Last time we posted on this subject, I figured we had said enough about it, and I had no plans to bring it up again. But I get lots of e-mails from charismatics who want to argue about cessationism, and lately they have seemed to come more frequently and with more passion than usual. Maybe this will help:
've said in the past that I've never met a real continuationist. Every charismatic I have ever discussed cessationism with ultimately admits that certain key features of the apostolic era are no longer in operation. For example, no one is writing new books of Scripture. No one can credibly claim to have raised the dead. The gifts of healing and prophecy claimed by today's charismatics are not of the same character or quality as "the signs of a true apostle" (2 Corinthians 12:12).
In fact, all the charismatics I know who are basically orthodox when it comes to the gospel and the authority of Scripture will freely admit that there are not even any "true apostles" todayi.e., there is no one today whose teaching is infallible and authoritative in the same sense Peter's and Paul's apostolic ministries were.
What is that but a kind of selective cessationism?
I once also remarked that anyone who believes he truly does possess an apostolic-quality gift of healing ought to be exercising that gift in hospitals and in doctors' waiting rooms, where such a gift could do the most good.
A charismatic reader wrote to challenge that suggestion:
I wrote back:
It seems to me that is precisely what Jesus Himself did:
"Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them" (Matt. 4:23-24).
Sometimes the sick were brought to Him:
"They brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick" (Matt. 8:16).
Other times, He actively sought them out:
"Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people" (Matt. 9:35).
He also sent the disciples on precisely the kind of mission I proposed for those who believe they have gifts of healing:
"He went round about the villages, teaching. And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits . . . And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them" (Mark 6:6-7, 13).
Christ's reputation as a healer did not escape the notice of anyone, and Scripture repeatedly says He healed all the sick He encountered:
"And whithersoever he entered, into villages, or cities, or country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole" (Mark 6:56).
"All they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them. And devils also came out of many. . ." (Luke 4:40).
"And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all" (Luke 6:19).
"God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him" (Acts 10:38).
Same with the apostles in the earliest days of the church:
"And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women. Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them. There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one" (Acts 5:14-16).
I defy any modern charismatic to demonstrate that anything on this scale this is happening anywhere today.
My correspondent replied:
Frankly, that sort of East vs. West rhetoric is a tired cliche that has been answered repeatedly. I think it was John Wimber who first popularized the "we're just too Western" argument among charismatics. I'm amazed people are still parroting the claim, because it is so easily refuted.
Over the years my ministry has taken me numerous times to India, Korea, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. And I can tell you definitively that Charismatics who have lived their entire lives in the East have no better success rate when it comes to miraculous healings than my charismatic friends who grew up in Tulsa, or those who hold healing crusades in suburban Los Angeles. People steeped in mysticism may be more credulous when it comes to believing outlandish claims, but that doesn't count. The point is that the miracles being done by charismatics in the East are no more numerous or spectacular than what Benny Hinn does. (In fact, Benny puts on a much more impressive show than the average Asian faith-healer, and that's why he attracts such massive crowds when he visits there.)
The opportunities for miracle-workers abound in some Asian cultures, if any real miracle-worker would step forward and seize the moment. For example, every train platform in every major city in India is swarming with beggars, most of whom are sick or seriously disabled. I have traveled extensively by train in India, sometimes with sincere charismatics (ranging from young YWAMers to old-line pentecostals; people coming from both Eastern and Western hemispheres). Never once have I met a charismatic who took the opportunity on one of those train platforms to performor even attemptthe kind of miracle Peter did in Acts 3:6-7. The only "healings" I've ever seen charismatics claim in India are the same unverifiable back-straightenings, leg-lengthenings, and other non-visible "cures" you can watch every week on Benny Hinn's program.
In fact, the most spectacular "signs and wonders" I have ever witnessed from charismatics in India are the same laughter and animal noises that were sweeping Western charismatic churches ten years ago. And those phenomena were imported to Indian churches from Western sources.
Non-Christians in India are totally nonplused by such claims, because these are the same sort of phony miracles routinely claimed by almost every guru and mystic in Hinduism. (Look up Sai Baba if you'd like to meet a particularly interesting non-Christian counterpart of Benny Hinn.)
Credulity may be more common among Christians in the East. Genuine miracles certainly are not.