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Leaving A Cult - Pt 3 - Four Harmful Tendencies of Cessationists

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Some Evangelical churches have embraced the teaching that certain gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased when the last Apostle died and the New Testament scriptures were completed. This teaching is called Cessationism. It’s not my purpose here to present a scriptural discussion about Cessationism itself. It is my aim to observe a few harmful tendencies among those who hold this position. Why? Because these tendencies impede spiritual growth, harm souls, hamper the mission of the church, and needlessly divide the body of Christ. It’s very possible that some may hold to Cessationism and yet possess none of these harmful tendencies. But I solicit your patience and implore you to read and consider these observations, which I have collected in my 40+ years of membership in various churches who describe themselves as “Reformed Baptists”, or “Historic Baptists”, “Calvinists”, “Sovereign Grace”, “Evangelicals” or just “Baptists”.

Disclaimer: I am not a proponent of Cessationism. I’ve been willing to entertain the view, but have never had any of my esteemed brethren, pastors, or professors who held it present a convincing scriptural defense of the position. I nonetheless chose to sojourn amidst churches which almost universally held this position. Not only that, but I engaged in active evangelism with them, seeking to bring the lost and the unchurched into these fellowships. I viewed Cessationism as a non-essential doctrine that was not worthy of separation over. My view of Cessationism as being non-essential changed when some brethren used it to discredit, and dehumanize me, who also brought untold harm to me and my family. I was at first shocked by this behavior but it forced me to honestly observe, that these were some of the natural outcomes of this teaching.

Regarding their view, Cessationists usually have the honesty to own their position clearly, although it is based on fear, rather than sound scriptural exegesis. Their primary mover to embrace the view, is FEAR: of excesses and disorder among some whom they broadly call “Charismatics” and this fear is the genesis of their rejection of some gifts, out of hand. They have only slivers of scripture to stand on, while Paul is stone silent about the cessation of any gifts in his several catalogs of the gifts. It’s ironic, or alarming, that those who trumpet the inerrancy of scripture, and would die for it, ignore their own hermeneutic to maintain their Cessationism. They engage in eisegesis – forcing into a passage what does not arise from its plain reading. “The scriptures explain themselves”, was the last sentence which Arthur W Pink breathed on this earth. And there is no thread of Cessationism to trace through the apostolic teachings on the gifts, nor of our Lord’s. Why would the Spirit move Paul, especially, to spend so much space developing the right use of the gifts, if they were about to be withdrawn. And, WHO, BTW, decides which gifts have ceased? I would expect that question to be worthy of a Jerusalem council, with minutes recorded, right?

I’ve observed 4 harmful tendencies or ancillary teachings, [traveling companions] which are the natural corollaries of Cessationism: 1) A systematic quenching of Holy Spirit, 2) a prideful over-reliance on scholasticism, 3) Un-Biblical Counseling practices, and 4) a repudiation of Christian emotion.

1. Cessationists fear the operation of the Holy Spirit and therefore quench Him. If you attend one of these fellowships have you ever heard a teaching admonishing you from the scripture to “be filled with the Spirit”? Yet this is the only arsenal a Christian has to overcome sin. “Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.” They have extinguished or at least diminished the lamp of the Spirit in the life of the average Christian. They are so apoplectic about experience, or emotion, that they reject the subjective aspect of walking with Jesus. It is nearly a cardinal sin to use this phrase among Cessationists, "the Lord told me" anything. They equate such personal leadership or personal revelation from the Spirit to be special revelation. Hence, the adventure of being led moment by moment by a personal Christ is replaced with dry 'devotions' that are largely devoid of emotion, intentionally. "Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us by the way"!? No, you can't be trusted with this kind of “enthusiasm”. You must live on a constant low plane of sameness, which resembles spiritual dormancy. Faith is merely a bland acknowledgement of facts; an intellectual pursuit, with about the same emotion as the period chemistry tables. You mustn’t get too excited about Jesus, lest lost people or “the brethren” consider you irrational, ‘wild-eyed’, a Jesus freak [oh my!], or worse.

“My sheep know my voice, and they follow me.” This is children’s bread – may the Lord judge those who are casting it to the dogs. This is the promise to every child of God, to personally hear the voice of the Shepherd. This comes through the Word of God primarily, and usually is accompanied by a sense of fresh drawing closer to the Lord; a warmer devotion to Him, and enjoyment of His nearness. We relish His knowledge of us, personally. The result is often specific application of the scriptures to our life, so that we discern with clarity and enjoyment that our Savior knows our particular situation and is leading us in it. We wait upon Him in prayer and test the “Rhema word” which He gave us, against the other scriptures, and turn it over in our heart before Him in prayer, talking to Him about it. As we wait, in quietude and surrender, we begin to find settled peace in a specific direction, rather than another. “If a son ask his father for bread, will he give him a stone? If he ask for fish, will [his father] give him a serpent. Even so your heavenly Father delights to give good gifts to those who ask.”

Cessationists disregard and even warn against the subjective aspect of walking with God. One very popular Christian author mocked the subjective leadership of the Holy Spirit as “liver-quivers”, akin to reading tea leaves to gain direction. [That is dangerously close to blasphemy. It’s halfway down that road, actually.] In his view a Christian should just haul off and do something, anything they please, as long as there is no biblical approbation against it. Oh, you can seek counsel; that’s hip. But waiting on God as the mighty missionaries, Hudson Taylor, C.T. Studd, Jim Elliott, or George Mueller did is just an excuse for laziness in his view. In his book, "Just Do Something”, he is trying to dislodge 28 year old adolescents from their parent’s basement. He has certainly identified a big, big problem, but bypassing the pattern Christ gave, “wait thou in Jerusalem until you be endued with power” is foolhardy. Many attempt great things for God in the power of the flesh, but it only results in fleshly outcomes: pride, unbiblical methods, scalp-counting, defeat, stumbling into sin, giving up the ministry, wood, hay, and stubble.

According to Cessationists praxeology, Since the average Christian can't be trusted to discern subjectively where their Lord is leading, in life decisions, then s/he must "get counsel" from their protestant popes: "The Elders". [And how is it that the elders gained perfect accuracy in detecting the Lord's plan for your life? Where do they get their subjective leadership about somebody else’s life?] Do they have omniscience about you? Do they even have detailed knowledge about your spiritual gifts, your [godly] passions, your callings, your future spouse, and the providences that await you? Sadly, what we find is that we actually don't believe the scriptures are sufficient, or they aren’t sufficiently clear for Christians to actually get their answers from them, because Christians can't be trusted to walk with God by just reading their Bible. I'm not diminishing the value of counsel, but if “the elders” is where you turn first, before a season of waiting on God in prayer, you've been misled. If your elders promote this mindset, you ARE in a cult. Evangelicals disdain the Catholic Church’s teaching that the church Magisterium (comprised of the Bishops, and all the Holy See) have as much weight as the Holy Scriptures, yet this practice is a giant step in that direction. Yes, the overseers must give an account for your soul, but you Christian must give an account to the Lord for how you used your talents and your days. That is abundantly clear from several pointed parables of Christ on stewarding your talents.

The standard answer from the elders in many of these churches, when asked about life direction, goes something like this: “stay here in this church, get a good degree, get a good job, teach Sunday School, raise a family, homeschool your kids, contribute to the myopic 'club' we have going here. There is no church out there quite like ‘OURS’ and therefore you have limited movement options (according to the false doctrine of limited movement, which says you can't move unless ‘we’ release you to move).” Remember, Jesus said this in Second Hesitations: “Go into one of the churches in our list of sound fellowships, and there get your degree, if your elders release you.” No matter what your parents say, BTW, you must first consult the “Magisterium”. My obvious exaggeration is intended to highlight this position, and too often, this is NOT an exaggeration. I’m sorry if I anger some, but perhaps it’s because you’ve elevated counsel on par with scripture. These churches often promote themselves: “We have a one stop shop here, so there's no good reason to move - a homeschool coop, a dinner theatre (in the form of fund raiser concerts), our own staff of PhD's to teach your kids, and then write recommendations for your kids, so they can all get full rides to the local university; we like degrees – because we're erudite, remember.” If you DO choose to leave such a church, after being “counseled” not to, do not be surprised if you are denigrated behind your back, dehumanized, devalued, discarded, and your profession even called into question. And, putting you under church discipline is a definite possibility. Prayer will be offered for you in hushed tones of feigned concern (which is actually malicious gossip) as though you left the faith. “They went out from us because they were not of us” will be invoked, without a doubt, whenever your name comes up until the Lord returns.

Remember, the Lord of harvest wants workers to be sent out into His field. That is the burden of our Lord Jesus. If you are not being encouraged to "Lift up your eyes to the harvest". You are in a cult. If the church-club mentality outweighs the burden of the Lord - get out! While you still can.

2. Cessationists are erudite, heady, high-minded. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is regarded by most as the foremost theologian produced by the last century. Isn’t it astounding that his contemporaries called him as a ‘Charismatic’ because he could not embrace Cessationism. I’m sure your pastor has quoted from DM Lloyd-Jones in many sermons, especially when teaching on Romans or Ephesians. His series on these two epistles are prominently displayed on the shelves in most pastoral studies. “The good doctor” as he’s fondly called, had a medical degree, but no seminary degree, and so he thankfully escaped the indoctrination of this teaching. He faced the scriptures honestly, and wrote his book on the subject “Joy Unspeakable” in which he clearly embraced the Baptism of the Spirit. Perhaps this volume stands as a challenge to the low state of living which is the normal experience of most Christians today, and it’s easier to reject the Baptism than to seek God for it. DM Lloyd-Jones was highly experiential in his preaching, and stands in stark antipathy to the dry scholasticism of most Cessationists.

The average Cessationists church is Erudite, polished, stiff, and vainly puffed up in their fleshly mind over their endless reading (and writing) of books. It’s a given that next to the scriptures themselves, every Christian should own, and know how to use: a few solid commentaries, a Greek lexicon, a concordance, some church history, etc. I myself took Greek at an accredited Seminary, so I'm not devaluing the study of the Word, and the balanced use of study aids. But Charles Spurgeon (whom everyone wants to own as the darling of their movement) was unashamedly "Pietistic" [look it up] in his hermeneutic. That means he sought first of all to improve his own soul, in his meditation on the scriptures, and to make his walk closer with God. This aim was primary in all of his studies, and preaching: to bring his hearers closer to God and get them more fit for heaven. In the words of John Piper, we ought to get our soul happy in God.

If your church has end to end book studies, rather that digging into the scriptures themselves – you should change churches! The Berean Christians searched the scriptures daily to see if the things the Apostles were teaching were true! And that attitude is mentioned to their eternal commendation. I wonder about authors who have written 42 different books! What single man really has that much to say? [More than Paul, or Matthew!] It appalls me that some Christians quote Paul David Tripp as though he is a protestant pope. I think he has actually become a pope to some. I've run across some very unscriptural thoughts in his writings. Oh my! You're thinking, what a heretic, this Pilgrim-RB ! Whereas, I think you should be concerned about yourself if you regard someone as a heretic, simple because of their view of a human author, not because of what they think about Jesus, or the Bible. That is a tell: on yourself.

3. Many Cessationists have embraced unscriptural counseling methods. If some of the gifts have ceased, then the void they leave will be filled. Its a spiritual law. But, With what? More dead scholasticism, human wisdom, an over-reliance on learning, and endless publishing of “counseling” books which are human reason baptized with a few bible verses. The father of the Nouthetic Counseling movement, Jay Adams, had a very godly motivation in starting the movement. (I'm not going to give validity to the movement by using their preferred, new, name for it.) The name Dr Adams gave it was Nouthetic, from the Greek word meaning “to admonish”. Most Christians agree with Adams that the "scriptures are sufficient" to answer life's problems, address our hang-ups, straighten our walk (but it takes the Spirit to heal, and fellow believers to pour in the oil and the wine - lack of these is an inherent defect in that movement). The irony of the Nouthetic Movement is that Dr. Adams never asserted that he had written an exhaustive approach to counseling. If we’re going to construct a truly biblical counseling approach we must apply the whole counsel of God. Yet these people think they and their certification are the final word on counseling. It should be self-evident that no one man can exhaustively apply the whole counsel of God to all of life for the church. Nor can you publish enough books to do it! This is the role of called and gifted Shepherds, and those who have other gifts like mercy, and/or discernment. The utter temerity of these people to ostracize those who don't acknowledge the validity of their exclusive movement! “Jesus shall we call down thunder?” The Nouthetic movement puts ungifted, uncalled, people into church offices that do not exist. It appoints people to engage in soul surgery who have no calling whatsoever as shepherds. It makes someone who has simply ‘read the books’ into an authority, who have power to assign the roles of ‘sinner’ and ‘victim’ in marriages, and other relationships. It appoints less mature sisters as mentors of women their spiritual senior, and usurp the husbands pastoral role in their own home.

A root defect in Adam’s system – is the simplistic but dogmatic view that All problems are sin problems, Really? Then we must identify “the sinner” in this situation, and call them out! The other party is by implication considered to be the innocent victim. [More often than not, both spouses have course corrections that should be made, to right the ship.] And in this way, relationships are destroyed, rather than helped. Cycles of discrediting, and discarding are set in motion. A door to woke-ness is opened, as its debonair to belittle men. It's how products and even plane tickets are sold - beat on the man. Any woman can claim victimhood because there is a bias against men. Why? If you defeat the man, you can destroy every soul in that home. He is God's firewall. Before the church. And, the husband is a type of Christ.

Nouthetic teaching seems to ignore Family-of-origin issues, or differences - which may not be sins at all, just things to fix. Adams ignores inherited sin patterns, generational sins, which must be broken with help of those who can see in the spirit realm. Communication must be learned, it doesn't mean the bad communication is sin, it just needs fixing. If a spouse strays in their thought-life or action, does the other spouse realize they are the insulation, the safe haven, against the world's allurements? Rather than anger and discarding, they need forgiveness, and love. Their affection and affirmation is a huge key to victory, and they will both wear the laurels in the presence of King Jesus.

I must reiterate the astounding paradox, that these Reformed churches who hold to elder rule in their ecclesiology have created unbiblical offices, which DO NOT exist, and have given authority over believers to some Christians over others. Their "Counselors" may not possess a shred of discernment, or any other gifting needed for effective shepherding, but whose opinions become binding edicts in relational problems.

Do they have the gift of mercy? Are they there to 'lift' burdens off souls, or bind burdens on the backs of the saints? Are they going to comfort with the Word, promote forgiveness, restoration, reconciliation, or chase folks with book quotes? Condemn them with the law? Examine their sorrow to decide if its “Godly sorrow” and genuine repentance? [Cause Jesus told the disciples to examine repentance before they forgave 70x7, right? No exactly.] Are these counselors going to engage in spiritual warfare alongside those they are helping? No, because they are Cessationists. They are going just talk, talk, talk. Exhort, exhort, exhort. And if the person is still struggling, then we’ll start church discipline. [That will help, right? Shoot the wounded!] There is so much wrong with this, it cannot be exhaustively treated here. It should be of interest that Jay Adams himself separated from the movement in his later days.

4. Because Christians are taught to ignore emotion, even disdain it, they become dry automatons. It’s no surprise that it’s largely Calvinistic churches who embrace Cessationism – because the continual danger of Calvinism is fatalism. If God is absolutely Sovereign, Omniscient, and Omnipotent – He is going to have His way and we begin to fall off in our prayers. After all, His will is going to be done. We can fall off in our zeal to share the gospel with the lost, because the full number of the elect are going to be saved. I personally know Christians who close every prayer with “nevertheless, Thy will be done.” They don’t want to be accused of telling God what to do. But Jesus said “You have not because you ask not. ASK and it SHALL be given you.” In fact they are bashful about even Asking God for anything. They are so fearful of being part of the “Name it Claim it” crowd they don’t “make their requests known before God with thanksgiving”. This is not an exaggeration! It is sad. And it’s a big reason why the Reformed movement is anemic when it comes to the power of God. It’s why most additions to these churches are folks who were saved in Arminian churches and then found better Soteriology. Worst of all, its idolatry -- it depicts God as miserly and stingy with His mercies, blessings, healing, forgiveness. Jesus gave a severe warning about the steward who thought of our Heavenly Father in that way, and buried his one talent. Outer darkness was not hyperbole. It's a place.

Calvinists are very defensive about their position on Election lest others say that it makes men into automatons, yet these hyper Calvinists live their life as automatons – squashing emotion, having little Joy in the Lord, there is no river of life springing up from within. What they get excited about is Theology club meetings [read, church], talking about the latest argument among the neo-Calvinists teachers, book sellers, the hip bloggers. (And if they have beards, smoke cigars, and drink Bourbon, or preach with curse words sprinkled in... that's way cool! because, you know, erudite.)

Dry automatons lack empathy for others. They are cold toward those they have ostracized from “their group”. They are masters at acting like they care, because, they should. But don't expect a call from them, 4 days past your ejection. They are not going to check on you. They are sooo done with you. You will wonder how you "walked together to the house of God" in company with them, in such apparent sweet fellowship. And then, boom. That's over. It's the Christian thing to do right? I mean, they don't like our creed statement, so, bye.

Concluding thought: Why is this blog entry a part of my series on “Leaving a Cult?” Because the primary mark of a cult, according to Walter Martin in his seminal work, “Kingdom of the Cults”, is that they disfigure the godhead.

I posit that Cessationism falsely depicts God the Father as menacing, austere, cold, shrewd, distant, and promotes a Modulating Spirit, similar to One-ness Pentacostals.

The essence of idolatry is making a God that pleases us: rather than worshipping the God who is, and bowing the knee to Him. Cessationists have formed a God, Who has a mouth, but does not speak. He has eyes, but does not see into our personal lives. Similar to pantheists – God has setup spiritual laws, given you the Bible, and said, “now figure it out.” The Paraclete, the comforter, is diminished in the life of the Christian. In their view, He is operating differently than He did during the Apostolic age!

But in truth, Holy Spirit always acts consistent with His nature. He also is immutable.

"Their idols … the work of man's hands; they have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see; their hands do not feel; their feet do not walk; they do not mutter through their throat. The ones who make them are like them, and everyone trusting in them." Psalm 115

I leave you with this question for your own consideration – how would you describe Cessationists churches / Christians? They are a living depiction of their view of God. We all are, in fact. It’s inevitable. We model to the world, our view of God's character. (This is why some are unforgiving, they haven't experienced it.)

[Editor’s note: I must apologize for the organization of this post. There are too many threads I’ve had to leave under-developed. I’ve let this entry bake for over a week, but without much rising. I admit I'm still too affected by these tendencies to stand far enough apace to gain the needed perspective. If I sound overly cynical, or heated, its because my bruises are still blue. But they may not heal in this life, so I must offer post, FWIW. These crumbs, I hope may direct some other pilgrim to the scriptures in their own search for His path.]

Disclaimer: these views are my own, and may not represent those of the shepherds or fellowship(s) where I attend. Copyright 2023 Pilgrim-RB

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