The phrase that I have used as the title of this blog hit me like a hammer in the face. It comes from the book Surprised by the Power of the Spirit by Jack Deere. I knew that the Gifts of the Spirit continued in existence today, but I seemed to have endless arguments with cessationist brothers, who would say that pentecostalism relied merely on experience instead of Scripture. But another comment by Deere, in the above book, was telling:
No one ever just picked up the Bible, started reading, and then came to the conclusion that God was not doing signs and wonders anymore and that the gifts of the Holy Spirit had passed away. The doctrine of cessationism did not originate from a careful study of the Scriptures.
Wow! Before I read this, I had always felt a certain embarrassment about my position, in the company of cessationist brothers. Not any more! The cessationist view did not come from Scripture. Cessationism comes from the sort of eisegesis that, paradoxically, wants to interpret Scripture according to one’s own experience. It is the experience of the cessationist that miracles and gifts do not happen around them, or in their churches. Therefore, they interpret Scripture according to that experience, rather than looking to exegete what Scripture actually says.
Consider the verse of Scripture most often quoted by cessationists.
Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:8-10)
The passage is clearly talking about when prophecies will cease – and, of course, the fact that prophecy, tongues etc. clearly WILL cease one day. When? When the perfect comes!
What is the obvious meaning of the word “perfect” in this context? It is obviously talking about the perfect world to come. A couple of verses later on, the apostle refers to the time when we will see “face to face”. I suggest that the meaning of these concepts is not difficult to understand.
But cessationists insist that the word “perfect” in verse 10 refers to the closure of the canon of Scripture. Now, no one will argue more strongly than me that the canon of Scripture is closed. God has no new teachings or doctrines to give us. It is clear from dozens of other passages that Scripture is complete. That fact, of course, gives us one of the tests for true prophecy. Any so-called prophecy that adds new teaching to Scripture, or even contradicts Scripture, is to be rejected. So the cessationist asks – what is the point of prophecy and other gifts? Isn’t it obvious? Let me spell it out. Paul Taylor is not mentioned in the Bible. When God needed to speak directly to my life about a secret area of my life that needed altering, he did it by a word of knowledge through my wife. Your church is not mentioned in the Bible. If God wants a specific change of direction in your church, he will often do it by a prophetic word.
Not all experience is wrong. If you read Scripture honestly, without preconception, you will expect to experience the gifts. So, I am not ashamed to point out that I have experienced the gifts of tongues and prophecy. But these experiences are subservient to Scripture. I expect them, and understand them, because Scripture is my complete, infallible, inerrant, sufficient authority. Now, my dear cessationist brother, you have to look me in the eyes and tell me to my face that the things from the Holy Spirit that I have experienced are not actually from the Holy Spirit. What grounds do you have for telling me that my experience is wrong? Scripture? No – your only grounds are your lack of experience of such things. Your lack of experience is, in fact, an experience. Your cessationist doctrine is based solely on experience and eisegesis. My pentecostal doctrine is based solely on sound exegesis of Scripture. My experience is real, but is founded solely on the Scriptural doctrine.