Sometimes, to be a leader, you need to be defined not only by what you are but also by what you are not. This article is meant to describe what I am not. In this article, I want you to know that I am not a continuationist. I’m not writing this to persuade you to my camp, but just to explain why I am not a continuationist.
Defining what I mean
Let’s start with a definition. Continuationism is the belief that all the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit are available to us today and have not ceased. This belief is the opposite of cessationism (what I believe) which states that those spectacular gifts (sometimes referred to as miraculous/special/sign/charismatic gifts) have ceased.
Defending Where I Stand
I am not a continuationist because of what I see in the Bible. (Please understand when I say that I mean no disrespect to brother and sisters who disagree with me here but I do believe that Scripture is rather clear on this teaching.)
I could start my argument by going all the way back to church history. Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement are relative new-comers to the theological spectrum. Pentecostalism traces its beginning to Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas when on January 1, 1901 a 30-year-old student named Agnes Ozman spoke in “tongues.” Charismatics came along some 60 years later when in 1960, in Van Nuys, California, Dennis Bennett (an Episcopalian minister) announced that God had given him the ability to “speak in tongues.” But the belief in cessationism is not a new one. In fact, great theologians like Jonathan Edwards have fought this battle for hundreds of years (see Edwards The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, published in 1741).
But history shouldn’t be my foundational argument. When I read my Bible, I see that miraculous gifts were given for a specific time and purpose. Sign gifts were closely associated with and attested to newly revealed truth. thus, giving them a limited time span. These gifts were meant to authenticate both God’s message and God’s messenger (Hebrews 2:3-4; cf. Matthew 11:1-6; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Ephesians 2:20). As the time and purpose came to a close, so did the gifts.
I believe this position is easily defended by simply reading the New Testament books with the perspective of when the books were first written. 1 Corinthians, for example, has a lot of different things to say about sign gifts, but later books in the New Testament have far less to say. By the time we read about Timothy being sick in the book of 1 Timothy, we can tell that Paul doesn’t expect a miracle to save him (1 Timothy 5:23). Additionally, tongues are notably absent from every New Testament book, except Acts and 1 Corinthians. Clearly, the Apostles did not view them as something of ongoing importance, otherwise, we would read more about them.
But what about 1 Corinthians 13:8-12? Doesn’t that passage teach that gifts will last until Jesus comes again? Certainly, that’s an interpretation of the text, but it’s not my interpretation of that text. As I compare Scripture with Scripture, I see hints along the way that these gifts were foundational gifts (as I’ve just discussed). This leads me to conclude that the things which was “perfect” (2 Corinthians 13:10) is, in fact, not referring to Christ’s second coming, but rather to the completed canon.
As an aside, my belief in cessationism does not rise and fall on this text (1 Corinthians 13:8-12). I fear that often those who argue against this belief falsely paint cessationists as “one-texters.” It is possible to hold to a cessationist belief and not agree with me that 1 Corinthians 13:10 is referring to a completed canon. There are numerous other reasons to be a cessationist.
What’s going on now
As I take a look at the modern charismatic movement, what I’m seeing doesn’t reflect the Scriptural record we have concerning these gifts. The contemporary charismatic phenomena simply does not match the biblical phenomena.
Where does this leave us?
Simply put, I am not a continuationist. But how does that impact my teaching and preaching? It impacts me a great deal. Often people will ask me, “How does God speak to us?” What they mean by that is whether or not God directly speaks to the hearts and minds of people. This, in my estimation, is a huge topic for our day. If you walk into a bookstore and peruse through the “Christian” section, you’ll find a lot of works submitted by people who really do think what they’ve written is full of spiritual insight. Of course, the authors are inevitably impervious to critique or correction, because how can we say they haven’t heard directly from God?
But I’m a cessationist. I do not believe that God speaks directly to us today in ways that are outside the canon of Scripture. In fact, I believe that teaching continuationism undermines Scripture’s sufficiency, since it opens the door to continued revelation. Any teaching that “God spoke to me directly” differs in degree but not in kind to Benny Hinn saying God told him to heal your broken leg— it’s the same thing.
Any belief in extra-biblical revelation of any kind is at odds with the biblical principle of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). The Bible has given me all I need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Housed in the pages of God’s Word is my “sure word of prophecy” (2 Peter 1:19).
Guarding my position
Now, please understand that even good, well-meaning people who claim to be partial cessationists can fall into this trap of thinking God is speaking to them directly. Well-meaning Christians often think that, in order to understand God’s will on a matter, they need some impression or strong feeling that will help them interpret where to go or what to do. Although most conservative Christians would have a problem with Benny Hinn’s proclamations in effect they are doing the same thing when they look for any kind of subjective impression just on a smaller level.
The major problem with this kind of approach to God’s illumination is that the text is always flexible. Messages “received” are pliable and the meanings of those messages can change with different circumstances. There is no legitimate hermeneutical approach for interpreting messages you think came to you directly from God. That which is received subjectively (be it in a dream, vision, or impression) will always remain subjective. To treat these subjective impressions as messages from the Holy Spirit is really no different than claiming divine revelation - no matter how small of matter it is - you are claiming to have received a message from God about.
We live in an era where the average person, even within the walls of our church, has very little understanding of God’s objective revelation – that “more sure word” (2 Peter 1:19) – and yet there are those who still push us to follow subjective impulses. How foolish! When biblical illiteracy is on the rise, I'm happy to be marked as a cessationist. I’ll take these 66 books and only these 66 books. Accuse me of being narrow minded all you want so long as you understand that I’m narrowly only using the Bible as my guide—that’s it.
Caleb Phelps was born and raised in New Hampshire and is an avid fan of all things New England sports. He grew up in a pastors home and was saved at the age of 12. As a young junior higher he sensed God's call on his life to go into full time Christian service. Caleb graduated from BJU with a BA in Bible and an MA in Theology. After graduating from seminary Caleb traveled in evangelism which took him across the country to many different churches and camps. While he was traveling Caleb met the love of his life, Rachel. They got married and moved to Indianapolis, IN where Caleb served as the youth pastor at Crosspointe Baptist Church. In September 2018 the Lord moved Caleb and his family to Palm Bay, FL where he now serves as senior pastor at Faith Baptist Church.
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