Days of Noah, Days of Lot

As Christians, we are called to “rightly divide” the Word of truth. This is hard to do if we won’t even rightly read it.

Stravinsky had the Rite of Spring, but American Christians have the Rite Of Fall. Every year, when the Jewish High Holy Days come around, with them comes inevitable end-times speculation. This September’s “sign in the heavens” is getting an awful lot of play, even in secular media. Despite our Lord’s teaching on the matter, Christians just can’t help themselves. Apocalyptic predictions, sometimes complete with actual date-setting, keep popping up with disturbing frequency.

Many of these embarrassing failures, which have been bringing discredit on the Church for decades, could have been avoided if people had simply read the Scripture passage in question in context and with honesty.

Believe me: I, too, am excited for the return of Christ. Who would not want to see Him? Who would not want to experience the fullness of Resurrection life, or see this old world, where we only see righteousness occasionally, become a world in which righteousness dwells? The return of Christ is our blessed hope. But it’s precisely for that reason, precisely because it is a hope to cherish, that we must not falsify it or pervert it by resorting to sensationalism, sloppiness, or scams. We need to have a love for the truth. Sometimes a dash of humility would serve us well, too.

In the midst of the recent natural disasters here in the US and Canada, one well-known preacher (don’t ask me who) noted how Jesus said the End of Days would be like the days of Noah and Lot — and, he added, Noah’s day was a flood of water and Lot’s day was fire… and we’re seeing floods and fires everywhere right now! He was suggesting to his audience that these hurricanes indicate we’re living in the Days of Noah.

Others say these “new days of Noah” means there will be Nephilim giants walking the Earth once again. Well, who knows? There could be. But will Jesus’ words about the days of Noah really support such a teaching?

What does Jesus actually say about the days of Noah and the days of Lot? You may be surprised to find out. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said,

But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matt. 24:37-39, NKJV, emphasis added.)

And in Luke’s Gospel, the Lord said,

And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. (Luke 17:26-30, NKJV, emphasis added.)

(By the way, where are all the other passages in the Bible about the famous “Days of Noah and Days of Lot?” Actually… there aren’t any!)

Here’s why you can’t take the Days of Noah and Lot passages and use them to assert whatever you like. As you can see from Christ’s own words, the point of these passages is not to make a general commentary on how wicked it will be at the end of the age. He didn’t even say that people will be committing the same sins at the end of the age as they were in Noah’s and Lot’s times.

In fact, Jesus explains exactly what He means in Matthew 24 when He uses the word FOR. What follows after the word “for” is His explanation of how the coming of the Son of Man will be similar to the Days of Noah. It is simply this: when the Day of the Lord comes, people will be living just as carelessly as they were when judgment came in Noah’s day.

The reference to Lot has the same purpose. Jesus joins these two references in order to show us God’s pattern of judgment: first, the removal of the righteous; then, God’s wrath outpoured on the same day. Jesus is only telling us what happens when He comes, not what happens before He comes. He was merely saying that people would be worldly and unconcerned when He came.

That being the case, if we are responsible teachers, we will not use the concept of “the Days of Noah and Lot” to create detailed doctrines about the last days, nor use it to paint every current event as some sort of vague fulfillment of prophecy. Such an approach can cause people to see end-times prophecy as something vague instead of something specific, as it is in many cases, and something which is all about how I see it, rather than how He said it.

Like the “Days of Noah and Lot” concept, which people seem to use however they like, the “sign” of September 23rd, supposedly found in Revelation 12, is lifted out of context in a most alarming way. I wonder if the people pushing this teaching even know that Revelation 12 deals with the War in Heaven and the persecution of believers by the Antichrist following the Abomination of Desolation? (In case you’ve been absorbed with politics this year and haven’t been keeping track, we aren’t quite there yet.)

These prophetic train wrecks are an ongoing problem, so how can we talk about prophecy in a way that honors God’s Word and keeps people from stumbling? I can suggest three things:

(1) First, let’s recover a love for the truth. If you insist that a certain heavenly sign has never happened before, but someone else proves that your “sign” actually happens every 12 years, will you yield or will you continue on? It is a sign of a collapsing society (Romans 1:31) as well as a sign of the end times (2 Timothy 3:3) that people would be implacable, i.e., unable to agree or come to peace about something.

(2) Second, let’s resist sensationalism. Our manner of presenting sober truths could really stand to be, well, a little more sober. We need to break away from breathlessly excited prophecy teaching that comes complete with terrifying bumper music. If this seems unfair, then forgive me, but some of us are old enough to remember more prophecy crazes than we care to. I can remember people speculating that Sadat might rise from death after his assassination to become the Antichrist. More than 35 years later, half of you are reading this and saying, “Who was Sadat?” — and that’s precisely my point!

(3) Finally, let’s take to heart again James’s warning that not many should be teachers. (James 3:1) This truth needs to give us pause. There is no ministry, with the possible exception of prophecy, that has more potential for destruction when misused than the ministry of teaching. However, the Internet now insures that anyone who wants a platform can have one. This is a blessing, but it creates incredible spiritual risks for the Body of Christ. Another danger is the sheer amount of Bible teaching material available online. Using modern computer searching and other functionalities, people can find and save colossal amounts of information without getting at the same time a real, holistic knowledge of Scripture, the wisdom to use it, or the skill to convey it to others. I contrast this with the example of the Apostle Paul, who had a clear conscience because over the span of three years, he had declared to the elders of the Church at Ephesus what he called “the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:25-28)

May the Lord help us to be faithful in handling His Word.

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Following The Lamb Wherever He Goes

Young Lambs

And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders:and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God. (Revelation 14:1-5 KJV)

Many people have argued about identity of the 144,000, but it will be of more profit to us if we simply seek to emulate them in their devotion to Christ. Although we are introduced to them earlier in Revelation, here in Chapter 14 it seems we see them at the completion of their ministry, as they receive their reward from the Lord.

This special group of believers is rewarded for their faithfulness with very high privileges. First, they are given the right to worship God with a special song which only they are allowed to learn and, apparently, play.  Second, they are invited to follow the Lamb wherever he goes. Think of that! Wherever Jesus goes, these loyal followers who will be there with him. They are His personal companions.  Third, they are described as being “before the throne of God.”  They have a special place of closeness to God’s throne.  John connects this to the fact that there is no deceit in their mouths.

I believe this is a reference to Psalm 15. In the Old Testament, people knew that you could only stand before God if you had clean lips. (We recall that Isaiah had to have his lips cleansed when he was taken up to the third heaven.) Psalm 15 goes like this:

Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbor, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor. In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved. (Psalms 15:1-5 KJV)

The 144,000 display the kind of holy living that God seeks from his people. We see in them a quality of character radically different from that of the Beast-followers in the chapters preceding.

While followers of the Beast bear his hideous name or mark on their forehead, these men have the name of their Father. It may be invisible to us, but God can see that they are completely devoted to Him.

While followers of the Beast blaspheme God, these render Him pure worship, and they sing Him a new song.

While followers of the Beast have no “love of the truth” so as to be saved, the 144,000 have no deceit in their mouths.

The followers of the Beast reject God and fall away in the Great Apostasy, but these men follow the Lamb wherever He goes. And what a beautiful description of Christian living that is.

These overcoming saints live a life of personal holiness. During the trumpet judgments of Revelation, people refuse to repent of sins such as murder, theft, and sexual immorality – but these men refuse to defile themselves while sin is raging all around them.

What a beautiful contrast between two groups of people, and what a wonderful testimony to the grace of God. These men’s lives show us that even in the darkest days of history, His power can keep us close to Him, and keep us holy.

Indeed, if they did not follow Him wherever He went in the days of Tribulation to come, they would never have been rewarded by being welcomed to follow Him wherever He goes in the Age To Come.

A Charismatic’s Response to “Strange Fire – A Case For Cessationism”

During last week’s controversial “Strange Fire” conference, organized by John MacArthur, The Cripplegate posted a message by Pastor Tom Pennington called “A Case For Cessationism.” Pennington’s remarks consisted of a cursory overview of continuationist belief, followed by seven arguments in favor of cessationism.

For those not familiar with the terms, continuationism is the viewpoint that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit as described in the New Testament are still available to believers today. Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians are by definition continuationists. Cessationists, by contrast, believe that the gifts are no longer available, although they would be quick to say that God can do whatever He wishes and that He still answers prayer in miraculous ways.

I would like to provide a simple response to Pastor Pennington’s post. I am not an academic, but I do not believe one needs to be an academic in order to see that the Bible teaches that all the gifts of the Spirit are still available. My hope is that some Charismatics who are concerned about what they heard last week (doctrinally and otherwise!) will be able to see that there is a fully biblical basis for their belief and practices.

Pennington’s Characterization of Popular Continuationist Arguments

1. “The New Testament does not state that the gifts will cease.”

Pennington says: The chief arguments they put forward are these. First, the New Testament nowhere directly states that the miraculous gifts will cease during the church age. But that argument cuts both ways, because the New Testament doesn’t directly say they’ll continue either.

RESPONSE: This does not “cut both ways.” As a matter of proof, the burden of proof should rest with those who claim the gifts have ceased. If there is no clear statement that they will cease then we cannot say they have ceased. The reason for this is very simple. The availability of supernatural ministry as defined by Christ Himself was not predicated on a certain timeframe, nor on possessing a certain office such as apostleship. Rather, Jesus predicated the availability of supernatural gifts on whether one is a believer.

Jesus said that the one who believes in Me will do the works that He has been doing, and even greater works. (John 14:12) Cessationists object to our saying that we can do greater works than Christ. They say that “greater works” does not mean miraculous signs and wonders, for after all who could possibly do greater works of power than Christ Himself? The greater works are things such as the miracle of the New Birth.

In context, I do believe Jesus was saying we could do greater works than He because He was going to the Father, and there would follow a general outpouring of the Spirit upon the people of God. Recall that He was speaking about people believing for the sake of the works He had done. Nevertheless, it is not even necessary to debate the second part of verse 12. The first part of the verse alone is sufficient to show that eligibility and authorization for the miraculous belongs to us by virtue of being members of Christ. Jesus said that those who believe in Him would do the works He had been doing.  Clearly miraculous works are meant. Again, notice that this is predicated on being a believer, and nothing more.

The end of Mark’s Gospel conveys the same idea. Jesus says that the one who believes will speak in new tongues, cast out demons, and so forth. Again, the ability or authorization for miraculous ministry activity stems from my being in Christ and having the right to use the one Name given to the Church. If tongues is not available, then neither can we cast out demons.

We also have express commands from Paul to be zealous for spiritual gifts, and especially (not only!) to prophesy; not to forbid to speak with tongues; and, not to despise prophecies.

Given that these things are predicated upon our being in Christ, and by Jesus’ own words are available to those who believe (without words of limitation for time or office), there would need to be a very clear word given in Scripture before we could consider abrogating the direct words of the Savior.

2. “1 Corinthians 13:10 implies that the Gifts of the Spirit will continue.”

Pennington says: They counter with a second argument. There are a couple of New Testament passage that imply that the miraculous gifts will continue until Christ returns. Their favorite example of that is 1 Corinthians 13:10. They argue that that means that only when Christ returns will the partial gifts of tongues and prophecy cease. However, as you know, this is a very highly disputed passage, and there are a number of possible interpretations, and there are disagreements on both sides of the issue on that passage. So they cannot legitimately support their theology and practice from such a controversial passage. In fact, for most of church history this very passage was used to prove cessationism.

RESPONSE: 1 Corinthians 13:10 says, “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” This is a verse commonly used to suggest that the gifts have ceased. In the Cessationist point of view, the “perfect” is frequently said to be the completed Canon of Scripture. In other words, once we had a completed Bible, we neither have nor even need the gifts of the Spirit.

Here I would point the reader back to the blanket statements of Christ concerning what believers could and would do. The fact that we disagree about how to interpret 1 Corinthians 13:10 does not entitle one side to abrogate the words of Jesus in the Gospels. So then, contrary to what Pennington says, Charismatics do not seek to support their theology and practice from 1 Corinthians 13:10. I think what we are saying is that 1 Corinthians 13:10 is nowhere near a strong enough statement to justify us in forbidding the exercise of spiritual gifts.

I would also say that whether this passage was used historically to prove cessationism means nothing. Of course there are quotes from the Church Fathers which show that the gifts of the Spirit were operating for centuries after the close of the Canon. But this is not dispositive either. What matters is what Scripture says. And without a clear statement terminating the availability of the gifts, we cannot forbid people to speak with tongues.

3. “We cannot artificially divide the Church into different eras.”

Pennington says: Their third main argument is that the New Testament speaks only of the church age as a unit. And therefore the gifts that began in this age must continue throughout it. The say we artificially divide the church age in to the “Apostolic” and “Post-Apostolic” periods. But unless they believe that there are Apostles today like Peter and Paul, they also divide the church age. And they relate at least Apostleship solely to the Apostolic era. They become de facto cessationists, at least in part.

RESPONSE: First, this is a misapprehension of the apostolic ministry. Scripture gives a high place of honor to the “twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Jesus will reward them highly, giving them thrones to judge the tribes of Israel. They have a unique and non-repeatable ministry.

But the apostolic ministry itself is not a non-repeatable ministry. Some may be greater than others, some lesser in their sphere or power, but even Paul is not an apostle like Peter, because Paul is not one of the Twelve. There were other apostles specifically named in the Scripture who were not among the Twelve, such as Barnabas and James the Lord’s brother.

Many people believe that there are apostles today, for a variety of reasons. Ephesians 4 says that God gave apostles and prophets, etc., until we all come to maturity.

However, it is not necessary to answer that question to reject Pennington’s argument. The Church is definitely a “unit” down through time because of our common salvation. To suggest otherwise would be poor anthropology, and poor ecclesiology. Did Christ ever say or even hint that the Church would someday not receive or need of the same empowering as His first followers? Has Christ said that there would be a change in conditions or a withdrawal of gifts after the last apostle died or the last of Scripture composed? The pouring out of the Spirit in Acts 2 was cited by Peter as proof that Christ had been glorified. Therefore I would want to hear some definitive statement from the lips of Jesus to convince me that the full measure of spiritual enablement was not available to me in the 21st century – especially when Peter also said that the Promise of the Father was to as many as the Lord our God shall call.

4. “The sheer number of Charismatics means they’re right.”

Pennington says, But by far the most common argument is: 500 million professing Christians who claim charismatic experiences can’t all be wrong. But let’s think about that for a moment. Using that same argument, we should therefore accept all the miracles of the Roman Catholic Church as well. After all, there are a billion of those, and there is far more history to those miracles. The point is: millions, 500 million, a billion professing Christians can be wrong.

RESPONSE: I don’t know that people are using this as a serious argument in favor of Charismatic expression. I’ve never even heard it expressed. At best, the sheer numbers of people who engage in charismatic practices may demand that we look at their claims, but it isn’t proof of anything, as Pennington rightly says. Otherwise we should all be Catholics or Muslims!  Without wanting to be unkind, to say that this is the most common argument for continuationism strikes me as disingenuous. Was there no Pentecostal apologetic from 1906 and onwards? Have modern Charismatic writers of all stripes not gone into book length on the main issues and the subtopics?

And even if the average layperson in the Charismatic pew really does resort to such arguments to defend himself, does the average cessationist do any better? May I not say in fairness that the average cessationist church attender hasn’t much knowledge of the details of 1 Corinthians 14, much less how it is interpreted by Fee, Grudem, or the Assemblies of God? My interactions with cessationist brothers last week did little to disabuse me of this opinion, up to and including people who don’t even seem to know that the Apostle Paul prayed in tongues. (And those are the cessationists who by definition are actually interested in the topic, else they would not be tweeting out with the Strange Fire hashtag.) To be charitable, when your church doesn’t believe something is “for today,” perhaps you’re not likely to hear a lot of sermons or teachings on it.

5. Summary of Pennington’s characterization of continuationist arguments.

Pennington calls these the “chief arguments” of continuationists. After reviewing them, I think I can honestly say that this is not at all the way Charismatics promote and defend their beliefs. Admittedly we are quick to assert that the New Testament does not explicitly state that the gifts will cease. But that is not a weak argument; it is a strong one. Nevertheless, what is typically emphasized by Charismatics is the ongoing promise of Christ to empower His Church by the Spirit, whether from Acts 1, Acts 2, John 14, Mark 16, or elsewhere.

Does Pastor Pennington really think that Charismatics are using he claims are their “chief arguments,” or does their teaching and literature rely on things like Jesus saying, “In My Name they shall speak with new tongues?” The most cursory look at Pentecostal and Charismatic literature of any generation will reveal the answer.

Let’s turn now to Pennington’s actual points in favor of cessationism.

1. The Unique Role of Miracles.

Pennington says, “Many evangelicals think that miracles litter almost every page of biblical history. In reality, there were only three primary periods that God worked miracles through gifted men, when God gave human beings miracle working power. The first was that of Moses and Joshua, from the Exodus through the career of Joshua (1445-1380 BC), about 65 years. The second window was during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha (ca. 860-795 BC), again only about 65 years. The third time was with Christ and His Apostles. It began with His ministry, and lasted through the death of the Apostle John, also about 70 years.”

RESPONSE: While Pennington is not trying to provide a book-length defense of cessationism, this is a conclusory statement – a principle of cessationism, not an argument. Certainly the miracle ministry of Moses is without parallel in the Old Testament. Certainly there is a profusion of miracles noted in the days of Elijah and Elisha. Obviously the Gospels and Acts are replete with miraculous ministries. But these are not the only “windows” of the miraculous. All we can safely conclude is that they are the main windows that God is showing, or perhaps they are the only windows that cessationists want to look through. The people he cites are not the only people who worked miracles, and there is also a consistent sprinkling of other supernatural ministry, such as prophetic ministry, throughout the life of Israel and the Church – both prophecy that was Scripture and prophecy that was not Scripture.

Samuel called out to the Lord and God sent thunder and rain. Solomon prayed and the literal fire of God came out of Heaven. Isaiah called out to God and the sun went backwards!

In the New Testament, isn’t it elementary knowledge that others besides the Twelve did miraculous signs? Paul was not even among the Twelve. We know that some want to say, “Well, Paul was supposed to be in the Twelve, but the Eleven jumped the gun,” and so forth. But the Bible is clear that Mathias was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:26)  Notice that in Acts 6:2 the apostles are specifically called the Twelve, before Paul’s salvation. Besides the miracle ministry of Paul, we have the powerful miracle ministry of Stephen, who did great signs and wonders. What about Philip’s powerful ministry in Samaria? Cessationists attempt to cop out here by saying that such people don’t count, for they were associated with the apostles.

Paul also recognized the presence of people with a miracle-working ministry in Galatia, asking the church there, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith…?” (Galatians 3:5)

But perhaps most damaging to the cessationist cause is the fact that Paul specifically mentions workers of miracles as a separate ministry, distinct from the ministry of apostles. (1 Corinthians 12:28-29) They were listed as fourth, after apostles, prophets, and teachers. Paul asks, “Are all apostles?” And then he asks, “Are all workers of miracles?” Clearly the two are not identical.

I would also reiterate that Jesus did not confine the miraculous to the Twelve or even to those in the “apostolic circle.” He invited all believers to step into the miraculous, into doing His works, by faith and the leading of the Spirit: “He that believeth in Me…”

2. The End of the Gift of Apostleship.

Here Pennington asserts that the gift of apostleship has ceased and, with it, the availability of the miraculous gifts: No one alive today meets [the qualifications of apostleship]. So at least one New Testament gift has ceased. What that means is that there is a significant difference between the time of the Apostles and today, because one of the most miraculous displays of the Spirit, the gift of Apostleship, disappeared with the Apostolic age. It’s also interesting that it ceased without a crystal clear New Testament statement that it would. That means it is neither impossible nor is it unlikely that other significant changes happened with the passing of the Apostles as well. Once you agree that there are no Apostles today at the same level of Peter and Paul, you have admitted that there was a major change in the gifting of the Apostolic and post-Apostolic age.

RESPONSE: I think most Pentecostals and Charismatics do agree that there are no more Apostles like the Twelve, but that is because of the uniqueness of that group, as a set of men specially chosen by Christ. They have a unique place of honor in the Church, will judge the tribes of Israel in the Millennium, and have their names inscribed on the foundations of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:14).

But while that one set of apostles is complete in its membership, the needful function of apostles has not been eliminated. And can we say categorically that there have been no other such people in history? If some came and said there were men in India and China with a miracle ministry who have planted hundreds of churches, would cessationists even credit this testimony? And there are indeed people of this type.

There may not be apostles on the miracle-working level of Peter and Paul, but that was true even in their own day, was it not? And again, there were other men called apostles such as James the Lord’s Brother. Barnabas was an apostle, and up through Acts 15 was he not still the senior member of the team or equal to Paul?

As in the case of the gifts, there is no place where God says the office of apostle has ceased. Ephesians 4 says the “five-fold Ministry” is given to enable us all to grow up. Do we not need it now?

3. The Foundational Nature of the New Testament Apostles and Prophets

Pennington argues, The foundation is finished, and now the superstructure is being erected on that already completed foundation. This is the same image in 1 Corinthians 3, as the leaders of the first century of church is adding their work to centuries of building. But the foundation was laid by the Apostles and prophets—the revelation that came through them. Once the revelation that God gave to the Apostles and the New Testament prophets were complete, the foundation was finished. Their work was completed. Their role was done. That’s clearly true of the Apostles as we’ve seen. But here in Ephesians 2 Paul says the role of the prophets was also foundational, and it is complete as well. We should not expect any more apostles, prophets, or revelation.

RESPONSE: The Church is indeed built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. But what is that foundation? Is it only teaching and doctrine? No. That foundation is the ministry and equipping that only comes from apostolic and prophetic input into our lives, the grace that is upon an apostle and a prophet. We will need this grace, as well as the grace that is on the life of evangelists, pastors, and teachers, until we all come in the unity of the faith. (Ephesians 4:13) There is not a hint of a time limitation. The first believers were built on that foundation and so must we be.

4. The Nature of the Miraculous Gifts

Pennington claims, If the Spirit were still gifting believers with the miraculous gifts, they would be the same gifts that we find in the New Testament. However, the Charismatic gifts claimed today bear almost no resemblance to their New Testament counterparts.

It is difficult to know how to respond to such sweeping and dismissive claims. It seems that cessationists like Pastor Pennington not only seem to believe they understand the character of Charismatic gifts today, but apparently have a perfect understanding of how the gifts were exercised in the New Testament.

In the case of tongues, Pennington says tongues were a known human language but today’s tongues are ecstatic speech. He also says that New Testament prophets were infallible, unlike Charismatic prophets, and that New Testament healing was of a greater character than healings claimed by Charismatics today.

RESPONSE: As is commonly the case with cessationists, modern-day spiritual gifts are denigrated here as being not the same as what we see in Acts. Some say they are falsified or, more charitably, only learned behavior.

First, we have the use of the term “ecstatic” to describe tongues today. How can Pennington or anyone else know what tongues looked like in 45 A.D. compared to what they look like in 2013? So, there is a definitional problem, based on assumptions and circular reasoning. 

Cessationists claim that the tongues of the Bible were xenoglossy, which is speaking in tongues in a recognized human language. Pennington says this doesn’t exist or happen today. But I have heard it, and so have many other Pentecostals and Charismatics. I have heard it or participated in it on at least three occasions I can recall over the last 30 years. So I dispute on the basis of personal experience that there is no xenoglossy today.

Pennington also assumes, as many cessationists do, that all tongues were for public use. The only way for cessationists to maintain this position is by a deliberate mangling of the plain words of 1 Corinthians 14.  Tongues was not only allowed outside of church, but encouraged for personal edification. (Note: even the idea of personal edification is maligned by many cessationists, as though edifying ourselves were something we should consider selfish rather than something God would have us do!)

There is abundant evidence for private, devotional tongues within 1 Corinthians 14:

A. Paul says that “he who speaks in a tongue is not speaking to men but to God.” (1 Cor. 14:2)  Such a plain statement should by itself be sufficient to demolish the cessationist argument. The word “God” there is in the dative singular, in other words, speaking unto God!  It does not simply mean that God is listening to such a person’s prayers.

Paul does not teach the cessationist doctrine that tongues were exclusively directed towards men in New Testament times. Certainly the New Testament says that tongues is a condemning sign for unbelievers, particularly unbelieving Israel. But this is not the only use of tongues. It is clearly a form of prayer directed to God, on the authority of the Apostle Paul.

Even on the Day of Pentecost, tongues was not preaching, but praise, as I have written previously. Peter preached the Gospel while those who spoke in tongues merely extolled God. This was also the case in Acts 10.

B. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself. (1 Cor. 14:4)  Clearly there is a private benefit to tongues. We cannot analyze this from an intellectual perspective, for it is not an intellectual experience. Many cessationists ask what is the use of such an experience or practice. I cannot analyze this any more that I can explain how I am spiritually edified by the Word, or by love. What is the mechanism by which I am built up? I do not know. Perhaps if I were an angel I could see it taking place. But I cannot. However, this does not entitle me to denigrate it, especially since Paul specifically says that the practice edifies us. It is a thing given us by God. How can we call it selfish or weak?

C. Paul wants us all to speak in tongues. (1 Cor. 14:5) This does not mean that all will have an ongoing ministry of speaking in tongues in the church. This means that Paul wants us all to engage in this activity – but more so that we will prophesy, because prophecy will edify the church and not just the self. He does not say “I wish you could do it,” but that he wants us keep doing it but prefer prophecy. The NIV and ESV correctly keep this sense.

D. People can give thanks (bless) in tongues as they will. (1 Cor. 14:17)  Paul says that the person who gives thanks in a tongue is indeed giving thanks well, despite the fact that he does not even know what he is saying. This is a private activity, not at all intended for the benefit of other people.

E. Paul spoke in tongues voluminously outside of the church setting. (1 Cor. 14:18-19)  In the church, prophecy would be preferred so that others might receive instruction also. But notice how much of Paul’s prayer life was in tongues! He says in v. 18 that he thanks God he speaks in tongues more than all of them.

F. A person is allowed to speak to himself in tongues. This also is a form of speaking to God. (1 Cor. 14:28)  Such tongues are not directed to men, but are directed to God and as we see elsewhere are for personal edification. All of these things either militate in favor of the idea or simply say flatly that there is a private exercise of tongues.

Pennington’s treatment of prophecy is similarly limited. We do not have the record of many New Testament prophets in comparison to their Old Testament counterparts, but we are never told that they are infallible. At a minimum we can say that those who were not in prophetic office could prophesy without an expectation of infallibility. If this were not the case, why was New Testament prophecy to be judged?  John Piper speaks, quite properly I think, of the need for NT prophecy to be “sifted.” Not the people prophesying, but the prophecies. We also have the enigma of the somewhat inaccurate prophecies in Acts concerning Paul’s arrest. Yet no one says Agabus or the other brothers in all the cities to whom Paul alludes were “false prophets.”

As far as healing goes, we again note the completely conclusory statements. Pennington says modern healings are different, and not verifiable. I don’t think I know a single Charismatic who wouldn’t laugh at this. We don’t build theology from experiences, but the prejudice of such a statement should be apparent. I know people who would be dead today if they had not been healed by healing prayer, including a man who was healed and got off his deathbed when a cloth was applied to him. Pennington gives no biblical reason why the healings of today are not like the Bible. If a person gets healed of cancer in 2013, I suspect that this is just as impressive as it was in the first century.

5. The Testimony of Church History

Pennington takes the typical cessationist stance that the gifts were absent from the Early Church after the Apostles left the scene, and even that they began to decline before that:  …even before the Scripture was complete, the miraculous gifts had already begun their decline. The miracles intended to confirm the apostles and their message had already begun to die out. When we leave New Testament history, we discover that the testimony of the church after that era was exactly the same: the miraculous gifts ceased with the Apostles.

RESPONSE: We all know that church history cannot be set forth as dispositive proof of anything. But in this case again, Pennington is simply incorrect. Of course we know that some Church Fathers say the gifts had passed away. However, many others among the Fathers talk about the gifts still begin extant in their day. Why do Cessationists seemingly pretend that the other set of quotes do not exist?

I don’t wish to be tedious by listing citations which should be well known to honest inquirers. I will give you only two:

Irenaeus, 2nd century: “Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands of them, and they are made whole.”

Novatian, 3rd century: “This is He who places the prophets in the Church, instructs teachers, directs tongues, gives powers and healings, does wonderful works, offers discrimination of spirits, affords powers of government, suggest counsels, and orders and arranges whatever other gifts, there are of charismata; and thus makes the Lord’s church everywhere, and in all, perfected, and completed.”

I believe Wesley was on the right track when he wondered if the lack of gifts in church history was due to the church’s coldness. I would also suggest that a lack of teaching contributed to their absence. After all, how many people in Western Europe had a clear grasp of justification by faith in the year 1100 A.D.? It was not any less true for being ignored or opposed. 

6. The Sufficiency of Scripture

Pennington sets forth the cessationist claim that a completed Bible means there is no more revelation: The Spirit speaks only in and through the inspired Word.

RESPONSE: Scripture is our infallible rule of faith and practice. As Pennington says, we do not have to wonder whether the words of the Bible are from God. But this does not mean that God cannot and does not speak to us apart from Scripture. Even before the Canon was closed, God spoke to people in ways that were not inscripturated. In ways that were personal, and concerned their personal situation.

So not all prophecy was Scripture. We have no idea what Philip’s four daughters said when they prophesied to people, but it wasn’t Scripture. Yet I recently spoke to someone who said all prophecy was inscripturated. He never replied when I mentioned Philip’s daughters. What about the prophets Judas and Silas, or the prophets at Antioch besides Paul, who wrote no Scripture?

Last week, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 was cited liberally. Pennington quotes Paul there that the Word will cause the man of God to be “…adequatefully equipped for every good work.”  But no one discussed 1 Timothy 1:18, where we learn that Timothy received personal prophecies, and that Paul there said Timothy was to use those prophecies to wage a good warfare. So yes, the Word is sufficient to equip Timothy for every good work, but does the Word contain everything that God wanted to say to Timothy about his own life and situation? I doubt it. And not because I am a rabid experience-seeker, but because Paul says so.

7. The New Testament Rules Laid Down for the Miraculous Gifts

This does not seem to be an argument on Pennington’s part, but more of a complaint. He says: Tragically, most Charismatic practice today clearly disregards those clearly given biblical commands. So not only are they not the same gifts, but the clear directives laid down for the practice of the gifts are ignored. And so the Holy Spirit is not honored. Instead he is routinely grieved and disobeyed. The result is not a work of the Spirit but of the flesh. Clear rebellion, even if it were the New Testament gifts.

RESPONSE: I agree with Pastor Pennington that there are guidelines given for the use of the gifts. What this has to do with cessationism is hard to say, although he seems to says that the gifts we see today are not valued because “most Charismatic practice today clearly disregards those clearly given biblical commands.” Even if this rather slanderous statement were true, it says nothing about the ongoing availability of the gifts.

I do disagree with him as to whether women were allowed to minister in tongues or prophecy. Pennington says, “women are not allowed to prophesy in the corporate worship (14:34).” Is this really true? The regulation of the activity of women in 1 Corinthians 14 has nothing to do with Paul’s regulation of tongues and prophecy per se, and in fact Paul alluded earlier in the letter to women prophesying without any hint of rebuke or disapproval, aside from the head covering issue. (1 Corinthians 11:5)

I would also note again the ministry of Philip’s four daughters. Clearly they prophesied. Will anyone for the sake of maintaining his doctrine at all costs ignore that? I hope not.

CONCLUSION

The consistent testimony of the New Testament is that spiritual gifts are available to us on the ground of our being in Christ, and nothing else. The Baptism of the Spirit (the “upon” experience of the Spirit) and the empowerment it brings are available to all believers. Believers are commanded by God not to despise prophecies, not to forbid speaking in tongues, and they are also three times commanded to be zealous (zelōo) for spiritual gifts. For all these reasons and more, Christians can be confident that their belief in the ongoing miraculous and prophetic ministry of the Church is justified, as it is fully supported by the Scriptures.

Then Peter said unto them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

Reasons Why People Don’t Study Prophecy, Part 1

I’ve started teaching a course in our church called “Things To Come,” concerning Bible prophecy. From time to time I hope to put up some excerpts from the class and related thoughts. One of the things we explored in our opening night was why people don’t study prophecy. Certainly one question I think we’ve all heard is this:

Why should I worry about prophecy? After all, isn’t it all going to just pan out?

Sometimes people say they’re not really worried about what’s going to happen in the end times because it’s all going to pan out. In other words, God will take care of it – and there’s nothing we can do about it – so let’s not worry.

Perhaps this viewpoint makes a little sense. After all, we do want to confidently place our futures in the hands of God. I can certainly sound as if I’m full of faith when I say, “Don’t worry, it’s all going to pan out!,” but if we examine this little catchphrase, we’ll see it lose its veneer of wisdom. 

First, We are always counseled to be students of the Word. The Bible teaches us that people who look into the Word, study it, and pray about its meaning, are honorable and wise – no matter what the subject. We have no license not to know, so to speak. Paul considered it a pastoral duty to give the flock the whole counsel of God.

Second, we must take stock of the fact that the return of Jesus and the end of the age is a major theme of Scripture. In my opinion, it is not an understandable oversight but rather a true dishonoring of the Word of God to say that there are whole passages, even entire books of the Bible that we can just ignore and not worry about. As much as 20% of the Bible deals with the Second Coming and the future. So how can you even say you know the Bible if you’re ignorant about these matters?

Third, the Bible does not teach fatalism. Fatalism says that whatever is going to happen is going to happen. That is not a biblical way of looking at the world. The Bible everywhere shows us a God who is very much interested in our lives and very much active in history. It’s important that we know what the prophetic Scriptures say.

It’s vital that we listen to the warnings that the Bible gives about the end times. This is a matter of gravest importance for our spiritual health. Many Christians believe (and will tell anyone with a set of ears) that we are living in the last days. But let me ask you this: if you really believe that we are living in the last days, don’t you think you should know what the Bible has to say to that group of people who find themselves alive in the last days?

Think of how foolish it would sound if we actually verbalized a willfully ignorant attitude about last days living:

“Well, I know that I live in a very special time of history, and I know that the Bible has a lot to say about that time period, but I’m not really interested in the specific warnings and teachings God gave to the people who find themselves alive during those days.”

The fact that the Bible has many specific warnings for people who live in the last days is not meant to frighten us… rather, it’s a sign of God’s love and care for us. It’s a sign of Christ’s care for his church, and we do well to heed those warnings. We should be thanking God for taking care of His people and giving us the warnings and the spiritual nourishment that we will need to live during the last days.

Let’s acknowledge that when we say “It’ll all just pan out!” we’ve disclosed an attitude of the heart unworthy of a Christian people.