Thursday, August 08, 2013

Can God be chained?

The debate between cessationists and charismatics is typically polarized between two absolute, opposing positions:
i) On the one hand, cessationists take a proscriptive position. The "spiritual gifts" don't continue at all during the church age. There are no genuine Christian healers, prophets, exorcists, or thaumaturges during the church age. God may still work miracles, but not through human agents.
ii) On the other hand, charismatics take a prescriptive position. The "spiritual gifts" ought to continue throughout the church age. The "spiritual gifts" are available to every Christian. Every Christian ought to have one or more of the "spiritual gifts."
Both sides hammer the Bible to squeeze out their position. Both sides standardize the divine modus operandi. 
iii) I'd simply point out that, logically speaking, that's a false dichotomy. For these two options don't exhaust the logical alternatives. On the face of it, there's a mediating position. 
A Christian could say the NT is open-ended on the status of the "spiritual gifts." It doesn't prescribe or proscribe what God is prepared to do in the future. It's largely silent about the course of church history in that respect. Maybe God raises up a healer at a particular time and place, but doesn't do so on a regular basis. Perhaps we don't know in advance if Christians can still exorcise demoniacs. Maybe that's something we have to discover. Maybe God is not as predictable as we'd like to make him. Perhaps he resists our efforts to domesticate his field of action. 
Now, a logical alternative may not be correct. It's something we have to test against Scripture and church history. But this rather obvious mediating position seems to be totally overlooked by both sides. 

1 comment:

  1. All very true. Scripture makes it clear that God does vary in the intensity and means by which He communicates and intervenes in the affairs of men. Amos 8:11 talks about how God sometimes ordains famines for hearing the Word of the LORD. Such a time basically occurred during the inter-testamental period. Even the Apocrypha tells us that prophets ceased to appear among the people during that time (1 Maccabees 9:27 and 14:41).

    The polarized views of cessationists and charismatics claim their views are clearly inferred from Scripture (rightly or wrongly).

    What I find interesting is that some cessationists (especially of the Reformed persuasion) hold to a principle whereby whatever hasn't been specifically abolished or altered in Scripture remains valid and binding (e.g. theonomists hold to this principle). Given that principle there's are standing commands to "Pursue love and earnestly desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy" (1 Cor. 14:1) and "Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues." (1 Cor. 14:39).

    Yet many of the people who hold to the principle inconsistently drop it when it comes to these commands about pursuing spiritual gifts.