To me, one of the important principles of apologetics is that it should be presuppositional in character. We do not rely on evidence, because evidence is interpreted in the light of a person's presupposition. Hebrews 11 explains the purpose and nature of faith in this regard, that it is not an ephemeral, insubstantial or imaginative quality.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
Faith does not require evidence. Faith is the evidence. It has often been commented that an atheist attempting to argue with me that God does not exist is taking a similar line as if he were trying to convince me that my wife does not exist. The atheist might have the cleverest arguments in the book as to why my wife does not exist, but those arguments miss out one very important fact – I know my wife! In the same way, an intellectual argument against God might be an interesting exercise, but does not alter the fact that I know Him. This is why the Bible has little respect for those who say there is no God. In fact, the Bible calls such a person a fool.
Regrettably, there is a group of Christians who take a similar line, not about God as a whole Trinity, but certainly about the work of the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. It is not that they don't believe in the Holy Spirit, though they seem to ascribe powers to Him, or rather lack of powers, in a manner not found in Scripture. Yet they argue against His actions today to try to convince people that gifts have ceased, when the people who they are often arguing against are not merely assenting to a concept of continuism, but actually knowing and exercising the very gifts that the cessationist – for that is who I speaking of – says do not exist. In this manner, their arguments are analogous to the atheist who argues against the existence of God.
One cessationist article recently stated this:
My strongest argument is also the most circular, so I might as well get it out of the way at the front. I believe the sign gifts have ceased, because they are not around anymore.1
If this is his strongest argument, then the others must be feeble indeed! He states that the gfts are not around anymore. This is not my experience. My experience is that the Holy Spirit has in His mercy granted me the gifts of prophecy and tongues, and I exercise these. What the writer should be saying is that he has not experienced the operation of these gifts. But to make such a statement would indicate the truth of his position, that his argument is based not on Scripture, but on experience.2
There are many, many strong biblical, expository arguments to show the continuance of the gifts of the Spirit. There is little purpose in my regearsing these again here, though you will find that I have written on these before on this site. Better still, read some good literature, such as the relevant sections of Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, or Authentic Fire by Michael Brown, or Holy Fire by R.T. Kendall. I simply want to use this space to make the point that the experiential argument employed by the article quoted as the writer's “strongest argument” is simply not my experience.
Indeed, I used to be a cessationist. I was saved in a church where sufficient Gospel was preached for the Holy Spirit to open my eyes to sin and my need to repentance. But that church, at that time, was highly charismatic in an over the top manner that I now see to be unbiblical. So I rejected all things charismatic, and became a cessationist, as a reaction to the excesses. I studied books on the subject, to confirm my cessationism. It was, after all, my experience that the gifts were used in a manner that seemed to be displeasing to God.
Then the Holy Spirit gave me a prophetic word, while I was still a cessationist! What could I do with it? The issue was so personal to the prayer meeting that I was in, that I knew immediately it was from God. Yet I could not voice it out loud, could I? How embarrassing! This theologically mixed group knew my cessationist views.
Fortunately, the Holy Spirit overcame my embarrassment, and I gave the word out loud, which helped another member out of a sin that he had kept secret.
One theologically minded person explained to me that he could show me exegetically why the gifts had ceased. I do not wish to sound arrogant, but I already knew his argument, which he thought he was giving me for the first time, because I had previously used it myself. But his argument was just like someone trying to convince me that my wife does not exist, It was a useless argument, because I know the Person.
I could end the article there, but I will add a small postscript. Someone contacted me regarding another man, who is a godly preacher, and a cessationist. He asked “Do you think this person does not have the power of the Holy Spirit when he preaches”. I do not believe that. I will go further – I would state that this cessationist is unknowingly exercising spiritual gifts! Many people do. I have been present in meetings of cessationist brethren, where someone has shared that God has placed a word of Scripture on their hearts, and their sharing has been very like that of a word of prophecy in the best charismatic churches!
God is great. He used me in spite of my cessationism. I pray that my godly cessationist brethren, who are indeed working by the power of the Holy Spirit, will recognize and acknowledge the power that He gives.
1Why I am a cessationist. < http://thecripplegate.com/why-i-am-a-cessationist/ >, accessed 11/04/2014