Monday, May 07, 2007

Can Continuationists and Cessationists Co-Exist in the Southern Baptist Convention? Dr. Boyd Luter

Dr. Boyd Luter, former dean of Criswell College, a highly respected New Testament and theological scholar within the Southern Baptist Convention, and currently a pastor in the SBCT of Texas, has given me permission to publish his recent presentation on the subject 'Can Continuationists and Cessationists Co-Exist in the Same Church and in the Southern Baptist Convention?' I found Dr. Luter's presentation on cooperation in the SBC among those with different views on the gifts to be the most cogent, practical and balanced view on the subject I have seen. If everyone thought like Dr. Luter and valued missions cooperation and living peacably among people with various theological views as he does, there would be no controversy in our convention over the issue of private prayer language.


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).



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.


- 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.


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.


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.'


- 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.


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?


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:


(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).


(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.


(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,

Wade Burleson


Anonymous said...

Amen to your conclusion, bro. Wade. Thanks for putting in words and giving expression to what many of us feel and believe but have to remain "anonymous" about.
IMB missionary

Writer said...


This is one of the best papers on the topic I have ever read. Thanks to Dr. Luter for his scholarship on this issue.

I have finally learned my "label" on this issue. I am a "Semi-Cessationist." Gee, that's good to know. :)



Anonymous said...

Thanks for publishing this, Wade. I think it was worthy of such a wide readership.

On a personal note, Dr. Luter is a dear friend and mentor to myself and my husband. I am grateful daily for his investment in our lives. His irenic spirit and sound scholarship are an example to all.

Thanks again,


Anonymous said...

I really hate labels, but this is a good paper. I think the thing to learn from such is that it is an area about which there is much disagreement but through which we can all serve the Risen Lord, Jesus. Because there is such disagreement, we should not let it divide us; rather, it should simply be something we all seek greater revelation of our Father about (personally) as His children.

Although I hate labels, I'd say I fit best in cautious continuationist. From my perspective that just means we must always test the spirits and that humans are involved who are errant. And, we must also lay it against the measure of the Word.

Anonymous said...

By the way, although I come from a cessationist background, I'm a cautious continuationist too...with the Apostle Paul. :)

Debbie Kaufman said...

Cautious Continuationist who wishes to co-exist with cessationists. Bryan spoke for me in his answer.

davidinflorida said...

Pastor Wade,

Can they co-exist? Yes.
Will they co-exist? Maybe.

As soon as they understand why the SBC exists...

docjoc said...

Like most of you I started out a cessatinist not because of any deep theologic study but because of the way I was raised in the church.
As I grew older and I hope wiser in the word I found my cessationist position difficult if not nearly impossible to hold and defend.
But I still held this cessationist view because I really didn't like those wild,loud,uneducated crazy people we called the "Holy Rollers".
Then one day my precious four year old son got a fatal disease. No longer was it a distant theologic question. Either God was going to heal him or he was going to die!
I restudied the bible, changed my view and prayed like never before.

Guess what? God showed up and showed his love and mercy and healed my son.

Later I received what Charismatics call the Baptism of the Holy Spirit..and spoke in tongues...I couldn't help it. Every time I opened my mouth tongues came out. I was amazed.

God showed me as never before his love...and how my sin hurts and saddens him. I cried and never before or since. I had hurt a God who loves me more than even I loved myself.

Needless to say, this changed my life and the life of my whole family. We have never been the same since.

Anonymous said...

Mark me as a Cautious Continuationist, I guess. The only thing that I am dogmatic about is that all groups should find a way to work together and respect one another. I'll be dogmatic about that!

David Rogers said...

I believe Dr. Luter does an excellent job of describing the reality of the situation here.

As members of the Body of Christ, I believe we have no choice but to not merely co-exist, but to live in peace with on another. That doesn't mean, however, that all believers must necessarily cooperate fully in the same ministry projects. Thus, as Dr. Luter observes, it will be difficult for some true believers with certain theologicial views to work together with other true believers with certain other theological views in something such as the Coooperative Program.

What remains to be seen is just where, along the spectrum of acceptable views, do we as Southern Baptists come down. It would be a shame, in my opinion, for us to end up coming down on one narrowly defined end of the spectrum alone.

Within Christendom, however, there will always be groups that define themselves more along narrowly defined ends of various theological spectrums. On certain issues, I think, we must be more narrow. However, I believe that coming down as overly narrow on the continuationist-cessationist spectrum will prove to be an unfortunate and unwise stewardship of the resources God entrusts us with. I believe we as Baptists can make a more effective contribution towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission by accepting a more wide spectrum of beliefs among the various options Dr. Luter identifies.

OC Hands said...

What an interesting and definitive analysis of the division within the SBC over the gifts of the Spirit. It is tragic to me that enabling gifts that were given to empower the church to accomplish its tasks have led to such controversy and division within the ranks of believers. While it is true that by nature we are suspicious and distrust that with which we are unfamiliar and which we have not experienced ourselves, it is unfortunate that in the realm of the Spirit we can draw such a narrow circle and only let in what we can explain and understand with our minds.

Some have jokingly said that we as Baptists can pray for healing for any of our members as long as they are not present in our meetings. On the one hand I am amused by those who relegate the spiritual experiences of some to "emotional" expressions and who do so because these experiences do not fit their theology, so they cannot be valid.
But on the other hand, I am greatly saddened when it leads to separation and division within the fellowship of believers, whether in a local church or demonination.

I think Davidinflorida has expressed my evaluation of the present situation--"Can they co-exist? Yes. Will they co-exist? Maybe"
Let's pray that the Spirit will bind us together with cords that can never be broken and that we will see great things accomplished for the Lord and for His kingdom because of our unity.

R. L. Vaughn said...

docjoc's post brings out some thoughts I'd like to express. First, I praise God for his son's healing and hope my expressions do not in any way disminish that. Second, the post seems to imply, though he may not intend it, that a cessationist view must be abandoned in order to experience healing such as he describes, for he writes, "I restudied the bible, changed my view and prayed like never before." Though he may not have intended it, I believe there is a perception among some folks that cessationists cannot and do not pray for healing, or, if so, they do not expect it to happen.

I want to relate two experiences. I'll give somewhat general terms, because I don't like to express too many personal details on the internet. First happened 20 years ago, a person who had terminal cancer. I was present when a preacher friend who believed all the gifts were fully operational prayed for this person. After praying, he received assurance that this person would be healed. The sick person asked what I thought. I had received no such assurance, but also would not deny the possibility of what he said, and could only choke out the reply, "All I know is that I love you." The assurance he received did not come to pass. The sick person never left their sick bed and was dead within a few months. Call me faithless and unbelieving, for I certainly was. Did the person die because I didn't have enough faith? Was the other preacher wrong about the assurance he received? Does God just choose to work sovereignly?

Before this took place another person I knew had cancer. This was probably 25 or 30 years ago. At our church homecoming it was announced that the doctor said she would not make it through the night. The church she attended was a cessationist church. The church that was holding the homecoming was a cessationist church. I don't know what all kinds of prayers went up for her, but her family and church family would have been almost exclusively cessationist. She DID NOT die that night. She recovered to live a good healthy life and many years later died of old age. Note: the preacher mentioned in the above paragraph who prayed with assurance was once a member of the same church as this lady who recovered. He and these split fellowship over spiritual gifts.

In the discussion about spiritual gifts, quite a bit has been said about experience. These experiences do not form my theology, but I think they do illustrate what I believe -- that God works all things after the counsel of His own will.

Bob Cleveland said...

If we first define co-existence as a state in which people can have their own opinions and theological positions, and that it's ok with them that others in the same organization have different views and opinions and those others are on equal footing in all areas, then the real question becomes:

Who (which ones, which side, etc) WANTS TO co-exist?

Say, now, there's a whole 'nuther question.

Anonymous said...

Rex Ray said…
You asked which side WANTS to co-exist. I believe that’s the easiest question you’ve asked…it’s the side that’s been kicked out of course. ‘Co-exist’ is NOT in the vocabulary of ‘Our way or the highway.’

Bob Cleveland said...

I would SO rather ask the obvious question, instead of making a point that's easily ignored.

Right on cue, brother.

Debbie Kaufman said...


Jeff Rogers said...

According to Dr. Luter's categories, I would be an "Open Cessationist." As I am already in discussion with some (more learned than I), I owuld invite any who might feel they can contribute to my understanding to please send me an e-mail and maybe I can see this from a new perspective. I am all about breaking paradigms when I see a need. I have broken many in my 26 year Christian walk and if God intends to break this one i am going to let him. Please e-mail me at

Jeff Rogers
Colorado Springs.

Anonymous said...

What about people who do not believe that a "private prayer language" was ever a spiritual gift? The new testament seems to be pretty clear about what the gift of tongues is. A language that someone uses "in the closet" doesn't seem to fit the description that I read in my Bible. But by all means...go ahead, prove me wrong...

Bob Cleveland said...


There's no private prayer language mentioned in the Bible. What there is, is Paul's admonition to limit that gift's manifestation in a public setting, and his statement that he will pray with his mind, and pray with his spirit.

So many people today don't want to hear it in church, that they refer to it as private .. despite the fact that Paul said it was ok for 2 or 3 in public, if it was interpreted.

It's the naysayers that refer to it as a private prayer language.

chadwick said...

In my biggoted opinion, you can't mix oil & water ;) The SBC, as an overwhelming majority, has never been Pentecostal (Theologically-speaking). Since the BF&M is also silent on "being slain in the spirit, shall we try to put a "rubber stamp" on it, too? I am all about "different perspectives" in the SBC, but trying to open the SBC's door to Pentecostalism has "crossed the line." :) Selah!

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bob, are the non-naysayers just accomodating themselves to the terminology of the naysayers?

In the following ABP quote, for example, Jerry Rankin states he does have a "private prayer language".

“I do have a private prayer language,” Rankin told the editors. However, “I don’t consider myself to have a gift of tongues. I’ve never been led to practice glossolalia publicly." -- "Rankin talks candidly about private prayer language, recent IMB action", Associated Baptist Press, 21 Feb 2006

Anonymous said...

I guess I see it not as "oil & water" but canola oil & corn oil,
for example, that does blend to accomplish a common good.

davidinflorida said...

To the "go ahead prove me wrong" anon person..

What was Paul talking about in Romans 8:26 and or Eph 6:18?

It may not one of THE gifts described in 1 Cor, but it is a gift from God .

Debbie Kaufman said...

Chadwick: I have no idea what you are talking about and neither do any of the others who would be "naysayers". We would also be the majority who do not believe in "slain in the spirit", I would suggest you read what we are saying and not what you think we are saying.

Anonymous said...

Rex Ray said…
I agree with you that the New Testament seems to be pretty clear about what is the gift of tongues.

“And thought I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains...” (1 Corinthians 13:2)

Wouldn’t the Bible imply that verse 1 was also a gift? “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels…” (KJ)
“If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth…” (New Living 1997)

Now the “tongues of men” or “earth” would mean all the languages of the world, but what about the tongues of “angels” or “heaven”?

The key to this is: “I thank God that I speak in tongues privately more than any of the rest of you. But in public worship I would much rather speak five words that people can understand and be helped by, than ten thousand words while speaking in tongues in an unknown language.” (1 Corinthians 14:18-19 Living Bible)

Debbie Kaufman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debbie Kaufman said...

David Goggin: Very good analogy

R. L. Vaughn said...

davidinflorida, you wrote, "What was Paul talking about in Romans 8:26 and or Eph 6:18?"

Romans 8:26 -- Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

Ephesians 6:18 -- Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;

Is it your conclusion that these two verses are talking about private prayer language? If so, does it follow that the Spirit is not helping those who do not pray in tongues and that they are not praying with all supplication of the Spirit? Also, if the Spirit is intereceding with groans that words cannot express, by what reasoning should we try to connect this to words that are expressed?


Bethraham said...

The recent Strange Fire Conference has brought into focus a great dilemma that is challenging the Christian Church in these days. Some might call it Cessationism vs Continualism. Others might say Cessationism vs Biblicalism. Still others might say it is just plain controversial …. or they might put it into the ‘too hard basket’ because to face the issue might bring tension amongst brethren.

In any case it has got a lot of people talking in the Church
So let us hear from a “non-tongue speaking” theologian Dr Walter Martin. Listen to Dr Martin as he tackles the question; “Who is the Holy Spirit and what does it mean to be “filled” with His power? What does the Bible have to say about “Charisma” and should we throw the baby out with bathwater if some misinterpret, misuse or abuse this teaching? Dr. Walter Martin steps out into the deep water of the Charismatic controversy, on the Night Watch broadcast to be found at

The “Strange Fire Conference” now demands that all God loving, Bible Believing, Biblical ‘tongue speakers’ (call us Pentecostal / Charismatic if you will – but don’t call us crazy) stand up and know how to give an answer for their faith.

So let’s talk ‘Charisma’. My Blog is open for comment. I invite your participation at