Archive for the ‘Discussion’ category

Why I’m Mostly a Cessationist

May 16, 2009

The recent debate with Coramdeo gave me an opportunity to reflect, study, and reason through the issue of Spiritual gifts.  Most importantly, I was able to see the arguments and Scripture used to support cessationism.

The title of this post may seem in contradiction to my previous one.  However, as I will show, I still have the same problems with cessationism yet consider myself to be one.

Definitions

Most of the difficulty in studying and discussing the issue of spiritual gifts lies in what the heck we mean when we say things.  To some, cessationism means a belief that God never does any miracles, nor imparts His power onto His people in the form of “gifts”, anymore. 

To some, continuationism means those who believe that the gifts have continued in the exact same way they occured in the New Testament.

In fact, even the term “gifts” is hard to nail down.  If God has given me the gift of prophecy, does that mean I hold the office of prophet?  Or merely that God has gifted me with the ability to teach His Word?  Is not speaking God’s Word directly in the lives, hearts and minds of fellow Christians a gift?  If I participated in a healing through prayer, does that mean I have the gift of healing?  Or is it that God just did a singular work of healing?  Is not a singular healing still a gift?  How many healings do I have to be involved in before I “have the gift”?

Do you see how hard to define these words become?  Alot of explanation is needed before we are on the same page when I say the word “gifts”.  In order to clarify, I will attempt to parse out a difference here:  I consider that a “gift of the Spirit” has been bestowed upon someone even if they only do it once.  Does that person “have the gift of healing”?  I don’t know, but at that moment they did.  You can think of this as a single incidence of God working through a believer, it’s the same thing, I’m just using the word “gift” to describe it. 

On the other hand, the office of healer or prophet is someone that can do it all the time.  Just as the man who holds the office of president is president all the time, if you went to someone who held the office of healer, you would be healed.  Some may think of this as someone “having the gift of healing” but I’m using the phrase office of ____ to describe it because it provides the separation we need when discussing this issue.

I’m interested in discussing these definitions and seeing if there is a better fit out there that allows us a better way to think about this issue.

It doesn’t matter what definition to the these words you subscribe to, it matters how people use them.  The cessationism I have a problem with is the one that says “God just doesn’t do these things anymore”.  The cessationism I have become to subscribe to is the kind that says the gifts are wholly different than they were in the 1st century, and the offices have ceased.  I will explain what I mean.

 Historical Cessationism

Ok, the above term is nothing I’ve heard of before.  Perhaps there is a term out there that already represents what I’m about to describe, but I just thought of this one. 

My cessationism comes from the annals of history.  If you read the history of the church and especially the writings of the early church fathers, not only do you not hear of any prophets but you see them lamenting the fact that there aren’t any!  Think about it from their point of view:  There has been a long standing tradition of prophets existing in the world as recorded in the Old Testament, which continued with a flurry as recorded by the Book of Acts.  In fact, you could consider every writer of the New Testament as prophets as they were inspired to write the Word of God.

The early church fathers would naturally assume that this tradition would continue.  However, it did not.  They all looked around them and all they could see was false prophets who went against the Word of God  (There is a good reference here for that).  The office of prophet seemed to be…gone.

Another exercise could be to look around today.  Are there any prophets?  Maybe, but I haven’t seen any.  He’d have to prove himself and, sorry, Benny Hin is not it.  Same with the office of healer.  Sure, God has and does perform miraculous healing using prayer and the actions of His Church.  However, the office of healer is someone that heals all the time.   Think about a guy like Peter.  If you went to him, you were healed.  In studying early church history, and looking at the world around us, there doesn’t seem to be someone like that.

So, history seems to attest to the cessation of the offices of prophet and healer.  My cessationism is historically informed. 

Why the “Mostly”

I can call myself a historical cessationist but not a Biblical cessationist because Biblical cessationism doesn’t presently exist.  That is, the Bible says the gifts will cease but in describing whenthe gifts will cease, it is clear that it is not now.  Let’s look at the verses used to support cessationism and why I can say that Biblical cessationism doesn’t exist.

1 Cor 13 is one of the more popular ones used: 

…but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part;  10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.  12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

There are many problems with translating “the perfect” as the “the canon” and that is explained in one of my previous posts.  The bottom line is that at the very least, it is just as likely that Paul is referring to “the perfect” to be the coming of our glorified bodies in heaven as it is the canon.  In fact, the NIV translates “the perfect” as “perfection”.  The only way that this passage is solid evidence that the gifts ceased with the canon is if you want it to be.

Eph 4:11-13 is also used quite frequently.  The argument made here is that the offices of prophets and apostles have ceased because the church has been established:

11And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

This point is more well explained in my previous post, so I’ll be brief here.  Basically, it is bad Biblical hermeneutics to pick two offices out of the five Paul mentions in the same breath and say, “those have ceased!”.  If those two have ceased because of the establishment of the church, then all five have ceased because Paul lists all five together.  The only reason a cessationist will say that the offices of pastor, teacher and evangelist hasn’t ceased is because it’s obvious they haven’t!  They use the passage when it supports their position (apostle and prophet) but ignore it when it doesn’t (pastor, teacher and evangelist). 

Also, Paul tells us when these office will ceased and, I’m sorry, but looking around at the church today we have not attained the unity of the faith and are not mature men “to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ”.  That is not the Church today.  So just by a plain reading of the text, it’s clear that Paul is not talking about the current church as to when the gifts will cease. 

Remember, I agree that the office of prophet and apostle have ceased, but that’s just not what this passage says.

Another argument used to support cessationism is that if you read the New Testament, the only people who perform the gifts of tongues, prophecy and healing are either Jesus, the Apostles, or those the Apostles laid hands upon to give the gifts. 

The ironic part is that if really doread the New Testament, Scripture doesn’t support this position.  There are a few instances (Acts 8, Acts 19…to name the ones I remember off the top) where those who receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands immediately begin speaking in tongues and prophesying.  However, Scripture never says that the laying on of hands imparted Spiritual gifts.  This is an non-Biblical idea.  In fact, there are two cases in the Book of Acts that render this position irrational. 

Stephen and Philip weren’t apostles, they were deacons, and didn’t receive the Holy Spirit through the laying of hands (as far as we can tell) and yet could perform “signs and wonders” (Acts 6 for Stephen and Acts 8 for Philip).  In Acts 10, Cornelius becomes the first purely Gentile convert to Christianity.  Peter isn’t even done speaking, doesn’t lay hands on them or baptize them and Cornelius and his family and friends receive the Holy Spirit and begin speaking in tongues and prophesying. 

Conclusion

I look in the history of the church, and the current state of the church, and I see that the office of prophet and healer has ceased to exist.  I look in the Scriptures and I find that I can’t say the gifts have ceased.  I see clear guidelines in how to use them and discern what is actually from the Spirit and what isn’t. 

I also see that Paul emphasizes one gift over all others:  Love.  We should not focus on, pray for or consider important any other gift besides love.

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Why I Have a Problem with Cessationism

April 28, 2009

This is my third post in the debate on the cessation of spiritual gifts.

So far, I have merely responded to posts made by Coramdeo.  But now I want to explain my true position on cessationism, why I have a problem with it, and why I think the spiritual gifts of tongues, prophecy and healing may still happen today.

Here is my Main Problem with Cessationism

It’s an absolute negative statement.  What I mean is this:  even if cessationists are claiming that only certain gifts don’t happen anymore, and the others do, they are saying that the gifts that have ceased never happen under any circumstances

I got in a discussion with my father over this issue and he asked me a very telling question.  He asked me, “What purpose does tongues have today?”  This was meant has a rhetorical question, of course.  In fact, it is not the question that matters at all, it is the assumption behind the question, the reason the question was rhetorical, that means something.  My father, in his Christian life and theological education, which has been long and extensive, has decided that there is no purpose for the gift of tongues.  Unfortunately, “decided” is not the most accurate word.  “Assumed” is the most accurate because no one can know an absolute negative.  No one can know that there is no use for tongues ever under any circumstances.

And yet, that it what cessasionism claims.

Are we really ready to believe that the Holy Spirit would never, ever use tongues, healing or prophecy under any circumstances?  Even if I travel to a 3rd world country where I don’t know the language, the Spirit couldn’t use tongues to speak a language I don’t know to bring people to a knowledge of Christ?  How more useful can you get?

In order for me to subscribe to cessationism I would have to know for sure that the Spirit would never use tongues, healing or prophecy (that doesn’t attempt to add to Scripture) under any circumstances or any time, ever.  I’m just not ready to do that.

A Caveat

The reason I’m not ready to that is because there is no clear cut Scriptural reason for cessationism.  I have no problem with absolute negatives in themselves, but only with clear Scriptural backing.  For instance, Scripture is clear that there is no other way to God besides Jesus Christ.  It’s an absolute negative, and I can know it because God tells me so.  I would have to be equally Scripturally convinced of cessationism.

Caveat #2

If the term “cessationism” is being used to describe a position where the gifts are different or used much more sparingly in modern times, then I don’t have a problem with that stance.  I completely agree that the historical context matters and being two thousand years post-Cornelius Gentiles is not the same as being a Jew two years removed from Pentecost.

It makes sense that the Holy Spirit would bestow the gifts upon those building the church differently than those who are born two thousand years after the church has been built.  However, I draw the line on making absolute statements about what the Holy Spirit will and won’t do unless Scripture is clear on that absolute statement. 

Three Elephants

The reason I’m not Scripturally convinced of the absolute negative, is that there are a few problems with cessionism, or “elephants in the room” if you will.

One of these elephants is 1 Cor 13 as explained in my previous post.  This passage is often used in support of cessationism however their are many problems in interpreting “the perfect” to mean the canon of Scripture.  Again, this was explained previously.

Eph 4:11-13 is also used as a proof text for cessationism.  This passage says that certain offices have been appointed by God, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.”  So Paul mentions them all in the same breath.  Then he tells us what purpose those offices were appointed for, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ“.  Then he gives us under what circumstances those offices will cease, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

What the cessationists do is say that this means the offices of apostles and prophets have ceased.  I have no problem with believing this is true.  However, the office of apostle hasn’t ceased because the Church is established, it has ceased because the definition of Apostle is someone who has seen the Risen Jesus face to face.  And since He’s ascended . . .

It’s also bad hermenuetics to pick out two of the offices mentioned all in the same breath and say “only these two have ceased because the church and canon are established” when Paul makes no distinction between the offices and when they will cease.  Paul is exactly saying that all these offices will cease at a certain time and he doesn’t say that some will cease first and others second, or third etc.  To insert an order here is just bad Biblical interpretation. 

Also, Paul never says that these gifts will cease when the Church is established.  The cessationist crowd must interpret “until we all attain the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” to mean the church.  The parsing out of what exactly this is referring to would take a long time.  It will suffice to say here that, looking at myself and the rest of the church, I’m not comfortable saying that since we have the canon we are “mature” to the degree “of the fullness of Christ“.  If Paul is describing the church here, his description doesn’t accurately reflect any church I’ve ever heard of, in modern times or in the early church.

The third elephant in the room of cessationism ties in closely with this passage in Ephesians.  In Coramdeo’s original post on this subject he says:

I think the N.T is quite evident that Pastors and Teacher are to continue on, but we do not have much evidence that Apostles or Prophets should continue on, and in light of other passages I think it is best to conclude that Apostles and Prophet offices have ceased.

I completely agree with Coramdeo here.  There is no need to add to Scripture and so the office of Prophet (in the Old Testament sense) has ceased and Christ ascended two thousand years ago so the office of apostle died with the twelve.  However, what Coramdeo is concluding here is that since those offices have ceased, so too have certain gifts.

The elephant in the room is two men by the name of Stephen and Philip.  Both of these men were not Apostles, they were deacons.  And yet, Luke tells us that Stephen performed “great signs and wonders” (Acts 6) while the people of Samaria “heard and saw that signs which he [Philip] was performing” (Acts 8).  So deacons, and not just Apostles, were capable of performing “great signs and wonders” of the Holy Spirit.  Even since the office of Apostle has ceased, apparently that doesn’t mean that gifts must cease. 

Jesus Himself seems to support this definition of those who can perform works of the Spirit. 

Mark 16:17-18, “These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

So the qualification of those who can do such things are “those who have believed”.  That’s it. 

Let Us Pursue Love

Let us also be skeptical.  Just because believers can do such things, it doesn’t mean that this does, or should, go on all around us.  It also doesn’t mean that the gifts of prophecy, tongues or healing should be a primary pursuit of ours.  1 Cor 13:

1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

 2If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

 3And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

In fact, in 1 Cor 14 Paul explains in strict detail how gifts should be handled and that the goal should be for the edification of the church.  These guidelines should absolutely be followed or the gifts are not being used correctly.  And if they’re not being used correctly, then it’s not of the Spirit.  Paul concludes the chapter with, “Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.  But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.”

Since we do not have solid Scriptural backing for doing so, let us not subscribe to an absolute negative regarding certain gifts.  But let us pursue the greatest gift of the Spirit, love, and let us do everything for the edification of the Church and be bold enough to follow the guidelines laid down by Paul, squashing any “manifestation of the Spirit” that does not follow them.

The Ceasing of Spiritual Gifts: A Debate (Response #2)

April 20, 2009

Coramdeo responded to my first entry on the topic over on his blog. 

Semantics, Both Irrelevant and Important

In reading Coramdeo’s response, it has become quite clear that him and I are mincing words to some degree.  In some places these semantics are irrelevant but in other places they are very important.  Coramdeo previously claimed:

God still works supernaturally,[but] we rely upon Scripture alone to hear from God, to prove His gospel, and be the catalyst that saves His people

I still see a contradiction here becuase of the word alone, but I understand what Coramdeo is saying.    He explains himself well later on:

Does the Holy Spirit still work today? Yes. Does He still perform miracles? Yes. Does He speak to people or use power to verify people’s messages, spoken outside the scope of Scripture? No.

See, this I can get behind.  The key phrase here is “outside the scope of Scripture”.  Of course the Holy Spirit has self-limited to the guidelines set down by Scripture.

Personal Experience

For the record, I am not with A.H. Ackley when he says, “You ask me how I know he lives?  He lives within my heart.”  That’s not a very good apologetic.  What I mean is this:

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation–having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory (Eph 1:13-14).

Is not recieving the Holy Spirit as a “seal” and “pledge” personally experienced?  What validates this personal experience is the Word of God, and without this Scriptural backing any personal experience is, at best, meaningless if not heretical.  However, this is a personal experience nonetheless. 

 “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16).

Here Paul is specifically telling us that a subjective, personal experience verifies to us that we are children of God.  What could be more subjective and personal than the Spirit of God testifying to our spirit?

In fact, the context of Romans 8: 4-16 is that Paul is describing how the Spirit will guide us because “all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.”  The Spirits’ leading in our minds and lives is subjective, real, and valid. 

Gal 5:16-25  is another time Paul is elaborating on subjective traits that will change with the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the book of Acts, there are numerous references to the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 16:6-7, Luke tells us that Paul on his second missionary journey was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” and then that “they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them“.  Of course, no written law from the Old Testament (the Scripture of the day) told them that they couldn’t preach in Asia or Bithynia.  It seems that the Holy Spirit must have directed them in a specific way, whether through audible words, or an unmistakeable sense in the mind, or some other subjective impression of a lack of the Spirit’s blessing on the attempted endeavor (Grudem’s Systematic Theology, pg. 643). 

In another instance, Paul says, “I am going to Jerusalem bound by the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me” (Acts 20:22-23).  Paul’s personal impression of what the Holy Spirit wants for him, and has in store for him, is so powerful and specific that he is “bound” by what he must do and knows what will happen to him when he does it. 

These verses are in direct contradiction to something Coramdeo said:

You see the point is the subjective really doesn’t matter, what matters is objective truth.

Scripture is saying that the subjective does matter.  In fact, the personal and subjective leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit is a standard theological doctrine and characteristic of the acts of the Holy Spirit. 

Look, I understand where this sentiment comes from.  We are living in a time when the scientific community has told us that only “objective, provable” truth matters.  Our western thinking is that if it can’t be proved with evidence, then it isn’t valid.  And then, many cults and religious crazies came around and showed the world how dangerous and silly “because I feel it” can be, which only furthered the paradigm.  Unfortunately, this is just not what Scripture teaches. 

What I’m saying is that there is a ditch on both sides of the road.  On one side is “because I feel it” and on the other side is “the subjective doesn’t matter.”  Let’s follow Scripture and not swerve so far away from one side that we fall into the ditch on other.

“The Perfect”

It seems we’re still at an impasse here.  I still feel that the problems with interpreting “the perfect” to be the Canon have not been answered.  First, I’ll respond to the argument Coramdeo posted by Dave Stevens.

Paul compares what will happen when “the perfect” comes with two metaphors.  1.  Knowledge of a child vs. knowledge of a man and 2.  seeing through a dim mirror vs. seeing face to face.  Mr. Stevens’ main point is that if we take “the perfect” to mean the Second Coming of Christ, then we will be “mixing metaphors”.  Interpreting the first three as metaphors and the last one (face to face) as being literally face to face with Christ is inconsistent.

The problem with this argument is two fold.  Firstly, “face to face” is not exactly lacking any metaphorical language.  When I meet someone face to face, as we say, I’m not actually putting my face to his face am I?  So face to face is a metaphor for meeting someone and seeing their face. 

Secondly, so we’re mixing metaphors…and?  Paul uses a metaphor three times and then a less metaphorical example the fourth.  What’s the problem with this?  Mr. Stevens claims this is a problem in interpreting “the perfect” as the Second Coming, but doesn’t explain why this is a problem.  In fact, all he does is claim that mixing metaphors is a problem because, “Paul would never mix a metaphor with reality”. 

So now he’s using a non-Biblical definition of what Paul would and wouldn’t do to interpret Scripture.  That is not solid hermeneutics.  It ignores that “face to face” is a metaphor and ignores his own limitations it knowing, with any accuracy, what literary devices Paul would and wouldn’t use and where.  That Paul wouldn’t mix metaphors here is pure assumption.

Stevens also says that if “the perfect” is interpreted as The Second Coming of Christ it would the only time Jesus was described in the neuter.  Good point, and that’s why this passage has garnered wide debate.  However, Stevens ignores two counter-points.  1.  If “the perfect” is referring to the Canon then it would be the only prophecy of it’s kind in all of Scripture (equally problematic to the sole instance of a neuter tense to describe Christ) and 2. the option of interpreting “the perfect” to mean our glorified state in heaven solves both the problem of the neuter tense and the unique prophecy problem.

Two Unanswered Questions

What both Stevens and Coramdeo did not address is that, in their position on “the perfect”, Paul is including himself the lack of knowledge the Corinthians have (dim mirror, understanding like a child) and that the canon will give them full knowledge.  I objected, stating that I don’t think we should be ready to claim that the author of two-thirds of that same canon, an author that was taught by Jesus Himself for three years, an author that fellowshipped with probably every author of the remaining one third of the canon, is lacking knowledge that the canon would provide him with. 

In an attempt to answer this objection, Coramdeo stated:

Of course Paul is including himself in this because the church has not been built yet, nor has the canon, since others like John were writing it.

This does not answer the objection because it is begging the question.  The question isn’t about whether or not the canon is complete or the church is built.  The question is whether or not Paul is lacking in knowledge that the canon would give him.

So, I will ask again.  Coramdeo, are you claiming that the Apostle Paul, with all the characteristics described above, is lacking in knowledge, just like the Corinthians are, that the canon will give him when it comes?

My other objection was centered around another part of the passage that has gone unmentioned.  When describing the knowing what will occur when “the perfect” has come, Paul says that we will “know in full, just as we are fully known”.  Taking Coramdeo’s position, this would mean that since the canon has come, we know God’s truth as equally and fully as God knows us.  Are we really ready to say this?

The Point Is This

I have no problem with Coramdeo not being able answer these objections right away (although I, of course, welcome any response on the topic).  Nor am I saying that since these objections exist, therefore 1 Cor 13:8-13 cannot be referring to the canon.  My point is that since this is, at the very least, a vague and hotly debated passage, it is irrational to base the doctrine of cessationism, even in part, upon it.  If Coramdeo agrees, then we put this aside as “inconclusive” and move onto the other questions Coramdeo has asked of continuationism and the other evidences for cessationism.

Have the Spiritual Gifts Ceased?

April 16, 2009

This is my first installment in the current debate on the spiritual gifts.  Specifically, whether or not some of the gifts have ceased.  Coramdeo is taking the Cessationist position while I’m taking the Continuationist position.

However, I want to say that I don’t associate with any particular label on this topic.  Frankly, I’m just not sure I have a concrete position on this issue yet.  I’m sure that there is an entire spectrum of cessationists and continuationists and neither Coramdeo or I would fit all models across the spectrum.

However, for the sake of clarity in this debate I will hold the mantle of “Continuationist” even though it may not accurately describe me. 

We Must Agree on Something First

The Word of God is the ultimate authority on everything that it talks about.  I know that Coramdeo would agree with this and I hope any other Christian following this debate, or just reading this article, would be on board as well.  If this isn’t our starting point, we have our feet firmly planted in thin air. 

My goal, in this debate, is to make sure that we hold tightly to our Ultimate Authority and to not go places it doesn’t.  This presupposition must be committed to even if it means we don’t get a systematic, concrete answer out of the question of spiritual gifts, if it means holding to an uncomfortable doctrine, or if it means letting go of a comfortable one.

Basically, the cessationist position, as described by Coramdeo, is one where certain spiritual gifts have ceased, specifically tongues and prophecy (although Coramdeo does bring healing in the mix a bit as well).  I will respond to his the main points he uses to defend this position.

One Thing Cessationists Can’t Have Both Ways

First, I’d like to comment on a perceived contradiction.  Coramdeo explains that:

Its not like we don’t believe in Miracles (1), we believe God is working Supernaturally, just that He no longer uses some of the Spiritual gifts He gave to the early church

and a paragraph later he says:

Cessationists now rely on scripture alone to hear from God, to prove His Gospel, and to be the catalyst that saves His people.

These two sentences are in direct contradiction to each other and I’m Coramdeo can clear it up for me.  Scripture alone does not drive salvation and confirm the Gospel.  This is the job of the Holy Spirit as much as it is the truth held in the pages of the Bible.  A supernatural change of mind and an indwelling of the Holy Spirit is needed for true conversion. 

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation–having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.  (Eph 1:13-14)

So which one is it?  Does the Holy Spirit supernaturally speak to God’s children, enter into to them to seal the pledge and confirm our salvation?  Or must those things come solely from the pages of Scripture?

I would assert that even a cessationist relies on this personal, subjective experience from the Holy Spirit to confirm the truth of Scripture.  Just as the Apostles relied on their personal experience of the Risen Christ to confirm what Christ said about Himself, so too does the modern Church rely on the personal experience of the Holy Spirit, however it manifests, to confirm the Word of God.

If a cessationist says they rely solely on Scripture for salvation, confirmation and affirmation, he is fooling himself and he is, ironically, going against what Scripture says about how the Holy Spirit interacts with the Church!

In defense of cessationism, Coramdeo quotes two main passages.  Let’s examine them.

1 Corinthians 13:8-13

8Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.   9For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.  12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.  13But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Coramdeo’s point is that “the perfect” refers to the New Testament Canon and since “the perfect” has come, therefore the gifts have ceased.  Let’s take Coramdeo’s position, and see if substituting “New Testament Canon” with “the perfect” makes sense of the passage. 

Firstly, let’s point out that if Paul is prophecying the coming of the Bible, something he could have no knowledge of apart from a revelation from God, it would be the only prophecy regarding the formation of the Canon. 

Secondly, are we prepared to say that the New Testament Canon is “perfect”?  The Canon is merely a compilation of ancient manuscripts (mss).  Compiled by men.  Several times there are passages (Acts 9, the end of Mark) that are in some mss but not in others.  So to call the New Testament Canon “perfect” we must say that the Council of Nicea got it “perfect”.  Did the Council get it right?  Surely.  Did they accurately preserve the Word of God to be passed down through the generations?  Of course.  But did they get it “perfect”?  Was every single mss copied by hand, passed down to us, copied “perfectly”?  If Paul means to call the future actions of human compilers “perfect”, it would be the first time the actions of humans are described this way.

Thirdly, Paul describes exactly what will happen when this “perfect” will come.  Presently, Pauls says, “I know in part” but when “the perfect” comes “I will fully know just as I also have been fully known.”  This side of the New Testament Canon, can we say that we “fully know” just as God fully knows us?  Of course not.  Surely, this side of the New Testament Canon we have access to God’s truth much more readily than then Corinthians did whom Paul was talking to.  But on the same level that God knows us??  We cannot conclude this. 

My fourth point deals with the same assertion by Paul.  Paul is including himself in the “knowing in part”.  Coramdeo’s position is that the Corinthians lacked the knowledge of the full Council of God as passed down by the Canon.  Paul is including himself in that lack of knowledge that the Canon would give him.  How can we say that Paul lacked in knowledge that the New Testament would give him when he wrote the majority of it, was taught by Jesus Himself for three years in the Arabian desert, and spent extensive time with almost every author of a New Testament book? 

My four points are summarized with, 1:  It would be the only instance the coming of the Bible being prophecied, 2:  Was the writing of the New Testament “perfect”?  Of course.  But does rationality and the evidence suggest that the compilation of the Canon in 325 CE, and every subsequent scribed translation before and after “perfect” as well?  Accurate?  Sure.  Perfect?  Come now.  3:  Even after the Canon was formed, do we “fully know” just as God fully knows us?  4:  We must believe that Paul lacked in knowledge that the coming New Testament could bring him when he wrote most of it, was taught by Jesus, and spoke with every author of the New Testament. 

On The Other Hand

However, let’s interpret the phrase “the perfect” to be understood as “the Second Coming of Christ”.  If Paul is prophecying about the return of Christ, then it would be another in a long line of prophecies regarding this event, many made by Paul himself.  Also, we will have no problem associating “the perfect” with Jesus Christ as He is the only person we can accurately describe as such. 

“The perfect” being understood to be the Second Coming also makes sense out of the Paul’s assertion that we will “fully know” just as God fully knows us.  When Jesus establishes His Millennial Kingdom, and we’re in our resurrection bodies, will we really lack in knowledge?  This also makes sense of Paul including himself in this “knowing in part”.  Surely, even the great Paul is a limited human being just as we are, a limitation what will cease at Christ’s Second Coming just as it would for the Corinthians.

You can try this exercise yourself.  Interpret the coming of “the perfect” to mean the immenent coming “of heaven” that every believer will experience.  If you go through the trouble spots that interpreting “the perfect” as the Canon brings up, you will see that “of heaven” smoothes them over just as well as “the Second Coming of Christ” does.

The ball is now in Coramdeo’s court.  I only replied to a portion of his article because this post is already long enough.  So if he would like to respond to this rebuttal, or have me move on to another portion, I will do either. 

Please, this debate is not meant for just two people, jump in at any point with any position and we’ll be glad to discuss with you.

I’m Back with an Update

April 14, 2009

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted something.  This is due to a combination of a lack of time and a lack of direction.  God has me in a place of learning at the moment where I’m studying God’s Word and wrestling through doctrines, which is both something I haven’t done in quite some time. 

So, in this place, I feel that I should keep my opinions to myself until I have Scriptural backing for them. 

That being said, I have been presented with the opportunity with debating the issue of spiritual gifts, and more specifically their existence in our modern era, with my cousin, Coramdeo over at Wir sein pettler.  Hoc est verum. 

Coramdeo will post his basic position first, and then I’ll respond and we’ll go from there!  It should be fun.  I’ll let you know when his post is finished and perhaps I’ll even post part of his argument.

A Logical Deduction Against The Resurrection

March 3, 2009

Is the belief in a resurrected human being inherently illogical? 

This was the recent claim of a commenter here at Apologia (let’s call him “Money”).  Since claiming something is illogical requires you to logically show it, I requested a logical deduction from Money.  I was actually surprised when he obliged! 

I think his response is a very common one; one that Christians must know how to respond to. 

His logical deduction for how the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is illogical is as follows:

P1: No dead humans physically rise from the dead. (This is a true premise, unless it can be shown false)
P2: Jesus was a dead human. (True premise)
::: Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. (The conclusion, which must be true when both premises are true).

Right away, red flags should be popping up in the Christian apologists’ mind, saying…

1.  ***Warning!***  Logical Fallacy Being Committed!

P1 is where Moneys’ deduction falls apart.  He is committing a informal logical fallacy called a “special pleading”.  The specific type of special pleading Money is committing is one where he is asking us to accept a premise based upon data that is impossible collect.  That is, in order for Money to know that “No dead humans physically rise from the dead”, Money would have to investigate the deaths of every human being on the face of this planet for all of history past and determine that not a single one of them rose from the dead.

Since this is impossible, P1 is invalid.

(Update:  As Neil pointed out, P1 is also committing an informal logical fallacy called “begging the question”.  If the question is about whether or not a man rose from the dead, how can one of Money’s premises be that people don’t rise from the dead?  That’s a great example of begging the question.  Thanks Neil.)

(Update #2:  A big thanks to Tim Nichols for pointing out something else that I missed.  Money doesn’t even have the Christian claim nailed down correctly.  Christians don’t claim that people rise from the dead all the time.  We claim that it was an unprecedented, earth shattering, paradigm shifting event that happened to someone who wasn’t merely human, but God incarnate.)

2.  A Conclusion Can’t Be a Premise!

P1 is a conclusion from another, unstated, logical deduction.  Since, as we said in point #1, Money’s premise (P1) can’t be known by observable means.  Therefore it must be deduced from other premises.  The deduction to prove P1 would be something like this (remember, we must limit the premises to statements we can know):

P1′:  All human beings die at some point
P2′:  I have never seen a human being come back alive
:::  Human beings don’t rise from the dead

See how even that doesn’t even work?  All I can say, rationally, is that I’ve never seen a human being rise from the dead.  It doesn’t follow then, that I can know that no human being has ever risen from the dead or that humans just don’t rise from the dead, as a rule.  The conclusion just doesn’t follow.

3.  The Onus of Proof Is on the One Making the Statement

Referring to P1, Money says,

“This is a true premise, unless it can be shown false.”

This is not how a logical premise works.  We can’t consider a premise true just because it can’t be proven false.  Another way to word Money’s statement is, “Since my premise can’t be shown to be false, therefore it is true.”  That would be like saying, “The existence of a one eyed, pink unicorn can’t be proven false, therefore one exists.”  It just doesn’t follow.

An Anti-Supernatural Bias

Money then switches gears and begins to attack the logic behind a belief in the Resurrection.

Money says:

With trying to prove that Jesus was Resurrected, you have to prove, logically, the  supernatural events can occur within the laws of nature.

Says who?  Who says that Christ’s Resurrection must happen in the bounds of nature?  Money has decided, without reason, that the supernatural must happen within the bounds of nature.  Money has decided what God can and cannot do.  Money is making a theological argument here, one that he has no support for. 

Money then makes another unscientific, theological assertion (regarding the above statement):

…which is a logical contradiction since that which is observed in the natural world is/must be natural, and therefore not supernatural.

Do you see what he just did?  It’s a perfect argument.  Money is saying that the only phenomena that can happen are natural phenomena, therefore the supernatural doesn’t happen.  Another unscientific, theological argument.  Surely a scientific experiment, or a logical deduction, didn’t tell Money that ONLY natural phenomena take place.  Since it’s not from science or logic, how can Money know such a thing? 

Money goes on:

You need to logically show how that Jesus was capable of such a feat. It isn’t logical because it is bound contradictions and unverified truth claims.

Well that, Money, I can do.  Even if you take the Bible as a mere story, Jesus is God Himself in that story.  Is not God capable of raising the dead?

The ironic part is that Money claims the Resurrection must be subject to “verified truth claims” in order be believed.  The hypocrisy of this statement is two fold:

1.  The Gospel accounts, Acts, and a few of the Pauline Epistles are the account of verifiable, undisputed eyewitnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Why doesn’t he believe their eyewitness testimony?

2.  Every statement Money has made so far is an unverified truth claim.  “Dead people absolutely don’t rise from the dead,” and “only natural phenomena happen” are my two favorites.  It’s the pot calling the kettle “black”.

Excluding something at the outset without reason, as Money has done with the supernatural, betrays a bias that renders the discussion pointless until the bias is removed.

Atheists Only Use Science? Don’t Fool Yourself

February 24, 2009

Every Christian who is interested in argument should learn from this example. Atheists and other non-Christians argue in this way all the time, and if we want to be effective in answering them, we must be able to spot it in action.

What I’m talking about is the hypocritical and contradictory arguments used in defense of atheism, and in offense against Christianity.

I was talking with a commenter called “RJ”, and our conversation hit a few different topics from morality, to Bible, to science.  RJ is a cordial, intelligent fellow who recognized that we are at a fundamental impasse in our conversation due to how differently we view things.  However, what RJ doesn’t realize is how contradictory the very structure of his arguments are to his stated positions.

Remember, the point here isn’t that RJ is wrong (it’s obvious that I think he is) and that I’m right (again, obviously I think I am).  The point is that RJ’s arguments are contradictory and hypocritical in their very structure, and the proving of this has nothing to do with our mutually opposite opinions.

RJ’s Standard of Belief

It’s a popular position among atheists to claim that only they have science on their side.  Truly, they believe they are the only ones who use science, especially in comparison to us crazy Young Earth Creationists.

RJ makes this point very clearly.  We were discussing a particular passage of Scripture.  When I explained my view, RJ rejected my explanation based upon the fact that he could not empirically verify my explanation:

That’s interesting. Show me your evidence to support your assertion that “this is no broad commandment from god”? Can you produce falsifiable evidence to support this claim? You’re issuing a conclusion based on what?

The point RJ is making is that since I cannot provide scientific (observable and testable) evidence for my claim about what Scripture is and is not saying, therefore my statement holds no water.

RJ goes on:

The problem here is that you are claiming absolute knowledge of the meanings of scripture.

The implication is that since reading and interpreting Scripture is not a scientific endeavor, then it is inherently flawed and untrustworthy.  RJ is pointing out the inherently unscientific nature of my Christianity which stands in stark contrast to his scientific position.  In fact, RJ makes this point more blatantly:

Ignorance of science, and knowledge in general, is a tactic used by all religions. The less the flock knows, the easier it is to convince, convert and control.

and . . .

If you argue for creation, then we reach an impasse. You rely on “faith”, a rationalization, blind to fact, and posited from a “backed into a corner” mentality.

and . . .

The ONLY way that a creator can make sense to the believer is if they ignore evidence and embrace “faith”.

The part that RJ explicitly left out, but is no less obvious, is that RJ doesn’t rely on faith, and his “no faith needed” belief system is superior because it is supported by science.

The Atheistic Hypocrisy

RJ does us all a favor and defines what he means by faith for us. 

Faith: Belief that is not based on proof

By proof he means logical proof or scientific evidence.  In fact, that is how the American Heritage Dictionary defines “faith”.

RJ’s standard of belief is scientific evidence, and RJ’s reason for rejecting my argument is that it’s based on “belief that is not based on logical proof or scientific evidence”.  That means any theological or metaphysical position that I have is inferior to his scientific position.

This is where RJ’s hypocrisy comes in.  And the worst part is, he is blind to it. 

Regarding Christianity in general, RJ says:

“Which one of the 33,800+ denominations is the right one?” You fail to address this question, BECAUSE in your mind, YOUR VERSION is the right one.

RJ’s position here is that in order for God to be a viable option, there must a be a clear “right one”.  Right or wrong, this is a theological argument. 

More importantly, it is a theological argument in support of RJ’s atheism, an atheism that is supposed to be “all science” and “no faith”.  That there must be a single “right” version for Christianity to be viable certainly falls into the category of a belief unsupported by logical proof or scientific evidence.

The hypocrisy of RJ’s position is much greater than this, however.  He says:

The problem here is that you are claiming absolute knowledge of the meanings of scripture. . .you are doing EXACTLY what EVERY believer does to RATIONALIZE your position.

RJ’s powerful argument against Christianity, that since no interpretation of Scripture is right, therefore Christianity can’t be right, is a theological and metaphysical argument.  Certainly no scientific experiment told RJ that there is no correct interpretation of Scripture.  Ironically and hypocritically RJ doesn’t allow any metaphysical or theological rebuttals because he pretends and deludes himself that he only believes what can be empirically verified. 

Since science didn’t tell RJ that there isn’t a correct interpretation of Scripture, where did he get the idea?  The idea falls directly into the definition of something that RJ takes on faith.

This hypocrisy is no where more blatant than in this statement:

You apparently don’t follow science. This is where we can easily reach an impasse.

As I’ve shown, our impasse is not due to the fact that I don’t follow science, but from RJ’s willful self-delusion that he does. 

The Atheist Paints Himself into a Corner

Let’s revisit the standard that RJ sets before himself in order to believe.  Remember that “Belief without logical proof or scientific evidence” also known as “faith” is bad.  Since this is RJ’s standard, all of the statements made above must be thrown out of RJ’s belief system.  In fact, anything that doesn’t meet strict empirical standards (observation, testing, and falsifiability) can’t be included either. 

Don’t let the atheist switch between demanding empirical evidence and yet using theological and/or metaphysical arguments.  It’s hypocrisy and should be pointed out as such.

A Self-Reflective View of Science, Theology and Metaphysics

Throughout the entirety of our conversation, RJ never stopped using metaphysical and theological arguments.  Of course, doing so isn’t bad, as I do it all the time as well.  But holding your opponents to a standard of belief (only science!) that you don’t hold yourself to is hypocritical and contradictory.  Defining “faith” as something that is inherently negative and yet ignoring the plethora of beliefs you hold to that have no “logical proof or scientific evidence” is just plain blind. 

What RJ, and the rest of atheism, needs to realize is that they use negative theological and metaphysical arguments all the time, and it is only bad if you deny doing it.

Let me ask you a question atheist:  Which is more rational?  Those that recognize the metaphysical and theological structure/substance of their arguments, or those that make those same metaphysical and theological type arguments but are ignorant that they do so?