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.