Friday, November 01, 2013

Testing the spirits

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already (1 Jn 4:1-3).
Cessationists like to play it safe. Cessationism simplifies the issue. If you say prophecy terminated around the 1C AD, then you don't have to deal with the messy situation envisioned by John.
When I say cessationism is the safe, risk-averse position, I don't mean that as a put-down. That's not necessary wrong. I say that as a description rather than a value-judgment.
Now, for cessationists, the issue raised by 1 Jn 4:1-3 is moot. Christians are no longer confronted with that issue. Our lives are simpler. 
Cessationists pepper charismatics with questions about how and where they draw the line. Charismatics like Wayne Grudem have difficulty formulating an entirely satisfactory position.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that cessationists are right. 1 Jn 4:1-3 no longer applies to us. If cessationism is true, then there is no distinction between true and false modern prophecy. By definition, all modern prophecy is false.
Let's grant that for the sake of argument. Even if that's true for us, even if we find ourselves in that enviable position, that wasn't the case for Christians John was addressing back then. They did have to draw lines. They did have to sort it out–as best they could. 
John offers them a criterion. However, it's a fairly limited criterion. If a "prophet" utters a heretical prophecy, then he's a false prophet. 
And that's useful as far as it goes. But it doesn't go very far. At best, it tells you who is not a prophet. It eliminates certain contenders in the first round. A negative criterion. If you say something like that, then you're not a true prophet.
But it's not a positive criterion. It doesn't tell you who is a prophet. It's not a sufficient condition. For surely there's more to a true prophet than refraining from heresy. 
John's criterion doesn't tie up every loose end into a neat little bow. It's easy for us to imagine hypothetical situations that aren't covered by his criterion. In theory, it would be easy to level stock cessationist objections to John's criterion. 
This also parallels Catholic objections to sola Scriptura. Catholics ask questions that Scripture doesn't answer, and they cite the silence of Scripture to prove the insufficiency of Scripture. 
Sola Scriptura is untenable, Catholics say, because it generates unacceptable consequences. It leaves too many loose ends.
1 Jn 4:1-3 doesn't address every conceivable situation. Of course, 1 Jn 4:1-3 isn't the only Biblical datum that's pertinent to the issue. It can be supplemented by other considerations. 
But at the end of the day, hypotheticals only pose a practical problem if God translates hypothetical scenarios into real scenarios. It only becomes a problem for us if God makes it a problem for us. 
Ultimately, this is out of our hands. It's up to God what he reveals, when and where he reveals it. What would you do if God allowed this to happen? What would you do if God allowed that to happen?
We can spend a lot of time devising hypothetical solutions to hypothetical problems. And if God wanted to, he could tie us up in Gordian Knots. We're no match for God. 
But by the same token, it's unhealthy to let yourself be terrorized by artificial dilemmas. At the end of the day, we must trust God to steer us clear of no-win situations.  

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