- Pronouncing Judgment
“I have appointed you a prophet to the nations,” God told Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5), and then continued explaining to him what exactly the task of a prophet to the nations is:
See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms,
To pluck up and to break down, To destroy and to overthrow, To build and to plant (v. 10).
Of course, Jeremiah wasn’t given the political or military or economic power to bring those judgments upon the nations and the kingdoms. He didn’t need to. A prophet is a God’s mouthpiece for pronouncing judgment. And that’s what Jeremiah was called to do, as a prophet: pronouncing judgment on Israel and on the nations outside Israel.
This function of prophecy wasn’t limited to Jeremiah. Moses as a prophet declared judgment on Egypt, and later on the nations who opposed Israel in their journey to the Promised Land. In fact, Moses pronounced judgment against his own people Israel when they rebelled against God. David and Solomon, both having prophetic gift from God, pronounced judgments against nations and individuals. Solomon’s greatest desire was not the economic blessings of the Law but the wisdom to judge (1 Kings 3:9). Elijah’s whole career as a prophet was devoted to pronouncing judgment, and sometimes even executing it himself (as on the prophets of Baal). The prophecy for the return of Elijah in Mal. 4 speaks of restoration of hearts, as we already saw, but it also ends with a pronunciation of judgment (v. 6). John the Baptist, the very fulfillment of that promise for the return of Elijah, was thrown in jail and then lost his head for pronouncing judgment against a ruler for his sin. Jonah’s prophecy was pronouncing judgment. And Revelation, that ultimate prophecy in the Bible, was not simply a predictive prophecy, it was a court verdict against Israel and against the Roman Empire.
The New Testament also gives us examples of prophetic judgment against individuals. The spiritual man judges all things, Paul declared (1 Cor. 2:15), in a chapter that starts with a judgment against the foolishness of the powerful of the day (v. 8). The verdict against Ananias and Sapphira was based on supernatural knowledge (Acts 5:4). Paul’s judgment against the evil spirit in the fortune-telling slave girl in Acts 16:18 was based on a supernatural gift of discerning the spirits, and may be also the gifts of faith and healing (see 1 Cor. 12:9). Peter’s knowledge of the inner motives of Simon the magician in Acts 8:23 couldn’t come from natural observations but from supernatural knowledge. And again, in the very Book of Prophecy, Revelation, seven churches are judged for blessing or for curse.
Obviously, another purpose of the spiritual gifts, a very important function in the Covenant of God, is pronouncing judgment. Authority and Law mean nothing unless there is judgment, blessings or curses, coming from that authority, based on that Law, in the name of the One Who gives the gifts. That judgment is not abstract and impersonal, based on just “bare interpretation of Scripture,” to borrow Calvin’s phrase. Prophetic judgment is concrete, personal, and based on authoritative word from God Himself. It addresses the specific situation of today, not just in abstract terms, but in specific blessings or curses. The moral situation of a person or a nation is never simple and flat; some things are more important for the specific historical moment than others, and a bare reading of Scripture doesn’t always reveal which issue is more important in God’s eyes. No matter how much cessationists complain about “new revelation,” there is a need for some revelation to know what the specific issues are that need to be addressed, if a nation is to escape judgment, or to acquire the blessings of the Covenant.
As obvious as this function of the spiritual gifts is, one is left to wonder what exactly cessationists have in store to replace it with. Prophetic sanctions in history are an integral part of the Covenant of God, and without sanctions in history, that Covenant is not operational in history. Thus, if prophetic judgment has ceased (since prophecy has ceased, according to cessationism), cessationists are left without any basis for applying the Covenant to history after first century AD, except in a very impersonal, abstract, watered-down way. How would a cessationist pronounce judgment on anyone or any nation, if God doesn’t speak directly to our time and circumstances?
This lack of covenantal judgment leads, first, to the loss of cultural influence. John Knox was feared by the powerful of his day, and the reason for their fear was very specifically his sermons where he pronounced prophetic judgments on kings, queens, and bishops, and even whole nations. The cultural influence of the Reformation in Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Britain was based on that ability to apply covenantal judgments to specific circumstances, an ability that requires specific supernatural revelation (see Calvin above). Is it surprising, then, that the decline of the Reformed and Presbyterian influence in the West coincided with the rise of cessationism and its hostility to supernatural word of applying Scripture to present use (an originally Reformed doctrine)?
Neither is it surprising that the very trade mark of the Reformation, Covenant Theology, is now being abandoned by one “Reformed” seminary after another, one “Reformed” church after another. The process has become so widespread that some theologians and pastors are sounding the alarm already, though with little effect. Covenant Theology makes no sense without covenant sanctions. And there are no covenant sanctions unless the Spirit teaches the Church to declare them in history.
And the very essence of the Reformation—the “Christianization of all of life”—is then lost. “Reformed” today has lost its meaning; it is nothing more than theologically correct humanistic selfishness that makes God subservient to man’s need for salvation. Professors at Reformed seminaries are attacking the very concept of Christendom as the application of the Gospel truths to all of life. Limiting the Gospel to only personal salvation and may be a little moralism in the public life of a person is all that passes for “Reformed” today. This decline of Reformed theology shouldn’t be surprising either: Once the Holy Spirit is excluded from direct participation in the life of the church, in pronouncing judgment and sanctions, what follows is creeping humanism. And the last 100 years of Presbyterianism in the US have been an abundant testimony to that effect.
Cessationism can offer nothing to replace this function of the spiritual gifts: pronouncing judgment. And therefore cessationism has lost the very concept that is supported by judgment and sanctions in history: the Covenant. It won’t be long before we see the Shekinah-Glory cloud of the Covenant leaving the cessationist churches and moving to those who have a Biblical view of the gifts of the Spirit. The process has already started.
- Vision, Purpose, and Strategy for the Future
I received some criticism for my article of a few weeks back, “Individual Purpose and the Kingdom of God.” The focus of the objections was this passage:
The battle for the hearts of our children will not be fought in the area of ethical boundaries, nor in the area of evangelism and apologetic defense of the faith. The battle will be fought in the area of personal, individual purpose for each one of our children.
It seemed to some that in this passage I have betrayed the traditional Reformed theology in favor of a more Charismatic theology where the practical concerns of man’s life are more important than the confessional and theological standards of the faith. One critic even told me that I was simply pushing some version of Rick Warren’s A Purpose-Driven Life.
But the reality is the Bible is an eschatological book from the very beginning. The concern with the future is much greater than the concern with the past or the present. The very institution of the family is given at the very beginning as something which breaks with the past even before there was any past (Gen. 2:24); and has a promise and vision for the future (Gen. 1:28). The promise was in the center of all things God commanded. The Land was the Promised Land, and the covenants were Covenants of Promise (Eph. 2:12). The faith that moved and saved the saints in the Old Testament was a faith in the future Messiah. All the great works they did were lesser than that great vision and expectation of the future (Heb. 11:13-16).
Biblical faith is future-oriented. Its life comes not from stagnant theories or judicial rules or apologetic principles. All these are important, for they are the support, the bones of the faith. But without a vision, a purpose, an expectation of the future, those bones are dry bones, with no life in them. It is not unusual congregations, or families, or individuals without purpose to look like they have no life in them; or that those with optimism for the future, with a purpose and vision for their lives to be described as “lively, vivacious, vigorous.” It is very often that churches focused on repeating the same procedures over and over again ad nauseam look like “dead” churches; for the life of expectations for the future, or purpose for the future, is not present.
God told Ezekiel to prophesy over dry bones (Ezekiel 37). And the prophecy was to give them a promise, a vision for the future (vv. 11-28).
We already know from Calvin’s words above that prophetic revelation is necessary to apply Scripture to present use. But the purpose of spiritual revelation is not just applying the Word to our present circumstances, but also to our future goals. How do you know what the purpose for your personal life should be? Can the Holy Spirit give each one of us specific, direct guidance? How do we know where to invest our time, effort, talents, to achieve God’s purposes for our lives? The Word of God gives us everything necessary for salvation, but does it contain the specific, individual purpose of each and every one of us? Or, of our families, churches, businesses, communities? Or are we to create our own purpose, out of our own minds, instead of seeking God’s guidance? Or are we to neglect the future as vision and purpose, and just limp along through life, taking care only about our theology and our ethical conformity with the Law? How do we become leaders who change the course of history if we don’t have a vision for the future: our future, and the future of our communities? And how can we make sure that that vision and purpose are those of the Holy Spirit, and not of our autonomous minds?
Both the New and the Old Testaments are full with examples of prophecies that lay a vision or a strategy before a person to follow. In fact, in some places in the Old Testament direct word from the Lord was given not only for strategy, but for tactics too! (See, for example, Joshua 6:1-5; 2 Sam. 5:17-25.) Kings—and even kings of Gentile nations outside Israel—were anointed by prophets (1 Kings 19:15-16). All the prophets spoke judgment against Israel but also gave the vision of the restoration of Israel. Isaiah is called today “the prophet of the New Covenant,” and he is truly so, for the vision he gave to Israel was used by Jesus to announce the start of His ministry (Luke 4:17-21). That vision was kept alive not in the Temple, nor with the religious leaders of Israel, but with the prophets of Israel (Luke 2:21-38; notice, the Holy Spirit “was upon” Simeon, and Anna was a “prophetess”). Jesus used supernatural knowledge and power to appoint His disciples (Matt. 9:9; John 1:48), thus giving them a purpose for their lives. As we saw before, Paul advised Timothy to continue fighting the good fight “in accordance with the prophecies” that “went before him,” indicating that the prophecies not only legitimized Timothy’s ministry but also described the vision and strategy for that ministry. (How else would Timothy fight “in accordance” with them?) Agabus’s prophecy to Paul was also laying out a vision, a strategy, and may be even encouragement for Paul in his long journey to Rome. It certainly gave him the faith and the confidence that his ship would survive in the storm when everyone else had lost faith (Acts 27:24). And that arch-prophecy, the Book of Revelation, was not only a book of judgment, but also a book of encouragement and vision for the future of the church, in the middle of the greater “shipwreck” of the Great Tribulation of AD 63-70, and the persecutions against the Church.
A study of the mission field from the very early centuries of the Church until today will show us that all successful missionaries have had some experience with direct guidance or revelation, often against all rational odds, or against common sense, or against common opinion and established wisdom. We seldom hear about missionaries who left their comfortable life back home because they naturally, from their own minds, came to the logical conclusion that they should go to the mission field. Let me change this a little: Not only missionaries. We seldom hear of any Christian leader who has changed the course of history in one way or another that has based his vision and purpose and expectations of the future on his own rational, logical thought. In all situations, it was some revelation, some supernatural motive that pushed people to sacrifice what they had and look for the greater glory of the Kingdom of God. Purpose and vision are not something man gets from his rational thought; they are supernatural revelation, for changing history requires the ability to see things that are not there yet. And how would a human mind see what doesn’t exist yet except by revelation?
It is one of the functions of the revelatory gifts to reveal it.
The inability of modern cessationism to influence history is partly due to this hostility to supernatural revelation that could start this fire in the hearts of men to change the course of history. The rejection of the gifts of the Spirit comes at a price, and that price is stagnation, and eventually, death. I have witnessed Presbyterian missions that spin their wheels for decades without producing anything of value. And why go to the mission field when we have such good examples here in the US? With all the seminaries, all the right theology, all the studies of the classics of the Reformation, how great is the influence of Presbyterianism in the culture in the United States? Can we say that we have changed the course of history? The much smaller and younger Charismatic Movement has proven much more resilient and vigorous, and much more capable to influence the culture, because it has had much better view of initiative and entrepreneurship. And the reason is that they have been much more open to that guidance by the Spirit of which the Bible and Church history give us multiple examples.
Such rejection of the guidance of the Spirit has also produced a significant dose of dualism in the Reformed churches. On one hand, since the Bible does speak about the future state of the saints after the Final Judgment, that part of future expectations is governed by revelation. On the other hand, the Bible doesn’t give direct guidance to everyone individually, or to specific families or groups or churches concerning their immediate future before the Final Judgment, this is left to the human mind and imagination without any direct aid from the Holy Spirit. The question is, then, how does man know if his efforts here on earth are really helping expand the Kingdom of God, or are in accordance with God’s purpose for his generation (Acts 13:36).
The cessationist’s answer should be—if the cessationist is consistent with his own theory—that man can’t know God’s will for his life and his generation, simply because God doesn’t speak to man directly today. Such revelation supposedly would compete against the revelation of Scripture (even though Scripture doesn’t contain the purpose and vision for every individual person, which makes the argument quite ridiculous). Man, at best, can guess, but even in his guesses he has no way to verify if they are correct, for even such verification would require some kind of direct revelation to be validated. God can’t give direct vision and purpose, and God can’t directly correct man’s vision and purpose for himself. Man is on his own as far as his future on earth is concerned. From this, the step is very small to declaring all human endeavor on earth independent of God’s revelation. If man is on his own in his everyday life this side of the Final Judgment, then man should develop his own theories for personal and social life this side of the Final Judgment. God can’t intervene in a constructive or corrective way: He just can’t speak directly to man. The result is the dualism of the Two Kingdom Theology: a logical conclusion of cessationism.
Cessationism, in other words, with its Enlightenment humanism and hostility to the supernatural, eventually leads to dualism and death. Man has no purpose, nor vision revealed to him by God (except in an abstract, impersonal way); and he must be on a quest to produce his own purpose and vision. In the end, God’s revelation becomes irrelevant not only to man’s past but to his future on earth as well.
I have been asked by cessationists: “If the spiritual gifts are valid today, how come we have never seen a true prophet or true prophecy in our church?”
My answer has always been (besides the obvious question, “How do you know your church is a true church?”): “Based on your cessationist theory, how would you recognize if there was a true prophet or a true prophecy in your church? Could it be that there were, and you didn’t recognize them, blinded by your un-Biblical theology? Could it be that the Holy Spirit just didn’t bother to speak directly to you church, seeing that you have adopted a theology that conveniently leaves Him out?”
Cessationism has no answer to these questions. It is humanistic to the core. It based on a false and “ignorant” application of one verse only, 1 Cor. 13:8, to a time that is intermediate. No verse in the Bible supports cessationism in any form. All other arguments for cessationism are either rationalistic reasoning based on an imaginary limited purpose of the gifts (as in Warfield), or sensationalist complaints about certain practices in certain modern churches (“See what Benny Hinn is doing! Therefore, the gifts have ceased!”). The claim that a modern prophecy would be a challenge to the authority of Scripture is a false claim, as Calvin points out. The issue with the modern validity of the gifts is not “scriptural revelation vs. direct revelation,” as cessationists claim; it is God’s interpretation and application vs. man’s interpretation and application of God’s Word to present use. And on this issue, cessationism is very obviously on the humanistic side of the fence.
But contrary to the cessationists imaginations, the spiritual gifts have a covenantal purpose, and this covenantal purpose is clearly revealed in Scripture:
- The gifts are given for knowledge and worship. Knowledge; to apply the Word to present use, and; Worship, to let the Spirit help us in our prayers and supplications to God.
- The gifts are given to legitimize authority wherever God decides that it is necessary. This function is also expressed in confirming authority and sometimes even judging and rejecting human authority, when human authority has been established against God’s will, or when it has become contrary to God’s purposes.
- The gifts are given for sanctification and establishment, to train and lead and edify the people of God to better conform to the ethical demands of the Law of God. They are specifically meant to reveal the secret desires of the hearts of menso that men can be effectively led to repentance and obedience.
- The gifts are given to pronounce judgment, to declare God’s positive or negative sanctions in history, to specific individuals, institutions, or groups of people.
- The gifts are given to give vision, purpose, and lay out strategy for action so that men have their eyes set on their future in history, and on the purpose of God for their individual lives and for their specific generation.
These functions of the gifts don’t have to be guessed or derived by rationalistic reasoning. They are clearly expressed in Scripture, and abundantly supported with examples in Scripture. The attempt to deny this covenantal purpose of the gifts and transfer it to a bare reading and human interpretation of Scripture will only lead to abstract, dry, lifeless theorizing about the Covenant, but never to the direct, specific, dynamic application of the Covenant of God to the specific circumstances of our day and our generation.
So therefore, before any cessationist starts babbling again about the cessation of gifts, he needs to prove that the need for the above functions of the gifts have ceased. Only then will he have a foundation for his theory. The problem is, once we assume that this covenantal purpose and the functions of the gifts have ceased, we won’t have Covenant Theology anymore, only humanistic reasoning that parades as Christianity.
The conclusion, then, is obvious: The excesses in modern Charismatism can’t be fought against by a similarly un-Biblical excess in rejecting the gifts of the Spirit. These excesses only come to prove that we are in need of a systematic Biblical covenantal doctrine of the gifts of the Spirit which will restore their legitimate place in the churches today. Instead of whining about some Charismatic celebrity “pushing people in the spirit,” we need to do our homework which we have abandoned for over a century. The Reformed churches need to dump that humanistic doctrine of cessationism back where it belongs: in the dustbin of history, together with its parents, Dispensationalism and the Enlightenment.
And we need to start over again, going to the Bible to build a covenantal view of the spiritual gifts, one which would allow us to restore an element of our faith, practice, and obedience to God, which we have ignored and abandoned for over a century: The gifts of the Holy Spirit.
This Article was originally Posted by Bojidar Marinov one year ago.
About Bojidar Marinov:
A Reformed missionary to his native Bulgaria for over 10 years, Bojidar preaches and teaches doctrines of the Reformation and a comprehensive Biblical worldview. Having founded Bulgarian Reformation Ministries in 2001, he and his team have translated over 30,000 pages of Christian literature about the application of the Law of God in every area of man’s life and society, and published those translations online for free. He has been active in the formation of the Libertarian movement in Bulgaria, a co-founder of the Bulgarian Society for Individual Liberty and its first chairman. If you would like Bojidar to speak to your church, home-school group or other organization, contact him through his website: http://www.bulgarianreformation.com/