Closet Cessationists

From John MacArthur, Strange Fire, (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2013) 233.
Before discussing the dangerous consequences of holding a conservative charismatic position (e.g., continuationism), its important to state one of the great ironies of that position—namely, that continuationists actually hold to an incipient form of cessationism. Let me explain what I mean.

The continuationist position asserts that modern prophecy is fallible and nonauthoritative, it acknowldges that the prevalent practice of modern tongues-speaking does not consist of authentic foreign languages, and it generally denies that healing miracles like those recorded in the Gospels and Acts are being repeated today. Moreover, continuationists concede that the unique office of apostleship ceased after the first century of church history. Thus continuationists agree that there have been no apostles in the past nineteen hundred years, and that any inerrant prophetic gift of New Testament times has ceased (with inerrant revelation continuing only in the Bible).

Continuationists largely admit that the miraculous ability to speak fluently in authentic foreign languages, as described in Acts 2, did not survive the apostolic age. And they generally recognize that instataneous, undeniable, public, and complete healings like those performed by Christ and His apostles have not been replicated since the first century. As a well-known continuationist pastor stated in a recent interview, "It seems to me, both biblically and experientially, that there was an extraordinary outcropping of supernatural blessing surrounding the incarnation, which has not ben duplicated at any point in history. Nobody has ever healed like Jesus healed. He never failed, he did it perfectly, he raised people from the dead, he touched and all sores went away, and he never blew it."[1]

That observation is absolutely correct: the miracles of Christ and, by extension, His apostles were unique and unrepeatable. To acknowledge that plain fact is to concede the fundamental premise of cessationism.

Those willing to make a fair and candid comparison between the charismatic phenomena of today and the miracles of Christ and His apostles quickly discover it is impossible to be an unqualified continuationist. It is all too obvious that the modern charismatic versions of apostleship, prophecy, tongues, and healing do not match the biblical precedents. Anyone with a modicum of integrity will have to admit that. But in conceding that much, they corroborate the heart of the cessationist argument—no matter what protests are made to the contrary.

Nevertheless, continuationists insist on using biblical terminology to describe contemporary charismatic practices that do not match the biblical reality. Thus, any personal impression or fleeting fancy might be labeled "the gift of prophecy," speaking in gibberish is called "the gift of tongues," every remarkable providence is labeled a "miracle," and every positive answer to prayers for healing is seen as proof that someone has the gift of healing. All of that poses a major problem, because it is not how the New Testament describes those gifts. For any evangelical pastor or church leader to apply biblical terminology to that which does not match the biblical practice is not merely confusing; it is potentially dangerous teaching for which that person is culpable.

  1. John Piper in an interivew with David Sterling, "A Conversation with John Piper," The Briefing, October 24, 2011,

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