When I first learned of the Strange Fire conference all I knew was that it was a conference about the Holy Spirit. Since I have had some experiences with people deeply involved in deliverance ministries I thought a conference that looked at the doctrine of the Holy Spirit would be great. It would lay the framework for me to be able to discern rightly in various situations. Only I found out a few months later it was a conference meant to expose heresies in the charismatic movement. Still, not that it mattered as I had purchased my ticket, it would be helpful. It was not until a month before the conference that I learned that it would build a cessationist argument about miraculous gifts as well as expose some of the workings in the charismatic movement. Truth is. I had no idea there were two different views on the subject and as I was busy with work, school, and ministry, I didn't do much research before hand.
Going into the conference my view on the miraculous gifts was skeletal. I understood signs and wonders to have been done to validate the message and messenger of the Gospel. I believed that tongues and miracles do happen not usually stateside but they are possible and do. Prophecy I wasn't sure. I entered this conference skeptically because I know of instances, either personally, or via trustworthy testimony, of times when miraculous things have occurred and at that point my definition of cessationist was one who believes the Holy Spirit only converts and sanctifies.
There you have my background.
I was surprised at how Baptist service seemed. I loved that we sang hymns. We got our own spiral bound hymnbook from the conference. Be still my heart. I liked being with all of these other believers and meeting new people who will indeed get a Christmas card. The instant heart connection that comes with meeting other Believers is beyond words.
I was disappointed with the conference in that I felt like my head was swimming. Like I was thrown into a debate I didn't know existed, which is exactly what happened. I wished that there had been more of a doctrinal study on the person and role of the Spirit. Then an examination of some church history with regard to the topic. Lastly, armed with that information, an exposure of the heresy and exactly which aspect of the doctrine it opposes. This was all done to some extent but I am such a clear cut pattern girl, I wanted it further spelled out for me. So structurally I was expecting and I think consequently would have liked a different approach to the topic.
As for what was said, I was very pleased. I did not think things were said in a contentious spirit or in an unloving manner. Repeatedly various speakers said many of the men in the open but cautious or full continuationist camp are my brothers. I love them. Never did they say men who stood firmly on the true Gospel should be called to repent! Rather, they asked that they call the heresy in their own camp. They also linked how such a view as continuation can lead to the heresy because it logically has the potential to undermine Scripture
Tom Pennington's definition and case for cessasionism helped me tremendously. Basically, what I concluded after that sermon/con message was that God does not gift people to be a prophet (foretelling), miracle worker, or to speak in tongues. Yet, God DOES do those things still. For example, I will not go to my pastor because he is gifted in healing and ask for him to lay hands on me so that I don't have cancer anymore or to rebuke a demon out of my left pinky toe BUT the Elders of my church might be called to pray and my ailment be healed OR God might just do it. My understanding of what a cessationist believes is consistent with what I came into the conference thinking. Apparently, I may have misunderstood the definition. Or so I gather since I have come from the conference and read articles here and there.
The argument that seemed most convincing for me was that of the authority of Scripture. If indeed prophecy, new revelation, does happen the authority of Scripture in undermined in that it must mean that we have not been given all things that pertain to life and godliness. The argument is that the Canon must not be closed because God is still giving us a new word. And since the three miraculous gifts go together, if prophecy must be done, so must the rest. Now, I have not explored the other side of the argument. No rebuttals have been read or listened to by me.
What am I thinking then?
- that I am currently tentatively standing in the cessasionist camp.
- That I need to do greater study to know how the Canon can be closed and foretelling prophecy still happen. (This, btw, is my hang up. Foretelling prophecy, if they didn't all come together I would have no problems.)
- I also think that if we are going to say that they do happen, we need to be sure we are practicing them Scripturally but that is another post.