From a Cessationist Minister to a senior Pastor in one of the largest evangelical churches in the USA:
“In most recent days I have been listening to the responses to John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conferences, as I knew there would be numerous and varied responses to this controversial subject within the body of the church. I was blessed to be able to watch all of the conference over the internet in real time and while I would not consider myself to be in complete agreement with MacArthur’s theological positions, particularly his views on Lordship salvation, however, I think that when it comes to the charismatic branch of the contemporary church, he and the other speakers at the conference were correct in their assessment on the cessation of the sign gifts and their views concerning the contemporary exhibition of these gifts in the church today.
I listened to your response to the conference on an audio clip on the internet and I have read your three-part response on the [internet]. I appreciate the research you conducted in preparing for the segment but I believe that some of your views regarding the validity of the modern charismatic movement are an assumption based upon personal experience and cursory exegesis rather than drawing clear and biblical conclusions based upon the full exegesis of the text, regarding the measure and intent of the gifts, particularly the passage in 1 Cor. 13:8-10, as it relates to the full context of chapters 12-14. While history can be called to the witness stand as a viable statement against the modern charismatic movement regarding the continuation of the sign gifts, it is by no means the only witness the conference speakers produced. Moreover, while MacArthur is more than capable of defending himself, you inaccurately stated in your radio interview that he views the “perfect” as the completed canon of Scripture rather than his actual view, which is that the perfect is the eternal state.1
[The Elijah Challenge response: It is argued by some that supernatural “gifts” have disappeared—but what about power and authority? Dilemma for Dispensationalism (aka Cessationism)]
As someone that regards the truth of Scripture above all else to be the rule for faith and practice I found your views to be less than completely accurate in your assessment of advancing some sort of middle ground between the charismatic frenzy of those that value a so-called “experience” of the Holy Spirit versus those that seek to know and live out the precepts and commands of Scripture because of their (pleroo) filling that is void of such bizarreness.
My question to you pastor, is would you be willing to engage in scholarly debate with me over the issue on the cessation of the sign gifts of the Spirit in the contemporary church? I think that many concerned Christians would benefit from hearing both sides of the issue within the context of scholarship, brotherly love and prudent discourse which would be the framework for this most critical issue in the life of the Church. If you agree, we could discuss the format in order that both sides have ample opportunity to present their case. I look forward to your response and God bless.”
1 John MacArthur “The Gift of Tongues” (http://www.gty.org/resources/distinctives/dd06/the-gift-of-tongues)
The Pastor’s response:
“Thank you, my brother, for the thought and concern you have given this issue. Debate, however, is a waste of time. You will not be convinced nor will I. I respect and admire your passion for truth. I pray God will bless your ministry with great fruit.”
Reply from the Cessationist Minister:
“Pastor, thank you for the quick response. I appreciate your ministry and your preaching. I always enjoy listening to your sermons. I am an “Old School” Baptist from Mississippi myself and I know that you also view the fringe movement of the charismatic movement to be abhorrent. My only concern is that if we do not address the issue now, which a debate could demonstrate, what will happen when they (those that are advancing the charismatic chaos) demand to dominate the worship and theology of the church? It is only a small step from raising one’s hands to cutting backflips off the pew [italics ours].
Anyway, thank you for the consideration and if you change your mind please let me know.”
[How we in The Elijah Challenge feel about “cutting backflips off the pew”: Either dry evangelicalism or wacky charismania: only two choices? Caught in the crossfire between the two poles of the Church! ]
“Thank you, dear brother, for your gracious spirit.”
The Cessationist Minister:
“Pastor, I appreciate your indulgence and your dialogue with me. My intent in conversing with you is one of mutual learning and encouragement as two ministers of the gospel. I didn’t know if you wanted to bother with looking at my attachment or not, but when I teach on the Person and Work of the Spirit, these are the notes I normally use and handout to students, which includes what I believe to be at least a plausible view on the ministry of spiritual gifts (I essentially hold Ryrie’s position, if that helps shorten the explanation some).
By the way, I remembered that you mentioned [the founder of The Elijah Challenge] in your article I read and I looked at a few videos of his conferences today. I will admit that until you mentioned him, I had no idea who he was. I don’t know if you take his same positions regarding the continuation of “healings” and casting out demons, as he defines it, based upon the pattern in the Gospels and Acts but wow. He makes some very interesting theological propositions in his seminars. To be honest with you I found it quite disturbing.
My observation is that he exports theological events (healings to be precise) from specific Gospel narrative accounts that were given by Jesus to his Jewish disciples to authenticate a specific messianic message to the nation of Israel, validating his claims to be their Messiah. He then imports the methodology of that recorded event on the contemporary church and expects the contemporary Christian to do likewise. I am afraid that his assessment of the text is not only misleading, it is mistaken.
This type of teaching violates the most basic hermeneutic principles, primarily that the Bible was written for my benefit but the texts were not written to me directly. That is, I am not to extrapolate from a “will of command,” given by Jesus to a specific person or group, within a specific context for the purposes of validating Jesus’ ministry to a Jewish nation, and then take that to mean that “mountain-moving” faith (which Jesus used as a focal point in a hyperbolic statement to his disciples before entering Jerusalem and experiencing national rejection) is all one needs to duplicate a supernatural feat in this current dispensation.
I realize of course that I could be wrong in my observations and analysis of the propositions [of the founder of The Elijah Challenge], as well as my assessment of the transitional nature of the Gospels and Acts regarding healings and miracles. But if such is the case, then his propositions, given his presupposition that all one needs is faith in order to perform apostolic miracles, are easily proven correct and the cessationist view can easily be proven as being the incorrect view.
He can end the 2,000 year old spiritual gift debate once and for all. Given the right conditions of “faith” however he defines it, all one has to do is go down to the cancer ward at Methodist hospital and heal everyone in the wing, instantaneously of their cancer.
After all, Jesus healed people that demonstrated “no faith” at all in his ability to heal them or in his person-hood as the Messiah (Lk.17:11-19 and the 9 lepers who exercised no faith in their healing). Moreover, he virtually vanquished all diseases in and around the Galilean area during his northern ministry. Healing a few hundred people in a cancer ward would be virtually insignificant in proving his proposition by comparison [to] truly validating his “Elijah Challenge.”
[Our response: Why don’t we just go into a hospital and empty it out?]
I do not want to sound facetious in laboring this point but when I watched the videos today I became as Paul did upon entering Athens, provoked in my spirit when I saw him standing in front of other Christians deceiving them by twisting Scripture in order to mislead God’s people. Do you not see any of what I am speaking of in your understanding of the contemporary movement of these sign gifts, particularly as he defines it?
I look forward to your response and thank you again for engaging with me on what is a most important issue.”
“Sir, it is not [the founder of The Elijah Challenge] who is disturbing, but you. Like my friends on the charismanic name-it/claim it extreme, you are a Gnostic. On one extreme, if I know the “secret” of charismanic faith-formulas I can have anything I want. But on the other extreme, if I have the “secret” of the advanced theological knowledge that you possess, I can walk in correct doctrine. What you infer is that I could not go into a lost jungle, lead a tribesman to Christ, put a New Testament in his hands and tell him to do everything he sees there. Instead I would have to put a New Testament plus commentaries by MacArthur, plus a Ryrie Study Bible, plus a guide to Dispensationalism.
How does this differ from the Christian Scientists, who would leave a copy of Mary Baker Eddy’s “keys” to the Scripture, or the Seventh Day Adventists who find it necessary to give our tribesman a copy of Ellen White[‘s book] to show them how to properly read and apply the Bible? You place the burden of a hefty hermeneutic template comprised of 19th century western presuppositions to lie on the face of biblical texts. [According to you] Before I obey I must know history, and that Jesus was giving those commands and instructions [only] to 1st century Jews. I must forget the simplicity that is in Christ and learn the complexities of cessationism before I can pray. What kind of Gospel is this?
Quite honestly, I think it borders on being “another gospel” crafted by Darby and Scofield and all their colleagues, and polished to erudition by MacArthur and others. If Jesus told His first disciples to go and preach the Gospel and heal the sick and raise the dead and cast out the demons, all in the context of announcing the Kingdom, and then he tells those disciples to go and make disciples and teach them to observe everything He had commanded the original disciples, with what generation did that end?
My friend Pastor O. A. in India goes into desperately needy villages, announces that God has the power to heal, prays for the sick, they are healed, and he plants a church.
My friend and ministry partner D. R. in [Africa] teaches his people to cast out demons and heal the sick, and multitudes, including Muslims, receive Christ. I once helped him baptize 600 people in one Sunday afternoon.
My friend and ministry partner R. H. has gone into the Soviet Bloc since long before the fall of communism, and preaches the hope of Christ, and demonstrates it with works of healing. One bitterly cold day in what was then Czechoslovakia, I was inspired on a ministry trip with Ron to wash the feet of a brother with flu and high fever as we worked in a formerly communist camp, and the Lord healed him instantly.
There are three young women here who asked for the elders to anoint them with oil and pray for their healing in accord with James 5, and now they are cancer free.
My friend J. K. resigned as an ambassador of [a country in Africa] to Denmark to plant a church there in Copenhagen. When I minister there I pray for Africans and Gypsies and other outcasts in the uber-white spiritually dead society. By the way, Jonas’ church rents space in a Lutheran building whose people know all about cessationism. The Lutherans have a dead service of maybe 20 in an auditorium that seats perhaps a thousand while the Africans and Gypsies and a few Europeans have a thriving service in which nonbelievers receive Christ.
Do you really believe you or anyone else is going to rob us of such ministry? Apparently you have little acquaintance with the global church, and what God is doing in it. None of us would see healing as a consumer item for the comfort of fat and happy church members, but as a tool of evangelism and missions. How you trivialize us and the sign gifts given for Kingdom advance!
The reason I am disturbed at you and cessationism is that it would strip these valiant servants of God of the power of evangelism and mission, in the style of the Book of Acts, which you want to lock away in the vault of history. The bottom line: You cannot give me one scriptural command that countermands Jesus’ basic instructions to His disciples. All you can give me is the Western-style rationalizing of a MacArthur and the other cessationists.
Yes, there are extremes, and he has rightly warned against them. But I could easily write a book on stultifying Spirit-quenching cessationist extremes. I did not want to respond with this vehemence, but I believe cessationism angers me as charismania angers MacArthur because cessationism has turned much of the church away from the vitality of New Testament ministry and lifestyle, and locked people into dead form.
I rejoice because you have a passion for God’s Word, and an eagerness to obey Him, and we need you in the battle, not robbing people of present-day confidence in God’s power, but helping them grow in it. As to [the founder of The Elijah Challenge] going into a hospital and healing all the sick: there you use an infantile argument that he doesn’t embrace nor do I. You demonstrate that you do not know him or his doctrine. He stresses that he is opposed to the “faith” teachers and their extremes, and that the sign gifts are missionary gifts.
[Our position again: Why don’t we just go into a hospital and empty it out?]
But you would have him stop teaching the church in Malaysia, in Indonesia, in Brazil, in Vietnam, in Singapore, in Hong Kong… and everywhere he goes… that the Holy Spirit is still doing the works of God today to confirm the Gospel. He rejects the easy-believism of western Pentecostal extremes… but you and MacArthur and most other cessationists I know generalize, painting with a wide brush, labeling us all in one swoop.
I will not lump you into the fold of famous cessationist Ian Paisley, the Northern Ireland hate monger Presbyterian preacher, or Carl MacIntyre, a voice of the past who was a model of cessationist-fundamentalist rancor, or John R. Rice, so cessationist and fundamentalist he even carried out a campaign against Billy Graham, or Bob Jones and his originally segregationist university.
Again, I apologize for my rant, but you have stirred in me all the issues that caused me to reject cessationism long ago. You are free to write me and correct me all you want, but I do not have the time to give to responding.”