CAN CONTINUALISTS AND CESSATIONISTS
CO-EXIST IN THE SAME CHURCH
AND IN THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION?
A. Boyd Luter, Ph.D., Pastor
Comal Country Church (SBTC)
New Braunfels/Canyon Lake, Texas
My simple up-front answer to the questions in the assigned title of this session is “It depends… .” Previewing the areas I will be discussing before directly answering each question in more depth, it is my carefully considered conclusion that whether the wider groupings called “Continualists” and “Cessationists” can co-exist in the same local church or in the S.B.C. depends largely on three factors:
(1). What flavor of Continuationist or Cessationist you are.
(2). What kind of doctrinal statement you have (with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 notable here) and how such a statement functions in regard to the biblical ideal of 'unity in the faith' (Ephesians 4:2-3).
(3). What you understand 'co-exist' to mean and how you relate to the biblical priority of 'the unity of hte Spirit' (Eph. 4:2-3).
I. IMPORTANT DISTINCTIONS WITHIN THE CATEGORIES:
BLACK AND WHITE AND SHADES OF GRAY
The title assigned to this session might leave the impression that all persons holding either of these two viewpoints are in more or less complete agreement. That would be a major misunderstanding. Allow me to briefly define the general categories, then fill in a number of shade distinctions that have been—or should be—made, which will help us greatly in answering our two questions with adequate perspective:
- Continualist: Believes all spiritual gifts have continually operated in church history (including, for some who use this term, revelation equal in authority with Scripture)
- Continuationist: Believes all spiritual gifts have continued through church history, even if not found in every generation.(Note: Dr. Luter points out that he prefers the term 'continuationist' over continualist to distinguish those who believe in the 'continuation' of the gifts but would never put any current revelation on par with inspired Scripture -- the position of most SBC continuationists).
- Cessationist: Believes sign gifts' ceased either at the end of the apostolic era or in early church history.
- Semi-Cessationist (or “Skeptical Continuationist?”): Believes the gift of speaking in tongues is a known language and very rare.
SHADES OF DISTINCTION
- Complete Cessationist: Believes all spiritual gifts ceased.
- Dogmatic Continuationist: Believes anyone who does not believe that all spiritual gifts continue is unspiritual (and may not be Christian).
- Dogmatic Cessationist: Believes anyone who believes that the sign gifts continue is either emotionally/psychologically unstable, demonically influenced, or faking it.
- Cautious Continuationist: Believes all spiritual gifts continue, but not all manifestations are of the Lord.
- Non-Charismatic Continuationist: Believes all spiritual gifts continue, but has not experienced, or possibly not even observed, charismatic gifts in use.
- Open Cessationist: Does not believe the sign gifts continue, but is willing to rethink with persuasive evidence.
THE POLARIZING POSITIONS ON THE GIFTS
Continualism, Full Cessationism, Dogmatic Continuationism, Dogmatic Cessationism.
When people in leadership hold either one of these for views, it polarizes the agency, institution or church because the doctrinal relationship with others is too far apart to even dialogue. In fact, proponents of the four views above erect 'straw men' to win their arguments.
THE FLEXIBLE POSITIONS ON THE GIFTS
Cautious Continuationism, Open Cessationism, Non-Charismatic Continuationsim, Semi-Cessationism
These positions are close enough to each other, and open enough to dialogue with others to understand and learn.
(1). The polarizing views on the gifts, listed above, are held by people who often seem to have one of two attitudes: Others must buy their view 'hook, line and sinker' or the views of those who hold to a different belief must be dismissed by 'throwing the baby out with the bathwater.'
(2). The flexible views on the gifts, as listed above, are held by people who seem to want 'to save the baby and throw out the dirty bathwater.'
II. DOCTRINAL STATEMENTS SPEAKING ON THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE HISTORY OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION:
“UNITY IN THE FAITH”
- Abstract of Principles (1858): It is silent on spiritual gifts.
- 1925 Baptist Faith and Message: The same wording used as the Abstract of Principles
- 1963 Baptist Faith and Message (Amended 1998): "[The Holy Spirit] bestows the spiritual gifts by which [believers] serve God through the church."
- 2000 Baptist Faith and Message (2000): The same wording is used as that in the BFM 1963.
CONFLICTING PERSPECTIVES ON THE DOCTRINAL AUTHORITY OF BFM 2000 SINCE ITS PASSAGE
Whatever “unity in the faith” BFM2000 seemed to provide for conservative Southern Baptists when it was overwhelmingly passed, there have developed significantly conflicting “takes” on the authority/parameters of BFM2000 since then
Dr. Al Mohler (BFM 2000 Committee Member: June 14, 2000) - "This statement is a regulative document for use by the agencies and institutions and seminaries . . . The Convention has said, 'This is what we believe' and we expect that those who serve our agencies to believe this . . . The individual boarrds of trustees have taken that action as a matter of accountability and faithfulness to the Convention." (Notice: The BFM is 'regulative.' Since the BFM is worded so that different views on the gifts are acceptable, cooperation should not be determined based upon conformity to specific interpretations on the gifts).
IMB TRUSTEES (Fall of 2005, following the NAMB policy) - Outlaws the use of private prayer language by missionary candidates as 'policy.'
SWBTS TRUSTEESS (Fall of 2006) - Outlaws the encouragement of and the employment of professors and adminstrators with a private prayer language as 'policy.'
SBC EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE (February of 2007) - "While not a 'complete statement of faith,' the BFM 2000 is 'the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and as such is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies . . ."
Note: The SBC Executive Committee seems to issue a caution to SBC boards and agencies. At the very least, the questions raised are these:
(1). Is the BFM 2000 really the sufficient (SBC Executive Committee wording), regulative document (Mohler's wording) that provide 'unity in the faith' for Southern Baptists, or nothing more than an agreed-upon miminal doctrinal framework?
(2). Even if it is permissible for SBC entity trustees to make de facto doctrinal additions to the BFM 2000 through 'policy' is it wise and - more important - is it in keeping with the expectation of 'accountability and faithfulness' to the Convention at large?
III. CAN CONTINUATIONISTS AND CESSATIONISTS CO-EXIST IN THE
SAME (LOCAL) CHURCH OR CONVENTION?: “THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT”
Before briefly reviewing the above discussions for their helpfulness in answering the first question in our session title, it remains for us to define “co-exist.” There are two widely-held definitions of the word:
TWO WIDELY HELD DEFINITIONS OF 'CO-EXIST'
(1). To exist together, at the same time and place.
(2). To live in peace with another or others despite differences.
"With all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of hte Spirit with the peac that binds us" (Ephesians 4:2-3 HCSB).
REASONS CONTINUATIONISTS AND CESSATIONISTS WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO CO-EXIST IN THE SAME CONVENTION OR CHURCH
(1). Leadership holds an inflexible and polarized attitude toward the gifts.
(2). Leadership is unquestionably top-heavily controlled and totally dominated numerically by a polarizing position on the gifts.
(3). The convention's or church's doctrinal position is a narrow, polarized statement on gifts.
(4). A doctrinal amendment would be sought, either through back-door policy, or convention wide through the BFM 2000, that would take a polarized position on the gifts.
(5). The convention's or church's approach to 'co-existence' is unloving isolation of anyone in disagreement with the power brokers.
(6). If the Convention condoned or allowed any unloving fleshly attitudes by those championing a polarized position on the gifts so that they 'ran off' those holding ot more flexible views.
REASONS CONTINUATIONISTS AND CESSATIONISTS WOULD BE ABLE TO CO-EXIST IN THE SAME CONVENTION OR CHURCH
(1). Leadership holds a flexible, humble view on the gifts.
(2). When there is a substantial proportion numerically of leaaders who hold to the more flexible views on the gifts.
(3). The convention's or church's doctrinal position does not rule out either view.
(4). There is an effort to intentionally keep a 'purposeful silence' on the gifts (i.e. 'leaving room to agree to disagree agreeably' in peaceful co-existence').
(5). The convention's or church's members pursue biblical 'co-existence' (i.e. 'humility, gentleness, patience, acceptance, love and peacefulness toward one another despite differences').
(6). If Southern Baptists as a whole choose to lovingly apply the biblical priority of 'the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.'
Wade Burleson's Conclusion About Dr. Luter's Presentation
I would consider myself a 'cautious continuationist' as defined by Dr. Luter. I have no desire for any polarizing view on the gifts to dominate the SBC. It is my sincere belief that those who champion full cessationism must be very, very careful seeking to impose this polarized view on Southern Baptists. I would be thrilled to follow the leadership of those who hold to cessationism --- 'as long as they did not demand conformity to this interpretation.'
Once demands for conformity begin, the SBC becomes polarized.
In missions cooperation we should strive to live peacably, cooperate fully, and love unconditionally those who disagree with us on tertiary doctrinal issues.
I don't think this is hard for most to understand. We'll see.
In His Grace,