So Nimm Denn Meine Hande...

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Foundation of the Answer to the Question of Cessationism: Part 4

Well, it's been a while since this train last took on some passengers, so I'm guessing we're about due for the next installment on the best show that Fox never cancelled: Theology Idol. Anyway, since we have last seen an installment, there have been a bunch of feckles getting all upons. None the less, I'm going to keep trucking...

So last time, we ended up commenting on how experience doesn't dictate doctrine. Now, I'm going to explain that in more detail. The real question that we're asking here is the question of the relationship of Genereal and Special Revelation and the nature of the current validity of the formal principle of the reformation. Why, you ask? Well, we're talking about learning and systematizing and understanding of theology; our knowledge of the divine (and the reality over which that divine resides). In this post I'll deal with the relationship of Special and General Revelation and in the next post, I'll deal with the question of the formal principle.

For those who don't know the terms, General Revelation speaks of God's revelation of himself (and ultimate reality) that is generally available. The term "general" in "General Revelation" does not refer to 'content' (a common misunderstanding), but instead refers to 'scope' (how much about God can be discovered by nature). So, there is much that the world can know from General Revelation. Romans 1:20 says that "since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

What do we discern from this? Well, no person cannot claim that they don't know about God; he has given them enough information so that they cannot plead ignorance. But, what do they learn from General Revelation? Well, they learn that God exists and He's not them.

I could now embark on lengthy and very technical epistemological discourse...but I won't. I'll simply make the following blanket statements:

1. General Revelation is effective in revealing God but it isn't propositional. There is truth in nature, but that truth doesn't come in propositional form. Looking at nature, no matter how astute you are, will never lead you to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

2. General Revelation is not self-interpretive. General and Special Revelation are meant to work together. We can speculate about physical processes and relationships in nature (how they work, what chemicals are involved, etc.) and we can learn plenty about their mechanics and inherent properties. We will never learn their meaning nor purpose nor ultimate cause without that being revealed to us by God; the planning, sustaining engineer (or conductor) of it all. Special Revelation interprets General Revelation.

A good example of this is in Acts 2:22-36. The Jews thought that they knew what 'had happened' to Jesus; He was a prophet who was killed by the Jewish authorities. Peter then corrects them, explaining what really happened and what it meant. The Jews looking at the situation of the trial and crucifixion of Christ wouldn't have discerned the ultimate truth or meaning of the event if it were not revealed to them.

Now, after putting forth these two points, we see that there is a reasonable argument to show that General Revelation (of which personal experience is a part) is neither propositional nor self-interpreting. The Jews in Acts 2:22-36 had an experience; they knew about the trial and crucifixion of Christ. They thought that they knew what had happened. God, speaking through the apostle Peter, corrects them. The Jews experience wasn't suspect, but their interpretation of it was. They needed a special, propositional revelation from God in order to understand their experience. Their reaction shows how much this divinely given interpretation of their experience impacted them:

"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"

Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call."

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day." - Acts 2:37-41

Before the three thousand had their experience challenged, they knew what had happened but they didn't understand what had happened.

So where am I going with this? I'd imagine it seems fairly clear now:

Experience is not a reliable means of discerning ultimate truth; scripture is.

This is not to say that experience is inherently unreliable, but instead is not ultimately authoritative...simply because experience doesn't have access to divine plans and purposes. Those are given in scripture.

Philisophically, this concept is also self evident. To suggest that a person can, through reason or experience, cross the physical/spiritual barrier and ascend to the realm of the divine, is sheer wishful thinking. Without divine revelation, all men are equally clueless as to who God is or what he's doing.

That's all for this post folks! Now, I'm going to take a break of a few weeks because I'm going to be tackling the issue of the ordination of women, which is currently a large struggle in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Conference. There's some stuff going at my church regarding this (long and drawn out and almost completely useless) debate, so I'm going to try to find an avenue to interact with this struggle and hopefully help bring back some biblical sanity. I'm guessing that the Mennonites have their minds made up, but it's time for someone to start doing something about the sheer tsunami of stupidity, lest the entire conference be washed into paganism. Anyway, I might post some of the stuff I'm working on...just so that some of the people at church might be able to access some of the information I'm working on.

I WILL come back to finish off the cessationism string of posts (and might keep one going as I work on the ordination of women stuff), but it might not be for a few weeks. Until Next Time,

The Armchair Theologian

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Foundation of the Answer to the Question of Cessationism: Part 3

Now, I made a pretty silly statement at the end of the last post, saying that “all this is pretty much useless”. What did I mean by that? Well, in setting forth an argument for or against cessationism, personal history and personal experience gives a context for the person and a context for the argument but is not an argument in and of itself. It wouldn’t matter if I had never encountered non-cessationism (in all it’s various forms) or if I had encountered it comprehensively. I could live on a Hutterite colony my entire life and be able to give a case either for or against it just as well as if I was the premiere faith healer in the world and, as an infant, spoke my first words in tongues.

The argument is not an argument from experience; it’s an argument from the scripture. The case can be set and settled in the pages of the Bible. This is a common mistake made on both sides of the camp; and though I will admit that non-cessationist often attempt to argue from experience much more than cessationists, I must admit that cessationists make ‘heart felt pleas’ against non-cessationism way too often.

Why do I say this? Well, quite simply because that is the claim that the Bible makes for itself. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

2 Peter 1:3 says:

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Psalm 19:7-11 say:

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”

So, from those three verses we learn that the scriptures are complete and useful (opposing everything else that is not useful) for equipping us for everything we need to do and everything we need to be, and is also instrumental in both processes. It revives the dead soul, gives wisdom to fools, gives joy to the heart and light to the eyes (Anticipating the questions about 2 Peter 1:3, which does not explicitly say “Bible” in some form, I simply put forth that knowledge of God the Father and God the Son only come from the Scriptures. They are the source of “our knowledge of him who called us…” and thereby are the foundation to that process.).

Now you say “wait a minute! Those verses don’t rule out experience! They simply set the Bible as sufficient for teaching us everything and helping us get to where we should be!”

And yes…that is true. Those verses set the basis for the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. It doesn’t rule out experience as a source of doctrine, it just sets Scripture as the bottom line. I’ve often heard the argument that goes, “Well, the Bible says such and such but how can you challenge my experience? That happened to me! Who are you to say that it wasn’t God?” Were YOU there? Did YOU see it?”

And nope. I most likely wasn’t there and didn’t see it. But I can still speak something about it.

What's more, I've had tremendous experiences too. I've been in churches where everyone was 'speaking in tongues'. I've personally seen irrefutable healings. I've personally been healed. I've had people prophesy over me and I've heard amazing prophecies. I would go so far as to say that I could match almost anyone in non-cessationist circles when it comes to having dynamic spiritual experiences. None the less, those experiences do not dictate doctrine...and we'll stop here seeing as that’s for the next post. Until Next Time,

The Armchair Theologian

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Foundation of the Answer to the Question of Cessationism: Part 2

Well, let's get our bearings now. This will be short and sweet, seeing that I'm headed for bed in a few minutes. None the less, here's some context for my readers to understand where I'm coming from (historically) and why I can give a fair voice to the cessationism vs. non-cessationism debate.

I was raised in a Mennonite church, though not much of a conservative one by Mennonite standards. The women in my church didn't cover their heads, we had a guy in our congregation who thought he was a prophet (though the church didn't agree...) and we had drums in church since the mid 80's. My church was typical of many 'community churches'; cessationist in practice but 'agnostic' in actual doctrine...We believed in the possibility of prophecy, tongues and apostolic healing; we just didn't see it anywhere. So from a young age I was taught that the Pentecostals were eccentric, but not heretics. We let them do their own thing and we did ours, but I was taught that they were brothers in the Lord who worshipped the same God.

In grade 9 I was told that I wasn't welcome at my youth group and I stopped attending it. (For the record, I brought several non-Christian friends whom I wished to evangelize. They didn't mind church but they always got into too much trouble for the leaders to endure. Eventually, they figured that I should bring my 'hooligan friends' somewhere else.) I then started going to a local Baptist youth group and a Full Gospel youth group, at the same time. The Baptist youth group met on Friday and many of the kids from my school went there, so I made some new friends at my high school. Plus, it was close to my house and I could take my bike there by myself. The Full Gospel youth group met on Saturday and had hot girls and a huge budget. They had a really good worship band and seeing that I am a drummer, I was drawn to the idea of doing music and, of course, meeting the attractive Jesus loving ladies. Plus they often gave us food that you had to buy, like pop and chips, not the cheap home-made stuff like at my Mennonite Church (Oh how foolish I was in my youth!). The Baptist youth group was safe and simple, but the Full Gospel youth group was exciting and way different than my Mennonite youth group.

I sadly didn't encounter much good Bible teaching at the Baptist youth group, but the Full Gospel guys definitely talked lots about the Bible and they used a whole new lingo that I was unfamiliar with. They used phrases like "led by the Spirit" and "baptism of the Spirit". For the first time I encountered the idea that my salvation may not be certain. With using scripture (though at the time I wasn't fully convinced), they showed me that speaking in tongues, the very thing I had only heard of in passing adult conversation, was the evidence that the Holy Spirit was in my heart. They had a bunch of other strange ideas too, like praying in this 'angelic language' and being able to heal people. Needless to say, my sheltered and unceasingly inquisitive mind wanted to know MORE about this stuff. If Christianity was a donut, I thought that my whole life had been licking suger-coated dough and I had now finally discovered the creamy center. This seemed to be it...the deeper and better stuff that I had heard about.

At first I was skeptical, but eventually I entertained the idea. I mean, when I read the Bible, their arguments seemed to kinda make sense. The thing that really convinced me though was Mary Cundy and Arlei McDonald; both spoke in tongues and were hot as the day is long. Who's kidding who? I decided that if 'experimenting' with spirituality meant getting me close to the two hottest sets of praying hands on this side of Palestine, I'd definitely try. I went to that youth group for 3 years, ended up on the worship team, got to know both ladies, dated neither, got into student leadership and ended up leading several of my friends 'to the Lord' in that place (except that back then I didn't really understand the gospel at all...).

After I graduated, I left for Briercrest Bible College. I wanted to get into a Christian Rock Band and that seemed like the logical place to go. I ended up also hooking in with the local Apostolic Church in Moose Jaw, Sask. I helped out with the youth group there for a year and then had to leave for a few years because several Briercrest guys started showing up at the youth group to check out the ladies and the youth pastor essentially thought I was a scout. Doh. Many people still hate my guts because of rumors and accusations that I was unaware of at the time. The week that he told me to not come back to youth group was a dark week for me indeed.

None the less, I still stayed involved in that church through the youth drop in center that I worked with for 4 and a bit years, going to Sunday services whenever I could get into town. I didn't really worry much about cessationism those years and reverted back to my "they might do it but I don't and I don't have a problem with it" position. I was an outsider and wasn't included in the 'spiritual stuff' at that church.

After I graduated, I stayed in Moose Jaw for 6 months and kinda got back into working with the Apostolic Church in Moose Jaw again. I was a regular attendee and made many great friends there. I then spent 1.5 years in Saskatoon, which led to the first stint at my current church.

After my stint in Saskatoon I returned to Briercrest Bible College and then Seminary and returned to attending the Apostolic Church in Moose Jaw. In 2002 I was College and Career pastor at Hillcrest Apostolic Church for that year. That was the year that I was forced to take a position on the issue of cessationism. I won't get into details, but there was a divinely set up incident where there was some obvious heresy preached from the pulpit and God threw me into the meat grinder, being another pastor and all. As the divine poet would have it, it was also at that time that I was working through A Survey of Christian Epistemology by Cornelius Van Til, as well as A Reformed View of Scripture by the same author, due to a challenge of a close friend who thought I needed to encounter some thought deeper than Phil Yancey.

As I started struggling through applying a historical grammatical hermeneutic, as well as my growing exegetical skills, to the scriptures, I started working through all the hundreds of questions that would either build a solid case for either cessationism or non-cessationism. I will also admit that the pressure to adapt non-cessationism was tremendous. I was pastoring in a Pentecostal church and being forced, against my will, to re-evaluate my positions on several issues that I would have rather remained 'agnostic' on. I didn't want to lose friends, lose my position and worse be a dividing influence in the church of Christ. Then again, I was also bound by my understanding of the authority of scripture. The more I studied the Bible, the more I couldn't escape my fears...not only was I wrong, but I was being slowly converted to a position that I had been taught to mock and caricature.

In the end the heresy was swept under the carpet and dozens of people resultantly left the church, and I silently slipped out in an effort to cause no more trouble. I still retained contact with many of the people in the church though, wanting to still build them up in knowledge of the Lord. Many of them are dear friends to this day and that due to many impromptu midnight Bible studies on the stairs of my apartment in Caronport.

So, in a nutshell, I’m an ex-Pentecostal...Well, actually an Ex-Mennocostal, for those out there that understand that term (Mennonite + Pentecostal). I spent around a decade in those circles, both in lay leadership and pastoral roles. I don’t think I have many misunderstandings about their theology, seeing that I’ve learned it from their very own professors from their very own Bible Colleges. I’ve taught non-cessationism in academic Pentecostal settings. I’ve met a lot of people on the list of “who’s who” in the PAOC and ACOP circles in Western Canada. I’ve been prayed over and anointed by John Bevere, Dr. Neil Anderson, Dr. Dean Pinter and several other well known names and I’m pretty sure I have been called, at one time or another, to be a missionary to every country in existence (as well as a missionary to ‘intellectuals’, ‘artists’, ‘conservatives’ and whatever else). I’ve read every book on non-cessationism I’ve ever been given, and I’ve never turned down a book challenge. I’ve read the ‘Pentelectuals’ (Deere, Bevere, Murphy, Wagner, Grudem, Fee, Jersak, Etc.) and the ‘common’ (Whimber, Hinn, Hagee, Roberts, Baker, Hayford, Kuhlman, etc.). I’ve talked personally, sometimes at length, with many of those people and have sought out personal meetings with them aggressively. I’ve exegetically dug through the Bible for literally over a decade on the issue of non-cessationism.

That being said, I’m finally and firmly a cessationist. After seeking truth as rabidly as I know how, I cannot escape the clear and comprehensive teaching of scripture. It is the fruits of an historical/grammatical hermeneutic and it is the fruits of systematic exegesis upon an inerrant, authoritative, inspired, infallible, sufficient, perspicuous Scripture. I’ve said it often, “I wish I could be a non-cessationist Charismatic. Life would be so much easier for me then!” But unless I can be shown from scripture and reason, I can not violate either my conscience or my understanding of the word of God.

Now that I’ve given a little history of myself, my next post will explain how telling you why all this is essentially useless. HA HA! You didn’t see that one coming did you? Well, until next time,

The Armchair Theologian

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Foundation of the Answer to the Question of Cessationism: Part 1

Well, this is the beginning of a new, huge study that will consume this blog for a while. For those who love controversy, tune in. For those who have questions about some of the hot topics that the pastor won't give you a straight answer on, this is for you. Why do I say that? Well, I'm going to be attempting to lay down the case for cessationism and attempting to tear down the case for non-cessationism. I'm not going to touch the untouchable; I'm going to lay both hands on it. So, in order to take on such a momentous task, we're going to need some patience and here's what's going to happen.

I'm going to first tell a little about myself, in order to give a personal context for my position. Next, I'll lay down my philisophical and theological foundations, as well as my understanding of hermeneutics. Third, I'm going to clearly define the terms. Fourth, I'm going to present the positive scriptural and theological evidence for the cessationist position and fifth, I'm going to rebut some common arguments used for noncessationism. This is going to take some time though...most likely 20+ sit back and come on a walk with me for a month or more. This is the stuff that I'm not allowed to teach at my church, and I do comply with that imposed restriction, for respect to the authority placed above me. Besides, I'm currently preaching through Colossians 1:9-14 and there's a whole lot of stuff in there that my C&C crowd needs to hear as well. (Cessationism, like Calvinism, is not the gospel. It is part of the whole counsel of God though...) I'm not saying that I'm using the internet to get around the restrictions placed upon me by my church leadership; I'm not breakin' the law here. I'm simply presenting the truth of scripture in a public forum other than my church. Standin' in the marketplace, so to speak.

Also, this will not be an online debate. Whoever reads this stuff will be welcome to comment, but DO NOT think that you will sucker me into a mudslinging contest. If you want to 'spread the word' on why I'm all wet, start your own blog and I'll be glad to read what you have to say. Smart alecs are also welcome, but they will be treated with like candor with which they treat me. I will address serious questions, though that will also be done at my discretion. I don't spend my life on the internet and I don't have time for everything and everyone. There's enough resources out there though; if you can't find the truth out there, you most likely won't find it here either. I've gotta run off to work though. Have a good day people and God bless! Until Next Time,

The Armchair Theologian

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Some New Ideas...

Well, here's some things in the back of my mind lately:

I have recently learned about something that I don't know what to think about: Reformed Charismatics. I mean, I did know that there were people who had good (albeit inconsistent) theology and actually historical/grammatical (albeit also inconsistent) hermeneutics. I just didn't realize that there were so many of them. I have always known about John Piper, Waye Grudem, etc. but I had not heard the term Reformed Charismatic until today. Interesting...I haven't encountered any new arguments against cessationism, but it's funny how some poeple really do play "choose-your-own-theology". I often joke about that, but I'm not really sure how I react to actually seeing it. Grab your basket and toss in some Catholic mysticism, some baptist social conservativism, some reformed soteriology, some charismatic pneumatology, some quaker ecclesiology and viola: You have a church that caters to all and none! Funny thing is that I really like Grudem, Piper and Mahaney...I don't doubt that they're Christians. I just wonder where things are going when we have such ecclectic theology and hermeneutics.

Anyway, enough of that. I'm sure there will be lots more thoughts on that. Now, here's something KINDA related:

I have been studying the book of Esther for the last week and a bit, reading it evernight and looking at if through a different lense each time. I noticed something a few days ago and had to pursue it.

In Esther 1:22, Xerxes sends out his edict to everyone in his kingdom, "to each province in its own script and to each people in its own language, proclaiming in each people's tongue that every man should be ruler over his own household" (1:22)

So, I noticed that and had a thought in my head. I then broked out my concordance to confirm my suspicions. As I was looking some different terms up, I discovered that 'language' and 'tribe' were the two primary ways that the people in the ancient world were categorized. So, when Xerxes wanted everyone to know something, he'd send out an edict to each province in each people's language. The same idea comes out in Daniel 3:4, 4:1, 5:19, 6:25, 7:14, Revelation 5:9, 7:9, 11:9, 13:7, 14:6.

So how does this passage in Esther apply to the Charismatics, you ask? Well, it seems to me that when a king had an important edict, he'd send it out via messenger to people of every language and tribe...and I'm thinking that this is what was actually going on in Acts 2.

The King of Kings had the message of messages to proclaim to every person, of every language. Instead of sending scribes who wrote the messages down and carried them off, he miraculously caused people to speak in every language and declare his wonders. This isn't commenting for or against cessationism, but it does give me a sense of purpose for tongues beyond the two main ones (inclusion of the Gentiles into the kingdom of God and judgement upon unblelieving Israel). God was showing his divine, sovereign kingship in the proclamation of his message. Every person is his messenger, and that at his divine bidding. Pretty cool. Until Next Time,

The Armchair Theologian