“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
I’ve just read a blog article written by my friend The Wee Flea, AKA David Robertson, entitled Is the Free Church Cessasionist?
I’m glad that I’ve now carefully read the post but also deeply grieved by it because of the reminder that it is of arguably the biggest problem in the Body of Christ today – theological schizophrenia, especially regarding the third Person of the Trinity. As C.S.Lewis would say, this issue can not be one that is moderately important.
I think what Lewis would go on to say, and what we should all be saying, is that this elegant elephant of ambivalence concerning the most essential “aspect” of knowing and relating to God, in His Word, is of infinite importance.
What untold damage is being done through the acceptance of this mammoth in the room? (It is in fact one of the primary motivations for our production, The Bothy Sessions).
I grew up in a charismatic church from the get go. My Dad was an Elder in the fellowship we were in and I helped stack chairs every Sunday morning. But my parents had decided to move from a Brethren Hall assembly to a new charismatic context just before my younger brother and I were born. This was a very brave move for them to make because of the legalistic mentality of said Brethren Church. More than the odd raised eyebrow would have occurred in response to this decision to move church at all, let alone to a charismatic church – cue: X-Files type theme tune. Suffice to say, had Twitter existed in 1980, my Mum and Dad would most likely have been trending.
Nonetheless, I am forever grateful they made this move to expose me to what the Spirit was doing in the UK Church in the ’80s but, primarily, as a worshipful obedience to how He was leading them within their own hearts. They wanted more; they sensed (and read in the Bible) that there had to be more.
We’ll talk about Francis Chan in a minute.
So my spiritual reference point growing up, leading to the glorious day I got saved, was one of intimate worship, high praise, deliverances, gifts of the Holy Spirit and solid Brethren-esque Bible. The notion that the Holy Spirit of God had stopped ‘doing all that’ with the Apostles was now tantamount to telling me that Jesus didn’t exist or that the Bible wasn’t the living, active, flawless Word of God.
I had literally just met Jesus in the intimacy and power and exhilaration of His presence and Word. I had just met the Living Christ by the Holy Spirit of God, and you’re gonna tell me that He doesn’t still ‘do all that’? That would be like someone contacting me to tell me that Mairi’s favourite chocolate wasn’t Cadbury’s Flake.
Word, Spirit, Mission Alone
Approximately thirty years later, I am still praying to see a biblical model of the Acts Church emerge from the shadows here in the UK – a reformation not of justification by faith alone but of renewal in Word, Spirit and mission alone. I’ve written about this simmering disquiet in recent years HERE.
During these three decades, I have been shaped by John Piper and Mike Bickle respectively and, in some senses, equally. Both have been used by God to root me in the Word and in the Holy Spirit – two ministries and two men of God that you might think are mutually exclusive and, for some, tragically are. I have even had folk contact me to accuse me of heresy because I value the International House of Prayer in Kansas City (IHOPKC).
Yet, I have grown deeply in love with God through the biblical handling of Piper and filled and marked with a sense of impartation from the prophetic ministry of Mike Bickle, especially in terms of Jesus’ return.
In his article above, David Robertson rightly referred to John Piper’s charismatic style in a reformed context, (in perhaps a similar way to Terry Virgo’s reformed charismatic position), and is in fact one that I am most comfortable with. This is more than tolerating though; this excites me greatly.
When the Bible is faithfully handled and loved and studied and cherished – where Christian hedonism is the result – and where the Spirit is believed, worshipped, received, followed, and, crucially, responded to in humble adoration – something akin to the book of Acts is happening.
Piper, Grudem, Virgo,
I travelled to London in 2010 to listen to Piper preach, funnily enough at a EMA conference at which both Wayne Grudem and Terry Virgo were speaking. The theme of the conference was the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of faith and in the Church. I heard some beautiful preaching from the life of Gideon and a wonderful exposition from Vaughn Roberts on the life of George Whitefield – from whose former pulpit he was speaking. (Piper was engrossed!).
During initial moments of our corporate worship, I remember watching Piper like a hawk because of this tension between the Word and the Spirit and the mission of God. What did Piper think of the gifts? I thought. What does he think of prophecy and if tongues? I wondered.
Well, I remember being struck by Pastor John’s hands being immediately held aloft during worship, an incidental thing you might think but, for me, only underlined again that this separation of reformed theology and the ‘prophetic charisms’ was a nonsense and, more than a nonsense, a full-blown error.
But of course, as we’ve heard in David’s post, cessationists seek to point out the error of the charismatic movement and when Free Church Pastors don’t endorse this, letters of meddling complaint are likely to abound.
Return we surely must to the basic point that both positions can’t be right, can they? And that some of us are getting this epically wrong, aren’t we? Let’s keep it simple: some of us are quenching the Holy Spirit and some of us are indeed grieving the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, shouldn’t some of us be repenting? Isn’t the Church overdue a healthy dollop of repentance and examine?
All of This and our Mental Health
I’m not wanting to delve into a biblical analysis of both positions in this blog – I’m not even sure that I could in a way that would assuage both sides – but I am wanting all of us to face up to the glaringly obvious fact that cessationism and continuism can not both be right, no more than it being possible that the earth is both flat and spherical. (By the way, I recently discovered that the number of people on the planet today who still believe that the earth is flat are significant in number!).
But what bearing does all of this have on our individual and collective mental health and our relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ?
After Piper had preached in the 2010 conference, I also remember turning into a small circle of men (only men were allowed) to pray. It became immediately obvious to me that I was the only “charismatic” in the group and that I prayed in a radically different way to the other gents. I was deeply conscious that different languages were being used and, more importantly, different experiences were being expressed.
This is my point: if the Spirit of God doesn’t continue His gifts and general activity today in the way He did with Paul, Peter, James and John, then aren’t we seriously mentally ill if we believe that He does? And if He does continue to move like this in our current age, then aren’t we mentally ill if we believe that He doesn’t? Doesn’t our entire Christian walk depend on this? His isn’t an agree to disagree issue, is it?
And what of the mental health (and eternal salvation) of those who do not know God at all and who are looking in on this chaos? What does this say to them?
Lots of questions for us to consider and go to God about, regardless of who you are, how long you’ve been saved and what you do for a living.
But please let me finish this piece with one brief anecdote that I think makes a very powerful point for cessationist leanings and for those who don’t bother much with the Bible or the mission.
Last week, Mairi and I were watching some quality YouTube content from Desiring God and namely a discussion panel from their 2018 conference for Pastors in Minneapolis. The subject for discussion was physical healing. (You can watch it HERE).
At the very beginning of the discussion, Francis Chan interrupts the flow of proceedings because he felt prompted – by the Holy Spirit – to pray for the guy to his right who was experiencing significant back pain. (Francis Chan, for those of you who don’t know, until recently, was leading a mega church of 5k members in the US. He has now left this position for reasons he explains HERE).
This was no small thing for Chan to do in this context. Why? Chan’s self-confessed attitude in recent times past had been one of scoffing and even condemnation of those who claimed to move in the gifts of the Spirit today, (such as healing). He has since repented from this attitude.
But a very recent and evident sense of ‘renewal’ in Chan, (that appears to have catalysed after his difficult decision to ‘go small’ and leave the position of the mega church he’d led), had evidently brought him to a place of courage – and I’d also say longing and even desperation – to stop what was going on in the moment, as an expression of wanting to put his faith into action, by praying for his cessationist friend in front of a watching world.
What struck us most in watching the whole of this discussion video unfold, was the sense of humility that Chan was trying to convey and communicate from, contrasted with the sense of pride dressed up as “caution” from the gentleman he was praying for. This is not a subtle difference in attitude and one that I believe is profoundly significant for every follower/lover of Jesus.
Mairi and I both found this exceedingly compelling as regards to the to the UK Church as a whole (and the Scottish Church scene David dealt with): that the demonstration of child-like humility, and the desire to explore the Word and Spirit and mission of God, was the stand-out winsome element of the the panel cf. the sense of gently-simmering pride from one or two others.
[If you Google Francis Chan + Holy Spirit you might be quite surprised at what you find].
But, at the very least, can we all please adopt the logic of C.S.Lewis, accept and act on the fact that cessationism is either right or it is from the pit of hell?
One thing cessationism and continuism can not be is moderately important.
*I have a new book out on 1/7/19. More information here