Cessationism & Charismania: opposing poles of the Church spectrum

An email exchange once took place between two Southern Baptist servants of God—one a cessationist still studying in Seminary and the other the Senior Associate Pastor of a very large Baptist Church who personally espouses the opposing continuationist position. The following are remarks made by the cessationist gentleman in the course of the exchange, followed by our responses.

“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 the 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 it was [sic] not written to me directly.”

The cessationist gentleman appears to disagree with taking Jesus’ approach in preaching the gospel specifically to the Jews and then “importing” and applying it to proclaim the kingdom of God to Gentiles today. One obvious problem with this objection is that in Acts after Jesus ascended to heaven the disciples used this very same approach—applying the power and authority over disease and demons Jesus used and delegated to his disciples in Luke 9 & 10 for proclaiming the kingdom of God to the Jews—to preach the gospel to Gentiles as well. According to his line of reasoning, didn’t the disciples in Acts also violate his hermeneutic principles by applying Jesus’ approach for now reaching the Gentiles?

On the other hand, why is it that the disciples in Acts in reaching the Gentiles could apply the same approach Jesus used for reaching the Jews in the gospels, while today we are not allowed to use Jesus’ approach for reaching Gentiles? The cessationist gentleman believes that “the Bible was written for my benefit but the texts [were] not written to me directly.” Are cessationist theologians the ones authorized to decide what part of the New Testament still applies to us directly, and which does not?

“…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.”

We also strongly disagree with the practices of the fringe charismatic movement, and do not advocate “backflips off the pew” and other manifestations of “charismatic chaos” inasmuch as we do not identify ourselves as charismatic. In that regard we are conservative and on the same page as the cessationist gentleman. We are, rather, missionaries interested in preaching the gospel fruitfully to the billions of gospel-resistant peoples around the world who have never heard the gospel. Like the Jews of Jesus’ time, these resistant peoples—for whom Christianity is a very foreign religion imported by their past colonial masters—will never believe unless they see signs and wonders.

John 4:48  “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

Our calling and interest are to make disciples of all nations, including Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and idol-worshipping peoples. Our overwhelming desire is not to see “backflips off the pew” in churches but rather the fulfillment of the Great Commission before the great and terrible Day of the Lord. We have far more important things to do than advance “charismatic chaos” inside churches. Our ministry is to the lost multitudes outside the four walls of the western church on the foreign mission field.

The saying “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” describes well the teaching of cessationism. It is a human tendency to react to the pain caused by one extreme by swinging to the very opposite extreme. Could it be that cessationism today is in part a reaction to contemporary “charismatic chaos”? That would appear to describe the primary motivation of our cessationist friend, who wrote above:

“My only concern is that if we do not address the issue now, …what will happen when they (those that are advancing the charismatic chaos) demand to dominate the worship and theology of the church?”