Cessationism and the fuss about Phil Johnson, Arthur and Martha

About 25 years ago I was deeply involved in the ”Word of faith” movement (Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland; can I ever forget Copeland’s ‘whosoever’, repeat ‘whosoever’?). ”Word of faith” has a strong emphasis on the spiritual gifts such as prophecy and speaking in tongues. I have since discontinued believing in the ”continuationist” doctrine that the spiritual gifts have never ceased (cessationism). In plain English, I have stopped believing that spiritual gifts have not stopped. But not totally. It still niggles at me.

A few years ago I attended a ”continuist” church. During the service, someone stood up and uttered ”these are the end times.” I thought to myself – hope no one saw my jaw thinking – ”Yawn.” The pastor then said that this prophecy was given the previous week in another meeting he attended. YAWN again. That was how I felt.

The point is this, if one believes that prophecy operates today, it’s not too hard to believe that even if such a person has heard such a prophecy (?) millions of times before, he will receive it with awe. I must admit that it drives me dilly, which, of course, might be a fault in me. But let me move on.

Phil Johnson is – as with most things to do with Christianity – very voluble, which I’m all for. This time Phil was strutting his cessationist stuff – and Marvin Cotton, who is a continuationist, is displeased; displeased less with Phil Johnson’s criticism of continuationism than with Phil’s philippic (fiery damning speech) ”cyber-slander” of Mark Driscoll, a continuationist. Johnson says – not in these exact words – that Driscoll is prophetically pornographic, which comes, apparently, as no surprise to Johnson. Johnson’s beef is not only with Driscoll’s “pornography” but also with his prophecy, indeed Johnson is mad with all modern prophecy. For Johnson, continuationism is an abomination, a divination, a contortionism. Adding pornography to the mix makes the whole thing even more salacious.

It’s not hard for Cotton, an ”anti-cesso,” to see through the guise of anticontinuationists (”anti-contins”) such as Phil Johnson pulling the wool over his (Cotton’s) eyes:

“… the guys [Johnson and his ilk], says Cotton, are on an anti-Continuationist tear–and are at it still, each of the Pyros seemingly trying to outdo the other in their Cesso fervor. I can’t even keep up with ‘em. This one’s all about a five minute video, clipped and edited from an hour-long message on Spiritual Warfare presented in Februrary 2008, and specifically posted on Youtube by Phil Johnson, for the purpose of inflaming opposition to Driscoll. To ensure that viewers will treat it as scandalous, he qualifies the video as “extremely disturbing” and entitles his post, “Pornographic Divination.” In case his subtlety is lost on you, he is accusing his brother of a double abomination. Nice.”

“The center piece of the video, continues Cotton,is surely a one-minute description of what Driscoll presents as a visionary experience through which he had detailed knowledge of a woman’s unconfessed sin. Evidently the woman, along with her husband, had consulted Driscoll in regard to a spiritual problem, and because he believed the incident left a significant foothold for demonic oppression, he confronted her with the facts of the matter.”

(Read more here)

My preoccupation is this. I can’t decide who is right. I have no beef with the five solas and the five points of monergism (“Calvinism”) ; on that score I stand firmly with Phil Johnson (must go check my bad breath), but I can’t come to any firm conclusion on the “gifts” issue, whether they have stopped or whether they continue.

I suppose others have this problem as well, as they might also have with the details of eschatology (end-time prophecy) – is it near, and how near; or is some/ much of it silly, even scatalogical.

I am a fan of Phil Johnson, but I must say that Cotton has made some very good points on the cessationist-continuationist issue, which, as I have said, I struggle with to the point that NOT only do I, a guy like most other guys, NOT know whether I’m Arthur or Martha, but worse, whether I’m Arthur or Arthur, indeed – all this is bordering on pornography – whether I’m Martha or Martha.

I’d better pop in at youtube and see what all the fuss about Phil is about. Or maybe I won’t.

12 thoughts on “Cessationism and the fuss about Phil Johnson, Arthur and Martha

  1. Raf,

    The Jewish tradition has it that prophecy ended–on account of one particular cause–about 350 years before Christians say Jesus prophesied.

    When do you say prophecy ceased?

    • The Jewish belief is that Messiah is coming for the first time, while the Christian belief is that he is coming for the second time.

      Chief Rabbi Riskin said – which you probably know all about – that the only difference betweem Judaism and Christianity is a mathematical one; you say first time, I say second time.

      You, of course, will think, like most frum rabbis, that:
      ”Following this “rabbi” as so many do is one of the reasons Jewish people remain in exile and have generations of suffering. The last 2-3 minutes can be skipped as they are total nonsense. The damage and outrage happens in first half. But riskin’s words at end can easily be understood that only difference between Jewish Messiah (Moshiach) and christian belief in Jesus’s rebirth is a mathematical issue – Jews see it as “First Coming” and christians views it as “Second Coming” – this video made us sick and knowing that 1000s of Jews follow him (kiss his hand!!) makes us thoroughly ill. The Jews have been and continue to be their own worse enemies with their rabbis leading the charge.”

      I agree, the Jew is his own worst enemy, because he’s got his math all wrong.

      (Rabbi Riskin has since recanted/clarified his position).

  2. If we think back to the Holocaust, the pogroms, the expulsions, the inquisitions, etc., the picture of the Jews’ worst enemy that emerges is not a Jew.

    • Who would you say was the jews’ worst enemy in terms of their continuous decimation, e.g. Assyrian destruction, Babylonian destruction and throughout the Tanach.

      • None in history can compare to Christendom, which oppressed more Jews, for a longer period, and across a broader geographical footprint than anyone else, period.

        And, let’s not forget that the Jews were introduced to genocide by a Christian nation, while the Pope stood silently by, some 2,000 years into your “AD” version of this era of messianic bliss.

        Incidentally, Raf, what’s going on with your new comment management regime? All of my comments are being severely delayed, and some of them aren’t making appearances at all.

        • 860,000 Lives Saved – The Truth About Pius XII and the Jews

          I completely agree more could have been done and with more transparency. But in consideration of the time what can be said in retrospective about an imperfect papacy?

          The following citation has been taken from :


          reported from other sources

          :” People often ask: why did Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, not speak out more forcefully against Hitler? Historian Fr Dermot Fenlon of the Birmingham Oratory looks at the facts and sets the record straight.

          The answer is recounted by a former inmate of Dachau, Mgr Jean Bernard, later Bishop of Luxembourg:

          “The detained priests trembled every time news reached us of some protest by a religious authority, but particularly by the Vatican. We all had the impression that our warders made us atone heavily for the fury these protests evoked … whenever the way we were treated became more brutal, the Protestant pastors among the prisoners used to vent their indignation on the Catholic priests: ‘Again your big naive Pope and those simpletons, your bishops, are shooting their mouths off .. why don’t they get the idea once and for all, and shut up. They play the heroes and we have to pay the bill.'”

          Albrecht von Kessel, an official at the German Embassy to the Holy See during the war, wrote in 1963:

          “We were convinced that a fiery protest by Pius XII against the persecution of the Jews … would certainly not have saved the life of a single Jew. Hitler, like a trapped beast, would react to any menace that he felt directed at him, with cruel violence.”

          The real question is, therefore, not what did the Pope say, but what did the Pope do? Actions speak louder than words. Papal policy in Nazi Europe was directed with an eye to local conditions. It was co- ordinated with local hierarchies. Nazi policy towards the Jews varied from country to country. Thus, although anti-Jewish measures were met in France by public protest from Archbishop Saliege of Toulouse, together with Archbishop Gerlier of Lyons and Bishop Thias of Mantauban, their protest was backed by a highly
          effective rescue and shelter campaign. 200,000 lives were saved. In Holland, as Fr Michael O’Carroll
          The vindication of Pius XII has been established principally by Jewish writers and from Israeli archives. It is now established that the Pope supervised a rescue network which saved 860,000 Jewish lives – more than all the international agencies put together.

          After the war the Chief Rabbi of Israel thanked Pius XII for what he had done. The Chief Rabbi of Rome went one step further. He became a Catholic. He took the name Eugenio.”

          Note that the quotes in this article are take from Fr Michael O’Carroll’s book, Dublin, 1980.

          • “As Pope throughout World War II, Pius XII was controversial for his failure to publicly condemn the extermination of Europe’s Jews… the Pope ignored requests made by the Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Isaac Herzog, to intercede on behalf of Jews in Spain so that they not be sent back to Germany. A similar request was made concerning Jews in Lithuania; this was also neglected by the Pope…. In the 1990s Pope John Paul II began the process of making Pius XII a saint.”


  3. Raph our brother Paul wrote about this,

    8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13 NASB

    Those who believe the gifts have ceased interpret coming of “the perfect” to be the completion of the written Word (New Testament). Therefore they believe that the gifts, prophecy and tongues have ceased. Yet Paul tells us in the next chapter, 12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church. 1 Corinthians 14:12 NASB.

    God gave various gifts to believers to edify (build up and strengthen) the church (body of believers in Yeshua). Why would God only give these gifts at the birth of the church and then not continue them throughout church history for His people? Did the church cease having a need for edification?

    It is agreed that there have been many false messiahs, false prophets, false signs and wonders and false gifts and bogus manifestations supposedly of the Spirit. Wisdom and discernment is greatly needed in the body of Messiah. “Test the spirits and see if they are of God”. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22)

    The coming of the perfect is the second coming of Messiah. When He returns we will see Him face to face we will fully know the truth as we have been fully known by Him (1 Corinthians 13:12).

    John writes in Revelation about two witnesses during the tribulation who exercise powerful gifts on earth and prophesy:
    I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. 6 These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire. Revelation 11:3-6 NASB

    These gifts continue until the rapture of the saints and return of Messiah.

  4. I’m not all that knowledgable about this issue but my question David, is why aren’t we seeing and/or experiencing the gifts of the spirit as they were experienced by the early church? If nothing has changed we should continue to see people who are legitimate healers, prophets, etc. I believe those sorts of things can still happen but I really question whether they still exist as spiritual gifts endowed on specific people. If these gifts still exit people certainly do a good job of hiding them but in the early church they were commonly exercised in public around non-believers. I’m just not sold on the whole issue because there seems to be some important inconsistencies that haven’t been sufficiently addressed (in my own mind).

    • No more miracles in contemporary times? Have you heard about stories written and testified also, for example, by American aviators about Padre Pio apparitions and miracles during and after the wwii? Have you read for the twenties centuries the many miracles of unknown modern saints? It is not true that there are no more signs…there are extraordinary signs that we are not willing to see 🙂 I found a website…I have not checked the contents but is of someone who works with computer and he believes in Saints’ miracles enough to have a website for them…it looks quite contemporary to me to be involved in saints’ stories and working with computer 🙂 http://www.miraclesofthesaints.com/

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