Must Reformed Christians Be Cessationist?

UPDATE 6 June 2009. While working on another project today I stumbled across Garnet H. Milne, The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Cessation of Special Revelation: The Majority Viewpoint on Whether Extra-Biblical Prophecy is Still Possible (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster/Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008). Milne distinguishes between “mediate” and “immediate” revelation “as understood by the Westminster divines” and “attempts to show that only ‘immediate’ revelation was considered to have ceased, while ‘mediate’ revelation, which always involved Scripture, was held to continue.”

A detailed analysis of the writings of the Westminster divines reveals that these churchmen possessed both a strong desire to maintain the unity of the Word and Spirit and a concern to safeguard the freedom of the Holy Spirit to speak to particular circumstances through the language and principles of Scripture. God still enabled predictive prophecy and spoke to individuals in extraordinary ways, but contemporary prophecy was held to be something distinct from the extraordinary prophecy of the New Testament figures. In the minds of both the Scottish Presbyterians and English Puritans, prophecy was considered to be an application of Scripture for a specific situation, not an announcement of new information not contained within the Bible. The Scriptures always remained essential for the process of discerning God’s will.

…[T]he Westminster divines intended the cessationist clause to affirm that there was to be no more extra-biblical, ‘immediate,’ revelation for any purpose now that the church possessed the completed Scriptures (xvi).

Here’s a related reference:

Milne, G. H. “‘Private Spirits,’ In the Westminster Confession of Faith and in the Protestant-Catholic Debates: A response to Byron Curtis,” Westminster Theological Journal 61 (1999): 101–110.

Original Post 28 Jan 2009Nick asks this provocative question. The short answer is “yes.” When the Reformation asserted sola Scriptura she did so not only against Rome but also against an early version of the charismatic movement.

He also asks an interesting question, raised by Douglas Oss, created by the problem of Samuel Rutherford who, according to Oss, claimed the continuing existence of prophecy. I’ll address the theological question and then the historical problem.

1) However much Wayne Grudem wants non-canonical prophecy to remain non-canonical, any alleged Word from God is bound to be canonical in the nature of the case. A canon is a rule. if God speaks to us, it is, by that very fact, a rule. We cannot say, “Oh well, I know that God said x, but that’s just his opinion.”

I was nearly persuaded by Grudem’s arguments—indeed there was a time when I would have been glad for Grudem to be right—but ultimately I concluded that his argument is really too weak to be credible. Agabus is a difficult case for anyone and certainly a poor resting place for Grudem’s case and his exegesis of Ephesians is not convincing either. I think Dick Gaffin’s responses on these fronts are right.

Either a message comes from God or it does not. If it does it is canonical in some sense, even if not preserved. It is at least canonical in the broad sense of serving as a rule for a community and for a time. I understand there to have been such revelations in the apostolic period that were not preserved for us.

2) Claims to ongoing prophecy necessarily subvert the finality and authority of Holy Scripture. I recall being at St Aldates (I think) in 1993 when someone quoted an alleged prophecy by name and place. This person did so with a straight face and we were meant to take it seriously and others in the group did. I hadn’t heard it but had just worked through the Grudem argument (preaching through 1-2 Cor and hanging out with charismatics for a couple of years). The folk in this group seemed to take this “prophecy” as canonical and authoritative.

If there is a living voice then what of Scripture? It becomes, as it did for the 16th-century Anabaptists, a “dead letter.” Indeed, as I noted in RRC (331—34), this argument really goes back to the 16th century. As in the case of the ABs, Scripture is marginalized in favor of alleged continuing revelation.

We have the same problem with Rome. There the church is said to form the Scripture and the continuing revelations and unwritten apostolic traditions have quite marginalized Scripture. It’s impossible to norm Roman practice with Scripture because of the second stream of authority and revelation which effectively trumps Scripture.

3) On the historical problem of Reformed folk claiming continuing revelations (if that’s what happened) I reply, “So what?” The implied premise, I suppose, of Oss’ appeal to Rutherford, is that if he did it and he’s Reformed, we can’t say that Reformed folk don’t do it or shouldn’t. Sure we can. The great and liberating thing about having churchly confessions and by having them define “Reformed” is that it protects us from the weird things that Reformed people do and say.

If Oss is making such an argument and if he’s assuming that the adjective “Reformed’ must be defined by what Reformed people do and say. It isn’t. The adjective “Reformed” is defined by what the Reformed churches do and say. The Reformed churches do not confess continuing revelation, whatever Rutherford did or did not think or experience personally. Reformed pastors and writers have been wrong about any number of things. We’re not obligated to their private opinions or practices. Lots of Reformed pastors used to teach geocentrism even long after it was clear that geocentrism wasn’t tenable. Lots a Reformed pastors used to teach theocratic politics and today there are more than a few who teach theonomy (the necessity of the application of the Mosaic civil law and penalties). They were (and remain) wrong. If a Reformed minister says the moon is made of green cheese, that doesn’t make “The Green-Cheese Moon” theory suddenly a “Reformed” view!

Reformed folk are obligated to the Word of God as confessed by the Reformed churches and our confession is quite clear. Scripture alone is canonical. Nothing else is canonical beside it. We believe in natural revelation but in nature we only learn the law, not the gospel. The point of sola Scriptura is to say that it is the unique and un-normed norm for Christian faith and the Christian life and we confess that unique, canonical authority for faith and life over against Rome and the charismatics and pentecostalists of all ages. Adding a predestinarian doctrine of salvation (i.e. the doctrines of grace) to an otherwise charismatic theology doesn’t make that theology “Reformed.” It makes it predestinarian.

Related Posts:

Nick has a follow-up post here on “Spurgeon, the Prophetic and Gaffin’s Deadly Pen“.

Unable to Verify Healings.

Did God Leave Me When I Enrolled in Seminary?

The Problem with Paraphrases and Continuing Revelation

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. I’m not altogether convinced by Grudem either, everyone should read Gaffin… twice. But, I’m confused by your broad definition of “canonical.” I get the entomology of the word, but I thought that when Grudem talks about canonical he’s talking about inclusion in the cannon – not whether it should be a rule or not. I think it’s going overboard to say that God has not spoken without being recorded in the Bible. Also, “cessationist” is a pretty broad category – can you be reformed and say, believe that the gift of tongues are for today, or the gift of healing? – In my mind, that’s a closely linked but different category than prophecy. If I remember right, Gaffin argues against sign gifts through the closing of the canon, al la Heb 1.1. – but i wonder if you can be reformed and believe in the gift of tongues as a prayer language for example.

  2. Hi Sam,

    As I read 1 Cor tongues don’t function as a “private prayer language.” History of Religion and World Religions scholars tell us that “glossolalia” or forms of ecstatic speech are ancient and universal. In other words, there’s nothing distinctly Christian about private or public prayer languages. I’m convinced that when Paul says “languages” he means just that, natural languages supernaturally given.

    In the post I used “canonical” in two senses, broad and narrow. Clearly someone’s claim to a modern prophecy is not canonical in the narrow sense and I reject it as canonical in the broader sense. Anything that might be wrong can’t be canonical, by definition. If it’s non-canonical, then what are we talking about? I have non-canonical opinions and ideas all day long, so what? Most of them aren’t worth repeating and they certainly don’t have any divine warrant.

    Again, this all seems to me to be another form of the theology of glory. Instead of submitting to the humiliation of a closed canon and, apart from Scripture, relative silence from God until the consummation we have a class of super-spiritual folk who are going to climb into heaven and drag another, ongoing word from God whether he’s speaking or not. That way folk feel (that’s the key word here) that God is still “with” us — because the preached Word and the sacraments just don’t “do it’ for them.

    Anything that marginalizes the centrality, uniqueness, and authority of Holy Scripture isn’t Reformed. Claims to continuing revelation necessarily relativize Scripture. Ergo, they aren’t Reformed.

  3. Thanks for this Scott. It’s something I’ve wrestled with. There is something attractive and at first glance, vital, about the Grudem view. Yet ultimately, it leads to emotional paralysis and downright wackiness (ala Kansas City Prophets who I’m sure Grudem has had some contact with). My follow up post deals with Gaffin’s interepretation of contemporary experiences, which I think is pretty sensible.

  4. Thanks for this post. As a fellow Reformed Cessationist, I find it encouraging. Do you have any recommended reading concerning the exegesis of scripture which has brought you to such a conclusion?

  5. Hi Tim,

    Perversely, when I was working through this issue I mainly read Pentecostal/Charismatic authors and commentators! It was Grudem himself who began to push me away from his view. He gave a paper at ETS in Kansas City where I was a pastor at the time. I was in the midst of the KC Prophets (and didn’t realize it. I was attending a charismatic prayer group and reading Lloyd-Jones’ last two books which were a case for continuing gifts from a predestinarian/divine sovereignty perspective. I read Grudem. I read Fee’s commentary on 1 Cor.

    On the cessationist side I was influenced by Dick Gaffin’s book Perspectives on Pentecost (Philipsburg: P & R Publishing, 1979). I’m also influenced by Kline’s work on the Scripture as canon relative to the biblical notion of covenant. See Meredith G. Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1997).

    In recent years I’ve been most influenced by the arguments of the old Reformed theologians against the Anabaptists. See RRC.

  6. On Canonical – Gaffin’s argument (if i remember right) is that because the canon is closed prophecy has stopped. I wonder if using the broad sense of the word weakens his arguments and opens the possibility of God continuing to reveal himself.

    I’m a critical outsider to the charismatic world, but i’ve really never heard of people with the “gift of prophecy” trying to write new books of the Bible. – It’s more along the lines of pointed application, or prediction. Most of the time I’d attribute it to lucky guess work(?), but I’m not convinced that allowing for the idea of the Spirit helping someone know what to say marginalizes scripture.

    Also, on other gifts. OK fine whatever take we have on the gift of tongues, or healing or knowledge – must one deny continuation of ALL of them to be reformed, or only prophecy?

  7. Sam,

    There’s a distinction to be made between the Spirit’s illuminating work and continuing revelation or prophecy or things of that sort. Reformed theology has always taught the continuing work of the Spirit in the heart and life of the Christian including the work of illuminating the Scriptures. God helping us we learn to apply the Scriptures to particular circumstances and questions.

    What we shouldn’t do, however, is to try to make those insights or applications canonical or even quasi-canonical. We might be wrong. We live in the time between the advents. We don’t live in the canonical period. We don’t live in redemptive history. Jesus is ascended. The Spirit is present and he is saving his people but the great acts of redemption have been accomplished. The Spirit has promised to operate through the preaching of the gospel and through the administration of the sacraments. I fear that the quest for ongoing revelation or prophecy etc is a form of QIRE and a form of the theology of glory.

    What is a non-canonical revelation? When has the Spirit ever revealed the will of God such that it might be wrong? If someone is going to make that case they need a much stronger foundation than Agabus — certainly one of the most difficult passages in the NT and perhaps all of Scripture.

    So, yes, the Spirit does help us actively and presently but that’s not really what is at issue is it?

  8. Dr. Clark,

    I’ve been appreciatively following your blog for some time now (and more recently reading RRC). Thank you for your labours!

    Just last night I happened to be reviewing Gaffin, Poythress and Grudem on this very question. On reading your post I wondered if you were familiar with Vern Poythress’ article “Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit within Cessationist Theology” (available on his website), as he presents a very interesting and well-argued case for the possibility of modern “Spirit-worked” phenomena that convey what you have called “non-canonical” content.

    You wrote above: “Either a message comes from God or it does not. If it does it is canonical in some sense, even if not preserved. It is at least canonical in the broad sense of serving as a rule for a community and for a time.”

    Poythress makes a distinction between teaching, applicatory and circumstantial content, arguing that the former can and must be judged against the infallible canon of the Scriptures (cf. evaluating a (fallible) sermon), whereas the latter two (e.g. the Spurgeon ‘gloves in pocket’ example) do not at all threaten or marginalise the sufficiency of Scripture, because they in NO way serve “as a rule for a community”.

    To quote Poythress: “What matters is that the recipients received information, not that the information had some special status. Hence, I would argue that information of this kind belongs to the same broad category as information received through long-distance telephone calls, newspaper news, and direct observation. It is simply information about the world, not more, not less. In principle, it is no more a “threat” to the sufficiency of Scripture than is information about whether I brushed my teeth after breakfast!” (from point 6 in his article.)

    What do you make of Poythress’ points? Are you familiar with any others who have critiqued or interacted with this article?

    Many thanks for your thoughts!

  9. Hi Alister,

    I’ve seen some of this but I haven’t looked at it closely. I appreciate Vern’s irenic spirit and I quite appreciated his study and critique of dispensationalism some years back.

    I understand that Vern uses some version of Frame’s “triperspectival” method and therein I see some difficulties. I think Vern does something like his essay on baptism, trying to minimize the differences between Baptists and paedobaptists. I perceive (judging only by your summary) a sort of equivocation that I’ve seen in other triperspectivalists.

    The distinction that is most important here is the distinction between canonical revelation and every other source of information or authority.

    In light of that distinction I think I disagree with his premise that “what matters is that the recipients received information” and not the status of that information. That’s just the point. We should be very careful to guard the unique status of “information” (revelation!) we have received from God in the canon of Scripture. It alone has divine warrant.

    I’ve noticed among triperspectivalists an attempt to muddy the distinction between the norm, the subject applying the norm, and the circumstance in which the norm is applied. We should say that the norm is unique. It norms the subject, it norms the circumstance and the object. I recall my old teacher John Frame saying once in class (or more than once) that he intended to “fuzz” distinctions. My project, as I’m being taught by the older orthodox theologians is go about re-establishing distinctions as they were developed for a reason not just because they had nothing else to do.

    This is why we’ve been careful to distinguish between Scripture and the application of Scripture or the interpretation of Scripture. The latter is inspried and inerrant. The interpretation or application of it is not. My experience doesn’t norm Scripture. My circumstance doesn’t norm Scripture. Nothing norms Scripture. That’s why we confess that a sermon is the Word of God insofar as it is faithful to God’s Word. That’s an important distinction.

    Thus I go back to the binary choice I presented earlier. Either a word is from God or it is not. If it is not, then it joins the parade of the rest of merely human speech. If it has a divine source then it takes on divine authority. By this I don’t mean to say that merely human speech is not authoritative. It is. Perhaps if we recognized this we wouldn’t feel the need to baptize every prayerful thought as a “word from the Lord.”

    Someone tells me he has “a word from God.” Okay. That phrase “from God” changes everything. That claim is an authority claim. That’s why people say, “God told me.” If they didn’t want to make a claim to authority they wouldn’t claim divine authorship or origin of their message.

    The way of such private revelations is the way of bondage to a million private experiences and authority claims. It will necessarily destroy the very freedom granted to us by the unique authority of Scripture.

  10. IMHO – Well, what’s at issue if if Reformed people must believe that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as tongues, prophecy and healing, ceased being practiced early on in Church history. (or whatever definition of cessationist you want to use.) –

    At some point definitions gifts become important. I understand your point – but, i feel like you really have to either 1) explain why the continuation of all gifts are at odds with sola scriptura, 2) define gifts in a way that every non-cessationist can agree on or 3) restate the title to something like Must Reformed Christians believe that the gift of canonical prophecy has ended.

    Just my opinion.

  11. Scott,

    Here is some bibliography that folks might find helpful to elaborate or defend Dr. Gaffin’s remarkable work.

    1. Richard B. Gaffin, Douglas A. Oss, Wayne A. Grudem, Stanley N Gundry, C. Samuel Storms, Robert L. Saucy, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views (Zondervan, 1996).

    2. O. Palmer Robertson, The Final Word: A Biblical Response to the Case for Tongues and Prophecy Today (P & R, 1993).

    3. Richard B. Gaffin and R. Fowler White, “Eclipsing the Canon? The Spirit, the Word, and ‘Revelations of the Third Kind’,” in Gary L. W. Johnson and R. Fowler White, eds., Whatever Happened to the Reformation? (P & R, 2001).

    4. R. Fowler White, “Contrary to What You May Have Heard: On the Rhetoric and Reality of Claims of Continuing Revelation,” in Gary L. W. Johnson and R. Fowler White, eds., Whatever Happened to the Reformation? (P & R, 2001).

    5. R. Fowler White, “Does God Speak Today Apart from the Bible?” in John H. Armstrong, ed., The Coming Crisis in Evangelicalism: Modern Challenges to the Authority of the Gospel (Moody Press, 1996).

    6. R. Fowler White, “Gaffin and Grudem on Eph 2:20: In Defense of Gaffin’s Cessationist Exegesis,” WTJ 54 (1992) 303-20.

    7. R. Fowler White,“Richard Gaffin and Wayne Grudem on 1 Cor 13:10: A Comparison of Cessationist and Noncessationist Argumentation,” JETS 35/2 (1992) 173-81.

  12. Hi Fowler,

    As always you’re very helpful! Thanks.


    I can’t provide a whole theology of cessation here. It’s a blog. I can point you to other resources (see above!).

    What is at stake with the other gifts, as I’ve argued before, is the uniqueness of redemptive history and the special association with redemptive history of those signs/gifts.

    We’re not apostles. Nobody, after the close of the apostolic age, has power to raise people from the dead or to put them to death. That was an apostolic gift associated with the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ and with the ministry of those he empowered specially to be his authorized representatives in the world.

    Moses is dead and glorified. David is dead and glorified. The Apostles are dead and glorified. The gifts endowed at Pentecost ceased with their ministry. They were part of the canonical process and part of redemptive history. It is clear that the modern charismatic and Pentecostal movements do not accept this association.

    The claim that the gifts are ongoing is part of the repeated attempt, since the 3rd century, to overcome the fact that the canon is closed and the apostles are gone. It’s a reflection of an over-realized eschatology. It’s a refusal to live in the in-between time.

    I doubt sincerely that I can meet test 2. The Pentecostal/charismatic folks will never agree to my definition since their definition is their reason for existence. My definition defines them out of existence. I’ve seen it. I’ve heard it. I’ve read it and modern Pentecostalism isn’t what happened in Acts 2 nor is it what happened in Corinth. The Cs and the Ps will never accept that verdict, however, because they can’t accept that the apostolic age is really closed.

    I’m comfortable with the title. The gifts are done. We’re cessationists. We confess the finality of Scripture. We confess that the apostolic age is over. The old Reformed guys called the very phenomena that we call Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement “enthusiasm” and “fanaticism.”

    • Scott, you have a real way with terminology and I am happy that you feel comfortable. Your definition defines them (the Ps and the Cs) out of existence you say. It really is an us and a them to you isn’t it? Your boast to being cessationist may equally be a confession of unbelief. You are too scholastic , too objective. Forget the fanaticism and the excesses of self indulgent false prophets. Consider the working of a child like faith in which one does not limit God. Your black and white objectivism will destroy your ability to experience anything God may want to do in your life. Cheers……….. Koos de Vries.

  13. You’re claiming too much and defining too narrowly. You also seem to be on a mission to norm everything to what doesn’t make you uncomfortable.

  14. Samuel Rutherford presents a more interesting case than perhaps has been represented here. If Rutherford was publishing in support of a doctrinal position that was at odds with the Westminster Confession of Faith, wouldn’t you expect that to have created some controversy given his historical setting? Is it possible that Rutherford’s apparent position of non-revelatory prophetic words was broadly accepted by his contemporaries? Perhaps current Reformed opposition to such a notion has more to do with crazy Pentecostals that currently abound and a discomfort with the supernatural that has overwhelmed the church since the Enlightenment. I do not think Grudem’s argument holds either, but I do think a more careful examination of Poythress is warranted. Few but a few crazies believe that the canon is open. I think insisting that perpetuity of the gifts requires an open canon, a la O. Palmer Robertson, is somewhat of a straw man in the debate. A convenient crazy target that is easy to knock down. John Knox and Samuel Rutherford certainly believed in a closed canon did they not?

  15. “I recall my old teacher John Frame saying once in class (or more than once) that he intended to “fuzz” distinctions. ”

    Dr. Clark,

    Is this comment in print? If so, where?
    I thought teaching elders were to stop the mouth of gainsayers, not become one themselves. Or am I missing something (maybe even hallucinating)?

  16. Bob,

    You can see it somewhat in his early volume on triperspectivalism and in the first volume in his series. Both are 20+ years old however and the method has developed since.


    1. Why the anonymous comment? If someone is writing something that might get them into trouble I can understand it but I don’t understand it in this case since we’re just talking history here. If I have to take responsibility for everything I say here, why shouldn’t you and everyone else?

    2. You’re making an argument from silence.

    3. On reflection it occurred to me that the word “prophecy” was used in re “prophecy conferences” that had nothing to do with “foretelling” or the future or special revelations. I wondered if Oss had completely misunderstood Rutherford. I don’t know. I haven’t had time to check it out.

    That said, I do think there was, in the 16th and 17th centuries, a kind of supernaturalism then that is harder to recover today. Does that make me a skeptic or a deist? No. That argument is beneath even anonymous commentators. Isn’t also possible to over- react to the Enlightenment? This is an argument that has been ongoing between the Reformed and the Anabaptists since the early part of the 16th century, as I show in RRC.

    It’s not just a few crazies who want to pry open the canon. There are lots of folk out there with a canon opener in hand.

  17. I am one who has strong leanings toward a more covenant reformed theology in many, many aspects. Yet, I find myself as a full continuationist. I know, that is anathema to most reformed believers. 🙂 But that is where I stand.

    To state that we believe in sola Scriptura, that the 66 books of Scripture are canonical, this means that we believe that Scripture is the measuring stick and standard for our faith. I do believe it was in the providence of God that our fathers sat down and agreed on the whole 66 books of the Bible as that standard. No doubt it helped guard against massive amounts of heresy in that day, and it still does the same today. I believe it was a necessary decision of our fathers in the faith so that we might have a standard by which we could measure our faith and practice.

    But being a full continuationist does not mean, at least from my perspective, that we do not need to re-open the canon. When someone prophesies, it doesn’t mean we start a letter called 2 Romans or 3 Thessalonians to which we will later add into our Bibles. But it does mean we listen, even weigh it, knowing that God still wants to communicate with His Bride today.

    I believe that it is safe to conclude that not every prophecy and apostolic word ever spoken (or written) was bound into the canon of Scripture. Some things were lost, some things were never recorded, and maybe other such things as these.

    I, too, struggle with Grudem’s conclusions about prophecy in NT times and connecting apostles & prophets in Eph 2. And I don’t agree with his conclusions about Agabus. Interestingly enough, his own seminary professor, Edmund Clowney, addressed Grudem’s thoughts on Agabus, pointing out some holes and falacies. I thought that was interesting since Clowney is a full cessationist while Grudem is a partial cessationist. (link to Clowney’s book, The Church.)

    I don’t know if you would have time or interest, but I started a series on Cessationism & Continuationism over at Theologica, a theological discussion board. I would appreciate any interaction and comments.


  18. Scott,

    What do you make of Meredith Kline’s account of Scripture as a covenantal document and re the unique redemptive acts in salvation history (Structure of Biblical Authority)?

    There’s a difference, don’t you think, between saying that not every word revealed was canonical in the narrow sense (i.e. preserved in the canon of Scripture) and being canonical in the broad sense? If God spoke, and he did, in the apostolic period, those words were canonical for them. He did not preserve those words for us but that doesn’t make them utterly non-canonical, nor does it mean that we can repeat the phenomena. In the post-apostolic period, the only canon we have is the written canon.

    As to “sitting down” and forming a canon, there’s just no evidence for any such thing. The history is that the church gradually received various NT books as canonical because they had intrinsic evidence/marks of canonicity. Yes, there were lists drawn up, but those were in response to gnostic canonical lists that were either too broad or too narrow. Those lists did not “form” the canon.

    The fundamental problem with “continuationism” is that no one can show that the phenomena that folk claim as apostolic today is actually that and no one can actually replicate the things that would be unambiguous. I mean that “languages” is potentially ambiguous. I don’t think it’s that difficult frankly. It’s clear that natural languages were given supernaturally in Acts 2 and I’m confident that the same phenomena occurred in 1 Cor. People disagree. Fine. Let’s go to healings and raising the dead and teleporting about. These things are relatively straightforward. Either folk can do these things today in a verifiable way or they cannot. I say that they cannot. B. B. Warfield made this argument in Counterfeit Miracles.

    I say that what people claim as apostolic phenomena are, at best, a poor replica. They are mostly natural psychological and religious phenomena that are universal. What are claimed as tongues have been practiced as ecstatic religious speech for centuries in all world religions. Vos noted that in the early 20th century or late 19th century. In my experience with Pentecostal prayer groups and services the most ordinary, natural phenomena become baptized as “apostolic” or “supernatural” in order to give them greater authority, validity, or affective influence. In our post-apostolic age, snake handlers die. When the Apostle was bitten, he didn’t die. In our age, Pentecostalists drive about in (sometimes very fancy!) cars and fly about in planes. In the Apostolic era at least some folk were carried about by the Spirit! There’s a real difference there.

    I’m not saying that God the Spirit doesn’t do wonderful things. I’m not saying that he never heals people. I’m not saying that he doesn’t illumine the Scriptures or that he doesn’t operate powerfully through the Word and sacrament to accomplish his glorious purposes. He certainly does all that.

    I am sure, however, that the charismatic/Pentecostal claims to carry on the apostolic ministry with the apostolic sign gifts is a hollow claim which comes out of a desire either to overcome the fact that we live in the in-between time, an over-realized eschatology or a desire to certify one’s faith.

    We’ve been given the Spirit and the Word. We’ve been given the sacraments and the promises. Jesus is not here bodily. We live by faith, not by sight.

  19. Scott (nice name) –

    Thanks for the interaction. I am very aware of most, if not all of, the reformed (or cessationist) arguments. I was thankful to study at the good reformed seminary of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, one of the training bases of the PCA. While I agree with most everything I received from the reformed tradition, I don’t believe the cessationist arguments stand on such solid ground, which I am looking to address in my series on Cessationism & Continuationism.

    No doubt people want proof of such things. In the series I have referred to, I wrote up an article looking at some of the comments of the father’s of church history, and my next article will look at the more recent phenomenon of the past 100+ years.

    I am convinced that I have seen every single gift of Scripture in action. I have not personally been used in each, but I know that the people within the churches with which I am a part of have been used in all of them. I cannot deny it.

    Some books with recent recordings of the miraculous and healings are Megashift by James Rutz. Or there is the record of some of the happenings in China in the book The Heavenly Man.

    Yet, as you will see in my articles, I also am looking to ground everything in the Scriptures. Please know that I hold the canon of Scripture as God’s Word, even a measuring stick for prophecy and the practice of our faith. True, as you noted, it’s not as simple as sitting down to formulate a 66-book canon, but I do believe it records the revelation of God as ultimately culminating in the new covenant and Christ. But I do not believe this necessitates to say certain gifts were given then to authenticate the message, but because that message has now been fully formulated in the apostolic writings, we no longer need these gifts of God. The Bride has always needed all that God has to accomplish, by empowering grace, all that God has asked. I cannot conclude otherwise.

  20. Scott,

    Your post seems to fall into the very problem identified by Warfield so long ago. You say, “I have seen…”

    You’ve seen people teleported, raised from the dead etc? Really?

    Who else saw them?

    Why don’t you people open a clinic? I’m serious about this. I’ve believing friends who are quite ill and who love Jesus. It would be great if someone had the power to lay hands on them and presto!

    Of course the apostles themselves didn’t heal everyone they could because that wasn’t the point of the gifts, but since the continuationists aren’t claiming to be apostles, then what else have you to do with your time. Get busy!

  21. Scott –

    You’re being silly now. I know cessationists generally like to argue that, if such gifts of healings and miracles happen today, then why don’t we just go out and, ‘presto’, do it. The gift of healing and miracles is not about microwave manifestations that happen whenever you want them in three minutes or less. Sorry. That is frustrating to the westerner that wants his evidential proof everything, but we must consider that these are gifts given as the Spirit wills (1 Cor 12:11).

    These gifts are connected with a Spirit measure of faith given (this is the 1 Cor 12 gift of faith, not that which all believers have), as well as walking out life as Jesus did, only doing what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19-20). Surely Jesus didn’t heal everyone, but He did walk in what the Father gave Him as He heard, saw, and was led by the Father through the Spirit. Sure, this can be seen as an easy scapegoat saying, ‘We’re not doing it because God didn’t say do it,’ but I am not trying to give a scapegoat. I want to do this in a healthy and God-honoring way. And do be assured that I am not some guy with his head in the clouds who claims all this stuff and never has any ‘proof’. Matter of fact, one of the main gifts I have function in is teaching.

    But, I cannot deny that my friend laid his hands on a young man’s hands full of warts and when he took his hands off, all warts were gone. I cannot deny that another friend of mine, about to be attacked by an angry man who had busted into his room with an ax then said, ‘In the name of Jesus fall to your knees,’ and the man fell to his knees and could not move. Or another friend who has never learned another language outside of his mother tongue, but he has spoken in dozens and dozens of other languages and dialects as needed in proclaiming the gospel. I’m sorry, I cannot deny these things to you. These are my close, close friends, humble, godly character, accountable to God’s Word and the body of Christ, not some weirdos proclaiming suspect things.

    I know you want empirical proof, and that is fine, though I believe my understanding is grounded in the Scriptures. I’ve listed two books above, I’ve shared the own testimonies of the believers and churches I work with, and I’ve even discussed things theologically in the article series. These things happen. Try and tell those who have witnessed such that it is psycho-somatic, or just hyped up energy. Try to tell the persecuted church in China it ain’t happening. Try and tell the church in India and Africa these things aren’t happening. It won’t work.

    Sure there are many who misuse, abuse, and fake. But misuse and abuse does not mean they are false. It simply means we look to be faithful to use such things healthily and in accordance with what God has communicated in His Word.

    I see that you are a professor at Westminster, so you probably don’t have time. But I would encourage you to consider my articles.

  22. Scott,

    So, at the end of the day, the reason I can’t raise the dead, put people to death, speak foreign languages without study or travel without the use of machines is because I don’t have enough faith?

    I confess that I don’t have enough faith! I’m a terrible sinner and my sanctification is far from complete but was that why the Apostles were able to do these things? Because they had enough faith? Did the Holy Spirit descend upon Peter at Pentecost because he had enough faith?

    I think your argument would be better served by following the model of Lloyd-Jones who argued, late in his career, that if the sovereign Spirit wants to give gifts he will.

    This of course takes us back to the whole question whether what happens now is rightly interpreted as being the same thing that happened then. Westerner that I am, I want empirical evidence. Why is that a “western” thing? The apostles provided empirical evidence and they weren’t “westerners.” What’s “western” about empirical evidence. When the Apostle Paul was bitten by a snake he shook it off and people saw it. They testified to it. When the Apostle Peter put people to death, people saw it and testified to it. When they healed people, they did it in public. The Apostle Peter spoke in known, natural languages supernaturally in front of thousands of people. It was public. It was empirically verifiable.

    I’ve yet to see a modern Pentecostalist do those same things.

    What is it about your theology Scott that qualifies it as “Reformed”?

    Who are the great “Reformed” pentecostalists or charismatics in the 16th and 17th century?

    WWCS? What would Calvin say about your claim to be reproducing the Apostolic phenomena? I know what he did say to the Anabaptists who claimed the very same things you’re claiming. I know what Luther said about the Zwickau prophets and others. I know what Guido de Bres, author of the Belgic Confession, said to Thomas Muntzer, who made many of the same arguments that non-cessationists or continuationists make today. Calvin and de Bres et al were Reformed. They were cessationists. So far as I know, Oss’ claims about Rutherford not withstanding (I’ll check them out today, Dv), the Reformed orthodox theologians taught a “Word and sacrament” piety (see RRC) not a “signs and wonders” piety.

    So the question is whether a “signs and wonders” piety can be welded on to the Reformed confession (theology, piety, and practice) without creating a monstrosity. I don’t think it can because I think they are fundamentally (radically) different principles. One of us is wrong. We cannot both be right.

  23. Scott –

    My reformed and covenantal leanings are in soteriology, which effects just about everything such as my eschatology, but I do note that my ecclesiology differs somewhat. I believe in the progressive covenantal nature of God’s revelation ultimately culminating in the new covenant in Christ.

    So, though I am probably not as covenantally reformed as someone like yourself, I really do appreciate and respect and love learning from such a view. That is why I chose to do my grad work at Covenant Seminary.

    You stated – ‘So, at the end of the day, the reason I can’t raise the dead, put people to death, speak foreign languages without study or travel without the use of machines is because I don’t have enough faith?’

    You are reading something into my statements. I am not bashing you and saying you are faithless (though I do note that faith is a very necessary component, yet the gift of faith, in both salvation and as a pnematika gift, are from Him). I was simply distinguishing between the gift of faith to enact healings and miracles, also given sovereignly by God’s Spirit (1 Cor 12:11), and the gift of faith given to each believer.

    I am not against empirical evidence as a whole. I just know that you want evidence and examples. I’ve listed things of which those that I work with have participated in, I’ve listed some books with documented testimonial true evidence of such things, and I’ve listed some articles in which I even quote some of the historic church fathers in regards to their experience and knowledge of such giftings still existing in their time (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Novation).

    I cannot deny these things as of God and still given to His Bride today to accomplish the same work for the kingdom of God that the first believers started with.

  24. Scott –

    I would ask that, if you are, please don’t try and project onto me some super-Pentecostal image onto me. You might be reading into me things unfairly. I have never tried to teach two-tier Christianity or that you personally are lacking in faith. You are reading something into my comments. I am a sensible follower of Christ who has given his life to God and the study of His Word. I believe we are all one in Christ with differing gifts.

    Personally, I have very rarely been used in healings and miracles, maybe not even at all. But the churches and believers I work alongside with have been used in every gift listed in 1 Cor 12, as well as all giftings listed in the NT. I believe Scripture does not teach they would cease and I’ve seen these gifts in action. I cannot deny what I have seen God do.

  25. Scott,

    I’ve NEVER been used in healing. I’ve tried. I used to pray with “spiritual,” charismatic, guys (in Kansas City, during the KC prophets movement), who used to “heal” routinely. One day, during prayer, one of the pastors of a local charismatic (Vineyard) church asked us to heal his injured knee (in lieu of surgery). We prayed. Some spoke “in tongues.” We all laid hands on this cat’s knee. When we were done we asked him if it still hurt, and he said yes. What happened? Did I, the skeptical Presbyterian, ruin it? If so, how?

    “When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god” (Acts 28).

    That’s true, Pentecostal authority and power. When Paul was bitten people doubted. He lived. Why? He was an APOSTLE. Why wasn’t this fellow healed during our prayer group? Obviously, in the providence of God, the Spirit might have chosen to heal him but he did not. Had the Apostles prayed for this fellow he would have been healed. Acts 3:6, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” We invoked the name of Jesus but nothing happened. When the Apostles’ healed there was no ambiguity. Even unbelievers acknowledged them: “For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.” (Acts 4). Acts 5 says “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles” and the “people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.”

    This is not what we see with modern Pentecostalism. At best what we observe are sporadic reports of signs and wonders that are not publicly demonstrable. Indeed the claim to be able to perpetuate signs and wonders has brought the faith into disrepute in some instances because of well-known charlatans using deception to create the illusion of healing.

    You claim that some Christians are able sometimes to heal other people. I say that God is able to do what he wills when he wills but that the office of apostle and the sign and wonders of the apostolic period have ceased. If there are Christians who participate in truly apostolic signs and wonders then there are necessarily two classes of Christians, those who continue to exercise apostolic authority and power and those who do not. This is a grave problem.

    To resolve this crisis I say that neo-Pentecostalists are guilty of religious enthusiasm, of re-describing mundane, natural, ordinary phenomena in supernatural, apostolic categories.

    This is what I found to be true with “Spirit-filled” charismatic and Pentecostal pastor friends in Kansas City, one of whom offered to “give” me the Holy Spirit. I declined. I’m a Calvinist and we’ve been getting on well enough without the “Holy Spirit” he wanted to give to me. Did I make a mistake? Might I have received the “Holy Spirit” just then? Did he have the authority to dispense the Holy Spirit?

    These fellows were earnest but credulous. Nothing ordinary ever happened to them. If one of them had gas it was an attack of Satan or a demon. If one of them had an insight into or application of a passage it was a “message from the Lord.” If one of them smacked someone in the frontal lobe with the heal of the hand it produced a temporary shock (mild concussion!) and the shockee was hauled away. In fact I can reproduce the “tongues” I heard almost perfectly and I’m about as dead orthodox as you’ll find.

    You are unsure that you’ve ever seen any signs and wonders but you claim others have. This is exactly the sort of thing about which Warfield complained. Have you read that book? You really should. Don’t you see how different what you claim is from what Luke recorded as indisputable fact?

    I submit that no one has genuine power to perform apostolic signs and wonders but an apostle and the last apostle to die was the Apostle John. I’m familiar with the credulous patristic accounts and I treat them the same way I treat the modern neo-Pentecostal claims. The antiquity and enthusiasm are not sufficient evidence of their reality.

  26. Scott –

    What about those who were not apostles that were used in signs and wonders: Stephen (Acts 6:8), Philip (Acts 8:4-7, 13, 39), Ananias (Acts 9:17-18), Agabus in the prophetic (Acts 11:28; 21:10f), Philip’s daughters prophesying (Acts 21:9)? Also, Paul gave a list of giftings to the Corinthian church that included miracles, gifts of healings, prophecy, tongues. Did he list such and ask them to earnestly desire such things but never expected them to be used in them? Are these signs, wonders, and spiritual gifts only for apostles?

    And what about the apostles that were not used in signs and wonders, at least that we know of – Barnabas, James, Apollos, possibly others?

    What about those in the first century that did not receive any healing or received healing through ‘natural’ means: Epaphroditus possibly not being healed by supernaturally (Phil 2:25-30), Timothy’s stomach problem (1 Tim 5:23), Trophimus left ill by Paul (2 Tim 4:20), and possibly Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12:7-10)?

    I know a cessationist will claim that signs and wonders, healings and miracles were given on command to the apostles of the first century. But I don’t think that can be substantiated. It’s very suspect, only a presupposition I do not believe is grounded in the full testimony of the NT. As stated above, there were the four who were not healed supernaturally, and no doubt that every person the first apostles passed was not healed. This isn’t just saying people lacked faith, but rather God worked the giftings of faith, healings and miracles as He saw fit. The apostles were interacting with God just in the same way Jesus did – asking, ‘Father, what are you doing because that is what we want to do?’ (John 5:19-20)

    You stated – ‘This is not what we see with modern Pentecostalism. At best what we observe are sporadic reports of signs and wonders that are not publicly demonstrable. Indeed the claim to be able to perpetuate signs and wonders has brought the faith into disrepute in some instances because of well-known charlatans using deception to create the illusion of healing.’

    I am ok if I don’t have a report each and every day. Acts took place over 30 years or so, and they didn’t report something every day. Yet, knowing there are some 1 billion Christians estimated in the earth today, I wouldn’t be surprised if miracles and healings are happening on a daily basis when accounting the work of God that is taking place throughout the ends of earth. He’s got a lot of followers these days. It’s exciting!

    Please know that I am aware there are many making false claims, even defaming the name of Christ in the name of weird things. It grieves my heart. But misuse and abuse does not mean that we are not to be used in these gifts. Rather, it challenges us to get into the Scriptures and know what is true healthy and godly practice. That is our challenge and God’s heart in the matter.

    You also stated – ‘If there are Christians who participate in truly apostolic signs and wonders then there are necessarily two classes of Christians, those who continue to exercise apostolic authority and power and those who do not. This is a grave problem.’

    I can’t see this dichotomy in the NT. Sure, American and western Christianity loves the dichotomy and two-tier system of saints (non-charismatics included). But, when I read the NT, I don’t get this idea that Paul and Peter and John and Barnabas and James were trying to create a two-tier Christianity. They knew God gifted people with the measures as He saw fit. But they were all still part of the same body. Matter of fact, Paul argues in 1 Cor 12 that the weaker and more feeble parts are to receive the greater honor. This is the true nature of the unity and servant hearted nature of Christ’s body.

    I never stated I have not seen healings and miracles. I have. But I am not aware of being used in such, yet I have been the recipient of healing through prayer and laying on of hands of God’s people. But I have seen others be used in healings or prophecy or words of knowledge, though I do believe God has used me in the prophetic before. And, those who I spoke of as being used in healings and miracles, they are my close friends in ministry. They are not charlatans. They are godly, humble followers of Christ submitted to the Word of God and to the body of Christ, and they have been used in these kinds of giftings before. I have no reservations about these truths, not to mention I have seen my friends used in such. I’m not just making some silly claims. I’ve seen these things in action.

    You have claimed the testimonies of the church fathers are insufficient support for continuationism, yet Warfield is to be a sufficient evidence that these things have ceased? I’m not sure that is a fair consideration.

    I sense a cynicism in your comments. I am sorry if I am reading them wrongly, but you seem pretty patronizing towards me.

  27. Scott,

    Making dichotomies is not inherently western. Jesus made a body/soul dichotomy and he wasn’t a “Westerner.” This line of argumentation is a non starter.

    I’m asking you to consider Warfield’s criticism of the renewed claims of Pentecostal power.

    I don’t intend to be patronizing. I am not a cynic. Would a cynic spend time in Pentecostal prayer meetings? I am skeptical, however. There’s a difference.

    Is it possible that your Christian friends are well intentioned but deluded or that they misinterpret their experience? Doesn’t much of your argument depend on a certain interpretation of providence?

  28. Scott –

    Thanks for letting me know your heart and intentions. Sorry for any wrong accusations.

    I wish you would have interacted with a few more of my questions and statements in my last comment.

    But you did state – ‘Making dichotomies is not inherently western. Jesus made a body/soul dichotomy and he wasn’t a “Westerner.” This line of argumentation is a non starter.’

    Jesus’ distinguishing between body and soul does not give precedence for creating a two-tier Christianity, does it? Remember I don’t claim such a division, but you were asking if I believe in such because I believe such gifts still exist. But I am not trying to create a two-tier, divisive Christianity. I believe it is unhelpful, even non-Christlike. I don’t see it in the NT. I do see that there are those gifted in certain ministry roles for equipping the saints, yet also Paul highlighted the importance of every joint and member supplying unto the body for its building up.

    It’s funny that we suggest books to one another, for we both have a list 10 ft long (or more). I must admit I don’t have time to pick up Warfield’s book at this point, and you probably don’t have time to jump over and read my very short articles, or the books I suggested.

    I know it is easy from your perspective to just mark the testimony of my friends down as being deluded or misinterpreting things. But I believe their testimony as well as I’ve seen such workings of the spiritual gifts in our midst. There is also way too much testimony of such happenings all over the earth, even documented stuff for people who want empirical evidence. I am ok with that. It is honorable if we stay humble. And I think such evidence is available. It’s just that we always go round in circles – evidence is asked for, evidence is given, the evidence is always questioned without doubt, more evidence is asked for, evidence is given, the new evidence is always questioned, and so we go on and on.

  29. Scott,

    I’m quite opposed to two-tier Christianity chiefly on the basis that its contrary to the spirit and intent of 1 Cor.

    It’s difficult for me to see how any continuationist can avoid de facto 2-tier Christianity simply for the fact that most of us don’t and never will have the apostolic gifts or even vague replicas of them. Yet, some folk claim to have those gifts.

    How can this be? Were there two classes of folks in the NT? Those with gifts and those without? It doesn’t seem so.

    Further, there is an unavoidable ambiguity about evidence from contemporary testimony. There wasn’t such ambiguity in the apostolic period.

    I’m 47. I worked through this stuff 17 years ago. I’ve read a good bit of pro-pentecostal literature. I’m not ignorant of the better arguments (e.g. G. Fee, M. Lloyd-Jones et al).

    • You have spent too much time reading and not enough time listening to God mate. You sound like quite the exegetical expert. Come to god like a child sir. Don’t blame your unbelief and non-experience of healing on God. You say I am not ignorant”’ etc. of the arguments. Mate you are spiritually so ignorant for you are lost in your intelectualism. Get real with God and you will undestand spiritual things,. Cheers…. Koos de Vries.

  30. Scott –

    I don’t know if you are reading my comments in full. Please know I am NOT advocating two-tier Christianity. I agree 100% with you. The first followers of Christ were used in miracles, healings, prophecy, tongues, etc, but they never created a two-tier Christianity. So, if they avoided it, I believe we can and must as well. So do know I am NOT and would NEVER try and create a dividing line of the have’s and have not’s. I am in full agreement with you here.

    For the cessationist, I would say there is going to be ambiguity in regards to shared testimony. It just seems to be the de facto stance because of being deeply convinced of the cessationist view about these things being unnecessary because we now have the full testimony of the apostolic witness. It is a nicely packaged view, I must admit, and safer so that we don’t have to deal with the weirdos. But, I cannot believe that the Scriptures or history confirms cessationism. And, no doubt that the weirdos and abusers of such for gain have also helped solidify many cessationists views, if not all.

    But, for me, who has seen these workings of God and knows that they still exist, of course there is no ambiguity to the testimony, outside of the possible frauds and abusers. Sure, people claim things that didn’t really happen, they wanted it so badly. But the fault of some will not disprove that God still works and has worked in such ways amongst His people from day one (day one not being Pentecost, but from when we start to read His workings in the OT). We are thankful that people like Balaam, the false prophets in OT Israel, Simon the magician, and others did not dissuade God’s people that these things were false when walked out in the proper way.

    I know that I will not persuade you. In the end, I know that even if I show solid Biblical evidence for the continuation of such things, which I looked to do in my articles, and shared testimony of church fathers and present day testimonies, the only way one is converted is when they personally see or experience God in such. You only responded in faith to the gospel because He came and did the work within you (though He might have used someone). That work of Hi convinced you. 🙂 And know it will only be the same with these things.

    We will keep pursuing Him and He will be faithful to work in our midst as He desires and pleases. That is a good thing, yet a challenging thing.


  31. Interesting discussion. I would venture that one might term the proper post-apostolic use of the (for short-hand I will use the contemporary verbage) charismatic gifts, specifically prophecy, as “subcanonical”, in that they are subordinate to Scripture and not additive. They often fall short of being rules for conduct, even for a given time and place, instead operating as a means of quickening the application of Scriptural truths to individuals and groups of individuals (1 Cor 14:3). Scripture still reigns, and in the same way the erudition of a preacher/ teacher renders Scriptural truth and application alive to his hearers in “fusing the horizons” of the passage, the life of the hearer, and the church (John Stott’s image), the gift(s–presuming one considers much of the range of gifts in 1 Cor 12:7-11 as charismatic and even prophetic) open the hearers to the experience of God’s truth in their emotional and extra-intellectual beings. God’s word is extended and made more complete by these gifts (as in preaching), not weakened or minimized. Of course there is abuse (same as in preaching!), but the antidote is proper use, not disuse. The tiers, such as they exist, have to do with doctrinal issues more than utilization of apostolic prerogatives, in that a cessationist cannot practice what he does not believe.
    Martin Luther’s opposition to the Enthusists of his day may or may not predict his opposition to charismatic worship today. Again, the tendency of people to stray from the truth into subjectivism is hardly confined to charismatics. Proper use is the remedy.
    The two-tiered argument above proabably eludes me. Even a cursory reading of, say, 1 Corinthians (especially chapters 12-14), seems to clearly demonstrate the presence of charismatic (one might even daresay imporperly used charismatic) worship among rank-and-file believers, yet Paul does not ask them to stop. Rather, he encourages orderly utilization of prophetic gifts and glossolalia.
    Supporting the derivative and historic argument that once the canon of Scripture closed the gifts ceased (which sems to me a straw-man argument from the first–perhaps another time for that though) is a single passage of three verses of Scripture, namely 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, in a context that could not possibly have occured to the original writer (Paul, of whom there is no indication he was prophetically aware of the closure of canon at some undetermined point in future history) or readers, who undoubtedly saw the Parousia in Paul’s words; thus failing fundamental exegetical rules.
    Finally, as a technically, one might concede that Reform tradition is by-and-large cessationist, and thus by definition a charismatic (like me) falls free of that definition. However, if one is interested in biblical truth, which I assume is the point of our various journeys, one might see benefit for both Charismatic and Reformed-doctrine to learn from each other, and committ to conform to the truth Scripture and the Spirit (who brings to remeberance Christ’s teachings in the here-and-now though various giftings, including preaching, teaching, and the gifts, but all subject to the canon of Scripture) teach us.

  32. Dr. Clark,
    Last comment for the day, I promise. So I currently attend Covenant Life Church in Maryland (C.J. Mahaney’s old church) and most, if not all, of the pastors adhere to modern-day tongues (the Pentecostal type). Based on commentaries by Calvin and Henry on 1 Cor 14 and my own experience with the charismatic movement, I came to the conclusion that this type of “tongues” isn’t the Biblical/historical gift of tongues. I was wondering if you knew any articles, books, etc that will explain this more in detail. Thank you once again for your time.

  33. Thank you all for your discussion. I do not have the theological training as so many of you here, only my life’s journey through the maze of “Charismatic” teachings. I spent the first 20 years or so in the “calvary chapel” scene starting with Chuck himself, then moved on to some independant churches administered by a former baseball player, Albie Pearson, who had ties with the “Fort Lauderdale 4 (or five don’t remember which) Bob Mumford, Charles Simpson et al. My last forey was within a Vinyard type church. For all those years I never really felt comfortable about what was going on and despite the rhetoric of us all being “one” we domonstrated the “two tiered” Christianity. Those that had were in those who did not were invisible. My good friend Alfred Poirer, who in early 80’s was attending WSC was able to articulate my misgivings and begin to unfold to me the reformed views. Forward to today my wife and I and one of our children are happily members of PCA . And much more secure in our walk with Christ as we have the solid underpinings of His revealed Word in our lives. My question is why are some of the reformed ministries and people allowing folks such as C J Mahaney, John Piper and such to be a part of the reformed seminars, bookstores, websites, blogs, etc.? Does this not give credence to their position? I do not question their Salvation, but when one holds to the Charismatic position it does seem to color other areas of reformed theology. Additional note: Mr. Clark, would you consider writing (perhaps you already have) about your journey through this movement? It could be helpful for non students such as myself. Thank you all so much

    • Hi Tony,

      You have a lot more experience in this movement than I do! My dalliance was quite brief. I was truly tempted but I don’t think my experience would convince many charismatics. I do deal with this general problem, however, in the book Recovering the Reformed Confession. There’s a chapter in it on the problem of the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience which addressed the historical and theological aspects of the desire to hear from God apart from Word and sacrament ministry.


      • Thank you Sir for your reference, I’ll look at it soon. I don’t take those years of “experience” as a positive thing, yet some how God’s providence still works! While at times I so wish I had been spared those years and would have desired to have been shaped more by reformed teaching, yet I do have to trust that God was working all the time in our lives. We went to all our children (4) and appologized for not teaching them properly from the word and administering the sacrement of Baptism. I think you are right that people do desire to hear from God apart from the Word. I’m not sure why, but I know from experience that we took those “words” with more weight as they seemed more personal. I hope that ScotL would cease from his searching into these things and rest in the sufficiency of God’s Word. I can say with experience that it only leads to uncertainty in one’s life.

  34. I really enjoyed the debate between you Dr. Clark and ScottL. I was raised Pentecostal but am now a member of a Reformed Church. I myself have been healed along with members of my immediate family. At least when it comes to healing I know where I stand, and ultimately if we believe God is sovereign and does as he pleases when he pleases. This talk of a two tiered christianity ceases to be an issue. Just pray and ask God to heal someone, if he does awsome, if not trust he has a reason and ask him for the ability to trust him with that.

    With regard to prophecy. Yes the canon is closed, and Yes God illumines his word to us today via the Holy Spirit. Is this a form of prophecy? Sure and the most effective means for this to occure in the church is expository preaching. If someone makes a prediction, then we know how to test that. We should never order our lives on anything accept the written word. As far as tongues; they were foreign languages given by God as he willed. I too have heard of cases where this has happened today. But have never witnessed it. Maybe it doesnt happen today, but based on not a single explict indication in scripture that this gift was to end at the closing of the canon; again I place it under God’s sovereignty. Which is how I believe this debate should be framed. In fact only those who have a biblical view of the God’s sovereignty can have balanced view of the charismatic gifts.

    Does it bother me that God tends not to use me in these gifts? Not anymore, if he wants to he will, I do not concern myself with that. Nor do I get excited every time someone raves about this or that minister or ministry. Most of the time it’s bunk anyway.

    Just thought I would throw that out there. Hope it helps someone. Take care and God bless.

    • I too have enjoyed the debate between Mr Clark and Scottl, and i have to say that i come down on the side of Scottl. His comments and use of scriptures to back up his arguments win it for him.

      The weakness of the cessationists point of view is that they never produce any scriptures to back up their ideas. Instead, they rely on academic works produced by theologins, which can lead to error. That is not say that all theologins and scholars are wrong in their research, but they are only men producing an opinion on a matter and not a fact. And more often than not they disagree with one another, even the most notable ones.

      It was theologins in Germany around the 16th century who started to question the divine inspiration of the bible. This has been the root cause of liberal theology that has caused so much damage to the church down through the ages and why it has ended up in such a mess. And more recently it was academics within the Church of Scotland who persuaded the Churches General Assembly to vote in favour of allowing a practising homosexual into a ministers post in Scotland, contrary to the teachings of scripture.

      This then is a warning to be careful when using only academic works as a defense of an idea, as you are standing on a foundation of sand.

      The prophet Joel stated that in the last days God would pour out his Holy Spirit on his church, which started at pentecost. The last days are between the first and second coming of Christ. Since Christ has still not come the second time, then the gifts of the spirit are still in operation till then. Nowhere in scripture does it indicate a priod of withdrawl before that time.

      The scriptures also state that we see in part and prophecy in part as though looking through a dark glass until the perfection of all things come. As after perfection comes we will not need these gifts.
      Perfection has not yet come as we can see by the state of the world in general and the church in particular. Perfection comes when Christ returns.

      The scriptures warn about the abuse of these gifts of the Holy Spirit, in that people were prophecying, healing and so on in Christ’s name but will be rejected by Christ when he comes to judge at the end of the age. People will be operating in the gifts of the spirit, but using these gifts to bring glory and praise to themselves. But never the less this indicates that they are in operation till he returns.

      The scriptures state that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given for the benefit and building up of the church ( Church; being the people of Christ )
      The church is still here and will continually need building up and empowered to carry out its work until Christ returns. Nowhere in scriptures does it state a time when the Church here on earth will not need the gifts of the Holy Spirit to function before he returns.

      The only thing the church has to be careful about in relation to anything supernatural is that they prove everything by scripture, as not all supernatural manifestations or experiences are from the Holy Spirit. We have an enemy who can produce counterfeight signs and wonders and so we need to have discernment and a good grasp of scriptures as a safe guard.

      And lastly, as a body without a spirit is dead so is a church !

      • Wow, you actually equate “theologians” together without any critical separations (liberals and Reformed are alike). Also you imported your (flawed) definition that theologians don’t use the Bible but merely arguing based on one’s own intellect and opinions. So your conclusion is all “theologians” are inferior to anybody that can make a few quotations of the Bible (regardless of one’s hermenutical method or exegetical coherency, maybe those terms are too theological for you) and that wins an argument hands down for you.

        To answer your Scriptural proofs (funny how you really just summarize them with your conclusions and observations without actually doing any explicit exegesis, just like a theologian)

        1) Your point on Pentecost and the prophecy of Joel. Your theological assertion is wrong. The work of the Spirit has always been present in the people of God from day 1. Many OT leaders are said to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Pentecost of Acts, is not something new categorically that has never happened before (as you asserted), but rather it asserts itself in a new way, for the purpose of signifying a new covenant age. Once that is done, there’s no need for continuous down pouring of the Holy Spirit in each and every generation as you try to argue. Just as Jesus doesn’t need to go up to the cross and die for each generation, the Holy Spirit doesn’t need to pour itself every day of the year. No doubt the work of the Holy Spirit exists today, but that work is in line with Jesus’ great commission: to spread the Gospel till the ends of the earth, which is exactly what the book of Acts is about. Not, seek after tongues, miracle healing, casting out demons, dreams, etc.

        Second, your theologian-esque statement on how the Scripture demonstrates, negatively and indirectly, that the gifts of the Holy Spirit is still being widely practice, just falsely, is flawed as well. If the practice of these holy gifts are such an instrumental part of Church life why does prolific epistles writers like Peter, John and Paul failed to mention those? Also, if it is so critical why is it for the most part not a major part of Early Church literature, liturgy, and teachings? Did the post-apostolic fathers have so little faith that they can’t even inherit the powers of the Holy Spiritual gifts correctly from the apostles?

        Third, your theological statement on the gift of the Holy Spirit as part of building up the Church is incorrect as well. Please show me where did Paul, Peter, and John insisted that miracles and miraculous gifts are an essential part of church building? To them it starts and ends in one place: the message of the Gospel of Christ.

        Finally, your blanket statement that spiritual gifts need to be prove by Scripture. So far so good but hardly something attainable on a consistent basis. Ok, I’ll bite. I totally accept your way. I just had a dream, Jesus spoke to me and tells me I needed to go to Africa to reach out to the poor starving kids. There, Jesus talked to me personally. How can you prove whether I have genuine or counterfeit prophecy by Scripture?

        Your concluding theological remark about a body with Spirit is dead. I agree. But the “Spirit” you define is different than the Spirit’s work in the Church today revealed by the Scripture.

        Thanks for having a theological dialogue. Next time I hope you quote and exegete Scripture instead of relying on your intellect and opinions.

        • Excuse me if I make a fairly uninformed comment on this.

          In some ways I sympathise with both sides of the argument. There is no basis for 2 tier christianity or for “speaking in tongues” to be given a prominent place in the church. Neither are people likely to be regularily brought back from the dead or miraculously healed. Of course many of the signs and wonders in the bible (both testaments) are there for reasons which don’t apply today. (Moses and Joseph worked with people whose world view included belief in magic or dream-interpretation.)

          That does not mean that
          1. all gifts from God are divided in to 2 types – natural (continuing) and supernatural (ceased)
          2. all supernatural gifts applied to apostles and only to apostles
          3. apart from information explicitly mentioned in scripture we are entirely on our own with decision making etc.

          Throughout the bible there is not such a distinction between “natural” (scientifically predictable) and non-natural events as some make today. The quails appeared conveniently in the desert. Was this a miracle from God – yes! Were the quails following their usual migration path – quite possibly! The same applies to many other instances. Very often the distinction between natural and supernatural is not purely a difference in probability of an event happening but the interpretation of that event. We shouldn’t superspiritualise everything (like those who never get the cold but it’s an attack of the devil). Neither should we live as though God has shoved off to some distant part and does not act in the world today. Mostly God acts through his Word and his people. This does not ban him from acting in other ways whether you call it providence or wonders.

          • So the difference between having a bunch of supernatural gifts back then, versus the lack of frequency of supernatural gifts of today, is simply because Moses/Joseph dealt with ancients that believe in magics and dreams, and we don’t so God’s work appeases to the worldview of the generations?

            Now, I’ll be the first to admit to try and draw any Biblical theological argument in a forum such as a blog is almost impossible (in my opinion.) So everything being said will have to be in summarize form and with brevity.

            There is absolutely no argument for the populace attitude of miracles and miraculous gifts. Even the ancient Israelites, while recognizing that miracles and miraculous events happen, do not go around and whine that they need to learn how to raise the dead, heal the sick, cast out demons, and speak the tongue or they’re missing out on God’s gift. While the entire OT does not lack the miraculous, they are reserved only and specially to God’s servants (by servants I do not use it in the generic sense as if all God’s people are His servants, but the servants that He called throughout Redemptive History for specific purposes, such as Moses, Joshua, prophets, etc.)

            Fast forward to the New Testament. The miracles that Jesus perform are what John calls “signs” that points to His Messianic identity, not something to be mimic. The apostles continues the ability to perform these “signs” because they are Christ’s servants (in the OT sense of the word and not the generic sense) and are direct witnesses to Christ and they serve the most important task of all, laying the foundation of the Church, and they are prophets that they write down the Words of God inspired.

            In the post-apostolic age the need for God’s special servants are no longer required. The Church has direct access to the full Revelation of God (the Bible), the mystery of the Gospel is fully revealed to His people. Hence, the work of the miraculous, which points to the full glory and saving grace of Christ, is done. To demand that these signs be repeated today because the Church needs is the same as to demand Jesus to come down to the world again and be crucified again because the Church needs it.

          • In reply to Reformed Sinner. I was not saying that the church “needs” these gifts in a general sense or that people should be whining for the lack of them. I am not a “charismatic”. That does not mean that these gifts NEVER happen.

            Of course God varies how he works to be understood by the generations he is speaking to. Jesus didn’t just become man he became a particular man in a place and time. Pharoah and his magicians knew exactly what it meant when Moses snake ate their snakes. Nowadays that would just be seen as either a piece of magic for the tabloids to write about or an example of “evolution” in some way. In the same way God speaks to people in a language they understand (that’s why we translate the bible rather than simply teaching hebrew and greek).

            The frequency of supernatural incidents at any point in history is hard to quantify. Some vested interests exagerate while others play down. At no point in history did God do signs as some kind of magic trick. Yes Jesus’ miracles showed his power over the natural world and his identity but when he healed someone it was in order to heal them not as some kind of “proof” for the crowd. (Hence his comment about those who follow only to be entertained by signs.) I see little biblical evidence (especially NT) of individuals having one particular supernatural gift to be used at will. Also worth noting that not only did Jesus not “put God to the test” but neither did the apostles. They did not go fishing in nests of snakes to prove resistance to snake venom. The incident you refered to was an accident in which God preserved the apostle. Unlikely preservation by God has happened to plenty of people since then. I’m NOT arguing for modern day apostles.

  35. R Scott Clark responds: “…the reason I can’t raise the dead, put people to death, speak foreign languages without study or travel without the use of machines is because I don’t have enough?”

    But faith in what? This “faith” isn’t the faith of Scripture, this is some kind of faith that God ~can~ do something, the faith of Scripture is that God DID do something, namely send His Son to save His people from their sins.

    I know a fellow, a former PCUSA pastor in fact, a charismatic who’s wife died of cancer. He seemed to be a bitter man because his wife didn’t have “enough faith” to overcome the cancer.

  36. I find this whole idea of “less authoritative prophecy” in the NT quite bizarre. Grudem’s thesis that NT prophets speak with less authority than their OT counterparts just doesn’t make the best sense of the biblical data. You would expect, with the inauguration of the new covenant, that NT prophets would be greater than their OT counterparts, not inferior. I posted on this topic just the other day here:

  37. Reformed Sinner.

    Please supply me with 3 scriptures that state a permanent cessation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit before the return of Christ in these last days.

  38. While agreeing with Sola Scriptura and a closed cannon Dr. Clark you are denying Sola Scriptura itself.

    I wrote this last month and its stand true of your dispensational view of the Gifts of the Spirit.

    “1 Corinthians 14:37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40But all things should be done decently and in order.

    Isn’t it interesting that a large portion of the Body is doing the opposite of this command. So where is Sola Scriptura? Well, it’s thrown out with the bath water. Dispensationalism is read into the text and the clear commandment of the Lord is disobeyed and many times disobeyed with the scholarship of men who have bullied the church to rebel against this clear commandment.

    Lord, may there be reformation even among those who clearly say they hold to the 5 solas and who also say they aren’t dispensational, and may your love be the motive. Amen

    Semper Reformanda: The church reformed and always to be reformed.”


    P.S. I appreciate your writings a lot but you are not obeying sola scriptura in this. If I have to deny the clear commandment of the Lord about desiring spiritual gifts to be “Reformed”, than I don’t want the title, because its anti-christian than, and doesn’t follow the clear commandment of the Lord of Scripture Alone.

    Regardless, if you say that Charismatics won’t agree with what you. Scripture clearly doesn’t agree with what you wrote. Dr. Clark you cannot get passed the clear commandment in first Corinthians without bringing in outside info into the clear text of Scripture. That is the same thing that Rome does.


    1 Corinthians 14:37-40 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order

    If we are to recognize Pauline theology, one would have look at your posts as writings that shouldn’t be recognized, because you are clearly calling for rebellion against this clear command of the Lord. Are we supposed to do that? Or are you so sectarian in your ways that you are going to deny a bunch of us who have been turned onto Reformed Theology away from which we’ve been fed? I don’t want to break God’s command by having the title that I’m Reformed.

    • Ken,

      Funny, the guys who formulated sola scriptura didn’t think that a cessationist position and a closed canon constituted a denial of sola scriptura. They considered these views to uphold sola scriptura over against the anabaptist view (which is now the modern charismatic view) and the Roman view.

  39. Funny… What is so funny about obeying the commandments of the Lord?

    Are you saying that these guys are infallible then? Only Scripture alone is infallible and those guys recognized that! In practice Dr. Clark you are taking clear passages like 1 Corinthians 14:37-40 like it’s not a closed canon and that these passages on the Gifts shouldn’t be obeyed. Rome does the same thing and has made a mess of Sola Fide.

    Your argument is stupid if I can use the word, because it’s against clear commands of Pauline theology. Only bad scholarship of men can mess than up and cause others to rebel against the Lord. Dr. Clark, do you lack knowledge of Church history? I don’t think that you do and if you don’t know it you’d probably have more resources and people at your fingertips to consult for that specific information. But here is something simple, if the church can loose and than rediscover biblical doctrines like Luther did on Justification by faith alone. Then draw that same simple idea to other doctrines like the Gifts of the Spirit with its commandments in 1 Cor 14.

    Are we supposed to obey 1 Corinthians 14:37-40 or not? All you could write me was outside information in the last post. Which is good info, but it’s not leading me to obedience in this clear command. My other reason is, I really want to see if you believe in a closed canon of the Word of God or are you going to take this passage out with an ugly form of dispensationalism.

    In Christ alone,


  40. Dear Dr. Clark,
    You said: “Either a message comes from God or it does not. If it does it is canonical in some sense, even if not preserved. It is at least canonical in the broad sense of serving as a rule for a community and for a time. I understand there to have been such revelations in the apostolic period that were not preserved for us.”

    Yet, for example, say that you receive a calling to become a preacher. Is not that calling, a word from God, that is not directly Scriptural? Sure – Scripture talks about preachers, but how do you know that it is your specific calling?

    Similarly, if there is a supposed prophecy in a church that certain people will become said occupation or that the preacher’s ministry will expand into said place in said way, can one deny it on the basis that there is no direct Scriptural justification?

    Note: I am NOT saying that God would give us revelation that adds doctrine or that adds a command to the Bible. Yet, technically isn’t our submission to the will of God and our seeking of His will, so that we may do it, in itself the “extra-canonical” wisdom you condemn?

    Forgive me if I am misunderstanding your use of the term, but I have been searching for a while now about this issue and about the cessationist/continuationist debate.

    Thank you and God bless!

  41. Dr. Clark,

    This is not to argue, but to try and get a little more clarity from you on this issue. As you know, I consider myself a ‘conservative charismatic,’ and so in this area it seems that I cannot consider myself Reformed.

    I’d like to repeat a short story to you, and ask that you take it hypothetically as true. I’ll ask the question after the story:

    A friend of mine says that God had revealed to him certain secret things about a young woman that he met. He used that revelation as a tool to minister to this woman and preach the Gospel to her much in the way that Jesus did with the woman at the well. The woman was astonished at his knowledge and confirmed that what he said was revealed was true and he couldn’t possibly have known it naturally. He says that God used that “gift of knowledge” together with the preaching of the Gospel to bring her into the kingdom.

    Now, I realize that there are all sorts of possibilities here and that the skeptics can come up with a bunch of objections. I grant that and understand. But that doesn’t concern my question:

    IF this sort of thing was true, are you saying that the revealed knowledge would be “canon” or a “ruler?” How would this fit into your statement:

    “Either a message comes from God or it does not. If it does it is canonical in some sense, even if not preserved. It is at least canonical in the broad sense of serving as a rule for a community and for a time. I understand there to have been such revelations in the apostolic period that were not preserved for us.”

    Again, I’m just trying to get clarification because THIS is my stumbling block with your argument. I don’t see how a revelation like this could be considered “a rule for a community.”

    Thanks much,


  42. Kazoo, cessation isn’t accepted by scholarship around the world! It’s only held onto in certain strongholds like in North America. That’s what I discovered over the last month talking to scholars here in east, Asia.

    Dr. Clark again in light of Sola Scriptura, are we supposed to obey this command or not?

    If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment.

    38But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

    39Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.

    40But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.

    Kenneth Lee

    • I do not want to reinvent the wheel and think that a big question like this can be settled by counter quoting a few Bibles (nor should anti-cessationists be arrogant enough to believe a big question like this can be settled by quoting a few verses in the Bible. Just like John 3:16 doesn’t support unlimited atonement either.)

      Please read Richard Gaffin’s wonderful work on Cessationism and then we can have a platform to dialogue.

  43. Ken,

    A text out of context is a pretext. Likewise a command.

    The reformed argument in a nutshell is that 1Cor. 14:37-39 is preceded by 1 Corinthians 14:1-5. In the latter we are told that prophecying, which is greater than tongues, is speaking ‘unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort’. This is taken to refer to interpreting and preaching the Scripture. If one insists that prophecying refers to foretelling the future such as Agabus or Phillip’s daughters did in Acts 11:27 and 21:10, it will pass away, along with tongues and knowledge (1 Cor. 13:8). IOW 1 Cor. 14:39 only applies to that time if one insists that tongues and foretelling the future is commanded/permitted.

    Why? Because with the closing of the NT canon, the Scripture all by itself is a full, complete and sufficient revelation of the will and word of God. There is no longer any need for the apostolic signs, gifts and wonders to attest to and accompany the preaching of the gospel (See WCF 1:1 and the corresponding proof texts, as well Mark 16:17,20, Acts 2:22,43, 4:30, 5:12, 6:8. 8:13, 14:3, 15:12, Heb. 2:4).

    Those who insist on the present day exercise of the apostolic signs and wonders, ought also insist on the apostolic Bible, which to begin with consisted of the OT alone, and which was only gradually and incrementally supplemented by the addition of the NT books from 29 AD until approximately 100 AD by which time John had finished 2nd and 3rd John and the NT canon was completed/closed.

  44. Is this open for opinion, because from what I have googled some Reformed do use the gifts and some even misuse them like charismatics on youtube. A good level headed user that I have found is Sam Storms, but others seem not to be so.

    Daniel Chew is Reformed and gives prophecies:

    We in the Reformed churches in Singapore would not forget the rank compromise and the damage you are doing to the cause of Christ our Lord. Furthermore, God will not forget this act of disobedience and I will Prophetically say that there would be NO true revival through this event….”

    So I guess it’s a matter of interpretation because it appears some reformed are using the gifts like the crazymatics.

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