Q04 for Bryan: The Extent of Abuse

If it is possible to abuse the sign gifts, using a broad brush, how would we size up the global adherents of the sign gifts? Asked another way, if you and I agree that some people today abuse this doctrine and others are faithful to it, what's the ratio of orthodox to unorthodox practitioners in the world today? How would we measure that?

So, how many, on the earth, who practice the gifts, abuse them? And, how many don't? How would I go about measuring that?

Other than to say I think everyone--whether those who practice them long enough and step out and take "risks", or those who despise them (unfaithful?), all abuse/misuse them on some level, I really have no idea. I can barely use a tape measure. And I occasionally count with my fingers and then look around to see if anyone noticed. Even with a broad brush wouldn't this number change depending on what is considered to be abusive and unorthodox? For sure there are degrees of abuse here, some obviously more severe than others.    

Any "sizing up" and "measuring" would imply that we have something that can be measured. If "unorthodox" and "faithful" and "abusive" are not adequately defined, I don't see how this is really possible to determine. But if "orthodox" means perfect practice with no misuse, I'm afraid no-one will ever qualify for that definition.    

Even if we can agree that a working definition of unorthodoxy on this issue at least includes: 

1. Charismatics who believe in and preach the prosperity gospel, practice immature blasphemous charismaticism (attribute to the Holy Spirit words He did not say and works He did not produce)


2. Hard cessationism that neglects and despises the gifts, attributes genuine works of the Holy Spirit to Satan, and recruits others to do the same, 

I'd still have no idea what the ratio is of those groups and those that have best managed to avoid those two errors, or how to measure it. 

I can speak more confidently with what I've observed in the churches I've been a part of and what I have observed in my own heart as I've sought to hear from the Lord and practice the gifts. And I can probably couldn't count on both hands the number of times I feel like I've made "misteaks" in my
"practice" of the gifts and/or realized how far I have to go in growing in to the mature love and godliness that the gifts should piggyback on. 


Q4 for Frank: The Biggest Weaknesses

What would you say are the biggest weaknesses of the cessationist tradition?

Frank Answers:

That's an interesting question as I see that tradition as covering most of the writers and thinkers of the last 2000 years of Christian faith.  The weaknesses of cessationism, if it can be put that way, are the weaknesses of mankind -- we are not perfect, and we sin.  We can rely too much on our own accomplishments.  We can think our plans are God's plans, and our tastes are God's tastes.  We can be bookish and introverted, but let's be honest: that's not a fault of cessationism as much as it is a fault of the human predisposition for self-satisfaction.  Frankly I have met quite a few continualists who also live inside their own spirit-filled cocoon as I have cessationists fortified in their libraries.

However, I think the other side of the coin is that the strengths of cessationism are also the strengths of our faith: we see good faith as the cause of good works which God has laid out beforehand; we have categories for wisdom, providence and suffering which (if I am honest) I think that non-cessationist views cannot make sense of; we have the advantage of seeing all men, even leaders, as fallible and like ourselves rather than somehow supernaturally untouchable.

Q03 for Bryan: The Orthodox Responsibility

If the ratio of unorthodox to orthodox is significantly out of balance -- say unorthodox are 30% or 40% or more of the adherents -- what is the responsibility of those with the orthodox position?

About two years ago I had just moved to Hurst TX and was driving somewhere close to Haltom City when I passed by a building called "The Wisdom Center", home to the nauseating and oppressive televangelist Mike Murdock. I was taken back a little to have discovered that this man who I'd seen on TV was in my own backyard. I decided to go in for a little visit. I'm not sure what I thought I was going to do, but I think I had hope that I'd get to have a fight with Mr. Murdock himself. But, the secretary gave me some literature, invited me to a service, and sent me on my way. I never went back. I suppose I felt a little powerless. Really, what do I do? Letters? Arsenic? Hire a sniper? 
Shortly after that on a drive going toward downtown Dallas from Hurst, I noticed the gigantic TBN building to the right just off the main highway. I don't know how long it had been since I'd watched late night TBN, but I do distinctly remember a Benny Hinn conference I attended with two of my best friends. This was some time back in 2000 (I think) in Little Rock. One of my friends was annoyed but attentive, the other was bored to tears and sleepy and since that night has made it an ongoing joke about wishing Benny Hinn could heal narcolepsy. I was skeptically and indifferently observant. All three of us left before the "show" really even got started. It was some years later when I first visited one of the care groups of the Bible Church of Little Rock, where I first met Lance Quinn. At some point in my first visit to that care group I found out that Lance had gone to that same Benny Hinn conference, except he stayed for the entire thing. I specifically remember him saying that he was coming close to the conclusion that Benny Hinn was possibly demonic. Lance was who I ran into this past October who told me about the Strange Fire conference.  
Before I moved to Hurst TX (2011) to be a part of Wellspring Church where Jack Deere was lead pastor, I spent some time involved with the Village Church, where Matt Chandler is the lead pastor. I heard Matt speak out often against the prosperity gospel and his hatred for some late night TV evangelists.  It was during my time at the Village that I came to know the Lord more intimately, met my wife, and where a pastor from the Village recommended Jack Deere's books to me. After reading one of his books I was delighted to find out Jack was pastoring Wellspring church in North Richland Hills TX, just 30 minutes away. On a side note, Tom Pennington's church is in that area as well.  Eventually my wife and I had the opportunity of being a part of a small group that met in a home where Jack taught on hearing God and the spiritual gifts, and where we were able to practice what we had learned. It was this time that was the beginning of my actually experiencing the Holy Spirit using the spiritual gifts in building up the body as well as in some healing and evangelizing.                           
1. Your question helps raise awareness of where people are on the spectrum of this issue. One's current processing of this debate and any sense and direction of responsibility they feel is probably shaped primarily by their own spiritual journey. For example, a conservative reformed continuationist coming out of cessationism with an already strong & sound theological backbone is in a different place than someone coming out of an extreme prosperity gospel charismania situation. Every person has a unique story that influences how they think through these issues and what direction they feel a stronger sense of responsibility toward.
2. I have taken responsibility to engage with those who are in my opinion-- embracing error in an effort to expose error. Some might think that my decision to passionately  engage/battle the cessationist side rather than the abuses and the false teachers of the charismatic movement is ridiculous or inconsistent,.... but if you knew more than what I've shared of my story, you'd realize that the reason I'm choosing to do so is because this is closer to my own background and circles and I know that in your attempts to address something gross and tragic (like the Mike Murdock's), you are also actually hurting something very precious. In other words, I believe there is a baby in the bathwater, so I can't stand by and let you undiscerningly draft others to help in aborting Him while simultaneously claiming to have the high moral ground on this whole issue and then using the pervasiveness of false teachers of the general charismatic movement as cover fire for extinguishing continuationist belief and practice.
The prosperity gospel and immature blasphemous charismaticism is not orthodox and neither is blasphemous hard cessationism, paralyzing neonomianism, or incorrigible phariseeism. 

We both know that where we disagree is on what we are willing to consider "orthodox". Besides that, continuationists are put in a position to pick which unorthodox position is worse. As much as I hate the Mike Murdock's and that kind of filthy demonic trash, I also hate that the Macarthur camp has attributed to Satan some genuine works of the Spirit. 
I don't know what other responsible position to take.

Q3 for Frank: The Spread of Continuationism

How do you explain the growing acceptance of and passion for continuationism among the most respected evangelical scholars and pastors?

Frank answers:

I don't attempt to answer that question for two reasons.  The first, more important, reason is that I have no interest in looking for the motives of anyone when they are not stated or perfectly evident.  There's something inherently unsavory in trying to pry off the cover of a man's heart to try to see what he "really" means by what he does.

The second reason is a little more practical: I don't think there's any kind of growing passion or acceptance of continuationism in "respected scholars and pastors" which is quantifiable.  I think the spread is, in fact, rampant in circles which are not respectable, and it is giving rise to all manner of problems which I think were very skillfully described during the StrangeFire conference at Grace Community Church back in October 2013.

Q02 for Bryan: What about Abuse?

Thanks again for your engagement, Bryan. Assuming the sign gifts are necessary, what are the spiritual consequence for those who abuse them or are abused by them? Does the NT give any clue regarding what the consequences of misusing the sign gifts might be?

First, I think we should clarify what "abuse" is. Given our differences on this issue--what you might suggest is "abuse" might not be  something we'd consider to be abusive. And vice versa. The point is that it works out best for both of us to clarify here. And I doubt we could even come to agreement on that clarification, making this an even more difficult conversation. It's obvious there are "abuses" on both sides/camps of this debate. We all are abused and abusers at some level.
For example, I'd say that to neglect your child, is abusive to your child. So if I say that cessationists are corporately guilty of abusing the Holy Spirit and the gifts He gives because they neglect to eagerly desire them, pray for them, ask Him to display His healing and revealing ministry, and genuinely seek how His gifts are designed to be tools of loving one another and building up one another  in the Body of Christ, would I be correct or would I just be guilty of broad-brushing with inflammatory language in a way that might be preventing the very ownership of the abuses that I so desperately want cessationists to take? 
Second, however much I acknowledge the existence of "abuses" of the gifts in my own local circles and attempt to do so in the larger charismatic context, I doubt it can ever be done in a way that satisfies the critics of continuationism who already view our current practice of the gifts as demonic clairvoyance and/or fleshly nonsense. Why talk about the "abuses" of the gifts- if even what we'd consider the loving healthy use of the gifts- you consider to be cheap counterfeits that are mere parlor tricks? If their very existence is in an abuse to you or cheapens what you say is the real thing, I don't see how "acknowledging" abuses of the so called "fake thing" serves any purpose.
The resistance you've experienced from continuationists to own any of the "covering for false teachers" allegations is due I think to this very thing. I also think to follow you down this one sided "roman road" questioning toward that inevitably only righteous and responsible way to dealing with what you think are abuses of rather unnecessary gifts, without saying something here, would only serve to help ignore abuses that are going on in your circles.  
I think as long as you can maintain confidence in labeling as "pornographic divination" and "twisted clairvoyance"  what we believe to be genuine works of the Holy Spirit, it is unlikely we'll respond to any admonitions to call out in a manner you'd like to prescribe for us, the false teachers you say we're providing cover fire for. Is it unreasonable for us to respond negatively, with a slight to moderate kick, to how you think we should handle abuses, if in the same breath you attribute to Satan what we believe are real gifts/works of the Holy Spirit?    
I think that the fact many of us, including the conservative scholarly continuationists are responding to your camp in the way we are should be evidence to you that something other than a lack of discernment or corporate gullibility and irresponsibility are at play here. It should tell you that something other than a proud defense of something that's ultimately a lie is going on. It should tell you that something other than a lack of wisdom and massive corporate delusion over the modern nature and use of these gifts is what is driving the passion behind prioritizing challenging you rather than the crazy false teachers you'd like for us to target.  
As far as experiencing abuse and misuse in my own circles, I have to say my experience so far with the gifts has been a rather healthy one. I've never felt a sense of urgent responsibility to police my own circles without also seeing that my "need" to do that seemed to stem from a lot of fear and skepticism that came quite naturally to me. For years prior I'd made judgementalism and fear a virtue by calling it discernment. It's taking a work of the Spirit for that pattern to be rooted out of my life.   
Third, when thinking of the spiritual and scriptural consequences of those that abuse the gifts and those that are abused by them, I think of the gospel.  What does it mean to see all these "abuses", evident on both sides,  through a gospel lens? 

Q2 for Frank: Afraid of Unbelief?

Is it ok to go a little long on this question? 
My wife had an insightful point the other day. Because she has experienced this to be true of her, and me, she said this. Her thought was that maybe it's not that hard cessationists are blind to their own unbelief, but that they are afraid of unbelief. The idea there is that one way of protecting ourselves from disappointment in our christian experience, is to give ourselves over to not expecting too much. If we expect too much, we open ourselves up to disappointment, and often that disappointment can lead to unbelief as we wrongly and  quickly conclude that God doesn't honor His promises. It's much safer to domesticate what we expect of our christian experience and leave the more clearly supernatural adventures in the past to be for us just a sort of fantasy that happened to be true...for them; more convenient to dismiss those spiritual realities as existing only in a sort of apostolic middle earth.  But to open myself up to the possibility that their christian experience could or should be true for me, but that isn't, means that I must first seriously  re-examine my heart and belief before I presume to say that God no longer works in a certain way...which means I must truly open myself up to the possibility that I've been wrong and actually don't know something that is important. It means becoming more vulnerable to having my faith tested in ways that I'm uncomfortable with.    
What are your thoughts on this? True? Not True? Why or why not?

Frank Answers:

One of the things I find completely disreputable about Continualist arguments/reproaches of Cessationism is that it inevitably looks for heart motives in the Cessationist, and wants to talk about hypothetical hidden sins or sinfulness in the Cessationist.  This is entirely evident in this diagnosis by you and your wife: you can't actually see a sin in the other side, but you have to assume it in order to make sense of your beliefs and why we would reject them.

From my side, I think it is much safer to simply reject the pleas of Cessationists and our reasoning and arguments from history and the Bible but then to hide behind fictional accounts of our souls' inner dialogs.  Like a lot of Continualism, it's an unfalsifiable rationalization.

I reject your diagnosis for three reasons:

[1] In the Bible, there are no places where the writer (Luke, Paul, Peter, Jude, etc., but ultimately the Holy Spirit) says that one way you will suffer for your faith, or suffer as a trial, is by the failure of God to produce a miracle.  The category of trial which brings sanctification (for example, James 1:2-4) is due to "πειρασμός" -- that is, the conditions one is subject to.  For that reason, I shouldn't see my lack of prophecy or tongues as something to suffer through, but as something else.

[2] In the Bible, our instructions regarding the use of the Apostolic gifts are, in the best possible case, limited.  Paul doesn't instruct Timothy or Titus to solve the church's problems by means of signs and wonders -- even though, you must admit, that would be a fantastic way to prove that the shepherd of the local flock has divine authority.  Paul doesn't solve the problems of the Corinthian church by means of supernatural intuition and prophecy, but appeals to them to stick to something more ordinary -- which is, the love which is a necessary consequence of the Gospel.  Paul doesn't ask the Galatians to overcome the Judaizers by means of miracles -- or, to your point, to suffer through since they might not get a miracle.  Because the Bible doesn't ask us to invest that much confidence in gifts that will never manifest, I think your appeal to do so lacks something.

[3] The Bible gives me bigger fish to fry.  The Gospel itself gives me bigger fish to fry because I have the first problem of dying to sin daily (cf. Luke 9:23).  I have other things to worry about concerning the sins in my life I can see to be bothered about an alleged massive gap of unbelief which, frankly, the Bible does not accuse me of.

Q01 for Bryan: What's Necessary?

Bryan - Thanks much for spending time on this blog with me.  I have 5 questions which I have been asking people on you side of the discussion for about a month now, so I'll pose them to you.  This is the first one.

I'm willing to concede D.A. Carson's reading of 1 Cor 12-14 for the sake of this discussion. Given that concession, isn't the more critical question whether or not they are necessary for the life of the church? Why or why not?

I’m not familiar enough with the particulars and nuances of Carson’s individual take on I Corinthians 12-14 besides the fact that I’ve heard it is supposed to be the best treatment of those chapters in favor of continuationism but with an apparently stronger exegetical to practical work in keeping the “Love Chapter 13” understanding and application in the context of the gifts. I’ve been meaning to read it but haven’t yet. I almost bought it last night on Amazon so I could say I’ve read it, but, seriously…I’m not sure when I could dive in to that right now. So I can’t honestly say that I would then agree, the more critical question to be whether or not the gifts are necessary for the life of the church because of your concession to Carson’s interpretation and applications.
However, I am glad for the conversation to take a different direction than re-hashing the arguments over those chapters. So compared to doing that, yes I’d agree, if we’ve both agreed on things like--that Paul teaches us in the context of I Corinthians 12-14 that each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good and that we are to pursue love and earnestly desire these gifts, especially that we may prophesy; and by implication to not do so would constitute disobedience-- then of course I’d agree there are more critical questions to ask. But I answer no to your question because to ask whether or not they are necessary for the life of the church would be rather unnecessary by virtue of what we already have agreed on about the passage.
Why would Paul command something that was unnecessary?
Why use passionate language like  “pursue” and “eagerly desire” for things that are potentially unnecessary?  
If the Spirit’s gifts/manifestations are still valuable enough to the Spirit and in Paul’s mind to “risk” commanding an audience who had been abusing or misusing them- to still yet eagerly desire them for the building up and strengthening of the church, then that tells us how important Paul knows these gifts are to God and to the church when done in love. The fact Paul is even addressing the abuses with commands to pursue love and maintain mature orderliness is evidence that he understands their necessary function for the health of the Body of Christ. 
The more critical question then would be, "If you indeed concede that the continuationist interpretation of these chapters is correct, how and why would you  justify disobedience to Paul's instructions here and try to persuade other believers to also disobey or disregard them?"

Q1 for Frank: The Voice of God?

One of the last things both of us discussed during our lunch a few weeks ago was concerning the  hearing of the voice of God. Generally speaking, your point was that a wrong  prophetic word is obviously not the voice of God, my point was that a wrong interpretation of Scripture is not the voice of God either.
 I expanded further on my point by saying that at least what we’re practicing as New Testament prophecy is not assumed to be on equal authority with Scripture but is assumed to be imperfect and in need of weighing (I Corinthians 13:9; 14:29). 
However, the level of certainty and confidence in which the cessationist interpretation of scripture and it’s subsequent applications were aggressively communicated at the conference, gave little to no indication that this was something that needed to be weighed carefully, but that should be taken to be self-evidently correct…God’s final voice on the matter.  
Considering the degree of confidence that you guys have maintained in your interpretations and the extent you’ve taken your conclusions concerning those who differ, what do you think the implications and consequences for you and the Macarthur camp are biblically, if you are wrong?                 

Frank Answers:

This question rejects one my premises for this discussion -- which is the assumption that the Bible teaches a continuation of Apostolic gifts.  It is also a manifestation of an implied problem of secret error in the Cessationist camp.  I point that out simply for the reader to keep score -- because I think it keeps pointing to the real weakness of Continualism: the abandonment of the Biblical virtue of wisdom.  Continualism relies on the idea that there's usually a secret explanation for things which they require to support their beliefs, rather than clear and discernible reasons.

However, if the Cessationist is hypothetically wrong and the Apostolic gifts continue, I think the consequences (as the Bible spells them out) are zero.  The reason for this is simple: we're not rejecting anything the Bible says is non-negotiable.  We're not rejecting the miracles of Jesus.  We're not rejecting the miracles in Acts.  We're not rejecting the miracle of Scripture.  We're not rejecting the miracle of regeneration.  We're not rejecting the synergistic work of a reborn soul working with the Holy Spirit in Sanctification.

What we are rejecting, frankly, are weak imitations.  We are rejecting fortunate synchronicity as a substitute of God taking personal action in the world today.  We are rejecting occurrences of intuition, coincidence and/or providence as somehow analogous to "Get up and Walk" command healing, "be silent" silencing of demons, actual raising of the dead to life, and prophecies that the Lord actually said with words.

I think you are missing the substantial challenge of my concession in giving up Carson's exposition of 1 Cor 12-14 as the final word of continuationism: if Carson is right, we should be looking for men with the authority of the Apostles.  That is: they have been personally sent by the person Jesus of Nazareth, and their word on His behalf always accomplishes its goal.  The historical fact of the Apostles' work is that their miracles would turn a city on its head.  The Greeks thought these men were gods by the power they demonstrated.  Let's be honest: there's not anything in your experience which would produce that reaction in someone else.

Produce those men, and you will have me completely sunk -- and repentant.

Until then, I think we are pretty safe.