December 14, 2017

A Case for Cessationism (5)

Fred Moritz

This article first appeared in the Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal. You may also find it here. We republish on Proclaim & Defend with permission.

The article will appear here in parts for easier reading. This will require an alteration of footnote numbering – for citation, refer to the longer article linked above.

Part OnePart Two Part ThreePart FourThis is Part FivePart SixPart SevenPart EightPart Nine

Part 1 surveyed Claims for Continuing Revelation as taught by Cults, Roman Catholics, Charismatics and Peter Ruckman. Part 2 continued by surveying the views of Sovereign Grace, John Piper, Wayne Grudem and D. A. Carson. Part 3 moved on to a considering the question of continuing revelation in light of the doctrine of inspiration, firstly looking at the Old Testament Record. Part 4 continued to consider that question, looking now to the New Testament Record. Part 5 turns to the question of a completed canon.

God’s Self Revelation Completed

We now turn to examine the question whether God’s self revelation is complete. This has been and still is a hotly debated issue. It is a crucial subject in contemporary theology. Many religious groups base doctrine on what they claim is revelation added to Scripture. In the introduction we noted several of these claims.

Opposition to God’s Completed Revelation

Through the centuries, God’s Word has endured countless attacks. Satan’s temptation of Eve began with the subtle attack on God’s revelation. He asked: “Yea, hath God said?” (Gen 3:1). B. B. Warfield provides a keen analysis of these attacks on God’s Word.

In the whole history of the church there have been but two movements of thought, tending to a lower conception of the inspiration and authority of Scripture, which have attained sufficient proportions to bring them into view in an historical sketch. (1) The first of these may be called the Rationalistic view.[1]

This rationalistic approach to Scripture has caused great theological battles in the last 150 years. Its roots really grew out of Enlightenment thinking, popularized by Friedrich Schleiermacher at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It emerged as a formalized concept in the 1860s with the Graf-Wellhausen theory, which came out of Heidelberg, Germany. As it developed, this “modernism,” as it became known, taught that Moses did not really write the Pentateuch. Rather, some later editor, using four separate sources, “cut and pasted” the Pentateuch together as a reflection of human tradition. Likewise, according to the “higher critics,” two, three or even four separate authors wrote the Book of Isaiah rather than the prophet of whom the Scriptures speak. The Book of Daniel looks like it was written as prophecy, but, according to this “higher criticism,” it was really written after the fact. These allegations have been disproved by historical and archeological evidence. These false premises have been through many revisions and finally now have been almost completely abandoned. A modern form of this folly is the so-called “Jesus Seminar,” which has decided that Jesus actually spoke about twenty percent of what the Gospels attribute to him!

This rationalistic system intended to prove that the Bible is not a supernatural revelation from God, but merely a human book containing moral and ethical principles. Based on evolution, it denied the supernatural character of the Bible and the miraculous claims the Bible makes. This system of unbelief spread from the European universities to the denominational universities, colleges, and seminaries in the United States.

Bible believers in Europe and the United States rose up in opposition to the attacks of modernism. Spurgeon fought the famous Down-Grade controversy and eventually withdrew from the Baptist Union in England over it. Frederick Godet, the famous Swiss exegete, was a thorough-going Bible believer. In Germany, E. W. Hengstenberg withstood the arguments of Schleier­macher.[2] In the United States those who believed the Bible vigorously fought against the invading modernism. Early in this century godly men published a series of writings in defense of the faith called The Fundamentals. Pettegrew documented that Curtis Lee Laws adopted the term “Fundamentalist” for those who believed God’s Word and intended to defend it.[3] This is a brief summary of the rationalistic attack on the Scriptures in modern times. Fundamentalism as a movement emerged as a defense against the attacks of modernism.[4]

While modernism was a rationalistic attack on the Scriptures, the second type of attack on God’s Word is really more prominent today. Warfield continued his observation:

(2) The second of the lowered views of inspiration may be called the Mystical view. Its characteristic con­cep­tion is that the Christian man has something within himself,—call it enlightened reason, spiritual insight, the Christian consciousness, the witness of the Spirit, or call it what you will,—to the test of which every “external revelation” is to be subjected, and according to the decision of which are the contents of the Bible to be valued.[5]

This “mystical” approach to Scripture opens the door to the error of continuing revelation.

One is amazed at how little is written affirming that Scripture is a completed unit of revelation. Perhaps the older writers, thoroughly combating the rationalistic attacks on Scripture, did not see the need to contend against the mystical attacks on it. Most of the classic systematic theologies or works on the inspiration of Scripture contain a brief statement about the issue.[6] Pache is typical when he says, “All the revelations discussed above were accorded to individuals or to generations now passed away.”[7] Certainly the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements were not as prevalent then as they are today. To be sure, Baptist theologians have affirmed that Scripture is the sole authority for faith and practice. They have argued against Rome’s threefold authority structure of Scripture, tradition, and church authority. However, we can find almost nothing that explains why Scripture is complete or howwe know that it is.

John MacArthur has written one of the best current books on the Charismatic movement. He deals with this issue clearly but briefly.[8] Peter Masters has a helpful chapter entitled “Proving the Gifts Have Ceased,” in which he deals with the cessation of all sign gifts, including prophecy.[9]

To be continued… [next installment due Tuesday, 2013.12.17]

Dr. Moritz is a professor at Maranatha Baptist Seminary. For more on this topic, see Fred Moritz, Contending for the Faith (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 2000), 35–63.

  1. B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1948), 112. []
  2. Stephan Holthaus, Fundamentalismus in Deutschland, Der Kampf um die Bibel im Protestantismus des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts (Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft, Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, 1993), 156–60. []
  3. Larry D. Pettegrew, “Will The Real Fundamentalist Please Stand Up?” Central Testimony (Fall 1982), 1–2. []
  4. Mark Sidwell, The Dividing Line (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1998), 91–102, has a comprehensive, clear description of liberalism. Sidwell has done an outstanding job of describing liberalism in historically precise, theologically correct, and yet understandable language. []
  5. Sidwell, The Dividing Line, 113. A. T. Pierson, Seed Thoughts for Public Speakers (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1900), 178, made a four-way analysis of religion and authority. He said, “There are four types of religious life: 1. The rationalistic, in which all truth and doctrine are submitted to the reason as the supreme arbiter. 2. The ecclesiastic, in which the Church is practically the final authority. 3. The mystic, in which the “inner light” interprets even Christian doctrine. 4. The evangelic, in which the soul bows to the authority of the inspired Word, and makes the reason, the voice of the Church, and the inner instincts and impulses subordinate, as fallible sources of authority, to the one supreme tribunal of Scripture.” []
  6. F. David Farnell has written four articles in Bibliotheca Sacra and one in The Master’s Theological Journal. Farnell is a cessationist, holding that we do not receive continuing revelation today. The articles are in response to Wayne Grudem’s views to the opposite. We will cite some of Farnell’s writing, but it is highly technical and not for the popular reader. []
  7. René Pache, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture (Salem, WI: Sheffield, 1992), 23. []
  8. John F. MacArthur, Jr., Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 60–65. []
  9. Peter Masters, The Healing Epidemic (London: The Wake­man Trust, 1988), 112–35. []

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