure, the racism that's so long been a cancer on most human societies is utterly evil: the same Scripture I just quoted goes on to say that in Christ there is "neither Jew nor Greek, nor slave nor free." Likewise, the view that women are inferior in value to men is alien to Scripture, but yet the Word tells us that wives are to submit to their husbands, and that only men are to lead and teach in the church. (Scripture does allow for women to lead and teach other women and children in church-related functions such as Sunday School, and has relatively little to say about whom women are to teach or lead outside the context of home or church.) Scripture draws this distinction not because women are inferior in value to men, but because they are given a different role than that of men. In my opinion, we ought to embrace not only the equality but also the difference of men and women! I think past Western culture had a tendency to respect the difference in the roles of men and women but at the same time treated women as being inferior to men, but today we've seen a flip-flop: men and women are equal in value and in role. For my part, I would like to see us embrace both equality of value and distinction of role.
As I've written in the past, I lament the decline of formality in my culture, and I sense this decline most strongly regarding the social roles of men and women. So much of the time nowadays, men and women look and act so much alike, and I think this works against the distinction in role that today's society is so eager to deny. Therefore, I'd like to see a revival of distinctions in the appearance and behavior of men and women in social situations. I find it to be attractive and becoming when men and women look and act different. However, I recognize that we ought not go beyond Scripture. Regarding apparel, God strictly prohibits transvestism (Deut. 22:5), but yet history refutes any notion that any particular type of garment is inherently male or female for all time and in all cultures. In Moses' and Jesus' day, both men and women wore robes, in today's America both men and women wear trousers, and in Scotland both men and women wear kilts to this day. Thus, the thinking of certain fundamentalists that women ought not wear pants is unbiblical. However, God did command that there be a distinction of some kind in appearance between the sexes. Although I would reject any notion that women ought to put away their trousers (or the Scotsman his kilt :-) ), I would nonetheless like to see a greater effort on the part of both men and women to cultivate a distinction in appearance so as to better reflect the God-ordained distinction between the sexes.
Although I am glad to see the increasing opportunities that are available to women in my culture, I am grieved to see how quick we have been to throw aside what was good and right about our old ways. The fact of the matter is that God has appointed men and women to different roles. Although all people, both believers and unbelievers, are responsible to obey God's Law as revealed in Scripture, I believe that professing Christians bear a special responsibility to set an example of obedience to the Lord in this respect. I do not advocate a wholesale return to old ways, nor do I say that old ways are good merely because they're old. Instead, I believe that we are responsible to thoughtfully evaluate our society's view of gender roles in comparison with Scripture, discarding what is bad in our practice and holding fast to what is good.