I need to say something about the Strange Fire conference, and the reactions to it, but because I am not particularly well-informed about that particular controversy, let me content myself with saying a few general things about the topic, which others may inject into the controversy as it suits them. I suspect, although I do not know, that in what I say there will be something encouraging for both sides, and perhaps something discouraging for both as well.
I am a cessationist, and I am not a continuationist. The sign gifts in the New Testament were revelatory, and if they are still operational, this means that the canon of Scripture is not closed. I don’t have a category in my head for quasi-revelatory. “Thus saith the Lord” is either true or false. If true, the words that follow that formula should be treated as though God spoke them, and I only have one way to treat the Word of God. I treat it like it is the Bible.
In short, I believe that cessationists usually understand the Bible better than do continuationists, not to mention the logic of the thing.
But there is an additional, and very weighty, concern, pushing from the other direction, and this has to do with the nature of the world. Too many cessationists are functional materialists when it comes to the operations of the world, and their supernaturalism is limited to the ink on the page.
In short, I believe the continuationists often understand the personal nature of the world better than do cessationists.
Continuationists are vulnerable to the sins of the gullible. Completely independent of the question of spiritual gifts, I am more likely to be able to get a charismatic to believe that there are fairies in the garden than I would be able to get a cessationist to believe it. Cessationists are correspondingly susceptible to the sins of the debunker. I am much less likely to get a cessationist to believe in a remarkable response to prayer than I would be able to get a charismatic to believe it.
Ferinstance. A number of years ago a good friend of ours was dying. When she finally passed away, Nancy and I were on the road (in Philadelphia). It was the middle of the night and we both woke up. Are you awake? Yeah, are you awake? How come? Beats me. A few minutes later the phone rang, and it was the news that our friend had gone to be with the Lord. Back home, our grandson Knox had been praying regularly for her, and he was two or thereabouts. But that night while praying for her, he stopped, and said, “She died. She is in Heaven.” They found out later that she had in fact died that night.
Now I have already answered the question whether this kind of thing is revelatory. No, it isn’t. But is it personal? Yes, of course. We therefore need a category for the Spirit’s active interactions with us in the world, one that fully acknowledges His presence while robustly denying that He is inspiring anybody the way He did Isaiah.
I hope you can see at once that this is not an easy thing to do, and this is why we ought to cut one another some slack across the cessationist/continuationist divide. I have more in common with a responsible charismatic than I do with an irresponsible confessionalist, one who believes the last revelatory miracle performed by the Spirit was the Three Forms of Unity as they were given in the original Greek. And a responsible continuationist has more in common with me than he does with Benny Hinn, whose antics would have been an embarrassment during Elijah’s heyday.
In other words, we should distinguish our disagreement with good brothers across a doctrinal divide from our poleaxed reaction when we see a televangelist casting demons out of some poor woman’s refrigerator.
One other thing. Continuationists may believe that the Strange Fire guys are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But they should begin their response by acknowledging that in the contemporary charismatic world, there is an awful lot of bathwater, and — even on their accounting — not very much baby. This is something that needed to be done, and because there has not been (to my knowledge) a large continuationist conference rebuking the manifest excesses of the wahoo brethren, this conference was inevitable.
So continuationists should not criticize the criticism — rather, their task should be to model how the criticism should have been done. And cessationists, for their part, should be eager and willing to acknowledge this when it happens. If it happens.
Our model in this (as in so many things) should be Jonathan Edwards. The issues were different (although actually related), but are similar enough to be edifying for us. Edwards first made his name as a friend of revival, and as a chronicler of what happened in Northampton. But as the revivals spread and grew, Edwards became the foremost critic of the spurious and eccentric forms of it. His revival car had a set of working brakes.
So, there it is. The cessationists need to figure out where the Spirit-accelerator is. The continuationists need to figure out where the Spirit-brakes are. And the doctrinal position that is capable of accommodating both is, if I may say so, Spirit-filled cessationism.