|Benjamin B. Warfleid|
Our church traditions have their positive aspects but some of these are producing negative results. Therefore, it is not whether my church tradition is better than yours or vice versa. The key is to find out which aspects of our traditions are in line with what the bible actually teaches and which are not. It is dangerous to simply take things for granted.
Through The Elijah Challenge ministry, we have taught many nameless and faceless believers from both the mainline evangelical and Pentecostal / Charismatic churches. We thank God that many of these mainline evangelical churches are receptive to divine healing and the practice of healing the sick.
There are some churches that believe miracles have already ceased and therefore they cannot happen today. Through their teachings, essays and books, quite a number of these church leaders have buried divine healings and miracles in the grave of cessation. In spite of many modern evidences of healing miracles they try to justify their belief by rejecting all these as counterfeits.
The cessation theory expounded by Benjamin B. Warfield, a professor at Princeton Seminary from 1887 to 1921, continues to affect many churches. Echoing Warfield, these Christians claim that God only allow extensive miracles in three periods of history, namely from the time of Moses to Joshua, Elijah and Elisha. The third period was from the time of Jesus to the Apostles. The final time when miracles will become rampant would be the time of the Antichrist and the great Tribulation.
The churches that adhere to the professor's assumptions and arguments ultimately put on theological blinders - God will no longer perform any miracles outside these periods. According to them, all the claims of healing miracles in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements are therefore either fakes or false miracles.
Like many of the modern cessationists, Warfield was not anti-supernatural. He believed that all the supernatural activities found in the bible were true. However, he strongly believed that all the biblical spiritual gifts and miracles had ceased since the time of the Apostles. Signs and wonders cannot occur in our era simply because God apparently has no reason to make them happen.
I studied an 18-page transcript of a class lesson taught by a popular proponent of cessationism. This famous bible teacher begins with the story of Hobart Edward Freeman, a professor of Hebrew, Old Testament Studies, Philosophy and Ethics, who was later influenced by the Word of Faith movement. Freeman subsequently became very extreme in his teaching on healing and created storms of controversy by disparaging medical institutions, doctors and medicine. His faith-formula theology has caused him to teach that God is obligated to heal every disease and infirmity if the believer were to response in genuine faith. He believed that if anyone who claimed healing and still continued to take medicine, the person would not be expressing his faith with matching action.
Later, Freeman was charged by the government for 'negligent homicide' when some members of his congregation died due to the lack of medical care. Women were told to give birth at home, assisted by midwives, approved by Freeman's church. Dead babies were prayed to be resurrected at the altar. Apparently, about 90 parishioners died during Freeman's tenure. Two weeks prior to his appearance in court, Freeman passed away.
The bible teacher then listed his own choice of so-called extreme faith healers ranging from A. A. Allen, Kathyrn Kuhlman to John Wimber. In careful calculated mockery, he says, "Now, it seems obvious, at least a curiosity to all of us that so many leading advocates of faith healing are sick!" He is careful to point out that many of these faith healers also died of chronic diseases.
After presenting a whole host of weird and ridiculous events that were considered miraculous by the naive, the bible teacher hopes to convince his audience that people who experience or believe in modern miracles are of similar category of naive people. Sounding benevolent, he warns that false signs and false miracles are the primary tool of Satan in the end times.
This cessationist claims that he believes God can still do miracles because God's power has not diminished even in modern time. As soon as he finishes that, he quickly emphasizes that none, absolutely none, of the so-called miracles experienced today is of biblical standard. He then reiterates his persuasion that both history and the Scripture support his belief that the gift of miracles, as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, has ceased operating today. He challenges the Charismatics to produce at least one person who is raised from the dead. Most of the healing miracles, according to this teacher, are partial, gradual, temporary and on occasions, become reversed. They are impossible to verify and apparently the only instant miracles are those that have to do with psychosomatic diseases.
With heavy mockery, this teacher says that even if the Holy Spirit wants to release His power to heal, why does He choose to release it on people who are teaching bad theology. In true pharisaic approach, he declares that surely if the Holy Spirit wanted to authenticate anybody with miracles, He would have chosen people like the cessationists because according to the teacher, they were supposed to most skilled and teach the truest, purest, most profound and biblical form of theology. The arrogance of their theological prowess is evidenced but it is good for us to note that when Jesus first came, He did not approach the so-called skilled teachers of the Torah to share the Good News. He instead called those who were not theological trained people such as fishermen, tax-collector and even ex-prostitute.
In a conversation with a proponent of the cessation of miracles, I asked him whether the miracles, that we are experiencing in our ministry, from God or from the devil. He was hesitant to reply because he did observe that people were instantly healed after ordinary believers took authority in the name of Jesus and healed the infirm. This man knew the danger of blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31).
As most cessationists cannot refute the reality of present-day miracles and so they say that even if there were miracles, they are not normative. According to them, these are extremely rare events. If that were to be the case, then the cessationists cannot consider themselves to be true cessationists. All their arguments about miracles that could only happen in the three periods in history have failed to hold water.
All it needs to prove the cessationists wrong is one modern-day miracle occurring in the name of Jesus. In order to be proven accurate, the cessationists, on the other hand, need to prove that every modern miracle is a fake. The truth cannot be both ways. It has to be either God-given miracles are still in operation today or there is absolutely none. To allow one's theology to lock God in a box is ultimately to deny God of His true sovereignty and power.