How to Cope With Cessationism

Yesterday I received a book as a Christmas gift. It was Volume Four of a four-volume systematic theology. One of the topics supported in the theology book is cessationism. The word cessation is the noun related to the verb “cease.” Therefore, I wold have thought that the word means that something has ceased. However, the author defines cessationism as “the view that some of the (spiritual) gifts exist today.” What a wonderful way to spin it!

The author’s deliberation goes this way:

  • Since an Apostle had to be an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ, and since only persons living in the early first century could be eyewitnesses, therefore the New Testament gift of Apostleship stopped.
  • And, since the gift of Apostleship ceased, and since some gifts were unique as sign gifts of Apostleship (healing, raising the dead, laying on hands for others to receive the gift of tongues), therefore tongues ceased as an Apostolic sign gift.
  • And, since the gift of tongues was received exclusively through the laying on of hands by an Apostle, therefore any person speaking in tongues who has never met one of the Apostles is practicing a form of pagan religious gibberish.

While I do agree that some modern tongue-talking is not legit, I don’t agree that the Bible teaches the cessation of speaking in tongues …or loss of the Apostolic gift.

In Second Corinthians 12:12, Paul defended his apostleship by saying, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.” He did not say that the signs of an apostle were signs and wonders. He only wanted his apostleship to be seen as analogous to the hyperlian Apostles with their signs and wonders. This is not a statement of an Apostolic requisite.

Hebrews 2:3,4 says, “(This message) was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” This passage is cited as textual proof that outward signs were only needed for the establishment of the Church and then were intended to cease entirely. However, the passage doesn’t contain any indication of such a presumptive premise, the cessation of any spiritual gifts. Other passages of the New Testament indicate that the Church could expect the gifts of the Holy Spirit to continue until the return of Christ.

Acts 14:4,14 say Barnabas was an apostle. “But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles… But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd…”

2 Corinthians 8:23 says there are other apostles. “As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are apostles of the churches, the glory of Christ.”

Philippians 2:25 says Epaphroditus is an apostle. “I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your apostle and minister to my need…”

I can’t find any New Testament passage that binds apostleship to the gift of tongues. An apostle is someone sent supernaturally by the Holy Spirit through the Church. This is exactly what the modern church does by ordaining and sending missionaries. Paul’s apostolic travels are called his “missionary” journeys.

Unfortunately, there is an ugly modern view that apostles are loud-voiced people who have a special anointing giving them the right to dominate over others in the church. (Maybe they don’t get 1 Peter 5:1-6.) If these modern super-apostles are truly apostles, then I am a cessationist. This needs to stop.

Not all kinds of tongues are languages known to men. 1 Corinthians 12:10 says that there are various kinds of tongues. On the Day of Pentecost, tongues was languages naturally known to the hearers but unlearned by the speakers. 1 Corinthians 14 says that there someone may speak in tongues of men and of angels. I doubt if any human can naturally diagnose, interpret, or understand the language of angels. In both cases, it is clear that the person speaking in supernatural tongues would not naturally understand either one, tongues of men or of angels.

False tongues does not rule out genuine tongues. It has been pointed out that some pagan religions exercise speaking in tongues. The poor logic says, “…surely God is not giving a miraculous confirmation of paganism.” I say that counterfeits only exist because of the genuine nature of the original.

The promise was not only to Apostles. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter understood that the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit that was evidenced and accompanied by speaking in an unlearned language was premised upon the prophecy of Joel. Joel did not make the promise exclusively to the Apostles. He made it to sons, daughters, young, old, male and female servants.

The author states that Acts 2:7 is proof that only the Apostles spoke in tongues on the Day of Pentecost. “And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?'” Since the Apostles were the “men of Galilee”, and since other members of the 120 in the Upper Room were not from Jerusalem and Judea and not from Galilee, wouldn’t this prove that only the Apostles spoke in tongues? It would not, since the Galilean statement is a quotation of the Jews that were staying in Jerusalem for the feast. The biblical record attests that, true or false, the astonished Jews actually said it, not to the veracity of the statement. It could have easily been an overly generalized assumption about all the Christians since they were in the company of Galileans. In no way would an uninformed statement by anyone limit the scope of the promise of the Holy Spirit to specific recipients or exclude those that were not Galilean.

It has been assumed that the only way to speak in tongues is through the laying on of the apostles’ hands. Acts 8:18, “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money…” However, this passage is a statement of what Simon the Magician observed without any application upon the rest of the Church. There is no reason to extrapolate such a rule of limitation from this verse… unless you want need to perfect your eisegesis (the art of forcing a text to mean what you want it to mean).

Finally, the Bible says, “as for tongues, they will cease.” The theology book pulls these six words out of context and applies them to the end of the Apostolic age. Take a look at the passage in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” It is clearly a passage about eternity, about heaven. When we get to heaven, there will be no need to speak in tongues. They will cease.

Mindless Matter or Creator?

“Either human intelligence ultimately owes its origin to mindless matter; or there is a Creator. It is strange that some people claim that it is their intelligence that leads them to prefer the first to the second.”

John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University (emeritus), internationally renowned speaker and author of several books on the interface of science, philosophy and religion.

If we conclude that mindless matter is the source of our intelligence, it appears to contradict universal processes which are necessarily moving from complex systems to simpler ones. A sophisticated source of intelligence would give birth to less sophisticated intelligence, rather than so much useful complex information appearing out of nowhere.

And why doesn’t sophisticated intelligence continue to arise from nothingness rather than being a result of hard work and study?

How to Find Errors in the Bible

A lot of us don’t understand the inerrancy of the Bible. Inerrancy means no mistakes. This would be possible only if the Bible is a supernatural library of books.

Inerrancy applies to the original text given to the original authors of Scripture. Inerrancy does not apply to the human authors, but only to the specific words of the text. When John, Paul, James, and Peter weren’t writing divinely inspired Scripture, they were ordinary imperfect men. That is what makes the Bible miraculous.

Inerrancy does not exempt a copyist from making a mistake when writing a new manuscript from an old manuscript. Remember, before the printing press, copies were made by hand. The more copies of these hand-written New Testament manuscripts that we find, the more likely we are to find these variations. There are an enormous amount of variations in copied texts because we have an enormous amount of existing manuscripts. In 2016, there were 5,856 Greek manuscripts of New Testament books with an average of 450 pages. (By comparison, the average classical Greek author has less than 15 copies of his work in existence today.) The scholars that compare these 5,856 manuscripts can determine that the New Testament is 99.99% accurate to the originals, and the remaining potential inaccuracies do not affect any important Christian doctrine.

Inerrancy does not extend to translations of the Bible into various languages… including the Authorized King James Version.

Inerrancy does not extend to preachers, evangelists, or modern-day super-apostles. When someone says, “Thus saith the Lord,” it means, listen up and measure each and every word that is spoken against the infallible inspired written Word of God… even if they make up fancy words like “revelation-knowledge” or other bunk to manipulate you.

Inerrancy does not extend to genuine prophetic utterances, messages in tongues, private or public glossolalia, interpretation of tongues, or other gifts of the Spirit. All these must be subjected to scrutiny by the Scriptures.

If God supernaturally inspired the Bible, it contains no errors. If God supernaturally inspired the Bible, it is an authoritative word over our lives. If the Bible originally contained mistakes, it isn’t likely that it came from God, and therefore would not have much authority.

The Bible is a supernatural book in that it is a God-breathed,  collection of genuine prophetic writings, carrying divine authority as the Word of God.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16,17)

(Did you know that when Paul wrote 2 Timothy 3:16,17, the New Testament was still in the process of being written by himself and the other authors. He wrote this about the Hebrew Scriptures that later came to be called the Old Testament by Christians?)

Why couldn’t God just forgive everyone? Was it really necessary to demand the death of His only begotten Son? What kind of a God does that?

If God wanted to forgive sinners, why didn’t He just forgive them and declare it done?

I think the question implies a few other questions. Why couldn’t God simply forgive anyone who sins without all the gory bloodshed? Doesn’t God have enough forgiveness in His heart? Is He not powerful enough to do good without doing evil first? Is God so malevolent to demand the death of His own Son? Does God just enjoy punishing others so much? The was-Jesus’-death-necessary question (WJDN?) points a finger at the motives of God and the nature of God.

Was Jesus’ Death Necessary?

1. WJDN? is not an objective question.

First, we need to be honest and admit that this is not an objective query. It proceeds from assumptions that indicate the anticipated answer. The questioner has a bias and inserts his agenda into the question. The questioner may not want you to examine his assumptions. He may be leading you to his conclusion: if there is a god, he is bad.

I ask you to keep an open mind, examine some of the premises of the question, maintain an open mind about the nature of God, and reach your own conclusion.

2. The premises under WJDN? may or may not be accurate.

To me, the apparent premise is: a person that intentionally kills his own son is an evil person. I agree with that. [a]However, I do not apply human measurements of good or evil to God, the Giver and Taker of Life. That might be a good topic for another day. However, that truth is not the only plank in this platform. Don’t the best illusions need an element of truth to make them credible?

In the question, there are some inaccurate assumptions that we need to consider:

  • Sin is only in the angry mind of an offended God.
  • God is unwilling to simply forgive sin. [b]Saying “I’m sorry” does not reverse the effects of an offending action.
  • Sin is how God feels about my freedom.
  • My sin is a small thing.
  • Punishment of sin is an act of vengeance.
  • Sin is God’s problem, not mine.
  • God is a selfish tyrant.
  • I do not need God to tell me how to live.

Here are some accurate counter-assumptions that will help us understand the question:

  • Sin is in me, not in the mind of God.
  • God is willing to forgive sin AND to cleanse me.
  • Sin is how I feel about God.
  • Sin separates me from God, so it becomes the greatest problem that I will ever face.
  • God is not vengeful; rather He is willing to go to great lengths to remove sin from my life.
  • Sin is my problem.
  • God is generous and compassionate.
  • I need God’s intervention in my life.

Now, let’s use these true premises to move toward an understanding of the question.

God is willing to forgive sin.

A person too weak to save himself could not force Almighty God to do something against His will.  Therefore, if God were unwilling to forgive you, He would never accept any sacrifice for your sins.

In fact, the Scriptures indicate that God collaborated in the ultimate plan of salvation before Jesus was born in Israel where He was crucified. (Revelation 13:8; Hebrews 2:10; John 1:29)

God is actually a loving Being with a tendency toward grace and forgiveness. Forgiveness is God’s idea.

Sin is human nature.[c]Being forgiven does not remove the source of sin.

We humans are inextricably tangled up in a sinful nature. Sin is not external to us. It is in us. We may be tempted to sin from the outside, but the decision is actually made on the inside. (Jeremiah 17:9,10)

Sin is not insignificant because it separates me from God. God’s presence is life and light while sin is death and darkness. Separation from God is so utterly horrible that Jesus was willing to die. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” [d]John 14:6

If I am sinful in nature (and I am), God’s plan of forgiveness would need to involve removing the root cause of my sinful behavior, not only the removing of the penalty of sin.

As a human father, I would forgive my child for not mowing the lawn if the mower was broken. Then, I would take steps to get that broken mower working again. That’s probable not an accurate analogy but I think it helps understanding a little anyway.

God can’t just look the other way and let his children continue to rebel and spread wickedness everywhere. God needs to offer a solution the real problem. God needs to provide a way to transform a sinful, rebellious human nature into a righteous, lovingly-obedient holy nature.

…and that is the message of the New Testament: we can be miraculously transformed by God through the death of Jesus Christ. [e]…and just accepting my sinful old self for who I am is not sufficient when God knows a way to change human nature.

Why couldn’t God just decree that we are holy?

Isn’t God strong enough just to declare that no one would disobey Him? If God wants everyone to be holy, why didn’t He make us that way, instead of causing us to be born with a sinful nature into a sinful world?

I can only think of two ways to accomplish this. One, God is strong enough to force us. Two, God removes our ability to sin.

The problem is that God is love. [f]Romans 5:8 It isn’t loving if someone is forced to love. God is not love if everyone is forced to obey God against their own will. We need to choose to obey God because we love God. This means that we must be born into an environment where each of us can actually choose to reject God if we so desire.

If God were an Vengeful Tyrant, perhaps Jesus’ death would have been needless.

If God had created a race of soul-less zombies to carry out His will, perhaps Jesus’ death would have been pointless.

However, we live in the real world. Sin is in us. We need a miracle. God provides the necessary miracle of transformation through Jesus Christ, [g]Romans 6:5-7 and furthermore, God offers the abiding presence of His Holy Spirit so that we can produce ongoing spiritual fruit.

Was Jesus’ death necessary?

Based upon the gravity of sin and the true nature of a holy and loving God that includes a plan for the transformation of my sinful nature… yes.

Notes[+]

Peace at Any Cost?

 

God tells us to bless those who curse you. In fact, it is reinforced in the New Testament at least three times.

Matthew 5:44. “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…”

Luke 6:27-31.  “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

Romans 12:14. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”

So then, wouldn’t you think that church people are expected to humbly accept every and all forms of abuse and insult? For example, wouldn’t these verses indicate that anyone can come into your church on Sunday morning and start cursing everyone, and all you can do is offer them the microphone and a complimentary glazed donut?

The Bible says to bless those who curse you. However, it isn’t the only thing the Bible says.

Jesus’ objective was that we live at peace with one another, that we should be peacemakers, but when his disciples were rebuking the children, Jesus did not welcome their poor attitudes. He became indignant (ἀγανακτέω) and corrected them publicly. When Jesus saw that temple worship had been twisted into an opportunity for financial exploitation, he physically blocked people from doing business and flipped their tables and chairs, and rebuked them. Why didn’t he bless them? That is something to think about.

The truth is that Christians are not called to embrace any and all kinds of speech and behavior. It does not promote peace to tolerate everyone who wants to destroy the peace of God that comes through the gospel.

Paul instructed us not to tolerate anyone perverting the Gospel:

Galatians 1:6-9. “ I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

John commanded us not to bless those who sin and deceptively spread false doctrine:

2nd John 9-11.   Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.

Paul directed the church to remove a persistently divisive person:

Titus 3:9,10. But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.

Paul gave straightforward instruction on how to deal with a sexually immoral person who calls himself a brother:

1 Corinthians 5:4,5. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

It would be wrong to submit to EVERY kind of opposition just so that we can have peace. There is a time to speak out and act up. At least, Jesus, Paul, and John thought so.

Christians must place a high value on making peace and forgiveness. Please don’t use any scriptures as an excuse to continue unforgiveness toward someone or to display anger and bitterness. Seek peace and pursue it… Pursue peace with all people… Let the peace of God rule in your heart… If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men…

Yet, don’t sacrifice everything sacred upon the altar of peace.

How do we know when to answer with blessing and when to answer with a rebuke? Know the Scriptures. Rely upon the Holy Spirit. Seek wisdom and agreement with mature followers of Christ. Pray.