Wednesday, January 28, 2009

An Exhortation for the Casual Continuationist/Practical Cessationist

By Andrew Faris

While we're on the subject...

My Dad is and has been a Vineyard pastor for the 24 years I've been his son. Until college, I was a charismatic by default- I hardly knew non-charismatics existed (let alone cessationists).

Right around my sophomore year at Biola, as a Biblical Studies major I began to reconsider the charismatic church emphasis on the gifts. I never was a cessationist, but I started to think, "You know, even though the Spirit still gives words of wisdom, prophecy, and tongues today, perhaps we should just give them less prominence in our Sunday services."

That didn't last long. If charismaticism was an assumption before college, it became a conviction by the end of it. After spending some time thinking through the issue seriously, I came to the following quasi-syllogistic conclusions:

1. Cessationism is dead wrong, and it's obvious.
2. If cessationism is dead wrong, the only Biblical option is full-fledged but non-Pentecostal charismaticism.

Yet it appears to me that many evangelicals affirm step 1 but don't bother with step 2, and it is not because they are all reading Robert Saucy's "Open But Cautious" essay in the counterpoints book (as an aside, what am I not "open but cautious" about in evangelical theology...other than cessationism anyway?). A small fraction might have thought through the issue and arrived with Saucy. But most, I am convinced, simply don't address it. "Sure," they think, "the Spirit still works in the 1 Cor. 12-14 ways today." But after that mental affirmation, nothing.

This troubles me, for at least the following reasons:

1. If the Holy Spirit (i.e. God Himself dwelling among His people for the sake of their sanctification and perseverance, in case you forgot) really does give us gifts, why would we not unwrap them, so to speak? Affirming the continuation of the so-called "miraculous" gifts but not pursuing them is about as logical as affirming that I will die if I don't eat but refusing to eat the food that is right in front of me. I need what the Holy Spirit has to offer. The Church needs what the Holy Spirit has to offer. Why not pursue it?

2. If spiritual gifts (no matter how we conceive of them, but think "ministries"), are given to the church for the sake of its edification, why would we not pursue them? This is the same as saying that we do not think we need to be edified the way that the Holy Spirit thinks that we need to be edified.

3. 1 Cor. 14:1 explicitly says that we should earnestly seek to prophesy. Simple enough.

4. Every Christian, not just the leadership, is supposed to serve the body of Christ. Few if any ministries that believers experience together actually expect every believer to actively participate like spending time seeking the miraculous gifts. Seriously, when has your church ever had the problem that too many people are speaking at the same time and thus making your service disorderly (you know, because they all have edifying hymns, prophecies, and words from Scripture to share; cf. 1 Cor. 14:26ff)?

And yet Christians don't pursue these gifts, and I'm just not sure why. Wait, actually, scratch that; I know of a few reasons why we do not do this:

1. We haven't been trained how to seek spiritual gifts. Like anything with following Christ, someone godly, mature, and experienced needs to help us along with the things in which we are not experienced. Folks like my Dad come into play here.

2. We don't think that we have the gift of prophecy, tongues, or whatever other miraculous spiritual gift we shrug off. But then, if we conceive of these as ministries that God gives us (not the ability to do them), then this problem is gone. We all seek to edify the church however God leads, according to the Scriptures, according to wisdom, and according to the Spirit's subjective guidance.

3. We don't make space in our services for the Spirit to work extemporaneously. In the name of tightly run, nicely packaged services (or in the name of a million other excuses), we simply do not give space when we meet together for people to seek prophecy to edify the church with. Seriously- if I was sitting in your church and suddenly received a prophecy to share with the congregation, when would I be able to do it? For most churches, it would be nearly impossible.

4. Our churches are too big. This sort of thing would pretty easy in a house church and in my experiences has flourished in the small Vineyard churches I have been in. But when 2,000 people are sitting in the same room, it is difficult to manage any orderliness while participating in these spiritual ministries.

5. We associate the "charismatic" gifts with truly unbiblical excesses. This is a big one, and it's a shame; but it's an understandable shame. So few charismatic churches do this well, and I just don't get it. 1 Cor. 12-14 is clear as day: tongues and prophecy are meant for the building up of the body. So if everyone is going crazy with tongues at the same time with no semblance of congregational edification, it all looks wacky, pointless, and unbiblical. That's because at that point, it is. But we can and should be biblical charismatics. At my Dad's Vineyard I only ever knew of two instances where someone spoke in a tongue publicly, and both times it was followed immediately by an interpretation. That is the biblical use of tongues in the congregation.

6. Most importantly, the "charismatic" gifts are weird and messy. I think this is the biggest one. Western evangelicals act like materialistic atheists. Sure, we pray, but we don't expect that God will do anything right away. But if we are going to pursue these gifts, then we have to start recognizing that God does things that to us seem strange. Yes, it is weird when people speak in what sounds like jibber-jabber. Yes, it is weird that people sometimes are shaking and crying on the ground. But as my Dad always said, if it really is the Holy Spirit working, then the real wonder isn't that there is a physical response, but that the frail little human receiving the ministry and presence of the Almighty God doesn't explode on the spot.

Thing is, Christianity is weird through and through. We follow a Lord who we claim died for all of our sins, then rose from the dead three days later, and we celebrate that by symbolically eating his flesh and blood. That's weird, but we're used to it.

It's time we puruse the gifts that the Bible says God wants to give us for our good. Get over the strangeness and listen to the Bible. It tells us to do it, and it tells us how and how not to do it. It's simply an issue of taking God's Word seriously.


glen. said...

"Cessationism is dead wrong, and it's obvious."

Faris, I always like your posts, but I think this was supreme. And sometimes when people speak plainly like this, it's a breath of fresh air in the stuffy roundabout way we talk about spiritual things.

Way to be the one say the Emperor isn't wearing any clothes.

Scott said...

Good challenges, Andrew. I started a series over on Theologica about cessationism and continuationism. Would love any comments - Cessationism and Continuationism

Bill Faris said...

Anyone who take what Andrew says seriously here is in trouble. Thank God.

Bradley said...

"2. If cessationism is dead wrong, the only Biblical option is full-fledged but non-Pentecostal charismaticism."

Hi Andrew, interesting post. Could you explain what you mean by non-Pentecostal charismaticism?

Andrew Faris said...


I didn't have space in this post to explain why I reject Pentecostalism, but I do. But I am a charismatic who is specifically not a Pentecostal.

I reject Pentecostalism because I am quite unconvinced that baptism of the Spirit is (a) not necessarily at conversion, and (b) that baptism of the Spirit must be accompanied by tongues (NB: I recognize that some more recent Pentecostals have backed off on this and allow for any miraculous gift to accompany Spirit-baptism, but this is not in keeping with classic Pentecostalism, nor is it anymore convincing than the classic expressions).

So that's what I mean by that.

Aaron said...

Andrew, this is great :-) though I obviously have lots less experience with the gifts than you, but my logic about their relevancy runs along the same lines. Thanks for the post.