A Continuationist Responds To A Cessationist

The topic on spiritual gifts is highly controversial among believers, whether they are in the seminary or lay church level. For many years, scholars and theologians have wrestled on this topic alone. Enormous books have been published on both sides either defending or opposing the practice of spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophesy, word of knowledge, healing, among others. The other day, I received a comment from a Facebook follower. I commend him for being honest and sincere about what he feels because of his unfortunate past experience. According to him,

“Because of failed ‘prophetic words’ and the logic that no one who had the ‘gifts of healings’ was able to contribute anything to help those affected by this pandemic, I entertained cessationism. [But when] I studied, 1 Corinthians 13:10, it seems to speak about the eschaton as the ending of all gifts. Also [it seems like they are twisting the] Scriptures to make ‘prophecy’ to mean [like] ‘preaching/proclaiming the written Word of God’ instead of a revelation from God as Paul intended in his writings. To me, twisting the author’s intended [meaning] is not good. [As for] tongues [it was allegedly] known languages [that is being used in] evangelism. [But] we all know [that] Koine Greek [is the language in that area]. [Do we still need to speak in] tongues? Tongues was for self-edification as stated in 1 Corinthians 14.

“Biblically [the position of] continuationism [is good]. [But] practically? Why aren’t those with gifts of healing or those with miraculous powers in the hospitals? They are needed there. Won’t many people believe if medically documented healings take place? How about prophecies? Like Trump’s re election? I also have friends prophesied to but those prophecies never came to pass. [I was also prophesied but it didn’t took place.] Some would argue that it was because NT Prophecy is conditional.” (Note: The bracketed words were translated into the English language.]

Allow me to respond as cordially and respectfully as possible to his comment above. Now, I believed this is an unfair treatment on the power gifts.1 We can also say the same thing with the service gifts on preaching and teaching. Many believers should also admit that the gifts of teaching and preaching including evangelism, serving, giving, leading, among others have not totally contributed to the improvement of character and attitudes of many believers around the world during this pandemic. We can see the church disunity and apathy among the believers in many churches around the world. One just need to read the church news in order to be aware of all these things. Did our world became a better place to live knowing that there are many known cessationist preachers and theologians? We can argue on these things subjectively ad infinitum ad nauseam towards physical exhaustion without agreeing. Although, I am just making case to drive my point.

He also reasoned, Why aren’t those with gifts of healing or those with miraculous powers in the hospitals? They are needed there. Won’t many people believe if medically documented healings take place?” Why not question the Lord Jesus Christ? When he called the dead from the grave, why mention only one name, that is, Lazarus?2 Why didn’t Jesus call the names of all the dead people at that very moment? When the Lord Jesus went to the pool of Bethesda, why heal only one person? Why not heal the multitude of invalids who are laying down, including the blind, lame, and paralyzed?3 Dr. Jack Deere, a former cessationist himself and a former Dallas Seminary professor also encountered the same kind of reasoning saying,

“Incidentally, this principle answers a question I am asked all the time, ‘If you believe in healing and you think you have a gift or ministry of healing, why don’t you go empty out the hospitals, or why don’t you go into the slums of places like Calcutta where you can really do some good?’ The answer to that question is that the gist of healing is not automatic; it cannot be exercised at your own discretion. The Lord Jesus himself was at an ancient ‘hospital,’ and he only healed one person there. The only way anyone with a healing gift could have an effective ministry in a hospital or in the slums of Calcutta would be if the Lord Jesus Christ actually sent and directed that gifted person to heal there.”4

I learned of a young Christian believer who is paralyzed on both legs named Tony [not his real name]. At the age of fifteen he was told by his neighbor that God has spoken to him to heal Tony as long as he has faith. Obviously, there is no way to document if God truly spoke to his neighbor because this is very subjective. This became his desire to walk so he could play sports and do the things his friends are doing. Something that a teen would like to do at that age. One time he was invited by his neighbor to a healing crusade conducted by a prominent healing evangelist in a hotel. His neighbor fully convinced the young Tony that he will be healed in this gathering. He was even shown some Scripture passages that says God wanted always to heal in Isaiah 53:4-5 and 3 John 1:2 as long as he has enough faith. I know the verses are being pulled out of context to say what it does not really mean. His parents who are a bit skeptical eventually brought him to that meeting. Unfortunately, the crusade has finally ended but with young Tony not experiencing any healing. The evangelist promise the other attendees that if they come back early in the morning, then they will be prayed for healing. He is not about to give up. Again, he thought of “stretching his faith” by convincing his almost doubtful parents to bring him back once more to that meeting the next day. When the parents met the evangelist, they were surprisingly asked regarding their financial situation. The parents were surprised wondering what does money have to do with healing. The evangelist allegedly said, “The more money they give to the Lord’s work then the more likely God will answer their prayers.” Upon hearing this then they immediately left the meeting. Young Tony grew up becoming bitter with Christian believers who practiced these kind of spiritual gifts that he now labels “Word Faith Movement.” He somehow blames his local church for not giving him a warning regarding this kind of practices.

I can see a number of unfortunate things in this story. First thing I notice was his neighbor assured young Tony that God would heal him. Tony’s faith assurance is on his neighbor’s promise not on God Himself. Second, a number of passages were misinterpreted to say that God wanted always to heal. This gave Tony and his parents a false assurance. His neighbor didn’t even bother to tell Tony about Paul who had vision problem and Timothy who is always sick because he had problem in his stomach.5 They were also not healed by the Lord during that time for a divine reason. It is important to know that the Lord still has the prerogative whether or not to heal a sick person. Third, the evangelist finally broke the camel’s back by focusing on the money leading the whole family including young Tony to personally make it his calling today to debunk all Word of Faith teachers. I cannot blame him for what he has experienced. And I am sure, that evangelist will be held accountable for making these little ones stumble.

On the other hand, I also learned an encouraging story coming from Delia Knox whose car was hit by a drunk driver. She was left paralyzed being confined to a wheel chair for 22 1/2 years. After 13 years of being a paraplegic, she met a Christian bishop named Levy Knox who married her despite her condition. She went to every healing services that she can go to experience a miracle. According to her, it was the last thing that she ever wanted to go after attending numerous crusades for more than twenty years. In fact, whenever somebody would pray for her, the next thing she would say was, “What are you gonna pray healing for? What exactly makes you think I’m sick?” In other words, she learned to “accept” her condition. However, one night she was invited by her husband to a gathering without her knowledge that it was really a healing revival. But she still manage to stay in front wanting to support her husband as he preach. And when Evangelist Nathan Morris went up the stage, he noticed her sitting on a wheelchair. Evangelist Nathan ask Bishop Levy if she is his wife. And the Evangelist said, “Please bring her forward for God is about to do something tonight.” Delia was a bit uncomfortable because for more than 22 years she was expecting for healing to take place but received no confirmation. But the Lord brought to her remembrance the healing of a child a few moments ago. While in front, her bishop husband was by her side and the evangelist on the other side of the wheelchair. The Evangelist said, “Let faith arise in this woman of God.” She was again reminded by God to moved from the 11th chapter of the book of Hebrews to the 12the chapter stating that He was the author and the finisher of faith. So it is no longer because she has no faith rather it is already about Him because the Lord Jesus is the originator of her faith. While she was confessing the name of God as the Great I Am, her body was rocking back-and-forth. Evangelist Nathan never said anything about “Stand up!” or “You are now healed!” but it’s her faith rising up at that very moment to believed what God can do in her body. When suddenly she stood up from her wheelchair then sat back once again, and again stood up then finally made her first baby walk after 22 1/2 years of being confined to her wheelchair. Today Delia can now normally walk and dance for the Lord.6

Now, tell me, is that a coincidence? I don’t think so. It’s very different from what young Tony had experienced.7

In regards to speaking in tongues, he also reasoned, [As for] tongues [it was allegedly] known languages [that is being used in] evangelism. [But] we all know [that] Koine Greek [is the language in that area]. [Do we still need to speak in] tongues? Tongues was for self-edification as stated in 1 Corinthians 14.” I agree, that speaking in tongues is meant to build up and encouraged the believer personally and the church through an interpreter.8 The Scripture does not enforce the believer to speak in tongues but Paul wanted everyone to experience it. However, his desire is that many should prophecy along with an interpreter so the church would be edified. As Paul writes, 

“Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.” – 1 Corinthians 14:5

If a believer would really like to speak in tongues, prophesy, heal, and work miracles, then they should desire these gifts. As Paul writes again to the believers in Corinth, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31). After all, these gifts can surely build up the church.9 It is unfair to discount speaking in tongues just because there are some believers who don’t know how to acquire and use it.  

Many cessationist theologians also explain that gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues has pass away or cease base from 1 Corinthians 13:8 saying “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease.” If this is the case then they have to admit also that knowledge has also stop because the passage says, “as for knowledge, it will pass away.” Of course, they will never accept this. Actually, the context of this passage talks about perfection (in heaven), where spiritual gifts are no longer needed. Paul writes,

“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” – 1 Corinthians 13:9-10  

It is true that prophesies given by believers functioning in this gift are not always delivered in full, but uttered only in part. We will always receive a partial prophecy. It is also important to take note that the gift of prophecy evident in the believers are meant not to place their prophetic words or utterances at par with the authoritative Scripture. Rather the prophetic words they utter in their local churches must be under the authority of the Bible. Dr. Wayne Grudem explains it well that prophecy “is ‘a word from the Lord’ that brings God’s guidance to specific details of our lives, gives much personal edification, and brings to our times of worship an intense awareness of God’s presence.”10

Some might argue, “But we already have the Bible! Why add more subjective revelations? Is the Word of God not enough?” I remember a Mormon missionary who ask me if I believe God can still reveal Himself to us today. This is not an easy question to answer. One need to be wise in responding to his question because this is very tricky. If you immediately say, “No!” then the Mormon will ask, “Are you limiting an omnipotent God?” But if your answer is, “Yes!” then, as Dr. Walter Martin commented, “You just pulled their fangs” right before your eyes while saying, “You’re right! And here is God’s revelation, the Book of Mormon, the third testament!” Since I am fully aware of this Mormon tactic, my response my gentle and firm response was, “Yes. I do agree that God has the capacity to reveal Himself even today. But I do believed if God will reveal Himself it will not surely contradict His previous words from the Old and the New Testament. But I do believed the Lord will not add more ‘new revelation’ because the Bible is already enough for people to know Jesus Christ and experience salvation in Him.”

I agree with Dr. Grudem when he explained what prophecy is in the local church setting. It is not meant to place the prophetic words of the believer at par with the Scripture but the purpose is to encourage, guide, edify, and make them experience an intense awareness of God’s presence without adding any new revelation. However, the challenge for every believer who claims to have a gift of prophecy, whether he is moving in the prophetic office or just functioning in his spiritual gift under the tutelage of a recognize prophet in their church or the body of Christ is to be fully grounded in the foundation of God’s word and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit so he would not contradict the truth. If they will not observe this then surely, many more will get stumbled over what they are going to say impetuously. We have heard some prominent believers last year who has moved in their prophetic office allegedly made a very “hasty” prophetic comment over the US presidential election between Trump and Biden. If they truly made some “miscalculations” in what they said, this is still not a valid reason for any believers to throw this spiritual gift down the drain. Actually, there are also some prominent evangelical teachers who taught things we may not agree with like Hank Hanegraaff, a known and prominent Christian apologist who now promotes Eastern Orthodoxy. Dr. John Stott, a recognize theologian who disagrees with a literal hell while leaning towards annihilationism. What about Martin Luther’s antisemitism teaching? And how about John Calvin’s justification of executing unrepentant sinners?11 Are we going to throw the teaching ministry down the drain just because of some people who erred in understanding the Scripture? Do you think all non-essential theological belief of Hank Hanegraaff, Dr. John Stott, Martin Luther, John Calvin, C.S. Lewis, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards’ were upheld by the Scripture? In my humble opinion, I don’t think so. But this doesn’t mean I won’t believe in the continuation of this particular spiritual gift of preaching and teaching anymore.  

You also mentioned about conditional prophecies. Some examples can be cited in the life of Saul when the prophet Samuel prophesied that he would be king over Israel. However, this is conditional if Saul will cooperate and participate on what he heard from the prophet Samuel. In Samuel 10:1, we can read Samuel prophesying over Saul, 

Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head and kissed him and said, “Has not the LORD anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the LORD and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies. And this shall be the sign to you that the LORD has anointed you to be prince over his heritage. 

The prophet Samuel prophesied that Saul will be “prince” (or king) who will reign over Israel. He will deliver themselves from the Philistines.   

“Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have seen my people, because their cry has come to me.” When Samuel saw Saul, the LORD told him, “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you! He it is who shall restrain [or reign] my people.” – 1 Samuel 9:16-17

However, Saul did something foolish in which he did not kept God’s commandment. 

And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you. For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.” And Samuel arose and went up from Gilgal. The rest of the people went up after Saul to meet the army; they went up from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people who were present with him, about six hundred men. – 1 Samuel 13:13-15

Since Saul disobeyed, his personal  prophecy was annulled. It was such a serious offense, that even though Saul confessed and repented, the promise to his posterity was annulled. All personal [take note: personal] prophecies are conditional, whether or not any conditions are made explicit. These are prophetic promises and declarations that God speaks to individuals can be cancelled, reversed, or diminished. Again, these conditional prophecies may fail and never be fulfilled not because God’s word is untruthful but because God does not force us. Remember, the Lord gave His people options to choose: life and death or blessings or curse. And Joshua said, “Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” Deut. 30:19. This kind of prophecy requires proper participation and cooperation of the one who receives. I believed God is omniscient. He knows what will happen in the future whether it is a probability on our end.  

Another case of conditional prophecy happened in the life of Abraham in Genesis 22:15-18. The passage says, 

“And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.’”

Abraham was personally prophesied in Genesis 17:5-9 by the Lord saying he will be the father of many nations; that he will be fruitful, and kings will come from him. And a land will be given to him and his generation, the land of Canaan. However, along the way, he has no idea that he needs to pass the test. A test of loyalty and love after his son Isaac was born. Because of his obedience, God made His conditional promise to Abraham into an irrevocable, ratified oath as he swore by himself to fulfill it.    

In fact, even the prominent cessationist Dr. R.C. Sproul is aware of this. Since his cessationist tradition would not want to admit the continuation of this kind of spiritual gifts, he managed to use a terminology known to the cessationist camp as “covenant conditionality” to avoid the term “conditional prophecy” despite the fact that it’s actually a prophecy.12 He even quoted Jeremiah 18:1-7, 10 where it prophecies a nation (that is, Israel), that God will tear up, break down, and destroy in the future. But if the the nation relents, then everything will changed.

“But suppose the nation that I threatened turns away from doing wrong. Then I will change my plans about the disaster I planned to do to it.” – Jeremiah 18:8, GW       

Allow me to give you an example of one person I know who was personally prophesied about his ministry calling. Sadly, he was not able to past the difficult testings in his life to the point of giving in to his emotion by becoming impatient. His motive became self-centered that it turned out he is after only the position and money, not really to serve. I believed this can be reverse if he will only respond right along the way. If that happens then surely the personal prophecy given to him by the Lord through the believer who prophesied on him will be fulfilled without trying to wrestle with the circumstance around him.    

As for me and my wife, we had a different experience and response. One prominent believer in the prophetic office prophesied on us individually. This person said to my wife, “‘And you’re going to begin to hear from me,’ says the Lord. You’re going to tell your husband; tell your pastor; ‘Pastor this is what I feel and  and this is what I sense.’” This doesn’t make sense to my wife at that time because she can’t imagine herself talking to a pastor in this way. This is not knowing that her husband will become a pastor someday. 

The same individual also told me, “For the Lord would say unto you my son that ‘Yes, I’ve called you,’ says the Lord. For there’ve been times that you have turned to me and you asked me, ‘Lord, have you really called me? Have you really called me in this church? Have you really called me into leadership? And the Lord would say unto you, ‘Yes, I’ve called you. Yes, I’m the One that you have heard,’ says the Lord. And even right now,’ says the Lord, ‘I’m confirming that I’ve called you into leadership. It’s not because of what you can do for my kingdom,’ says the Lord, ‘but because I’ve chosen you.’”

I would like everyone to understand that the person who spoke to us do not know my background. In fact, I have already planned to leave our church because I want to study in a seminary abroad. And when I transferred from Victory Ubelt to Victory Alabang I was not endorsed in the leadership role at that time due to some personal reason. The prophetic words from the Lord was very encouraging to me. But it doesn’t make sense at that time as to why God had to reassure me He has called me in this church. This is not knowing that after six years I would be serving Him in a full time capacity. The prophetic words of God encourage us to just stay where we are and trust His direction for us without knowing what will happen in the years ahead. I all the more embrace God’s word of truth in the Scripture and trust that He is faithful and true to fulfill His promises.    

Oh, by the way, the personal prophesy took place in 1998. And looking back from now, truly the Lord is faithful and true to His promises. It is unfortunate that many believers and local churches seem to believe only in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Bible disregarding the works of the Holy Spirit. Yes, I am a continuationist because I also believe in the supernatural works of the Holy Spirit, the third Person in the Triune God, in the church and in the lives of the believers.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. – Acts 2:1-4

For comments please email me personally at bereans_arm@yahoo.com.

Footnotes:

1 These power gifts are referred to as word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, various kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues (see 1 Cor. 12:8-10).

2 See Jn. 11:43.

3 See Jn. 5:3.

4 Jack Deere, “Surprised By the Power of the Spirit,” (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 61.   

5 Dr. Levy and Delia Knox on Life Today. Access March 1, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo4UF07Z2Wo.

6 See 2 Cor. 12:7; Gal. 6:11; 1 Tim. 5:23.

7 If you need more careful documented healings and miracles that took place then you may want to invest on the two volume books entitled Miracles by Dr. Craig Keener.

8 See 1 Cor. 14:2-5.

9 See 1 Cor. 14:12.

10 Wayne Grudem, “The Gift of Prophecy” (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2000), 17.

11 See Dr. Frank Viola, “ReGrace: What the Shocking Beliefs of the Great Christians,” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2019).

12 See R.C. Sproul, “Covenant Conditionality,” (Accessed March 1, 2021. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/covenant-conditionality/)

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