The anonymous contributors at Churchwatchcentral like to give their fanbase the impression that they stand in the mantle of the late Australian holiness Pentecostal Philip Powell, a tongue-talking, miracle believing descendant of the Welsh Revival, who was an anti-charismatic polemicist with a particular distaste for Word of Faith ministries.
The truth is that they have been hijacked by the Reformed cessationist movement populated by bloggers like Pulpit & Pen and the Lutheran cessationists at Pirate Christian Media.
The common denominator here is cessationism, which teaches that the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, as revealed in the New Testament scriptures, ended sometime when the canon of scripture was ratified, some three to five hundred years after Christ ascended, depending on which branch of cessationism you adhere to, and that the gifts of the Spirit ceased when the last of Jesus’ Apostles passed away, despite the fact that there is no Biblical evidence to support either proposition.
Having now completely abandoned, it seems, their Pentecostal associations, churchwatchcentral contributors now promote cessationist doctrine as one of their primary attacks on the Body of Christ. Here’s an example from a video given prominence on the churchwatchcentral website in the last few days.
Are continuationists heretics?
We have Todd Friel of Wretched Radio interviewing Phil Johnson of Grace for You ministries on the subject, ‘Are continuationists heretics?’ Todd opens up with assessing that the Reformers would insist on Sola Scriptura as an essential doctrine.
For Reformed theologists like Friel and Johnson Sola Scriptura means the end of what they would term ‘the sign gifts’, including speaking in tongues, the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, healing and miraculous works of God operated through the Body of Christ, as taught in the New Testament, and evidenced throughout the ministry of Christ and the Acts of the Apostles.
So, is Sola Scriptura essential doctrine for the Reformers?
Johnson: Absolutely. The authority and sufficiency of scripture is, in my view, a fundamental doctrine.
‘Sufficiency of scripture’ further eliminates the continuation of the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit in the Church.
It also excludes the ascension gifts promised by Christ when He ascended – the apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher, for the edification and training of the Body of Christ in ministry.
‘Sufficiency of scripture’ essentially says we no longer need the works and gifts of the Holy Spirit because we have the Word of God written to us in the scriptures, hence Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone.
This sounds great, but you can’t have scripture without the gifts, because they are part of the New Testament promises to the Church. The canon of scripture is complete, but the manifestations, including the vocal gifts, have not ended. They are evidence of the operation of the Spirit in and through the Church in Jesus’ name.
Friel: This raises a tricky question these days, considering that there are a number of people who are not cessationists, they are continuationists, which means they believe that God can speak in other means than through the Word – (through) visions, prophetic utterances, dreams. Is that outside of Sola Scriptura?
Well, continuationism means much more than this, of course, because there is far more to the continued operation of the Spirit through the Body of Christ than prophecy, dreams and visions. Also, this is a leading question, because we don’t derive doctrine from outside of scripture, but from a sound reading of it.
The truth is that the ascension gifts, speaking in tongues, prophecy, the promise of dreams and visions, and the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit are all within scripture, therefore it should be part of doctrine, not excluded from it.
If you adhere to Sola Scriptura, you have to include everything, including the passages that teach on the gifts, healing, tongues, prophecy, word of knowledge, word of wisdom and the like. None of these things are ‘outside of scripture’. They are part of scripture.
Johnson: You’re right, it’s tricky. It can be (outside of Sola Scriptura).
Well, it’s not tricky at all. It’s all included in scripture, therefore it can’t be outside of scripture.
It’s either in or out. Did Jesus say He would send the ascension gifts? Yes. Is it in New Testament scripture? Yes. Are the gifts and manifestations present in New Testament scripture? Yes. Was it prophesied that young men would have visions and old men dream dreams? Yes. Is speaking in tongues a New Testament gift? Yes.
Is there any scripture that says these things have ended and, if so, when? No, and no. They are all in scripture, to be read as scripture, and acted upon as scripture. What’s tricky about that? Nothing at all, unless you don’t believe what scripture says to us.
The only thing that is tricky is the line of questioning here.
Johnson: His personal dreams and private revelation are actually on par with scripture. He believes this has as much or more authority than the Bible.
Johnson doesn’t specify who he’s talking about here, but we’ll take it he means anyone who complies with scripture that says that, through the promise of the Holy Spirit, young men will have visions and old men will have dreams and all will prophesy, both male and female believers.
Well, of course, this begs the question: why wasn’t every prophecy, dream and vision of the young and old men and women of the New Testament, who were partakers in this prophecy and event during the time of Christ’s Apostles, written down and presented to us as scripture?
We know it wasn’t. Why? Because, evidently it wasn’t on ‘par with scripture’ in the sense that Johnson contrives, which is a bit of a misnomer, because prophecy still has to comply with scripture even if it isn’t part of the canon.
Scripture carries its own weight. Subsequent prophecy has to comply with its guidelines just as much as our exegesis, preaching and teaching have to comply.
Scripture is given by inspiration of God. It is, therefore, defined. That doesn’t mean He can’t speak in and through people whenever He decrees, and it not be part of the canon of scripture. That is a rule made up by Reformers. He seals whatever He deems necessary to seal.
The scriptures are sealed. They become the basis on which all prophecy is judged. There are clearly delineated guidelines for the use of prophecy available to us in scripture, including the use of words of knowledge and wisdom, and tongues and interpretation. The guidelines are not outside of scripture. They are based in and upon scripture.
1 Corinthians 14:26-33 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation.
Let all things be done for edification.
If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.
For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
We are not adding to or taking from scripture by yielding to the Holy Spirit to speak through His people as He wills. He will not countermand or go outside of the Word of God. He will confirm it.
Did anyone run after the 120 disciples in the Upper Room who spoke in tongues and write down their words as scripture? No, they didn’t, even though there were many who understood what was being said in their various universal languages. It was not compiled as scripture, and yet they all spoke by the utterance of the Holy Spirit.
What does God say about prophecy, dreams and visions?
Here’s a quick scripture interlude, referencing the Day of Pentecost when 120 disciples including the Apostles were in an Upper Room and the outpouring of the Spirit came upon them and they all began to speak in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. How did Peter describe what everyone was seeing and hearing?
Acts 2:17-18 But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.
Verse 21 (still on Joel’s prophecy):
And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Shall be saved.
Prophecy, dreams and visions. Coming to pass right at the beginning of the Book of Acts, as promised by Jesus, and prophesied in the Old Testament.
Did the young and old believers write down their prophecies as scripture?
Where, then, are the writings of these sons and daughters, young and old, if their prophecy, dreams and visions are the equivalent of scripture? Has the last part of that prophecy ended, where anyone calling on the name of the Lord will be saved? No. Nor has the first part, where young and old men and women will prophesy, see visions, and dream dreams.
Despite scripture, Friel and Johnson want to eliminate prophecy, dreams and visions from the equation. They think prophecy, dreams and visions are a bridge too far theologically.
Johnson: Let’s be honest. A lot of charismatics unthinkingly go that far sometimes, where they’re more interested in the fresh word from the Lord than they are in scripture.
Well, I’m glad Phil’s being honest, but I still think he made that up to emphasis his point of view.
There’s no evidence whatsoever that charismatics are ‘more interested in a word from the Lord than in scripture’. Scripture is ‘a Word from the Lord’. The Word from the Lord, as continuationists will know, is that the gifts, manifestations and promises of the Spirit have not ended.
Continuationists, whether charismatics or Pentecostals, or even evangelicals, are taught that any word of knowledge or wisdom that comes from any minister or congregant needs to be ratified by scripture, which is the arbiter in all things Christian.
It was one of the first things I was taught as a new believer, by John Stott, no less. If it’s not in the Word it’s not a word from God. Everything preached, taught, or prophesied needs to be weighed up against scripture. That is what I’m doing now.
Then we hear a quantum leap of reason by Phil.
Johnson: Yes, that can be a sign that this person really isn’t a believer at all. [His] confidence is not in the Word of God. His faith is not in Christ. It’s a superstition that allows him to hear different ideas and think that these are authoritative, and that’s a dangerous place to be.
What? How did we suddenly get here? Into extremes? Now the implication is that continuationists are not even believers because they agree with scripture that the gifts and manifestations have not ended.
First of all, Johnson makes up the story that charismatics, because they are continuationists, ignore scripture to get a word from God, and then claims they can’t, therefore, be born again, and that their confidence is not in the Word of God.
What kind of logic determines that because a believer agrees that the Holy Spirit can and will use someone in the manifestations of the Spirit, that they are now ignorant of the Word of God, when, in fact, they are holding to the Word of God by being available to the Spirit to operate in the gifts as He wills?
Surely, it takes greater confidence in the Word of God to be used by the Spirit as He wills than it does to ignore the Word of God that reveals this truth, and even deny that the gifts and manifestations are still available.
Cessationism is actually the easy way out of being available to the Holy Spirit. It is showing a distinct lack of confidence in the workings and operations of the Spirit. He is authorititive. It is denying the authority of the Holy Spirit to reject His instructions and remain ignorant of spiritual things.
Johnson calls God’s gifts ‘superstition’
Then he calls anything linked to prophecy, dreams or visions from God ‘superstition’. Out of nowhere.
Then they are searching for different ideas. To what? The charismatics I know are looking for a word from God when it is there, but it must always be qualified by the Word as written in scripture.
That is point of scripture. That is the point of everything in the assembly being done decently and I order. That is the point of the gifts being overseen by the eldership of the Church.
Friel: Walk me through this, because this is the thing that gets a little choppy, right? I think the Reformers would have said, “if you think that God is speaking outside of His Word, that’s outside of orthodoxy”, right?
Hang on. How could God possibly speak ‘outside of His Word’? Think about this for a moment.
Do they actually believe that God only speaks when He is addressing mankind and wanting to produce scripture? Is God mute on every other occasion? God, who knows the end form the beginning, and calls those things that be not as though they were, is now immobilised and silenced by Himself because we have scripture?
He gave us the Word so that we would know His will and live by it. The Word we have is written to us for our benefit and so that we can enter a relationship with Him through faith. The notion that God no longer speaks is not only ludicrous but totally unscriptural.
Hebrews 1:1-2 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds…
Hebrews 2:1-4 Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?
The Lord testifies of the immediacy of His Word through signs and wonders and gifts of the Spirit. Is His Word less relevant today than it was in the Book of Acts? Is His Spirit less powerful than when the Acts of the Apostles were being carried out? Or when the Epistles were being written? Or when John brought us the Revelation of Jesus? Of course not.
The Word is still quick and powerful and dynamic in and through us. His Spirit still confirms the Word preached as He always has.
The only people this getting ‘choppy’ for are those who claim God speaks ‘outside His own Word’. The question, based on the premise Friel just made, is completely mute, but let’s see how Johnson deals with it, anyway.
OK, so Johnson agrees with the fact that it’s possible for God to speak outside His Word. He is the Word, chaps. He is the Living Word.
Friel: Now, today, people will say that the tricky part of this is, somebody who’s a continuationist would say, “Now I don’t believe it’s on par with the Bible.” I suspect the Reformers would say, “Well you can say that it’s not, but in actual reality that is indeed what you’re saying and believing, therefore, you’re out!”
Out? Out of what? Why? Because the Reformers, who reject continuationism, say so?
So, then, you believe that the New Testament, which talks much about continuationist theology, and even trains believers in its processes, needs to be revised to exclude all the bits that talk about the gifts, manifestations, and miracles of God from the current Church. Essentially, that is what cessationism teaches. That is indeed very tricky.
Compare this logic to scripture:
1 Corinthians 14:1 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.
But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.
I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.
Johnson: Now I would charge them with illogic and inconsistency, before I would charge them with rank heresy.
Charge who with ‘illogic and inconsistency’? The continuationists, or the cessationists?
How is it illogical or inconsistent to agree with the New Testament writers and to follow the instruction of scripture when it talks about the very things cessationists reject?
Johnson: A lot of that thinking comes from Wayne Grudem’s book on New Testament prophecy. and he basically made this argument that he’s convinced that God does still give people private revelations, but he said that they’re not infallible, they’re not reliable, they’re not on par with scripture. He bent over backwards to say, you know, don’t take it too seriously.
How he wants to call it prophecy then, I don’t know, because it’s not a Word from the Lord if it’s fallible, but that’s what he says, and that’s what he believes, and I think what he’s actually done is taken intuition, which we all have, and he’s named it divine prophecy, which is extremely confusing, and a dangerous doctrine, and people have taken his teachings, and veered into all sorts of bizarre and heretical ideas.
But Grudem himself does believe in the sufficiency of scripture. In fact, the appendix in the book is a really good discourse on the sufficiency of scripture. I always tell people if you get that book, read that appendix first, then you won’t need to read the rest of the book. (laughter from audience)
Suddenly we flip over to Wayne Grudem’s book on prophecy, and conflates prophecy with intuition. There’s nothing bizarre or heretical about prophecy, tongues or interpretation. They are all Biblical. Wayne Grudem didn’t make this up. He simply reads his Bible and can’t refute or deny their presence in scripture. That is his dilemma as a Calvinist. John Piper has the same issue, and has been equally denounced by the cessationists.
Does he really think that charismatics, or most continuationists, including Pentecostals, actually read Wayne Grudem’s books? I don’t actually get my doctrine from Calvinist’s books. Very few of them are continuationists. I refer to some commentaries by Calvinists, because they get much of their doctrine right, but they still have to be weighed up against scripture.
I have listened to Grudem on occasion and find him to be, on the whole, balanced, orthodox, open to the scriptures and worth listening to, but I do not feel the need to read his works. I certainly wouldn’t expect to get an expert opinion from him on prophecy.
I know that sounds strange, but doctrine is derived from reading scripture, not from commentaries or books, which are useful for assisting in understanding scripture, but are not, in themselves, scripture.
A simple reading of scripture will tell Johnson and Friel that, in essence, their critique of Grudem actually makes Grudem correct in his views on prophecy. Johnson’s comments make it clear that he doesn’t understand the gifts of the Spirit or the Promise of the Spirit.
Again, though, the clear evidence is, from the New Testament, that believers in Paul’s day were prophesying, giving words of knowledge and wisdom, giving tongues and interpretation, and none of it was recorded anywhere for us today. Therefore, it is not scripture. It sound be accurate to scripture, and has to be measured and compared to scripture, but it is not scripture.
The not in that it has to be ‘on a par with’ scripture is an invention of the cessationists, who cannot grasp the simple fact that God can and does operate through the Church by His Spirit and the words given can be measured against the Word as we have it.
The canon is a sound measure
In fact, logic would say that we need a complete canon to empower the eldership and the assembly to gauge the accuracy of prophecy, tongues and interpretation. That is a very reasonable conclusion to reach, and is far more obvious than faking cessation as a solution.
It is the manifestation of the Spirit in the Church for the edification, exhortation and encouragement of the believers. It is also a sign to those who are present. Everything is to be done decently and in order, and all prophecy is to be confirmed through the prophets, that is, those in the assembly who are mature enough to know what prophecy is, and to measure it against the Apostle’s Doctrine, as it was in the early Church, and, today, against the canon of scripture.
Friel: Right, so, I want to say this again, because I think it’s helpful. Somebody believes that there’s continuing revelation, but they claim that it’s not on par with scripture, even though that is actually what they are doing – you don’t label ‘heretic’, you label ‘confused’?
Wow! Talk about putting words in Johnson’s mouth. He’s about to get Johnson to agree that Wayne Grudem must be a ‘confused’ theologian.
Johnson: And I think that’s the charitable judgment to make first.
Johnson: Just because somebody gets their doctrine wrong doesn’t mean he’s a rank heretic.
Oh, great. Thanks for that, Phil. Very charitable judgment. So, if you get your doctrine wrong anywhere, like in eliminating a huge portion of the New Testament to live the life of a cessationist, we should not immediately consider that you’re a rank heretic, either.
Johnson: And he might be egregiously wrong on something.
Johnson then talks abut when he was new believer and believed some egregiously wrong doctrine on transubstantiation. It happens. He excused himself as an ‘uneducated, unschooled, brand new believer’. This being part of his ‘charitable judgment’ of Wayne Grudem’s book as the work of a confused man rather than a heretic.
So he effectively compares Wayne Grudem with an ‘uneducated, unschooled, brand new believer who is confused’.
Friel: That’s really important, too. From two issues, whether it’s separationism, or dealing with somebody who is maybe not exactly on oar theologically, that it’s maybe just an issue of maturity, and as I see these people, rather than jumping up and “I overheard you conversation and you think that transubstantiation is… heretic!… I need to back off and go and wait a second. There can be times where there’s levels of maturity where knowledge need to be gained, and I don’t jump the gun. I think that’s missing a lot.
So they’re not heretics, they’re just confused – from the continuationist theologians, like Grudem, to the new believer who simply reads about the gifts and manifestations in the Word.
According to Johnson and Friel’s talk, if new believers read their Bibles and see, in the New Testament, that God has gifts for His people that help them be more effective in ministry, as we step out in faith to win a dying world to Christ, they are not to be considered heretics at first, but to be considered confused.
There is nothing at all mature about that notion. God, in fact, is not the author of confusion, but of order.
1 Corinthians 14:37-40 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.
Yes, so if a person is ignorant of these things, we are to merely treat them as ignorant.
The thing is, though, that churchwatchcentral is promoting this vapid tosh. Once the great successors to Philip Powell, they have abdicated all Pentecostal associations and taken on the coat of arms of the cessationist polemicists, waving the flag of the Reformers, who claim Sola Scriptura, but live and teach selectivum scriptura.