Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cessationists in Rebellion: Vincent Cheung's Charismatic Theology

I am pleased to announce that I have been condemned as a "rebel" by yet another Charismatic.  Yes, Vincent Cheung has said in public and in writing that those Christians who do not "practice" or believe in ongoing charismatic gifts today are "in rebellion against God".  You can see the article here:  Cessationism and Speaking in Tongues.  I would suggest that Cheung not try walking on the water over his head unless he can swim.  Click on this link as well:  Cessationism and Rebellion.

Unfortunately, Cheung tries to deflect criticism of his position by claiming that he is neither Reformed nor Charismatic (Cessationism and Speaking in Tongues, p. 2).  I would agree that he is not Reformed; but claiming that he is not Charismatic when practically everything he has written in defense of continuationism is identical to the same tired old arguments put forward by other Arminian and "Reformed" Charismatics is a good indicator that Cheung is simply trying to sidestep the obvious.

Also, he betrays a basic misunderstanding of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura when he out of hand dismisses the theological differences between particular Baptists and confessional Presbyterians:

A person might think that a Christian must either be Baptist or Presbyterian, and if a person affirms Baptist sacraments but Presbyterian government – or any one thing that is supposedly Baptist and another that is supposedly Presbyterian – then he must be wrong, simply on the basis that, according to him, these two categories are incompatible. But this is a poor argument, and does nothing to address whether this person's doctrine is right or wrong. It does, however, tell us that the critic's understanding of the Christian world is limited to a narrow conception of Baptists and Presbyterians. He is like a frog trapped at the bottom of a well, and his idea of the heavens is as small as the opening through which he views the sky. 

The Christian world is very broad. Just because a person believes in the biblical doctrine of predestination does not mean that he learned it from Calvin. Maybe he learned it from Augustine. Maybe he learned it from Hodge, or Shedd, or Berkhof. Maybe he learned it from Vincent Cheung, or you, or your pastor. How about this – maybe he read the Bible himself and learned it there! But…is it possible? Is it possible that a person can read biblical passages and actually learn biblical doctrines?  (Ibid.)

In this quote Cheung reveals his Anabaptist presuppositions.  In other words, Cheung thinks that the doctrine of the priesthood of believers and the right to private interpretation of Scripture means literally that every Christian is a lone ranger and reads the Scriptures in isolation from the church.  This could not be further from the truth.  The Reformed doctrine is not solo Scriptura but Sola Scriptura.  The right to private interpretation means that individuals read the Scriptures together as a church.  Since the Bible must be preached and interpreted there must be a standard by which to judge heresy from truth.  The Protestant Reformers held that standard to be ultimately Scripture alone.  But they realized that there is no perfect interpretation of Scripture.  As such there needed to be a correction to those who twisted the Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:15-16).  That standard is the Westminster Confession and the Larger and Shorter Catechism for the English Presbyterian tradition.  For the Dutch Reformed the standard is the Three Forms of Unity and for Reformation Anglicans the standard is the Anglican Formularies (Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal with the Homilies).  While the Reformed symbols or standards of doctrine are always subject to error and correction and that they draw their most certain warrant from Holy Scripture, this does not mean that we can then take the Reformed confessions lightly.  They are authoritative doctrinal statements and to depart from them is serious error.

Cheung, like most Pentecostals and Charismatics, focuses on experience while claiming he is focused on Scripture and reason.  However, the Pentecostal hermeneutic is that experience must be a vital part of exegesis of Scripture.  Thus, for the Pentecostal, only a person who has experienced the baptism with the Holy Spirit can properly understand the Scriptures and the ecstatic revelations made possible by believing the Scriptures.  For the Pentecostal/Charismatic, like the Roman Catholic, Scripture itself is insufficient.  Something extra is necessary for a move from the lower spiritual experience of conversion to a higher experience of total surrender, victory, and the higher life.  Cheung wishes to distance himself from the broader Pentecostal/Charismatic movement by denying that his theology is experiential.  However, in this attempt he only reveals himself to have a greater affinity with experiential religion than with the logical propositions of Holy Scripture and the Reformed confessions.

Roger Stronstad gives an outline of the Pentecostal approach to biblical interpretation in his article, Trends in Pentecostal hermeneutics, Enrichment Journal:

Charles F. Parham: Origins of the “Pragmatic” Hermeneutic

As Martin Luther is the fountainhead of Lutheranism, John Calvin of Reformed Theology, and John Wesley of Methodism, so Charles F. Parham stands as the fountainhead of Pentecostalism. Parham was not the first to speak in tongues. In one sense that honor goes to Miss Agnes N. 0zman.1 In another sense, the birth of the Pentecostal movement is the climax to the growing swell of charismatic experiences among various revival and Apostolic Faith movements.2 What makes Charles F. Parham the father of Pentecostalism, Topeka, Kansas, the locus of Pentecostalism, and Agnes Ozman, the first Pentecostal, is not the uniqueness of this experience, but the new hermeneutical/biblical understanding of this experience.

Charles F. Parham bequeathed to the Pentecostal movement its definitive hermeneutics, and consequently, its definitive theology and apologetics. His contribution arose out of the problem of the interpretation of the second chapter of Acts and his conviction that Christian experience in the 20th century “should tally exactly with the Bible, [but] neither sanctification nor the anointing that abideth … tallied with the 2nd chapter of Acts.”3 Consequently he reports, “I set the students at work studying out diligently what was the Bible evidence of the baptism of the Holy Ghost that we might go before the world with something that was indisputable because it tallied absolutely with the Word.”4 He tells the results of their investigation in the following words: “Leaving the school for three days at this task, I went to Kansas City for three days services. I returned to the school on the morning preceding Watch Night service in the year 1900.

“At about 10:00 o’clock in the morning I rang the bell calling all the students into the Chapel to get their report on the matter in hand. To my astonishment they all had the same story, that while there were different things occurring when the Pentecostal blessing fell, the indisputable proof on each occasion was, that they spoke with other tongues.”5

In Parham’s report we find the essential distinctives of the Pentecostal movement, namely, (1) the conviction that contemporary experience should be identical to apostolic Christianity, (2) the separation of the baptism in the Holy Spirit from sanctification (as Holiness movements had earlier separated it from conversion/incorporation), and (3) that tongues speaking is the indisputable evidence or proof of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The discovery that tongues speaking was the indisputable biblical proof of the baptism in the Holy Spirit was confirmed the next day in the experience of one of the students at Bethel Bible School, Agnes Ozman. She testifies: “The spirit of prayer was upon us in the evening. It was nearly seven o’clock on this first of January that it came into my heart to ask Bro. Parham to lay his hands upon me that I might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was as his hands were laid upon my head that the Holy Spirit fell upon me and I began to speak in other tongues, glorifying God. I talked several languages, and it was clearly manifest when a new dialect was spoken.”6

Agnes Ozman was the first one but not the last one to speak in tongues in the Bible school. By January 3, 1901, other students, and soon even Parham himself, had spoken in tongues. When questioned about her experience, Miss Ozman “pointed out to them the Bible references, showing [she] had received the baptism according to Acts 2:4 and 19:1–6.”7

Observing the above  as an accurate description of the classical Pentecostal position we can see the same justification of experience in the Charismatic movement in general and particularly in the so-called "Reformed" Charismatics like Wayne Grudem and Vincent Cheung, although Cheung wants to deflect criticism by denying that he falls into the same category.  The basic premise of Pentecostal and Charismatic theology in general is that Christian experience should reduplicate the experience of first century apostolic Christianity as it is recorded in the Scriptures.  That logical proposition is that Scripture encourages and commands this reduplication.  Obviously Cheung agrees with the "command" to do miracles, speak in tongues, prophesy, predict the future, and have supernatural knowledge--which is impossible through natural means (words of knowledge and words of wisdom).  In short, Cheung, like most Charismatics, believes that the moral law commands modern Christians to "experience" all the gifts, including the active performance of miracles.   The fact that Cheung says that cessationists are "in rebellion against God" is proof enough of this.

Like other Charismatics, Cheung wishes to slip out of the grip of his opponents' critical evaluations of his view.  When pinned down on the fact that no man can do miracles at will he gives duplicitous answers evading the issue:

Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20)

Verses 19-22 discuss the apostolic policy toward prophecy. Paul writes, "Do not treat prophecies with contempt," but he tells the Christians to "test everything."  Cessationism is the false doctrine that the manifestations of miraculous endowments such as those listed in 1 Corinthians 12 have ceased since the days of the apostles and the completion of the Bible. Although there is no biblical evidence for this position, a main motive for this invention is to secure the sufficiency of Scripture and the finality (completion) of Scripture. However, it has been shown that the continuation of miraculous manifestations does not in fact contradict these two doctrines or put them at risk.(1)  Thus cessationism is both unbiblical and unnecessary.

More than that, cessationism is also evil and dangerous. This is because if cessationism is false, then those who advocate this doctrine are preaching rebellion against the Lord.  The Bible commands Christians, "Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy" (1 Corinthians 14:1). If cessationism is correct but we do not know it, then we could still safely obey this instruction, although we will not receive what we desire. That is, if prophecy has ceased but I think that it continues, then I could still desire the gift of prophecy in accordance with this command, but I will not receive the gift of prophecy. No harm is done. (2)

On the other hand, since the cessationist teaches that prophecy has ceased, then although the Bible says "desire spiritual gifts," he will not desire spiritual gifts, since the spiritual gifts are no longer in operation, and what gifts people think they have are necessarily false. This also applies to prophecy in particular. So although Paul says, "Do not treat prophecies with contempt," the cessationist must treat all prophecies with contempt, since he believes that prophecy has ceased, so that all prophecies today are false. His view toward prophecy must be "reject everything" instead of "test everything." But again, if cessationism is false, then this person would be preaching rebellion against the biblical commands to desire and test spiritual manifestations.  Since the commands "desire spiritual gifts," "do not treat prophecies with contempt," and "test everything" are revealed by divine and infallible authority, the cessationist must present an infallible argument to render them inapplicable for today. If he cannot provide this but he still advocates cessationism in the face of these explicit biblical commands, then is it not obvious that he has condemned himself before God, even if this person is right that the gifts have ceased? No Christian should dare follow such a person or believe his doctrine. If a person preaches cessationism but cannot prove it – if he cannot provide an infallible argument for it (since the command to desire spiritual manifestations is clear and infallible), then this means that he consciously preaches rebellion against some of the Bible's straightforward commands. Why then, should he not be removed from the ministry or even excommunicated from the church?
Since the arguments for cessationism are forced and feeble, and since the doctrine presents so great a danger, it is best to believe the Bible as it is written, and obey its commands as they are stated – that is, "desire spiritual gifts" and "test everything." This position is faithful to the direct statements of Scripture, but it requires courageous resistance to fallacious arguments, academic bullying, and church traditions.  (Vincent Cheung, Cessationism and Rebellion), page 2).

The logical fallacies of this short quote are so numerous as to require an extensive response.  But before pointing out the errors of Cheung's propositions it is to be noted that Cheung follows the proposition of Charles Parham, namely that our experience should be identical to the experiences of the apostolic church in the first century as it is recorded in Scripture.  That this is a non sequitur should be obvious enough.  Simply because Judas hanged himself according to the Scriptures does not mean that this narrative is the norm for modern Christians.  The old cliche, "Judas hanged himself, go and do likewise," is redundant here but applicable.  The unspoken premise of Cheung's syllogism is that continuationism is a fortiori the only possible exegesis of the Scriptures.  Of course, he does extensive back pedaling to deny this criticism but his use of Occam's razor as a justification for taking the leap of faith is no logical proof that Cheung's presuppositional interpretation of the text as inherently continuationist is actually the case.  Cheung's use of the razor analogy can be easily demonstrated in footnote number 2:

If prophecy has ceased but I think that it continues, I will desire it and fail to receive it, and then it is possible that I think that I have received it (and this is possible because I falsely think that it continues) and proceed to prophesy. This would be a false prophecy. There is indeed harm in this, but the problem is not in thinking that prophecy continues, but in thinking that I have the gift when I do not. So it is a related but separate issue, and it is addressed by Paul's instruction, that is, in testing the alleged prophecy, and not in imposing the unbiblical doctrine of cessationism.   (Ibid., page 2, footnote 2).

The logic of Cheung is speculative at best.  If the cessationist is wrong he is in rebellion against God's moral law.  If the continuationist is wrong he merely makes a sincere mistake but is not in fact in rebellion against God.  For Cheung the Charismatic view can cause harm but it is really not dangerous.   But Cheung's view again assumes that Scripture imposes normative moral commands in all times and at every point in history that the Christian is to practice the apostolic supernatural gifts that were given by God's sovereign providence in the first century church.  For Cheung a synergistic theology following that of the Wesleyan Arminian presuppositions of the holiness theology of Charles Parham and other Pentecostals is immediately evident.  The premise of a synergistic theology is that Christians have an inherent ability to obey a moral command to "seek the gifts", i.e. do the same miraculous and supernatural acts of the first century apostles.  If someone gives a prophecy that adds to Scripture or contradicts Scripture (Proverbs 30:5-6 KJV; Deuteronomy 4:2 KJV; Deuteronomy 12:32 KJV; Revelation 22:7 KJV, Revelation 22:19 KJV), Cheung does not see this as heresy but merely harmful.  Furthermore, simply asserting that someone should raise the dead or heal the sick does not mean that they have the ability to obey that command nor does it obligate God to act in accordance with the Christian's desires to heal the sick, raise the dead, or speak an unknown human language by supernatural means. The creature is not in control of the gifts distributed by the Holy Spirit.  God alone can give supernatural gifts and thus it is up to God whether or not any of these gifts actually happen.  (1 Corinthians 12:11).

It might be that Cheung is the one in rebellion since he is imposing a law or norm that the individual Christian is unable to obey.  Even Gordon H. Clark says that God is the ultimate cause of both good and evil.  Therefore, if God wants a supernatural gift to occur He needs no assistance from the believer.  If God wanted Christians to do miracles He could put that desire in their hearts and then do the miracles since He is God.  However, it is also possible that God could send a spirit of delusion to deceive the haughty and the proud.  He could cause Cheung and others to believe a lie.  If the miracles Cheung is advocating do not occur, that too is God's judgment.  (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Cheung's answer is that the Bible simply says that we are to test the results of such claims:

Inherent in this biblical approach is protection against charismatic fanatics and false miracles. The Bible instructs us to "test everything," and since it is sufficient, it is able to expose counterfeit miracles and false prophecies. The answer is not to assert that the gifts have ceased, but to follow the instructions that the Bible has already given on the subject.  This position, that we should follow what Scripture says, would offer us perfect protection even if cessationism is correct. If prophecy has indeed ceased, then any prophecy today is false. Since the Bible is a sufficient revelation, the information in it will enable us to "test everything," so that any alleged prophecy today will either be tested, and finding it false, it will be condemned, or if the content is such that it is untestable, it will be ignored.  (Ibid., page 3).

Perhaps a better position is to note that not everything commanded in Scripture is normative for today.  When the Bible says that a man cannot have long hair no one today takes that as an absolutely normative command obligating the Christian man today to always have short hair.  (1 Corinthians 11:1-16).  Most women today refuse to attend worship services with their heads covered with a doily.  Are they then in rebellion against God?  Obviously most Christians today would not agree.  Therefore, Cheung's a fortiori assertion that cessationists are in rebellion against God is nothing more than an assumption or presupposition on his part.  Cheung offers nothing more than mere speculation to prove that cessationists are in rebellion.  "If this is true then that is true: now that is true,  therefore this is true" is the same logical fallacy employed by empirical science.  Basically, Cheung's error is asserting the conclusion in his premise.  Quoting the philosopher Bertrand Russell, John W. Robbins exposes this empirical reasoning as fallacious:

One of the problems of science is that it, unlike the Bible, is quite illogical.  In his essay, "Limitations of Scientific Method," the English mathematician, logician, and philosopher Bertand Russell made the following observation: 

All inductive arguments in the last resort reduce themselves to the following form:  "If this is true, then that is true:  now that is true, therefore this is true."  This argument is, of course, formally fallacious.  Suppose I were to say:  "If bread is a stone and stones are nourishing, then this bread will nourish me; now this bread does nourish me; therefore it is a stone, and stones are nourishing."  If I were to advance such an argument, I should certainly be thought foolish, yet it would not be fundamentally different from the argument upon which all scientific laws are based. 

That is to say, all scientific laws are based on fallacious arguments.  [John W. Robbins, Foreward to The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God, by Gordon H. Clark.  (Unicoi:  The Trinity Foundation), p. xi.]
Basically, Cheung's argument is an appeal not to Scripture but to experience subsequent to reading Scripture; that is, continuationism is an experience that Cheung asserts as being justified on the basis of his assumed exegesis of Scripture.  His view is the same as the Charismatic view, namely that experience is necessary for a proper interpretation of the text.  In making this appeal, then, Cheung's experientialism is subject to the same criticism Gordon H. Clark leveled against empirical science.

The truth is no Christian is obligated to believe Charismatic doctrine since such doctrine is eisogeting experience back into the text to make the text say what the Charismatic wants it to say.  The proper approach lets Scripture speak for itself in its own cultural context as it is addressed to its original audience.  Only when this is established can the text be made to properly apply to the Christian today.  Cheung wishes to skip this step and go straight from his own presupposed exegesis to application.   (See:  Interpretation of the Bible).

Contrary to Cheung, Scripture is sufficient for all that a Christian needs to know to be saved (2 Timothy 3:15; Romans 10:4-12).  Simple faith in Christ, His active obedience in living a sinless life, and His objective satisfaction for the sins of His elect on the cross are sufficient for salvation (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  It is not necessary to reconfirm what has already been confirmed by all the miracles of Jesus (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:4; Romans 15:18-19).  The same argument applies to the argument that the signs are necessary for edification (Ephesians 4:11-12).  Since Cheung is arguing for ongoing gifts as a "command" of God, the burden of proof is on him to show that his exegesis of Scripture is correct and that it is normative today.  Cheung has done nothing more than make empty assertions based on an unsupported presupposition.  As I have argued in other places, the only miracles the Christian is obligated to believe are those recorded in Scripture (See  Cessationism Versus Continuationism).  Cheung tacitly admits this since he says that everything today is to be tested by Scripture (1 John 4:1; Matthew 7:15; 1 John 2:18; 1 John 2:22; Jeremiah 29:8; 2 Peter 2:1).  How Cheung can say that the Christian who rejects continuationism is in rebellion against the moral law of God is indeed amazing.

Cheung says that it is unnecessary for him to produce any actual miracles or results.  By this dissimulation he wants to assert the bare command without guarantee that the results are obtained or even that the results can be falsified or verified.  Thus, for all practical purposes Cheung's view is irrational.  His premises are wrong and so are his conclusions.


Julian Kennedy said...

Good article Charlie. I am in debate just now with a young medical student heavily influenced by Cheung. I would say however that I still believe long hair on a man is a shame and that women should cover their heads!

Charlie J. Ray said...

I would tend to agree with you on the long hair and women praying with their heads covered. I just didn't want to be dogmatic about that... Thanks for the feedback:)

If you have not read Gordon H. Clark's book, I highly recommend all of them. A Christian Philosophy of Education is particularly good. The books are all available at The Trinity Foundation website...

Charlie J. Ray said...

The Trinity Foundation

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