Ever since my childhood growing up in a strictly cessationist Baptist church, I have been fascinated by the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. I was taught explicitly and through subtle joking over many years that the gifts had ended with the closing of the canon of scripture. I was even taught that those who claimed to perform miracles, prophesy or speak in tongues today were either charlatans, lying or demonically possessed or deceived.
Those are, in hindsight, pretty radical positions especially when viewed in light of scripture, but they were deeply held by a large portion of the American church while I was growing up.
Something happened to me when I was 15, though. I had an experience which caused me to question the things I’d been taught growing up. The experience wasn’t any kind of supernatural event, but when I saw all my teachers and Bible study leaders acting reprehensible during a contentious church split fight. I was so disenchanted with their actions I began to question their teaching.
I’m happy to say that 99% of what they taught me I was able to hold on to. They were faithful to scripture to teach me the Word of God from a young age. I understood Jesus’ atonement, God’s love for me and His requirement of me to tell the world about Him. I realized they had done a good job save for actions to the contrary. The one thing that fell suspect through a careful inspection of scripture was this one hangup about spiritual gifts. I couldn’t find anywhere in scripture that explicitly relegated miracles, tongues, prophecy, etc. to within the covers of my Bible. In fact, I found it spoke exactly to the contrary.
But still, deeply held and ingrained teachings are hard to let go of. I carefully studied the reasons I had been taught those things don’t happen anymore and I found some of the arguments very compelling, but eventually without substance. Most of the arguments were laughable, however. Most of the arguments were blatantly created lies to back up a position held from prejudice, not careful doctrinal inspection of scripture. The fact is most of the people I knew and their teachers and those they studied just didn’t like “charismatics.” There were a silly lot, unstable in their lives to the point of complete distaste for everything they stood for. I have to admit, especially after many years now of believing otherwise, that their characterization of charismatics is not completely without merit.
Mahatma Ghandi erred eternally in his thinking by saying, “I would be convinced to be a Christian were it not for the Christians I have met.” We must not make the same mistake when it comes to our interpretation of scripture. We can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
So after I was convinced from scripture that miracles, tongues and prophecy were for today I set about seeking God earnestly for experiences in them. I prayed faithfully and unsuccessfully every day for years for God to speak through me or use me miraculously. Six years I prayed, actually, with no answer. But that didn’t stop me from faithfully defending and proselytizing my newfound position with those who didn’t believe. I was ready at the drop of a hat to tear to shreds anyone’s arguments who believed miracles or prophecy weren’t for today.
Then something strange happened. God answered my prayers.
At long last, God actually began speaking to me in ways that were far beyond my expectations. I began having prophetic dreams and encounters with other people and my life radically changed. Suddenly my belief in God wasn’t just a deeply held position from scripture but truly the “assurance (evidence) of things I’d hoped for but not yet seen.” I felt like I’d experienced true faith for the first time. I knew without a shadow of a doubt now that God was real. And more importantly, I knew that He knew me and that He actually liked me!
In this blog I will share many of my stories because I want to encourage you to pursue God for the same things as me. I believe everything I’ve experienced is open game for all believers in Jesus, but I no longer feel the great need to argue my position. My reasons are simple:
1. I don’t think cessationism is remotely defensible from scripture, and
2. I couldn’t make my experiences happen; only God could. Therefore, since according to Hebrews 11:1 only God can give assurance (evidence), I feel no compulsion to try to convince others. Only God can do that for them.
I don’t mean that to say that those who believe in cessationism are uneducated or not smart people. To the contrary, there are too many brilliant people to count who are cessationists. But I am confident that their belief comes from prejudice, not from study; something even the most brilliant human beings are susceptible to.
And I’ve noticed something very interesting take place since the early 1990’s in America: more and more people are relinquishing their cessationist beliefs in some form or fashion. Why? Simply because it not longer becomes tenable to believe against something you’ve experienced.
I like to use the illustration of the lunar landing. There are still those around who persist that the whole thing was an elaborate hoax; that it never happened. No evidence to the contrary will sway them because no evidence less than first-hand experience would be good enough for those conspiracy theorists. But even if the whole world were to believe their lies, there are a few people who could never be swayed: those who actually set foot on the moon. You could never convince Neil Armstrong that he didn’t set foot on the moon.
The same is true for believing that God still performs miracles and speaks today. You cannot convince someone otherwise when they have experience. And far too many people in the West have begun experiencing what our Christian brothers in the Eastern world have known for some time: God still acts among us in powerful ways.
There are fewer and fewer cessationist strongholds these days. Some still hold that God can move, but He just doesn’t do it much these days. Some still cling tirelessly to their beliefs and become more emboldened the more people who turn away from them. But the move of the West to a more supernaturally minded people has certainly reached a critical mass. I don’t believe the majority of the church worldwide will ever again accept that God no longer operates miraculously today.
And I have good reason to believe that. Like myself, more and more people are experiencing the supernatural goodness of God for themselves. Like Neil Armstrong, no arguments to the contrary could ever convince them otherwise. And as a final thought, many cessationists hang up on that concept of experience. They believe that our faith and practice should have nothing (or very little) to do with our own subjective experience. We must base everything upon the objectivity of scripture. Whereas that sounds perfectly noble I’ve never actually met someone who really believes or practices it.
Experience is absolutely necessary for the Christian life. In fact, you cannot be born again unless you have had an experience with the Living God, His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This is biblically clear from Peter told Jesus He was “The Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17)
Even though Peter’s answer could rationally and carefully be found buried throughout scripture, Jesus said it wasn’t any teaching or self-study that led Peter to this conclusion. It was God himself. Peter’s experience with the Living God informed his reality.
And that’s our true reality. We canot study scripture to know more about God, we must study scripture to experience more of God. It’s only through experience that we can grow in God and lead others to Him.
And I’d like to share some of that experience of mine here with you.