Cessationist vs. Continuationist

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In dealing with the whole issue of ‘Strange Fire,’ we first have to define a couple of terms and understand our approach to dealing with various Scriptures from these opposing views.

The Cessationist: The cessationist believes that the working of miracles, the ministry of office of the apostle and prophet, along with and the spiritual gifts of healing, and speaking in tongues were limited to the age of the early church and the ministry of Christ and His 12 apostles. They believe that these gifts were for the primary purpose of bringing legitimacy to the ministry of Christ and His apostles. They would argue that after the church was established, and the canon (collection) of Scripture (namely the New Testament) was finalized that these gifts were no longer needed and therefore God did away with them.

From this perspective the cessationist argues that today’s claims of miracles, speaking in other tongues, prophetic utterances and divine healings are either lying signs and wonders, (originating from false prophets and teachers), or purely fleshly, pagan and psychosomatic. They believe that those who profess to exercise the authority of Christ and the early church apostles in regards to the ministry of healing; working of miracles, exercising authority over demonic forces etc. is to make claims that were unique to Christ and his 12 apostles alone. Therefore they declare that anyone who makes such claims is actually committing blasphemy.

Cessationists are primarily Calvinistic in their theological approach to Scripture. As such, they believe that God in His divine sovereignty exercises His providence over everything. In other words, everything that happens is ultimately being worked for the will of God.

Sovereignty is saying that God is absolutely in charge of His universe. Providence is similar but this word is implying that He is in control of everything that takes place. Dr. Mal Couch

Westminster Confession of Faith: Chapter III Of God’s Eternal Decree I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; [1] yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, [2] nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. [3]

The Continuationist: The continuationist believes Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

From this perspective the continuationist believes that the same ministry that Jesus and His apostles demonstrated was as an example to all believers throughout all ages, until Christ’s return. Therefore continuationists believe that the ministry of divine healing, speaking in tongues, working of miracles, prophetic utterances, along with all the gifts of the Holy Spirit as described in the book of Acts, is readily available to the church today.

I would say that probably the majority of continuationists are more Calvinistic in their understanding of the sovereignty of God. Many in this camp believe that everything that happens is ultimately the will of God in their lives.

While I will get into the ministry of the Holy Spirit and other matters in latter posts I want to primarily focus on the first issue in regards to God’s absolute sovereignty. Now I realize that this has been a debate in Christian camps for generations that is never going to be solved until Christ returns.

The Calvinists Approach to God’s Providence:  While I certainly respect John Calvin as a brilliant theologian, I believe that his understanding of God’s providence was either misguided or has been grossly misinterpreted. Because most of Western Christians have received their training from the Calvinistic approach to God’s providence, this has formed a great deal of our approach to Scripture.

The Calvinist approach to God’s providence (or at least how it is presented) goes something like this. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-sufficient. As such He rules as Supreme Master over all of His creation. No matter what happens; God in His providence is working through it to accomplish His will.

Whether intentionally or unintentionally this is what is commonly proclaimed by those who hold to this belief. (This is also a centerpiece of the cessationist approach to Scripture). Everything that happens in anyone’s life is ultimately the will of God. Even the devil cannot do anything without God’s ordained approval. I actually heard a preacher proclaim in a sermon years ago that “Everything that the devil tries to do in the believer’s life must first come across God’s desk for His approval.”

So out of this comes the idea that sickness and disease is the will of God, because God in His sovereignty is using this to accomplish His greater good. If I lose my job or if I am involved in an accident or tragedy, I should thank God, because in His providence, He has ordained this to bring about His ultimate purpose for my life.

According to this approach to Scripture, the believer has little or no authority over the devil. We have no right to exercise faith in God’s promises, because we are really never sure of God’s ultimate will, and therefore should just except whatever comes into our lives with joy and resolve that God is working His will through it.

We can’t really expect God to heal the sick, or change circumstances because the trouble we are facing might just be ordained by God for His purposes.

You can easily see why this preaching has caused a lost world that knows nothing of the ways and purposes of God, to blame Him for the evil of the world. You can see why people become bitter with God when they feel that He refused to answer their cry for help. This Calvinistic approach to Scripture has left us with a faith that has no confidence, no authority, and no assurance that God will answer when we call.

Unless I am missing something, this is what I have heard proclaimed from the cessationists camp for years.

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