PHIL: Well, John, it’s good to be with you again.
JOHN: Well thank you, Phil.
PHIL: You without a tie and Darlene made me wear one again.
JOHN: Well, they suggested at the beginning of this little series that I might appear in a more casual fashion, so I decided to do that just to be consistent.
PHIL: Yeah, it looks good on you. Looks good on you.
JOHN: Well thank you very much, you’re kind.
PHIL: I want to review some things we’ve been talking about for the sake of people who may not have been either at the first or the second one of these sessions, and so, let me just give you some words and you give me the definition. What is cessationism?
JOHN: Cessationism is a term used to describe the truth that the gifts, the sign gifts, signs, wonders, miracles that were part of the ministry of the Apostles and those associated with Apostles have ceased. To say you’re a cessationist means you believe that there were miraculous abilities given to the Apostles, and they ceased when the age of the Apostles ceased.
PHIL: And the opposite of that is continuationism.
JOHN: Yeah, the opposite of it is what is called continuationism, however, that’s not a very apt term because even people who say the gifts did not cease at the end of the Apostolic era, define whatever it is that’s going on today as different than the apostolic gifts. They want to say prophecy, which is to say direct revelation from God, still goes on. Being able to speak in tongues still goes on. Healings still goes on. Miracles still go on. But the people who are by confession continuationists define prophecy as sometimes fallible, or wrong, which it never was in the case of the Apostles or any other prophet in Scripture. They define tongues as a non-language which it never was in the case of the Apostles, it was always a known language. Even the language names are identified in the book of Acts. They define healing as different than the healings of the Apostles which were instantaneous, complete, and had no other explanation. And they define miracles as different than the very clear cut Apostolic miracles and the miracles that our Lord did, power to raise the dead, instantly create food, walk on water, things like that.
So to say one is a continuationist and then describe everything that supposedly continues as something different than what was is really to beg the term continuationist.
PHIL: In fact, most people who would call themselves continuationists would say the Apostolic era has ceased, but these miraculous gifts didn’t. So it’s an inconsistent sort of thing.
JOHN: Yeah, and there’s no biblical reason to have them continue. There’s no historical reason to have them continue and there’s no sort of empirical reason to have them continue, that is by examination, therefore determining that they are the same.
PHIL: You mentioned that the tongues that are listed in Acts 2 are actually named, those languages were known languages and we even know what they are, it’s interesting that in the Greek it says they spoke in those dialects and you can tell even from the reaction of people who heard them speaking, they were speaking with perfect accents so that the people who heard in their native tongue thought…How did these people learn to speak my language, even with a perfect accent.
PHIL: There’s nothing like that today, is there?
JOHN: No, no one today claims that the so-called gift of tongues is a language. If they claim it is a language, they will try to tie it in with Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 13 about the tongues of angels with a language of angels and they’ll say it’s some kind of angelic language. Paul was simply using hyperbole there, to say I don’t care what you say, whether it’s in human language or angelic language, if you don’t have love, you’re just making noise. So there’s no such thing as an angelic language occurring in the Scripture anywhere that could be some kind of precedent for this claim.
PHIL: Now you referred to these apostolic signs as miraculous gifts, a lot of Charismatics would stop you at that point and say, “All the spiritual gifts are miraculous, in the sense that even if your gift is the gift of teaching, the Holy Spirit gives that gift to you supernaturally, so isn’t that as miraculous?” You actually have a more precise definition of miracle than that.
JOHN: Yeah, I wish it were miraculous, it would save me a lot of work. But there’s absolutely…there is absolutely nothing miraculous about anything I have ever done or said.
PHIL: Which is not to deny that the Holy Spirit has gifted you supernaturally.
JOHN: No…no, look, I think, first of all, you know, I’m a creation of God so I’m sort of made from the physical standpoint and in a mental standpoint, emotional standpoint, the way God wanted me put together for His purposes. But on top of that, I have been given what I believe is a Holy Spirit granted gift to minister to the church. My gift is not for me, it’s for the church, as all the gifts are. And that simply is a unique enablement to use my skills and be led in a special way by the Holy Spirit to be able to minister to you through the gift that He’s given me.
PHIL: Now, in your commentary I think on 1 Corinthians, you specifically define a miracle and you say it is a supernatural intrusion into the natural world and its natural laws explainable only by divine intervention. You’re saying that a miracle is something that contravenes the normal course of nature.
JOHN: A miracle is something that has no, nor can it have any human explanation. There is no natural explanation for a miracle. So you don’t call anything that could have any other explanation a miracle. If there’s a…if somebody gets well when they’re in the hospital, comes through surgery, the doctors have worked on the person, they don’t find something…they had cancer and the cancer has disappeared. That cannot be labeled a miracle in the sense that it is a manifestly, supernatural, invasion into the natural world that involves no natural power, no natural process. That’s what a miracle is.
PHIL: It seems to me that one of the problems with the Charismatic Movement is the way it sort of diminishes the definition of what a miracle is. We tend to make common place things…
JOHN: Yeah, we talked about that…yeah, we talked about this last time, finding a parking lot—a parking spot is a miracle. They…they diminish miracles by calling anything a miracle. You know, you can sort of popularly redefine a term by just using it wrongly all the time. And we’re good at that. We’re always trying to find new terms to express anything that is elevated, extreme to any level, special, anything that is out of the ordinary, we throw these terms around, take the word “awesome,” that means nothing now. There was a time in English when awesome meant something, that it literally struck awe into people. But those kinds of terms get diminished by overuse and miracle would be an illustration of that. People throw the term miracle around.
You even have products that you can buy at the market that are miracle products. They will do a miraculous job of your wash, or something like that. So we cheapen word in our culture. But miracle is a term that has to be reserved for something which is an intervention of the divine into the natural where God suspends natural processes and natural laws and does something supernatural and there is no other explanation.
PHIL: And still referring…reviewing terms from last time, we talked about…we did talk about, you know, if a parking space opens up at the mall, that’s not a miracle but what did we label that. We labeled that an act of providence.
JOHN: Yeah, and I would say primarily it’s because something left that parking space. (Laughter)
PHIL: Yeah, but as a…I know you’re a Calvinist and as Calvinists we’re conscience, we are perpetually conscience of the fact that God is always at work in everything that happens, right?
JOHN: Yeah, and this is an important thing to know, that when we talk about divine providence, that is something that every believer ought to understand. What that means is that God attains His purposes and His will by ordering every detail of life, managing every detail of life for His own purposes, and that includes even the disappointments. That includes even the fact that there is no parking space at the mall. That includes even the fact that you don’t have any money to buy anything at the mall. That includes your cancer and your illness and the no answer to your prayers. God is in every single detail of life, ordering His purposes and providing the plan and outworking of that plan to achieve His ultimate ends. This is providence.
I’ve always said, to me it would be easy for God to just step into the natural world and stop the natural process and do a miracle, just a creative miracle. I can understand that. That’s a simple idea to me. What is a hopelessly complicated idea to me is for God to just allow all of the natural processes, all of the decisions, all of the free acts of people, all of the ups and downs of life, allowing them incalculable numbers and orchestrating all of them to achieve His own ends. That to me is the greatest of all miracles, God’s ability to order everything to achieve His own end at the end while giving people freedom to do what they do in the process.
PHIL: And, in fact, it seems to be a lot of Charismatics, particularly those that come out of Arminian backgrounds, tend to think that God’s not working at all if He’s not doing miracles. It seems to me the view that recognizes God’s hand at work in everything, gives more glory to God.
JOHN: Really…really a good point because what you have in the Charismatic Movement with people who are told that if they have enough faith, God will do a miracle of faith…believe, God will do a miracle…if they send money, God will do a miracle…if they do whatever the leader says, God will do a miracle…are waiting for God to invade their lives and do something supernatural that never happens, and the whole time they’re missing the complete orchestration of everything going on in their world and in everybody else’s world as God is achieving His ends and His purposes. So they overlook the work of God. They fail to see the invisible hand. You know, the old Reformers used to talk about the invisible hand of God. The visible hand of God parts the sea. The visible hand of God opens the ground and swallows people. The visible hand of God creates food in the ministry of Jesus. The invisible hand of God is just as powerful and even more astounding and amazing as He orchestrates invisibly His own ends through everything. And if you don’t look for that, then you miss the whole expression of God’s working in your own life, as you sit around waiting for some suspension of natural law and hoping God will do some divine miracle which He will not do, not in this era, that’s tied to the apostolic era, you have then overlooked all of those things that God is doing on a daily basis that in the purest and truest sense inform and motivate your constant worship. Then you become a sort of, I guess you could say maybe an anticipating worshiper, waiting for God to do something that you can thank Him and praise Him for while He’s doing things every waking moment of your life and even when you’re asleep to accomplish His purpose and bringing about His own ends. And I’m saying that for a believer…for a believer. You need to forget about chasing miracles and see the hand of God in everything.
PHIL: I’m so glad you said that cause I’ve often thought that one of the most destructive effects of the Charismatic Movement, but not well recognized, is the way it has undermined and diminished the Christian community’s sense of wonder and awe and consciousness of the providence of God.
JOHN: Yeah, they claim to be the true worshipers and we would all agree that they have the loudest worship and they have the most uncontrolled worship, that’s why they used to be called holy rollers, they would flip out, fall down, roll around. There is still some of that going on, knocking over chairs, being slain in the Spirit and all of that. They put on a kind of fleshly demonstration that’s orchestrated by the leaders, sometimes using music as a manipulation, lights and other things, a kind of hypnosis, kind of spell they cast over them, I guess, in a simple sense. These are supposed to be the ones who really worship, who really elevated worship, when the fact of the matter is, they are the least worshipful of any group because they are the group that fails to recognize God in everything. They fail to see His providence.
The true worshiper is the quiet heart of thanksgiving and joy and rejoicing that sees the hand of God in everything. And this is…this is how we live our lives. There’s no day, there’s no period of time, block of time that goes by in my life that I don’t see the hand of God in every tiny little detail that goes on in life. And life then becomes a worship experience. So I don’t need to have somebody whip me into a frenzy to worship. I’m worshiping all the time because I’m seeing the invisible hand of God in everything. And I know it’s Him. A non-believer, it’s happening but he doesn’t see it as God.
PHIL: So to be clear, you are a cessationist.
JOHN: I am a cessationist, absolutely, in the sense that I don’t believe God has ceased to work, but I believe with the cessation of the apostolic era, the Apostles and those associated with the Apostles, miracles, signs and wonders ceased…ceased.
PHIL: Now, I would say church history offers definitive proof of that.
PHIL: But, you’re not a cessationist because you learned that from church history. You believe what you believe because it’s biblical, right?
JOHN: Well yes…yes because it’s biblical and I’ll mention why in a minute. It’s also…it’s also true. You know, the Bible is true. So if the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13, tongues will cease, and it doesn’t say tomorrow or next week, or a couple of days from now, or a few months from now, or years from now…all we have to do is look at history and ask the question…did it cease? Did it cease.
Well clearly it did in the Apostolic era. To say that it was revived in 1906, or whatever…
JOHN: 1901…Azusa street meeting, or before that with Parham.
JOHN: Parham…it started then is to demonstrate that it’s invalid because you’ve got 19 years of church history, or eighteen hundred years of church history when it didn’t exist. So yes, I believe they ceased, the gifts ceased because of what Scripture says, but Scripture will always be verified by reality because God knows reality.
Now having said that, it is important to note a couple of Scriptures. I mentioned 1 Corinthians 13 which says, “Tongues will cease,” and they did. And the only time you see those kinds of things throughout history, between the first century and the twentieth century, you see bizarre behavior like that occurring in cults and strange groups. But I also believe the clarity of Scripture on this. In 2 Corinthians 12:12, the signs of a true Apostle were performed among you, signs, wonders and miracles. So there you have the very clear statement that signs, wonders and miracles were the marks of a true Apostle. That’s why in the book Strange Fire, the fifth chapter on Apostle is so important if you can demonstrate that there were only 13 Apostles and you had the end of the Apostolic era with the Apostle Paul, then the signs or marks of an Apostle cease when the Apostles cease.
There’s another passage of Scripture that essentially says the same thing and it’s equally explicit, and it’s Hebrews 2 where the writer of Hebrews says, “For this reason we must pay close attention to what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift from it.” Then he refers back to the giving of the law, “For if the Word spoken through angels, that was the law, the angels were participants in the bringing of the Mosaic law at Mount Sinai, so if the Word spoken through angels proved unalterable and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, just make the connection, God used the angels to assist Him in bringing the Law, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” Now we’re talking about the gospel, not the Law but the gospel. “After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard Him,” that would be the Apostles, “God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders, and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Again the signs and wonders and miracles are associated with Christ and those who were with Him, the Apostles. There are two very explicit texts that indicate that those miraculous features were connected to apostolic ministry. So when apostolic ministries ceases, they cease with it.
PHIL: You could even add Hebrews 1 which says, the very opening sentence says, “God who at time past and in various ways spoke unto the fathers by the prophets has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.” The gist of that sentence is God has spoken. There’s a finality to it that’s explained then in chapter 2…
JOHN: Yeah, that’s a really good observation. God has spoken in the past through the fathers…to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and many ways. That’s a statement regarding the Old Testament. And God has spoken. That speaks of completion.
PHIL: And in these last days…
JOHN: And in these last days has spoken again, as if to say God is through speaking. He has spoken in His Son, that’s the New Testament…and that’s why you don’t add, according to Revelation 22, anything to the Scripture, God has spoken, Old Testament; God has spoken, New Testament. Old Testament through the prophets, New Testament in His Son and those, of course, who wrote about His Son.
PHIL: You mentioned the Revelation 22 verse, that seems to me to be a key one as well. And in fact, that was one of the last three or four verses probably in the giving of the canon that was penned.
JOHN: Yeah. That’s an important statement because when you look at Revelation 22, it basically assigns to people who add anything to this a severe judgment. “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues written in the book.” And then if anybody takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away His part from the tree of life and the holy city written in the book.
Some people say, “Well that’s just the book of Revelation.” But what’s so important is that that’s the last chapter and the last statement in the book of Revelation which is the last book written in the New Testament at the end of the first century, closing the canon.
PHIL: So, that’s actually several passages that…you could also add Ephesians 2 where it talks about the household of God being belt on the foundation of the…
JOHN: Yeah, Ephesians 2:20, the foundation of the Apostles and the prophets.
So you would not agree with those who say there’s no exegetical support for cessationism, cause that’s a very popular view these days…
JOHN: There is no exegetical support for continuationism. All the exegetical support ties the miracles, the signs and the wonders to the Apostles and those associated with the Apostles.
PHIL: Okay, let me play devil’s advocate. I’ll pretend to be a Charismatic for a few minutes.
JOHN: This is not a new experience for you…(laughter).
PHIL: Sadly you’re right about that, and I’m sorry. But…the Charismatic would say, “Well why is say…why is the gift of tongues mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 through 14 if…I mean, the canon wasn’t closed then? If that gift was to pass away with the closing of the canon, why is it recorded there for us?
JOHN: Well, the canon hadn’t closed. That was one of the earliest books written in the New Testament that was still a means by which God was literally pronouncing judgment on Israel. And in order to edify the church, there had to be an interpretation. So you’re still in the Apostolic era at that particular point. Is that what you’re saying?
PHIL: Yeah, but I would say if the gifts only pertain to that era prior to the closing of the canon, why would the canon then include anything for those of us who are all reading it afterwards.
JOHN: Okay, I see what you’re saying. So why does the Apostle Paul bother under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to correct it with the Corinthians?
PHIL: Yes, and why does the Holy Spirit bother to record it for you and me to read?
JOHN: Yeah, well why does the Holy Spirit bother to record the sacrificial system in the Old Testament? Why does the Holy Spirit bother to record anything that we’re not still doing?
PHIL: Good rejoinder, but still playing the devil’s advocate, the Charismatic is going to point out to you that in 1 Corinthians 14, I think it’s 39, it says, “Don’t forbid people to speak in tongues.”
JOHN: Yeah, what you have to understand is this is the heart and soul of biblical interpretation, that the Word of God was written to a specific people at a specific time in a specific set of circumstances and apart from that you’ll never come to the true interpretation. So you take 1 Corinthians, you understand there were some things going on in the Corinthian church that still go on today. And the instruction, for example like don’t take your brother to court before unbelievers, resolve this thing with the elders of the church, that’s a principle that works today because we still have conflict and we still have courts and all of that.
In the Old Testament you have instruction about marriage. Marriage transcends the Old Testament economy. We don’t keep dietary laws, we don’t keep laws of mix…not mixing certain kind of fabrics because those had to do with creating a kind of isolation for Israel to protect them from pagan neighbors that surrounded them. So you have to look at every situation and understand that this is the richness and this is the wonder of Scripture, that it was written specifically at a time to a certain group of people in which the circumstances that dominated those people become the context of the Scripture. And so we will find, whether it’s in 1 Corinthians or somewhere else, for example the baptism for the dead, we don’t have any phenomena going on today that I know of like that that causes us to be confused about what that means, but they did. This is part of the integrity of Scripture, that it is first of all historic and that it belongs in the context of those to whom it is written.
So I think we have to take when we take the book of 1 Corinthians, what is inimitable to them and what transcends them. And any kind of faithful hermeneutics will demonstrate the difference to us.
PHIL: Yeah, and I’ll stop playing the devil’s advocate and point out too that the context of 1 Corinthians 14 really explains all that to us. And the whole point of 1 Corinthians 14 is to say God is not the author of confusion, and everything in the church should be done decently and in order. He’s trying to corral this disruption that occurred in the Corinthian church.
JOHN: And that’s the right observation because the way it all ends up is God is not the author of confusion. Stop desiring the showy gifts. Stop this and pursue love. That’s a transcendent message.
PHIL: And I would also say to our Charismatic friends, we obey that command, don’t forbid to speak in tongues. If someone had the genuine gift of tongues, okay. What we forbid is for people to speak in nonsense syllables and call that speaking in tongues.
JOHN: Sure. We forbid the fraud and the deception.
PHIL: Let’s talk about…you mentioned the unique notion of prophecy that’s really been promoted and propagated mostly by Wayne Grudem who did his doctoral thesis, I think, on this subject and came up with the notion that New Testament prophecy is different from Old Testament prophecy because in the Old Testament if you got it wrong, you were to be stoned to death. But he says he finds two evidences in the New Testament that prophecy under the New Testament economy can be fallible. And the two…let me give you the two arguments he makes and let you respond to them.
One verse that he points to is in 1 Corinthians 14 verse 29 where it says, “Let two or three prophets speak and let the others weigh what is said.” And he says, “Look, if it’s a prophet speaking by the inspiration of God, if this is a prophecy with infallible authority, then nobody would need to judge the quality or truthfulness of it.”
JOHN: Yeah, you have to at this point, and this is an important distinction to make, you have to understand the difference between a prophet who is receiving direct, divine revelation and somebody who is just a speaker because prophemi means to speak before. It doesn’t say anything about the source of the message, it only says something about the declaration of the message. It means to stand before people and speak. In that sense, you’re a prophet, I’m a prophet, there were prophets in the early church who, in fact, they’re addressed as the prophets of the church before there were actually elders, there were preachers, speakers in the church. We could say that such a speaker could be wrong in what he said. And you could say the same about someone today. But that is different from someone who claims to have direct revelation from God. When you claim to have direct revelation from God, you can’t be wrong. That was the Old Testament standard. If you say, “Thus says the Lord…” then you know, you better be what the Lord said or you’re going to be judged. And I think that would be the difference.
You had operating in the New Testament era those prophets who because the canon wasn’t complete, Scripture wasn’t complete, you had men who were receiving divine revelation from God on occasion. There were prophecies from God apparently that were given directly from God.
But you also had those who were the preachers and the speakers who were not getting new revelation but were teaching what had already been revealed. I think you have to make that distinction.
PHIL: So, if I could use the word inspiration a little loosely, there are inspired prophets who must be infallible, their message must be correct. And then prophets like you and me who are basically proclaimers of the Word of God…
JOHN: Yes, but where Grudem goes wrong is he blends those two and he allows for people who supposedly are inspired by God to say wrong things.
PHIL: Would you say Paul is using that broader definition of prophecy all through 1 Corinthians 14?
JOHN: Yeah, I think…I mean, that would kind of be where I would land.
PHIL: So when he says in 1 Corinthians 14:39, he says, “Desire that you may prophesy.”
JOHN: Yeah…sure, as a collective group…
PHIL: He’s not seeking private messages from God.
JOHN: No…no, in fact much earlier he acknowledges that it’s better when you come together to prophesy, that means to preach, than to speak in tongues because it just creates chaos and confusion with everybody. And I think he’s using the term prophecy only in the sense that you are proclaiming the message from God, not in the sense that someone is an inspired prophet receiving direct revelation.
We could allow for that today. And so, in a sense you could say, “Look, I believe in the ministry of prophecy, standing up, speaking before people.” That’s what it means. “But I do not believe in the office of prophet, that unique office of prophet in which case someone is actually inspired by God to receive and reiterate direct revelation. Where that occurred in the Old Testament or the New Testament, there was the requirement of infallibility. You had to be right. There was no wiggle room to be wrong. There was even a death sentence pronounced on prophets who were wrong.
So I think if you blend those two, if you confuse those two, which Grudem does, and you say that anybody who stands up to speak for God is fulfilling the role of the prophet who was inspired by God, and therefore he can be right or wrong, you’ve confused the issue.
PHIL: And people are easily confused by that. I said once in a Shepherds Conference that the great need for today is not for preachers who are creative, but preachers who are prophetic. And by that I meant men who speak with the authority of God and rightly divide the Word of God, prophetic in that sense. They speak with prophetic authority in a prophetic voice.
JOHN: And another way to look at it, Phil….
PHIL: People came up to me afterwards and said, “Oh, you’ve become a Charismatic?”
JOHN: Yeah…no. Another way to look at it is this, I stand up and preach, just think back to this morning, you knew clearly that I was not getting direct revelation. This goes back to the first thing you said. Nothing miraculous happens to me…nothing miraculous happens to me. I go in my little study, I sit in my chair, I labor for hours and hours and hours as I’ve labored my entire life, I read relentlessly, constantly, books upon books, upon books, commentaries, everything I can get my hands on, because there is nothing miraculous happening, absolutely nothing. I…I basically ascertain everything I say to you in non-miraculous ways.
PHIL: But I also know that the message you’re giving me is not from your own mind and heart…
JOHN: No, I’m getting to that.
JOHN: Steal my punch line. But, all of that, all of that effort is applied to one specific task and that is to discern what God meant by what He said. I don’t work to come up with something that I say, I work to discern the best I can what God meant by what He said. Never would I claim direct revelation. All the revelation that ever comes from me is indirect. It is indirect. It is in the Scripture, buried in the Scripture, it is for me to discern out of the Scripture and bring to you. I do the best I can, I would never claim infallibility, even when I am most accurate and most faithful to Scripture and get it right before God, that is not because I am infallible, it is simply because I was able to discern the correct interpretation, using the human means and I believe with some guidance by the Holy Spirit.
PHIL: Right. And what makes it prophetic, and it is, your preaching, I’ve always thought prophetic because it isn’t a message you made up or devised for yourself, you’re delivering the message from the Word of God.
JOHN: Yeah, and I think you’re using prophetic even in another direction, in a third way. When a prophet stood up in the Old Testament, let’s forget the aspect of inspiration and let’s just look at what he did. He gave a message from God to the people and what you’re talking about, you’re using prophetic in the sense of its impact, you’re using prophetic…
PHIL: And its source though.
JOHN: Right, but I’m saying you’re also using it in the sense that when you say you preach prophetically, you mean that I preach connected to divine revelation but I also preach in a way that it comes across like the prophets did, with a strong word and authority from God.
PHIL: It comes across….with the authority of God. Right. Yeah.
The other, we got a little far afield, but I said Grudem has two arguments he uses to say that prophecies are fallible in the New Testament, the other one is…this brief account of Agabus in Acts 11:28 where Agabus, you remember, stood up and Scripture says he foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world and this took place in the days of Claudius and so on. That’s Acts 11. Then you meet Agabus again in Acts 21 where, you remember, Paul comes back from his missionary journey and Luke says, “Agabus came down from Judea and coming to us he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit.’” So he’s claiming again to be speaking by the Holy Spirit. This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of Gentiles.” And then there was this controversy over whether Paul should go to Jerusalem or not. He said, “I’m going anyway,” and so on.
When Grudem says this, I’m quoting from his book, “Paul was not bound by the Jews but by the Romans and far from delivering Paul over to the Romans, the Jews tried to kill Him and He had to be delivered from the Jews by the soldiers, by the Roman soldiers, so…he says…Agabus got the details wrong.”
Now before you respond to that, no less than D.A. Carson says, likewise, Carson writes, “I can think of no reported Old Testament prophet whose prophecies are so wrong on all the details. I don’t think Agabus was wrong at all.”
JOHN: He wasn’t wrong at all, it was symbolic. He was simply using a symbol. The prophets in the Old testament used symbols all the time to demonstrate some kind of prophecy. Agabus was exactly right in predicting that Paul would be arrested, that he would be bound, that he would be hauled away.
PHIL: Well and he was arrested by the Jews and they delivered him over…
JOHN: Yes, out of the Temple and they turned him over to the Romans…
PHIL: By force not by choice, but just the same, right?
JOHN: Yeah, and do we know for sure that he wasn’t bound that way?
PHIL: Yeah, I don’t know that.
JOHN: Where did it say that didn’t happen, where does it say that didn’t happen? There wasn’t a point at which it didn’t happen. But that’s not the point. The bigger point is this is a symbolic gesture that Agabus is taking his belt and doing this symbolic gesture and saying like this you’re going to be bound, it was an absolute accurate prophecy.
JOHN: We need to say so much of what he’s written in his theology is good.
PHIL: Well, in fact, I was just going to say that book has been tremendously influential and one of its appendixes is a defense of sola Scriptura and the sufficiency of Scripture. The authority of Scripture in the face of all these prophecies and claims and everything. I’ve often said if…and that’s a great section in that book, it’s worth the price of the book just for the appendix, I’ve often said, “If he just wrote the appendix and published it, he wouldn’t have had to write the other book because the appendix refutes what he says about prophecy.
JOHN: Yeah. It’s just an unnecessary Achilles heel in an otherwise, you know, great contribution to our understanding of theology, including the view of Scripture.
PHIL: Yeah, that’s one of the things I want to ask you about. It seems to me that there’s something spiritually genetic or something in the Charismatic idea that kills discernment.
I mean, I recently watched a video by John Piper who also we have great respect for, but he was talking about the gift of tongues and how he’s prayed for it for years and not received it. And he said, his prayer goes like this, “Lord, can I have this toy that other Charismatics have to play with?” And so far he says the Lord hasn’t given it to him. And I think it’s instructive and enlightening that he regards it as a toy to play with. I think that does reflect how a lot of Charismatics view it.
JOHN: Yeah, I guess…you know this doesn’t rise out of their study of Scripture because their hermeneutics are certainly consistent with the traditional hermeneutics and how you interpret Scripture. It doesn’t rise out of their understanding of history of the church. I’m constantly asking the question: where does this come from? Why do they pick up on this? What are the influences that cause people to delve into this Charismatic stuff which is so contrary to everything else they believe, to the precision, to the definitions of theology, to the hermeneutics they use to interpret Scripture? Why do they keep making space for this? And it’s that very question that has forced us to this whole strange fire issue, to try to force them to say how is it that you continue to sustain this inconsistency?
PHIL: For the first 85 or 90 years of the Charismatic Movement, speaking in tongues was sort of the gold standard gift. In fact, you weren’t a Charismatic really in most people’s reckoning if you didn’t speak in tongues.
JOHN: Well it was the sole evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the early Movement.
PHIL: Yeah, since the nineties it seems to me…especially the more conservative Charismatics, the ones who would agree with us on more doctrines than the, you know, the guys on television, they’ve seem to stress prophecy more than tongues. You notice that?
JOHN: Yeah, they’ve even bypassed healing because that’s just way too verifiable…
PHIL: Or non-verifiable…
JOHN: Well that’s what I mean, you know nobody’s getting healed. So…
PHIL: So prophecy has kind of become the feature that is now the centerpiece…
JOHN: Yeah, it is the centerpiece and it’s an easy centerpiece because it can be right or wrong.
PHIL: Which would you see as more dangerous, tongues or prophecy?
JOHN: Oh prophecy by far…
PHIL: Because it’s easier…
JOHN: If you say something that nobody understands, that’s very limited danger. If you just, you know, you mumble, you know, you can bring an idiot in the room and he’s not going to be much danger to anybody if he’s incoherent. So there’s no danger in incoherent.
I’ve always said this, you know, I’d rather have people speak in tongues than gossip. I think gossip is a lot more dangerous than speaking in tongues cause people do know what you’re saying. But speaking in tongues doesn’t really have a danger apart from false assurance. It’s a false assurance of someone’s salvation. But prophecy? That is very dangerous because now you’re saying things that people do understand and you’re claiming they came from God.
And John Piper’s a classic illustration of that. He gives a testimony on Desiring God website about a lady coming up to him when his wife was pregnant with her last child and saying, “Your wife is going to die in childbirth, and there’s going to be a baby girl and your wife is going to die in childbirth.” This was a prophecy. And he said he was…he was profoundly burdened by this. He gives a testimony of carrying the weight and the burden of this prophecy all the way to the point at which Noel gave birth and he said as soon it was a…he saw that it was a girl, he let out a hoop at the top of his voice because he knew the prophecy wasn’t true.
When you mean from the time that woman said that until his wife gave birth to a boy, I mean, it was a boy and he knew the prophecy wasn’t true because she said a girl, he was under the threat of the death of his wife? I mean, that’s powerful stuff.
PHIL: And the danger of that is exponentially more because they believe prophecy can be fallible. So if somebody gets it wrong like that, you’re not necessarily required to write them off as someone you shouldn’t listen to. You have to listen to the next prophecy as well.
JOHN: Well even if they say something bizarre and outrageous, she didn’t have a girl and she didn’t die, so he gives out a hoop of relief. Well who wants to live under the bondage of everybody who comes up to you and gives you prophecies, having the potential of being right?
That’s happened to me a lot here. In fact, there was a guy here for quite a while who gave prophecies to me all the time. And, of course, I tried to be gracious to him and kind to him, I never believed one thing he ever said came from God, not one word ever said by him. And he prophesied all kinds of things…a wide range of things that were going to happen to me that were coming down the pike. You hear this constantly coming from these people. This is the…this is the year that God’s going to do this…this is the month He’s going to do this…this is the great deliverance time…this is the era of when the church is going to explode. And you hear these broad sweeping things. And then you hear these personal specific things told to people.
The bottom line for me, I don’t believe any of it comes from God.
PHIL: Yeah, these guys like Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, several others…
JOHN: Well they’ve all been wrong.
PHIL: And they make annual prophecies about what’s going to come this year. And I’ve noticed since about 1997, every one of them every year predicts that Castro will die. Some day one of them is going to get it right.
JOHN: Yeah! Yeah. You know, I wanted to add one other thing. There’s a really couple of interesting articles on the Grace To You website. If you go to the Grace To You website and check the Blog there, there’s an article by Conrad Mbewe who will be here for the conference from Uganda…is he from Uganda…yeah, he’s from…
PHIL: No, he’s from Zambia.
JOHN: From Zambia, really interesting article because there’s an announcement in the current issue of Christianity Today which in my judgment is Christianity Astray, but in the current issue of it, there’s a promotion piece of a well-known evangelist who’s holding a big rally in Orlando and he says that under his ministry alone, seventy-two million Africans have been converted to Christ…seventy-two million Africans. There’s another article in there about a Charismatic revival in Bali, but looking at this Africa thing, and this is what Conrad says, very interesting article, you need to read it, he says, “The Charismatic Movement has adopted African paganism.” And he says, “African paganism has a couple of simple tenets, God is, there is God, and God blesses, but in between God and His blessing is an intermediary world and it’s a world occupied by two entities, the spirits of ancestors and angel demons. And in order to get God to bless, you have to somehow circumvent the middle ground of the spirits of dead ancestors and demon spirits. Throughout African history, the witch doctor has been the navigator, the witch doctor has been the guy who through spells and incantations and charms and various things has been able to mystically invade the middle world and dispel the ancestral spirits and dispel the demon spirits to open a way for God to bring health, or wealthy or whatever it is. That’s been the role of the witch doctor.”
Conrad says, “That’s been taken now by the Charismatic pastor who is doing exactly the same thing, only baptizing it with the words of the Bible. But it’s the same thing. They talk about…they talk about deliverance from the power of the demon spirits and they talk about break through the ancestral spirits. So they use the word deliverance and break two of the things he talks about.”
So this has been superimposed over African paganism and that’s why there are seventy-two million people lining up because there’s no change. They just refer to God as the God of the Bible and now the pastor is the new witch doctor who navigates through and shows them by faith in giving him their money they can have break through the netherworld to release the blessing of God to them.
So you have to understand that this is doing massive damage all over the world in the name of Christianity. And there was one response to the article written by someone from Latin America who said the same thing is what’s happening in Latin America.
So the Charismatic Movement is in this false form superimposing itself on paganism and making headway. That’s just a frightening thing. When you affirm anything about that Movement as legitimate, you literally allow for that kind of thing and you put yourself in a position where you can’t really deal with it. So yeah, you’re right, back to the point you made, as long as these people can believe to be hearing directly from God, they wield power that is just overwhelming. If I say to you, “God told me this,” and you believe that…I have immense power over you…immense power. And this is what subsumes these masses of people under this kind of deception. So…
PHIL: That’s why, also, it seems to draw people who are megalomaniacs and money-hungry, fleshly…
JOHN: Ha…yeah, there is no greater power than to say essentially “I’m God, I’m speaking for God to you, I’m telling you this is God’s Word for you.” And are you going to live under the threat of that, that that could be true? That is THE most dangerous of all. I would rather have people do phony healings then go around saying God says this and that. I’d rather have people not do any of it. But that’s the worst.
PHIL: We’ll see if we can influence folks in that way at the conference.
JOHN: Well that’s what we’re going to try to do.
PHIL: We sadly have run out of time, before I run out of questions again, but instead of doing this a fourth time, at the conference we are actually having Todd Freill(?) to come and lead a Q & A and I’m going to give him my leftover questions. He can have a go at you.
JOHN: Do you all know who Todd Freill is? Yeah…well I do know what to expect from him, it will be worse than it was with you.
PHIL: (Laughter) Much worse.
JOHN: Yeah, I’m sure of that.
PHIL: All right, thanks, John.
JOHN: Phil, lead us in prayer.
PHIL: Lord, we’re so grateful for the clarity and the power of Your Word. Lord, we pray that You would anchor our hearts and our faith in the Word that You’ve spoken and written in Your Word. May we…may we build our lives around that truth and not be seduced by other things, and may we glorify Christ in all of that, we pray in His name. Amen.