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17 April 2018

Continuationism. Because the miracles never stopped.

Most Christians believe in miracles, though I’m gonna single out the Pentecostals and charismatics a little.

CONTINUATIONIST kən.tɪn.jʊ'eɪ.ʃən.ɪst adjective. Believes the Holy Spirit’s gifts (particularly tongues and prophecy) continued from bible times to the present day.

I’m not a big fan of the term continuationist. That’s because the default setting for Christianity is, and should be, that the Holy Spirit is living, active, and still doing as he did among the ancient Christians, as described by the prophet Joel and fulfilled on 24 May 33, the date of the first Christian Pentecost:

Acts 2.17-21 KWL
17 “ ‘God said this’ll happen in the last days: “I’ll pour out my Spirit on all flesh.
Your sons and daughters will give prophecies.
Your young ones will see visions. Your old ones will will dream dreams.
18 In those days I’ll pour out my Spirit even on my slaves, men and women.
And they’ll give prophecies!
19 I’ll show wonderful things in the skies above,
and signs on the earth below—blood and fire and smoke in the air.
20 The sun’ll be turned to darkness, the moon to blood before the great Lord’s Day comes,
21 and everybody who calls on the Lord’s name will be saved.” ’ ” Jl 2.28-32

The default setting is that the scriptures are valid, and they describe a Spirit who empowers Jesus’s church with supernatural gifts—miracles, signs, healing, exorcisms, and speaking in tongues—where necessary. And it’s often necessary in this hurting world, which needs to learn God is here, loves them, and wants to save them.

But “continuationist” was invented by people who don’t believe any such thing: By cessationists, who think God turned off the miracles. On what basis do they believe so? Their own doubts, plus out-of-context verses which defend those doubts.

To their minds, they’re right to believe God has left and forsaken his people, He 13.5 with nothing to keep us going but our beliefs and our bibles; that continuationists are delusional, deceived by devils which can trick us with mighty acts of power… yet God won’t perform similar acts of power. Does this make any sense to you? ’Cause it does to cessationists.

To their minds, they’re the norm, and continuationists are weirdos. Even though we continuationists outnumber ’em by more than four to one.

And even though cessationist churches are full of people who seriously, sincerely doubt God turned off the miracles. Because they’ve seen stuff. Miraculous stuff. Stuff which makes ’em describe themselves as “soft cessationists”—they’ll grudgingly admit God permits some miracles to take place once in a while. Not so often that they get uncomfortable; just here and there, or in extreme circumstances. And only within their churches, ’cause they’re pretty sure continuationist churches are too wayward for God to legitimately do stuff among us.

Basically there’s a lot of pride and denial going on among cessationists. But enough about them; their unbelief will just frustrate you. Let’s get to normal Christians, who know God interacts with his kids on a regular basis, ’cause we’ve seen him do it.

Seriously, the default mode.

The New Testament was clearly written by people who’d experienced God’s power. 1Jn 1.1-3 Its books and letters were clearly written to people whom the apostles expected would continue acting in God’s power. Ep 6.10

Its books and letters were kept by Christians who clearly saw no need to remove the passages which instruct us on how to perform miracles: What to do, what not to do, the requirement to do ’em with the Spirit’s fruit, particularly to do ’em in love. In fact, y’know that chapter on love, which people keep quoting at weddings? 1Co 13 Paul and Sosthenes wrote it to instruct the church of Corinth on how to do miracles.

The ancient Christians had loads of miracle stories. So’d the medieval Christians. The Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches have a long tradition of miracles. It was considered a given that once indwelt by the Spirit, we Christians would actually do stuff in his power to further his kingdom. And if we don’t, it means one of four possibilities:

  • BAD TIMING. Sometimes it’s just the wrong time to act. So the Spirit won’t empower the miracle. Sometimes he’ll say why, sometimes not.
  • BAD MOTIVES. Certain Christians will wanna perform a miracle for all the wrong reasons, so the Spirit won’t participate. Again, sometimes he’ll say why, sometimes not. Especially when it’s kinda obvious we’re in the wrong.
  • LACK OF FAITH. The Spirit may be totally willing and able, but we didn’t believe or didn’t ask, or the recipient likewise isn’t so sure, and the Spirit really wants us to get on board before he’ll do anything.
  • LACK OF ENDORSEMENT. The Spirit doesn’t wanna work through this particular Christian. Or this might not even be a Christian, and the Spirit doesn’t wanna empower someone who might lead people astray.

These four explanations actually came up a lot. Still do. More than they should.

Obviously there are a number of situations where the Spirit’s not gonna act. And not every Christian is gonna react properly to the Spirit’s inaction. Some of us will correctly ask the Spirit what’s the problem, sort stuff out, repent where necessary, and do the miracle. And some of us will blame anybody but ourselves.

Yep, this is how cessationism gets its start: Christians demanded a miracle, didn’t get it, refused to accept the idea they might be the hinderance, and leapt to the conclusion God just isn’t in the miracle business anymore.

And if they claimed to believe in the bible, they sought “biblical” defenses for their faithless, godless worldview. They’ll quote plenty of verses at you. But honestly, their real defense is their unbelief. They don’t believe, won’t believe, and are desperate for any evidence they shouldn’t believe.

Some of their “proofs” are the ridiculous extremes you might find in certain continuationist churches. ’Cause these churches will tell stories of some mighty hard-to-believe miracles. Stuff happens where a skeptic’s first response will be, “Exactly how does that bring glory to God?” Unworthy people will perform miracles, and legalists will loudly object God shouldn’t be working through sinners and heretics; I mean, God has standards, doesn’t he? They sure do.

(Of course I should remind you the reason there are whole chapters of 1 Corinthians instructing people to follow standards if they’re gonna do miracles, it stands to reason there might be people today, same as then, who don’t meet such standards. Seems God’s very willing to use all sorts of broken vessels.)

Pentecostals.

PENTECOSTAL /pɛn.(t)ə'kɔs.təl/ adj. Has to do with the Christian holiday of Pentecost.
2. Regarding a 20th-century Evangelical revivalist movement, which emphasizes baptism in the Holy Spirit evidenced by tongues, prophecy, supernatural healing, and exorcism.
3. n. A member of a Pentecostal sect.
[Pentecostalism /pɛn.(t)ə'kɔs.təl.ɪz.əm/ n.]

Whenever cessationists talk about Christians who believe in miracles, they’re usually talking about fellow Evangelicals. (They’ve largely given up on the Orthodox and Catholics, who have always believed in miracles, and always been continuationist.) And the fellow Evangelicals they’re usually eyeing would be the Pentecostals. This’d be my camp. We’re the largest and most obvious batch of continuationists out there.

I didn’t grow up Pentecostal. I came to it in adulthood, after I had God-experiences which happen to fall right in line with Pentecostal beliefs. Before that I was simply a continuationist… despite the largely cessationist churches I’d grown up in.

Pentecostalism is an Evangelical movement which began in the late 1800s. It began as a backlash against John Nelson Darby’s then-popular strain of cessationism. Darby’s beliefs that God turned off the miracles struck a lot of Christians as seriously unbiblical. They wanted to know whether this was true, asked the Holy Spirit to show them so, and he responded by empowering them to speak in Pentecost-style tongues.

The movement took off after a significant Wales revival in 1904, and a California revival in 1906. All Pentecostals point back to these 1900–15 revivals as the beginning of the movement.

But when these new Pentecostals returned to their home churches with the good news—God hasn’t abandoned his people!—they were quickly kicked out of their churches as heretic. Not because they taught any actual heresy. It was entirely because their churches had decided cessationism is orthodoxy. Which is still true of cessationist churches who straight-up forbid tongues and prophecy.

The new Pentecostals found themselves obligated to either go independent, to join existing churches which accepted Pentecostalism (like the Christian and Missionary Alliance, or Methodist Holiness churches), or band together into Pentecostal denominations like the Apostolic Church (UK), Apostolic Faith Church, Assemblies of God, Church of God in Christ, Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.), the Foursquare Gospel Church, and the Pentecostal Holiness Church.

Four distinctive beliefs set Pentecostals apart from other orthodox Christians:

  • SUPERNATURAL GIFTS. Everything the apostles listed in 1 Corinthians 12—and then some!—can be done in the present day through the Spirit’s power.
  • BELIEFS ON BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. Specifically that it’s not the same thing as when the Spirit comes to indwell us: It’s another event, one which can happen simultaneously, but often happens later. And specifically that when it happens, we’ll speak in tongues, like the apostles did at Pentecost. ’Cause tongues is God’s sign that Spirit baptism is happening.
  • SANCTIFICATION. Likewise when the Spirit comes to indwell us, he doesn’t immediately, instantly make us holy. That’s a lifelong process of transformation. One which we and he work together on, and we oughta see some growth in a practicing Christian.
  • EGALITARIANISM. Like Joel said, God poured out his Spirit on his sons and daughters, and Pentecostals concluded women are priests same as men: They’ve been empowered by God himself, and therefore shouldn’t be hindered from ministering, pastoring, and preaching same as men. It’s a view certain theological conservatives still find scandalous, but there’s biblical precedent for it—and plenty of evidence the conservative view is more based on sexism and a chauvinistic tradition, than bible.

I should add: In the 1910s, certain Pentecostals began to teach that God isn’t a trinity, and that Spirit baptism isn’t just available, but is mandatory if you wanna be saved. These folks are called “Oneness Pentecostals,” and are considered heretic. Keep an eye out for them.

Charismatics.

CHARISMATIC /kɛr.əz'mæd.ɪk/ adj. Has or displays a compelling charm which inspires devotion.
2. Of a 20th-century Christian revivalist movement which restored continuationism to many traditional and mainline churches.
3. Or Neo-Charismatic: Of a 20th-century Protestant revivalist movement which resembles Pentecostalism, but tends to shun denominationalism.
4. Continuationist, or an individual who identifies with a continuationist revivalist movement.
5. n. A member of a charismatic or continuationist sect.

Charismatic has a complicated definition because it’s a widely used, and misused, word. Before cessationists coined the term “continuationist,” people often used the word “charismatic” to mean the same thing: Any Christian who believes God’s still in the miracle business. (By this definition, all Pentecostals are charismatic. But not every charismatic is Pentecostal.)

But there were actually two different revivals in the mid-20th century which are called “charismatic.” The first began in the 1950s, as members and leaders of mainline and traditional churches began having Pentecostal-style God-experiences. They’d speak in tongues, prophesy, cure the sick, and perform mighty acts with the Spirit’s power.

While these denominations were never technically or officially cessationist, functionally that’s how they were behaving, so obviously the Holy Spirit was relighting their fire, so to speak. But unlike the Pentecostal revival, these churches largely didn’t drive out their newly-empowered members. To their credit, they recognized this as something the Spirit was doing. They haven’t adopted the Pentecostal beliefs—they’re not sure speaking in tongues is the only sign of Spirit baptism, have their own beliefs about sanctification and egalitarianism, and aren’t sure about every supernatural gift—but generally they allow the Spirit to do his thing among them, and perform miracles as he sees fit.

The second charismatic revival took place in the 1970s: Basically this is when the Baby Boomers discovered Jesus. But rather than practice their parents’ form of Christianity—which they were pretty sure was distorted, corrupt, and so boring—they decided to create their own churches, and practice it “Jesus’s way”… however that looked. (No surprise, a whole lot of churches were founded which seemed to conform to how leaders imagined Jesus more so than actual Jesus.)

History repeated itself in the 1990s with the founding of a lot of “Generation X churches”: Basically the kids of the Boomers were doing the same thing as their parents, and creating their own churches, running them Jesus’s way their way. And no doubt we’ll see an upsurge of Millennial churches in the next decade, as the Boomers’ grandkids try this for themselves.

The second charismatic revival produced a lot of independent or nondenominational churches. Some of them created their own networks, like Calvary Chapel. Others prefer looser or tighter affiliations, depending on how intent they are on spreading their methods of doing things. They’re “charismatic” in that in trying to figure out “Jesus’s way,” they’ve adopted mainstream continuationist beliefs. Some of them lean more Pentecostal-style than others, but all of them allow for miracles, speaking in tongues, and healing the sick.

This emphasis on doing things their own way, has resulted in a lot of “charismania”: Charismatics who come up with some novel, and sometimes downright bizarre, teachings about God. Charismatics who insist their teachings oughta be followed as if they’re scripture—yet claim they’re good Protestants; that they’d never put their teachings on the same level as the scriptures, even though functionally it’s kinda what they’re doing. Charismatics who make you wonder if we really shouldn’t go back to stoning false prophets.

Of course as far as the cessationists are concerned, we’re all going to hell.

Everybody else.

Obviously Pentecostals and charismatics are far from the only continuationists in Christendom. Most churches never did accept cessationist beliefs. After all, they still read their bibles. Ain’t nothing in there to indicate God ever turned off the miracles. And plenty of Christians have had a God-experience or two, which confirm God hasn’t ceased a thing.

A number of continuationist churches have even adopted certain Pentecostal and charismatic practices. Visit a Roman Catholic charismatic prayer meeting sometime, and you can’t tell the difference between it and any Pentecostal worship service. (Well, other than the friars and nuns in attendance.) Same music. Same enthusiasm. Same Holy Spirit, of course.

Now, if most of your Christian experiences have been cold and dead because you’ve been hanging out with cessationists all this time, this fact may be news to you. (You may even doubt it’s true. I’ve met a few people who were stunned to discover four out of five Christians are continuationist. They thought they were the minority!) It’s because cessationists get pretty loud and angry about their beliefs… and the anger should probably be the red flag which warns you there’s something seriously wrong with them.

Stands to reason: If they’re resisting the supernatural, they’re resisting the Holy Spirit. They’re resisting his fruit. What else would they have but anger, fear, divisiveness, and other works of the flesh? Steer clear of any such people, whether they’re cessationist or continuationist. Their anger means you can’t trust their teachings.

So feel free to doubt them, and check the scriptures for yourselves. Ask the Holy Spirit for insight. And be prepared, ’cause he tends to just straight-up give people a God-experience. It’s much faster and far more convincing. And fruitful: Your doubts and fears will be gone. It really takes a load off.