The Continuationists’ Signs and Wonders Problem

jairusdaughterIt is mistakenly believed by continuationists that cessationists are saying God “ceased” His supernatural working after the death of the Apostles. This is not an entirely accurate assessment.

Cessationists are not saying God has ceased working supernaturally, but that the primary means of God working supernaturally through gifted individuals is no longer happening in today’s Church. Holy Scripture records for us that God used the means of supernaturally gifted individuals like prophets and apostles to demonstrate displays of the supernatural like divine healing. When those individuals completed their ministry, it is accurate to say God “ceased” working supernaturally.

The last major group of supernaturally gifted individuals ministered during the era of the NT Church in the first century. Thus supernatural signs and wonders ended, or ceased, when the ministry of the NT apostles closed near the end of the first century with the completion of the New Testament documents. Signs and wonders were the blue ribbon indicators that the Gospel message of salvation through the person and work of Jesus Christ and proclaimed by  the NT apostles was authentic.

So that we are on the same page let me back up and offer some definitions.

Remember that continuationists are Christians who believe supernatural signs and wonders gifts are normative for the Christian experience in our modern day.  Continuationists are also known as “charismatics” from the Greek word charismata, which is translated as “spiritual gifts” or “grace gifts”.

Continuationists come in all sorts of varieties of denominational and non-denominational expressions.  They range from the absurd (and I would add, “false”), like Benny Hinn and other similar TV “Health-N-Wealth” personalities, to those in the middle like Pentecostal and Assemblies of God attending Christians, to the more “sound-minded” like C.J. Mahaney and John Piper.

Those on the “sound-minded” end of the spectrum consider themselves “open but cautious” continuationists, meaning that they recognize wacky charismatics/continuationists exist and are a problem, but their “wackiness” should not invalidate the validity of supernatural gifts being present in today’s church. So they are cautious in that they want to stay away from affirming the wacky ones, but open to genuine manifestations of God’s supernatural workings.

Continuationists would argue that cessationists who believe supernatural gifts have ended go way too far with their view because it places God in a box.  It is a view that denies God the freedom to work any way He may see fit. In fact, a number of contiuationists will claim supernatural gifts on the level that Jesus and the apostles performed should be expected in our world today and will cite testimonials of such occurrences happening all over the world.  [See for example Craig Keener’s two volume work on Miracles who “documents” those testimonials]. To claim such events never happen is considered quenching the Spirit or denying the power of God.

Continuationists will typically argue against cessationists along two lines:

First, it is said the cessationist has no direct teaching from Scripture that such supernatural gifts have ceased. They are making deductions about spiritual gifts from silence.  First Corinthians 13:10 says specifically that tongues, prophecy, and knowledge, will only pass away and end when the “perfect” comes, and that perfect who comes is Jesus Christ at His Second Coming.

Then secondly, cessationists merely argue from their lack of experience. In other words, because they have never witnessed a supernatural move of God healing someone, or perhaps are only familiar with the circus side-show parlor tricks of TV preachers, cessationists erroneously conclude no one is genuinely being healed supernaturally.

If I may, let me address the second objection contiuationists make toward cessationists. I have addressed the first objection in a post from a few years ago, but I’ll try to come back later and address that point at another time.

Let me begin by laying aside those folks in the absurd category, because the so-called sound-minded continuationists will whole-heartedly agree with cessationists that they are heretical cranks.  We all agree they do not represent the true working of the Holy Spirit that produces genuine works of signs and wonders.

But with that stated, the reason why the cessationists’ “experience” argument, or “lack of experience” argument if we may call it that, is so effective is because it is so damning as an indictment against the real work of signs and wonders.

Continuationists are arguing that real signs and wonders recorded in the NT documents still exist today among God’s people.  Specifically that means the miraculous healing of people with severe physical health problems and handicaps.  Considering the NT documents, it would be individuals with spinal cord injuries and paralysis (Mark 2), those with crippling deformities (Matthew 12:9ff.), those with incurable blindness (Mark 8:22ff), and those who had even died being raised to life again (John 11).

When cessationists raise the “experience” argument, they stand on fairly solid ground because it is just a fact that people with that severity of sickness, disease, and physical malady are not being healed supernaturally as the continuationists claim they are.

The continuationists, however, typically respond to that charge two-fold:

First they argue that the miracles Jesus did are in a different category than those miracles that happen today.  Then secondly, contrary to the cessationists’ insistence that signs and wonders don’t take place, they have either personally witnessed those signs and wonders happening at their church or know others who have some sort of firsthand experience with them. The cessationist who insists upon actual proof verifying the legitimacy of those healings is guilty of acting like Herod who wanted to see Jesus do a trick (Luke 23:8). Signs and wonders, they argue, should not be considered like the performance of a Las Vegas street magician.

lazarus I would certainly agree that Jesus, as the God-Man, second member of the Trinity clothed in humanity, performed miracles that were in an entirely unique category. He demonstrated His deity in that He did miracles of creation (turning water into wine, John 2 and creating food out of thin air, John 6) and sovereign control over nature (walking on a stormy sea, Matthew 14:23-33 and stilling a storm, Matthew 8:23-27).  However, Jesus did confer authority upon His 12 apostles to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons” (Matthew 10:8) and He gave the 72 the authority to “heal the sick” (Luke 10:9).

The idea of “healing the sick” is generic, but I think it is only reasonable to deduce that “healing” would include those with serious handicaps, incurable diseases, blindness, and deafness. The apostles were specifically granted the ability to raise the dead. So even if their miracles were not in the same category as Jesus, they were granted by the Lord to perform signs and wonders involving divine healing and raising the dead.

When we come to 1 Corinthians 12-14, the most extensive teaching on spiritual gifts found in the NT, Paul states that some have been given the “gifts of healing” (1 Corinthians 12:9).  It is only reasonable to assume the type of healing those gifted individuals could do would have been similar to what Jesus commissioned the apostles and the 72 to do. Nothing would suggest that gift of healing as taught by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 is in a different category from the gift of healing recorded in Matthew 10 and Luke 10.

If continuationists are correct in that signs and wonders like divine healing continue in our modern day, there has to be individuals available for interview who had for example spinal cord injuries, paralysis, crippling deformities, and blindness, who were healed by one with that spiritual gift.

Now continuationists insist there are those people who have been healed, but the problem for the cessationist is that they can never produce them to document and testify to their miraculous healing.  If they do produce them, under scrutiny, the person who was “healed” wasn’t necessarily “healed” from a serious aliment, but something marginal.

The continuationist, then, responds by saying just because cessationists never saw the miraculous healing doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or that they could happen. In other words, a lack of experience doesn’t disprove any healing taking place and the cessationists’ complaints are invalid.

But it is not inappropriate to ask for proof.  When we turn to the NT, all of the miracles Jesus performed were done openly in view of the public. Everybody could verify their authenticity. For example, in Mark 2, everyone in Capernaum knew the man who was lowered down before Jesus on his bed. He was more than likely a local who everyone knew was genuinely paralyzed. Jesus not only healed the man, but he healed him in front of a gigantic crowd who witnessed the miracle. Those outside who may not have seen the actual miracle did see the man walk out of the house carrying his bed.

When Jesus ministered in the northern parts of Galilee and the region of Tyre and Sidon, Matthew 15:30ff. and Luke 6:17ff, multitudes sought Him out and Jesus healed them of their diseases and infirmities. Matthew specifically says Jesus healed those who had been maimed, meaning those who perhaps lost limbs or were deformed in some crippling fashion. Their legs were straightened and missing arms were replaced.  Those were not miracles done in private or in the confines of a tent revival. They were done publicly, in full view of a great multitude of believers and unbelievers alike, and they were so extraordinary they were undeniable.  Even the Pharisees recognized they were the real deal and the only explanation they had was the Devil did them.

All of that to say, if contiuationists are correct that signs and wonders are a part of the normal Christian experience and they are happening with regularity among God’s people, then there should be gifted individuals who should do extraordinary signs and wonders with their laying on of hands.  Their ministry should be public — I would suggest a children’s cancer hospital or special ministries department at a local church.  And their ministry should be witnessed by believers and unbelievers alike and those signs and wonders should be both undeniable and verifiable.

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31 thoughts on “The Continuationists’ Signs and Wonders Problem

  1. Actually, it is inappropriate to ask for proof.
    “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
    If scripture does not indicate that God will cease to do miracles through men, as Paul seems to expect Him to do when he tells Christians to pray for the ability to do them (1 Cor 12:27-31), then it’s nothing short of either denying the testimony of scripture or adding to it – both of which are sins.
    Prove the point from exegesis, or humble yourself and admit your limited knowledge of what events are going on in the world.
    Paul did not heal everyone – he left people behind who were sick.
    Jesus did not do miracles for everyone who fancied one, and flatly refused at times.
    Jesus did not heal everyone who was sick – have you forgotten how many sick people he didn’t heal?
    Those who bring cameras are seeking to satisfy those people who merely fancy seeing miracles – I can think of how the ministry of Christ demonstrates that he has no interest in showing miracles to such individuals.
    Did God only do miracles in public? How about the private raising of a little girl, and a call for silence among those who witnessed it? Both in the OT and the NT God worked through gifted individuals to do private miracles, and also public ones.
    Have you verified all public miracle claims across the world and proven them false? If not, you can’t make the claim that there isn’t empirical evidence for God doing public displays of miracles through gifted men.
    You need to settle this through exegesis. If this cannot be proven from the Bible, it cannot be proven at all.

  2. It is inappropriate to ask God, but not mere men. In matter of fact, would you say the Bereans were sinning because they went on through Scripture to verify the teachings of the apostles in Acts 17:10-12? I wouldn’t; they needed adequate proof and so they got it by seeing it for themselves. In matter of fact, they actually did use exegesis, not for the verification of sign gifts, but to affirm the fulfilled prophecies of the Messiah and the gift of redemption.

    Anyway, back to my first point. Mere men are not God; they are not “little gods”, and they do not have the authority of God to denounce the proof of their gifts. Cessationists use the lack of proof as complete evidence for the lack of ability to heal. Let’s talk about Justin Peters for a moment. Have you heard his testimony? Have you heard his message “A Call for Discernment”? You should look him up. He is proof enough against these alleged gifts. I notice you call yourself a “Reformed Baptist” (keyword “Reformed”). Are you familiar with a quote from J.I. Packer (a “Reformed” theologian)?

    “The prayer of a Christian is not an attempt to force God’s hand, but a humble acknowledgement of helplessness and dependence. When we are on our knees, we know that it is not we who control the world; it is not in our power, therefore, to supply our needs by our independent efforts; every good thing that we desire for ourselves and for others must be sought from God, and will come, if it comes at all, as a gift from His hands” (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, p. 11).

    Do you understand that even now, healing may only come by way of God’s complete will and providence; not by a measured amount of faith in those praying and those laying their hands? These things happened before the finality of Scripture so to reveal the power of God for strength in witnessing and evangelizing; because there was no scripture, except that of the OT from which to refer. You bring up the fact that Paul didn’t heal everyone. That’s a great point, and I will address that in a second. You also bring up that Christ didn’t heal everyone, especially those who were seeking it for mere amazement. Christ had/has a will; He healed whomever He pleased and did so by His own determination as according to His own will for the glory of our Triune God (this includes Himself). Using His “neglect” to heal all whom He passed or all whom may have requested is insufficient proof for your point. He was not a mere man, and He knew that He gave all the proof He needed for His will to be done.

    Now back to Paul: The Apostle Paul performed many miracles as you can see in the book of Acts. He raised a boy from the dead (Acts 20:9, 10), he cast out evil spirits (Acts 16:16-18), he healed lame people (Acts 14:9), and he shook off a deadly snake bite like it was nothing (Acts 28:3). Yet, as we continue through the New Testament we see none of that from the apostle again. He left Trophimus sick after being there with him (2 Tim. 4:20), and he told his young disciple Timothy to “take some wine for your frequent infirmities” (1 Timothy 5:23). Why didn’t Paul heal these two men? Why are there no more accounts for healing throughout the NT?

    My last point arguing against continuationism is the use of “tongues”. Just about every charismatic church I have ever attended, they absolutely disregard 1 Corinthians 14:27-28; also a lot of them have women pastors which means they disregard 1 Timothy 2:12 as well. Furthermore, if you speak up against these things or even question their authenticity, they choose to question your faith, or say things like “you haven’t experienced the Holiness” or “you haven’t been born again by the Holy Spirit or you would have these gifts”. Perhaps one of my favorite quotes regarding the assertion that someone lacks “Holiness” is from John MacArthur; he states, “Nothing in Scripture teaches that the filling of the Spirit is accompanied by ecstatic experiences or external signs. To be sure, being filled with the Spirit does bring the believer tremendous exhilaration and joy, but the New Testament epistles reveal that being filled with the Spirit brings forth the fruit of the Spirit, not the gifts of the Spirit.” Also in 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 Paul states,

    “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.”

    “More excellent way”? What ever does Paul mean? Well, if you go on into chapter 13 you will see. Exegete chapter 13 using the historical-grammatical method and not allegory, and you will see the obvious. Use the allegorical method (which leaves interpretation up to mysticism, and to the presuppositions of the interpreter) and you will remain steadfast in your erroneous beliefs of continuationism….

  3. Also, if you follow Fred Butler’s link to his argument on the ceasing of these gift (assuming you read this blog article; which it appears you may have not) then you will SEE exegesis using the historical-grammatical method. Here Fred Butler writes,

    “The main point hinges on how we are to understand the word perfect in 1 Corinthians 13:10. I understand the perfect as the completed canon, and I do so for a couple of reason. First, teleion is better rendered the completed, rather than the perfect. During the time of the apostles, the divine revelation of prophecy and knowledge would still be in transmission. God was still in the process of giving revelation to the Church through the apostles and the prophets. However, I believe Paul had in mind that a new covenant document, just like the OT, would be provided by the Lord. Thus, the completed revelation of God’s New Covenant revelation would eventually come to the Christians. Furthermore, the illustrations Paul uses in 1 Cor. 13:11-13 are analogous to this idea of partial revelation in comparison to completed revelation. Paul uses three major illustration: ”

    Use this link to see the rest of his point:
    https://hipandthigh.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/the-cessation-of-spiritual-gifts/

  4. Salutations writes,
    Actually, it is inappropriate to ask for proof.

    Seriously? Okay. Just so I am clear: Are you saying then that it is wrong to exercise any discernment whatsoever? I mean, exercising discernment essentially comes down to asking for proof, right?

  5. I’ve actually been studying through this section of scripture (1 Corinthians 12-14), in S. Lewis Johnson’s series in 1 Corinthians, where he brings up many points including Fred’s in this post, that today supernatural healings (power of God) may occur, but we do not have “divine healers.”

    As to the issue about people who are sick and need healing, the New Testament sets forth the proper way to address this in the church setting — James 5:13-14, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.”

  6. Not to mention 1 Cor 15 where Paul says “Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

    Why did Paul mention all these witnesses?

  7. It is quite obvious why it is important, for the purposes of persuasion, to point out that most of these five hundred people are still alive. It meant that if there was any question over whether they were actually witnesses, they were still living and breathing and people could still check with them whether they had seen the risen Jesus. Paul may as well have been saying “look, if you still don’t believe me, there are hundreds of people who saw Jesus alive again, and they are still alive. Just ask them!”

  8. Thank you for your thoughtful replies.
    The specific wording I used was “If scripture does not indicate that God will cease to do miracles through men,” indicating that the scriptures have the final say on this.
    The basis for my saying that it is inappropriate to ask for proof was based on my quote that God should not be put to the test – it’s entirely inappropriate to ask for proof that God’s words are true.
    The suppressed argument is this: both in the OT and the NT God has been doing miracles through men, consequently due to the consistent character of God we should expect Him to continue to act as he has unless He gives us reason to believe otherwise.
    Arguing that “the perfect” is the Bible is probably one of the worst arguments I’ve ever seen in my life, and so I just bypassed it rather than pointing out how bad it is. There is nothing in the context to make the original reader/hearer think that this is referring to a completed document that has not yet entered into their imagination. This is just horrible exegesis, and has been thoroughly debunked by D.A. Carson in Showing The Spirit.
    Now, it is not sufficient to look at selected events in Acts (a book that does not pretend to give us data on how often healings were done or were not done, but only selects specific events to demonstrate specific messages) and then to look at the epistles and conclude that the gifts had ceased in Paul’s day because of him leaving people behind sick, Timothy’s sickness, etc.
    Doing so goes beyond the nature of the book of Acts, which is extreme selectivity for the purpose of spelling out theological messages, and putting this contextually divorced view against events mentioned in epistles. Acts does not try to be exhaustive, and claiming that Acts is exhaustive (a claim you have to make if you want to do an acts-epistles comparison like you are doing), is to badly misunderstand our universe and the events that take place in it – more things happened than Acts talked about, meaning lots of things were intentionally left out.
    Did Paul leave behind sick co-workers while at the same time being used of God to heal masses of unbelievers? Acts does not speak to this issue, or have any concern for speaking to this issue.
    The big point I am making is this: No text of the Bible speaks to this issue (unless you hate consistent application of grammatical rules, then you can make ‘the perfect’ mean ‘the bible’), we don’t have a treatise of what it means to have the gift of healing (who can say that the ‘gift’ meant that the individual could heal at will? This could also mean that God would frequently use the individual to do this, but at His timing and choosing – meaning that sometimes people are left behind sick for God’s purposes) we are in a position of great difficulty of coming to a concrete definition that can be worked with.
    The “greater way” of love does not negate the call to earnestly desire the higher gifts, since teachers and administrators are part of that list. If anything, the greater way of love is absolutely necessary for the Christian life and for the effective usage of the gifts, apart from it the person is useless (if they are a Christian at all).

  9. I also forgot to mention:
    Just because God gives proof does not make it appropriate to demand proof.
    Just because God gives you something doesn’t mean you have the right to demand it – if God gave you nothing at all, it’s still better than what you deserve.
    If God gives a promise without providing proof of the effectiveness of His promise, you are still obligated to believe and act upon His promises.
    It is entirely in appropriate to ask (in this case, it is a demand since you won’t believe apart from seeing it) for proof that God hasn’t changed in his dealings in and through humanity.
    If it is, then prove to me that God hasn’t turned into Satan and isn’t deceiving and deluding you and everyone else in the world into thinking he hasn’t changed, and is making you and everyone else see verses in the Bible that aren’t there, so that you depend on scriptural arguments that are actually figments are your imagination. Also, prove this using empirical evidence.
    The onus is on those who claim that God has ceased to work miracles through men to prove it from the Bible, it is not on those who expect God to continue to be consistent.

  10. Dan Phillips from the Pyro blog put it succinctly – “The very fact that ‘continuationists’ acknowledge the need to make their case to Christians by argument is, itself, a devastating and sufficient refutation of the position”. No one in the early years of the church expended any effort trying to prove the healings that are recorded – they were not only provable, they were irrefutable.

  11. Salutations, Salutations!

    I want to take issue with your use of the text that “you shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (with the expression meaning, “require proof that God’s words are true.”

    To begin with, we only see this usage occur three times in Scripture. The first time is in Isaiah 7:12–but if you actually read the text, you’ll see that in 7:11 God COMMANDS King Ahaz to ask Him for proof, and then passes judgment upon Ahaz for REFUSING to ask God for proof. So whatever else we say about “putting God to the test,” we simply CANNOT say that “it’s entirely inappropriate to ask for proof that God’s words are true”…indeed, God INVITES us to do exactly that.

    The only other occasions when Scripture uses this expression in the sense that you’re using it here occur in Malachi 3 (again an instance where God is INVITING people to act in such a way that they are ASKING Him to PROVE His own trustworthiness) and in Matthew 3 and Matthew 22–two instances in which Jesus uses this expression knowing the malicious motives of the people “testing” Him. So at NO POINT can any of those texts bear the weight you’re trying to put on them: namely, that it’s never appropriate to ask God to prove His Words.

    But beyond that, I think you’re missing something incredibly huge in this whole discussion: the continuationist camp claims that because Scripture doesn’t specifically say that there are no longer individuals performing the types of miracles to the extent that they occurred during the apostolic age, then it’s invalid to claim otherwise, and somehow irreverent to demand proof.

    Two things about this: in the first place, your argument can essentially be boiled down to this: “Scripture never uses the word ‘cessation’ or the phrase ‘the miracles will cease before Christ’s return’, so you can’t claim that’s biblical teaching.” Well, Scripture never uses the words “Trinity” or “Incarnation” or the phrases “three persons in one essence,” either–are you prepared to say that it’s therefore invalid to teach those things? Forgive me, but it’s quite a badly misshapen understanding of how theology works to reason this way: if theology means anything at all, then we HAVE to be able to reason from Scripture and make meaningful arguments without simply repeating word-for-word everything Scripture says. Theology rightly done is just that: drawing conclusions from across the spectrum of Scriptural testimony to paint with broad brush strokes a bird’s eye view of what the Bible teaches…so not only is it valid for us to look at the whole of Scripture and then draw conclusions from it–it’s actually REQUIRED that we do so.

    The other thing to point out is this: that the miracles and signs and wonders from the New Testament that you’re referring to were just that: SIGNS that were meant to AUTHENTICATE and PROVE the truth of what was being preached. This is exactly why God performed miracles in the OT (e.g., Ex. 7:17); it’s why Jesus performed miracles during His own ministry (e.g., Mk. 2:9-11); and it’s why the apostles were given miraculous gifts (e.g., 2 Cor. 12:11-19ff). So if those things occurred precisely to verify or validate the original message, and if those same things continue in the same fashion and for the same reason today, why is it all of a sudden somehow WRONG to ask that those miraculous signs and wonders do EXACTLY WHAT THEY WERE MEANT TO DO?

    In sum, your problem is twofold: first, you have an erroneous notion of what it means to “put God to the test” and therefore make an invalid appeal to Scripture in that regard; second, you misunderstand the fundamental role of the miraculous in salvation history as a whole and therefore illegitimately conclude that cessationists are expecting an undue burden of proof from the category of the miraculous, when the whole category itself was always intended precisely as a powerful means of PROVING the message’s authenticity.

  12. You don’t know whether anyone in the early church expended effort trying to prove that the miracles of Christ actually happened. This is a unverifiable premise. Do we have all the writings of all the early Christians, or records of their verbal dialogues? We do not, therefore your premise is a confident guess.
    We do not see the working of demons today as we did in the days of Moses, when Pharaoh’s magicians were able to imitate some of what Moses did. Admitting that I need to argue for the continued existence and work of demons does not itself provide a devastating and sufficient refutation of the position.

  13. “Two things about this: in the first place, your argument can essentially be boiled down to this: ‘Scripture never uses the word ‘cessation’ or the phrase ‘the miracles will cease before Christ’s return’, so you can’t claim that’s biblical teaching.'”

    Not so, my argument boils down to this: the scriptures neither teach it directly or by implication. Therefore there is no scriptural basis for the view. This is not so for the Trinity, which is often displayed in cluster texts and thus does not require long logical leaps.

    Logical deduction requires that all of the premises be available to us in order for us to come to correct conclusions, no theologian claims that the Bible provides exhaustive premises and no theologian can prove that exhaustive premises are available on any topic. We like to use our reason to go far beyond what reason (logic) allows us to do, meaning we perform non-reason in our reasoning. We really need to be more careful and keep in mind the limitations of logic.

    “why is it all of a sudden somehow WRONG to ask that those miraculous signs and wonders do EXACTLY WHAT THEY WERE MEANT TO DO?”

    They do exactly what they are meant to do, I’m not sure anyone is asking God to make sure that his signs and wonders do what “they were meant to do.” God always accomplishes what He means to accomplish.

    ” individuals performing the types of miracles to the extent that they occurred during the apostolic age… if those same things continue in the same fashion and for the same reason today”

    I did not argue that the signs continue to the extent of the apostolic age – God sometimes does obvious things frequently in a short period of time, or infrequently over a long period of time, depending on the situation and what He desires to accomplish. If God only uses two men in two thousand years to perform five miracles by the power of the Spirit, and He only does so to a tribe in the jungle that worships demons, then that fits perfectly well with a variant continuation view.

    “To begin with, we only see this usage occur three times in Scripture.”

    This is false, you also see it in Deuteronomy 6:16. Based on how Ancient Near Eastern law documents work, the application of not putting God to the test can be applied to more scenarios than just the one example listed in the law itself. We know this from other ANE documents and from how Paul applies “you shall not muzzle the ox” to pastors – Paul knows how to properly use an ANE law code. Following the same methodology of how such law codes are used, it is appropriate to say that you shall not demand proof that God’s words are true. You can trust him that they are true and rejoice to see them true. You can even put him to the test when he commands you to. But you have no right to doubt the honest record of God’s word and demand that he provides proof. The Bible shows that God clearly does miracles through men, it teaches that God is consistent, and it does not clearly teach that He will stop doing so. A cessationist argument from scripture needs to stay within the bounds of what logical deduction and logical deduction can do – no cessationist argument can be made from induction anymore than scientists can prove creationism wrong through inductive studies into evolution. Deduction does not allow for cessationism to be proven from scripture, unless a clear teaching of it can be found or can be proven to be presupposed by biblical authors. I’ve seen no sufficient arguments to prove cessationism as being presupposed by biblical authors.

    My argument stands twofold: A proper application of how ANE law codes work to demonstrate that doubting God’s word and demanding proof counts as “putting God to the test,” and that the limitations of logic eliminate the validity of all of the cessationist arguments I’ve seen to date (I do not deny that there is a possibility of a cessationist argument that stands within the bounds of the limitations of logic – denying this would go beyond the limitations of inductive logic).

  14. Salutations,

    First, a quibble: Deut. 6:16 does not refer to “testing” in the sense that you use it (i.e., to ask God to prove his words). The proper context for that is the incident at Massah, wherein the Israelites “tested” the Lord in the sense of provoking him to anger–but they didn’t do so there by asking Him to prove what he had been saying to them.

    Moving on, however, there are a couple of places in particular where your argument becomes incredibly problematic:

    “I did not argue that the signs continue to the extent of the apostolic age…”

    If you’re not saying that the signs have continued unaltered and unabated to the present age, then you’re arguing that to some degree they have–wait for it!–CEASED. You’re admitting, therefore, to some degree of cessationism.

    “God sometimes does obvious things frequently in a short period of time, or infrequently over a long period of time, depending on the situation and what He desires to accomplish. If God only uses two men in two thousand years to perform five miracles by the power of the Spirit, and He only does so to a tribe in the jungle that worships demons, then that fits perfectly well with a variant continuation view.”

    See, that’s not a continuationist view at all, since according-to-Hoyle continuationism would require that the gifts that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians as belonging to the church and existing for the church’s benefit necessarily…well, CONTINUE to the present age. In other words, gifts such as tongues and prophesy–which Paul clearly assumes are going to be a regular enough part of the life of the Corinthian church that he feels obligated to devote space to it in his letter–should CONTINUE within the church unless we have good reasons for believing that they wouldn’t. Right?

    But see, now you’re telling us that we shouldn’t be surprised that we never see the gifts in operation (even though they were meant for the edification of the church and even though they continue on in the present age) because God can do whatever He wants whenever He wants, and He just chooses NOT to act through miraculous displays of power anymore, except in hypothetical cases involving extremely rare circumstances. In short, then, you’ve made an incredibly persuasive argument for cessationism: namely, that the church cannot expect to have miraculous gifts as a part of its regular, normative experience in the way that Paul assumed would happen in the Corinthian church.

    Now, then, it’s on you to show us two things: A) How is it that your position differs at all in a MEANINGFUL way from full blown cessationism? B) If, as you say, we can’t argue for cessationism because all its premises aren’t found either directly or indirectly in Scripture (that’s how I take the main thrust of your argument, at any rate), then where can we find all the premises for the idea that the gifts referred to in the New Testament only continue today in vastly diminished form and in far rarer occurrence?

    (Also: I actually remembered to ask for the response notifications this time, so I’ll be able to see when you reply! :-) Thanks for the exchange!)

  15. Good post, Fred. Otherwise, we must basically accept the claims of the quran and mormonism as true because we otherwise wouldn’t be allowed to test those to see if they are true.

  16. For anyone confused by the comments. No one is doubting God’s Word by asking modern day continuationists to show the miracles or the results of the miracles they’ve witnessed.

    We are doubting the validity of the sinful human heart. The heart that “demands a sign”. The type of heart that God warns us will get what it is looking for:

    Ezekiel 14:4 ESV
    4 Therefore speak to them and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the LORD will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols,

    No. It is the continuationists who by the very nature of their belief are doubting what God has already said.

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  21. Hi. I was wondering if any testimony or written documentation from these 500 witnesses relating what they saw? I have never heard of any, but my resources are limited to what I have read, who I know, and the internet.

  22. Greetings, was it inappropriate for Gideon to ask for proof that God was with him?

    If one claims to be a healer, e.g., Oral Robert’s, Peter Popoff, William Branham, etc., or to heal in God’s name, I think it IS appropriate to prove if it happened (documentation) and to judge/determine whether this man be of God or not. This is not putting God to the test, but using our wisdom and judgement.

    The challenge I see is that many who promote divine healing or the gift of miracles, do not or have not provided “proof”. I’ve never seen a blind person healed on stage–that was documented to be blind, neither a deaf person healed with documentation. Many divine healers will pronounce someone healed of an illness that cannot be proven or documented on stage, e.g., diabetes, kidney stones, heart problems, etc. No follow up or any documentation to prove God has worked through that individual.

    Moreover, in times past and up to this day, there have been many claims of men with divine healing, but if and when someone looks closer fraud was or has been discovered.

    With that being said, i have seen my mom being “healed” of a growth in her neck after prayer. I have seen a tooth stop hurting after prayer. I have seen sick people healed after prayer…but nothing of the miraculous (i.e., blind to see, deaf to hear, lame to walk, etc.) I make that distinction because the body responds through faith or one’s belief. The body has a miraculous way of healing itself. Medical Science has even proven one’s belief to be a factor, as well as clinical testing in the pharmaceutical industry called the Placebo Effect. (See Dr. Andrew Weil’s Spontaneous Healing, or Max Gerson’s work on healing).

  23. one important factor to this equation, is faith or belief. When Jesus healed it always accompanied the person’s ability to believe in the outcome for what they asked for.

    In another place in the gospels, Jesus was not able to do many miracles b/c of their unbelief…I believe that was Capernum.

    That being said, although Jesus or anyone endowed with gift to heal, faith or one’s belief is required on either or both ends of the equation.

  24. Johnny,
    Thanks for the comment. I do not believe a person’s “faith” is meant as some sort of magical formula that activates the power of God. The point of what happened in Capernum was that no one believed Jesus was who He claimed to be and thus no one went out to see him or get healed. You’ll note in that account that He did perform miracles, but that he did not do many mighty works there.

  25. LOL! I think you said it but you missed it. True, he did perform, but not many, because of their…drum roll…unbelief. You’ve added to the text as for your reasoning, which may or may not be applicable, but the facts in the text and context of Script is their unbelief had an impact on what happened. Whether you believe or not has an impact on what happens or doesn’t happen. It’s a universal truth. Believe it..or not, it remains a truth. Thanks for your correspondence. Take care.

  26. Will it make me a “false” Christian if I’m a Cessationist or a Continuationist? Will my belief in “speaking in tongues” or lack thereof, make me lose my salvation? Does it really matter if a Christian is a Cessationist or a Continuationist? The important thing is the gospel is preached to the lost and that person put his trust in Jesus. Come to think of it, I now understand why Jesus kept praying for unity in the church.

  27. What makes one a “false” Christian is whether they are believing in a “false” Gospel. The gospel that is promoted by the good many of those charismatic teachers who promote signs and wonders is a false gospel. It does not save. It makes Jesus into a magical spirit who is to grant our wishes of perfect health and prosperity rather than bring the person into submission to the sovereign God that He is.

    Will speaking in tongues cause you to lose your salvation? No. But it is troubling that those Pentecostals who seek tongue speaking believe Christians can lose their salvation and tongue speaking is proof that they person is saved. Those who genuinely haven’t spoken in tongues are often left alone thinking God doesn’t love them or has saved them because they haven’t spoken in tongues.

    Jesus prayed for unity in the church, but that unity was around truth, not error. Both positions cannot be equally correct and we know God is not the author of confusion.

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  29. It is a bit of a problem that what makes a “respectable” charismatic respectable is their restraint, that is, that their claims are much more modest than those of Cindy Jacobs et al. No, they aren’t like those Bethel Redding wackos who say they raise people from the dead, but they have “received” an encouraging word for a friend, and their back pain eased when they got prayed for that one time. “Continuationism” suggests we should be seeing someone whose miracle claims are every bit as audacious as Benny Hinn’s, but whose life, practice, and theology conforms to Biblical standards. For two millennia, no such person has existed, and the professional faux-miracle travelling circus exists as a monument to man’s unfulfilled promises on God’s behalf.

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