The post begins as follows:
“Recently, I had a conversation with a Muslim-background Christian. He shared the story of his childhood in a Muslim village in a North African country. There were no Christians, there were no Bibles, there was no testimony to the gospel, and there had been no missionaries. He had a dream in which Jesus spoke to him and told him that He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The dream did not lead to an immediate salvation response, but it led him to acquire a New Testament, and he began a journey that eventually led to his conversion and transformation. What would you say to this man? Here’s a Christian brother standing in front of you with a sweet testimony of a changed gospel-centered life, a brother in Christ who since his conversion received significant theological training, a servant of God now engaged as a leader in Muslim evangelism, and one who has paid a high price for betraying his ancestral religion and dishonoring his family. Of course, I had several questions for him. I suppose I was probing to better understand something that didn’t sit well with me and doesn’t fit into some of my theological boxes. There remains something of the cynic and skeptic in me. What I discovered was that the dream was a one-time occurrence, an event this man could not rationally explain and something he did not propose as normative in his evangelistic strategies. What do you make of his dream? You can deny it and say it never happened—which doesn’t mean it didn’t. Or can you thank the Lord that this man who was once lost is now found without needing to pontificate on why dreams and visions are no longer a valid mode in God’s outworking of His plan?”
Further on in the article, Davis distances himself both from “the signs and wonders movement” and “a rigid cessationism.” He says,
“Many have erred in building whole movements on the expectation of the miraculous. The aberrations of the signs and wonders movement and the spiritual warfare movement reinforce opposition to any whiff of the spectacular. The condemnable extremes of experience-driven movements often lead to affirming a rigid cessationism and to relegating the miraculous to another age, no longer needed after a period of transition and the completion of Scriptures. Can we find middle ground between extreme positions? Personally, if I have to categorize my view on the possibility of God’s supernatural interventions in the progress of the gospel, I would prefer to characterize myself as a ‘soft’ cessationist--that is, open to the possibility that God may in fact use dreams and visions today.”
COMMENTS BY BROTHER CLOUD
FIRST, THIS POST MAKES A SERIOUS ERROR BY NOT MAKING A CLEAR ENOUGH DISTINCTION BETWEEN APOSTOLIC SIGNS AND GIFTS AND MIRACLES IN GENERAL
“Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds” (2 Corinthians 12:12).
There is nothing in Scripture to cause us to think that miracles ceased in the first century. I have both experienced and witnessed divine healing through prayer. In our missionary work we have oftentimes witnessed the delivery of demon possessed people. We have witnessed countless miraculous life transformations, radical Hindus and Buddhists turning to Christ, drunkards become sober, thieves become honest, wife beaters become kind. There is no greater miracle than this.
But the apostolic sign miracles and revelatory gifts, by their very nature, were unique and temporary. Otherwise they could not have been a sign. Once when I flew into a city for a meeting, the host pastor told me that he would meet me at the airport. When I asked him how I would recognize him, he said he would be wearing a red hat. The sign of the pastor in that situation was the red hat. If I had walked off the plane and looked around and every man was wearing a red hat, the sign would have become ineffective. Likewise, if anyone else in church history other than the apostles (and, in a couple of cases, those with whom they were intimately associated and upon whom they laid hands) could perform apostolic sign miracles, then the sign of an apostle would be destroyed. The miracle signs were performed by the apostles (Mark 3:13-14; Acts 2:43; 3:6-8; 4:33; 5:12, 15; 9:40-41; 19:12; 28:3-9). If believers in genera could have performed sign miracles, even in the first century, the brethren at Joppa would not have called for Peter to come and raise Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9:36-42). Peter’s miracle that day was the “sign of an apostle.”
Not to make this distinction in the plainest manner can lead to confusion and spiritual peril in these deceitful end times. The Charismatic movement is very powerful and influential, and many who have once said that it is in error have ended up falling head over heels in love with it. The only sure protection from its wiles is to be absolutely convinced that the Bible is the sole authority for faith and practice and to put this into practice by testing everything aggressively by that one Standard. Further, we must understand that the apostolic sign miracles and gifts have ceased, and those who claim to exercise such miracles today are dangerous false teachers.
The concept of “soft cessationism” is ill-defined, ill-informed, and spiritually dangerous.
SECOND, WE DON’T HAVE TO GIVE AN ANSWER FOR EVERY PHENOMENON THAT SOMEONE CLAIMS, AND IT IS NOT WISE TO SPECULATE BEYOND SCRIPTURE.
Oftentimes people ask me, “What do you think about this experience I had, Brother Cloud?” The fact is that I don’t have to give an answer to every experience that people allege. I only have to give heed to the completed canon of Scripture.
Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
If something is beyond the bounds of Scripture, it is not something that we need to be concerned about one way or the other.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that it is Scripture alone that is given by divine inspiration and the divinely-inspired Scripture is able to make the man of God “perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” This means that Scripture is complete and sufficient. We don’t need anything else. We don’t need visions, voices, dreams, tingly feelings, “carpet time,” swoonings, gold dust, angel feathers--nothing beyond the infallible Word of God and the indwelling Spirit to interpret it to our hearts.
It is the Word of God that we are commanded to preach, and beyond that we do not need to speculate (2 Timothy 4:2). Such speculation is not of faith, because faith is based solely upon God’s Word (Romans 10:17), and we are warned that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
To return to the question raised in “Confessions of a Soft Cessationist,” did the former Muslim have a dream of Jesus speaking to him? We believe that the biblical answer is that it is not a question that we need to answer.
THIRD, GOD SPEAKS TO HIS PEOPLE TODAY AND LEADS THEM BY THE INDWELLING HOLY SPIRIT IN CONFORMITY TO THE SCRIPTURES, BUT THE CANON IS CLOSED, SO GOD IS NOT SPEAKING IN AN AUTHORITATIVE, INFALLIBLE, REVELATORY WAY BEYOND SCRIPTURE (2 TIM. 3:16-17; REV. 22:18-19).
We must make a clear distinction between infallible revelation and personal guidance. I believe God has led me throughout the 35 years since He saved me. I believed He led me in where to go to Bible School and who to marry and in the building of Way of Life Literature and starting O Timothy magazine and where to base our missionary work and in countless decisions we have prayerfully made. But inner guidance is not infallible revelation.
Pastor Bobby Mitchell of Brunswick, Maine, made the following important comment in a recent e-mail:
“I was in Acts 18 last night with the church as we are going through Acts. I noticed that Paul was ‘pressed in the spirit’ and he preached to the Jews. Later, we see where he received a direct word from God about what the Lord would do in Corinth. I think that based on what I know (the Word of God) and what I am seeing, hearing, and experiencing, I am often pressed in the spirit to think, say, or do things that would be in accordance with God’s revealed will. However, I don’t have direct revelation from God.
“Also, if I acknowledge God in every way, then He promised to direct my paths (Prov. 3:5-6). If I continually keep His will in my mind and yield to it, then He is directing me because His will is being applied to my thinking, speaking, and doing. So, He is personally guiding me by His Word.
“I’ve had dreams that have come true. Once I dreamed someone gave me $200 dollars and it happened the next day. I think that is interesting, but I don’t put any stock in it. It happened and it was a pleasant dream and it was even more pleasant to have it happen in reality!
“Once I think I could say I was pressed in the spirit to go to a local mall on a Sunday afternoon and give the Gospel. I had preached that morning on evangelizing and I was struck with the thought that I should go somewhere and witness to someone. I could even picture the bench where I thought I should go. I went there, and there was a man from the Caribbean sitting on the bench. I witnessed to him and he was amazed because his grandmother was often telling him he needed to be saved. I wouldn’t call that revelation, but I would say that based on what the Bible says I knew I was to witness, and based on my location and knowledge, I was sure I should go there. I would call that personal guidance by the Holy Spirit in accordance with Scripture as it related to my situation at the time.
“The bottom line for me is that what we really need to ‘give heed’ to is the ‘more sure word of prophecy’ (2 Peter 1:19).”
FOURTH, THE BIBLE SAYS GOD GIVES MEN LIGHT THROUGH CREATION AND CONSCIENCE.
In “Confessions of a Soft Cessationist,” Davis says,
“Perhaps we should pray that He would work in supernatural ways in those places where the name of Christ remains unknown, whether the cause of Christ not yet being known is a sluggish church or closed doors. As for me, I rejoice that God is at work, tirelessly accomplishing His purposes. And if He deigns to use dreams and visions, while neither seeking nor needing any for myself, where there is no gospel light, then I will bow and praise Him.”
Other errors have been committed in the name of caring for the unsaved who have never heard the gospel. It is this that supposedly led Billy Graham and Tony Campolo and many other evangelicals to speculate that there might be a way for someone to be saved apart from conscious faith in Christ.
The fact is that God is giving light to all men (John 1:9). Paul describes this light in great detail in Romans 1-3. There is the light of creation (Romans 1:18-20), the light of conscience (Romans 2:12-16), and the light of Scripture (Romans 3:1-2). Paul says that the light of creation and conscience are sufficient to condemn men.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20).
“For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel” (Romans 2:12-16).
In our missionary work in one of the darkest parts of the world, we have met people who were like Cornelius in Acts 10. They searched for God even before they were saved. They knew in their conscience that there must be a great God and they could see His handiwork on every hand. They wanted to know this God, and He sent them a preacher or a gospel tract. Paul told the Greeks at Athens that God has made all men “that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:26-27). Men can find God if they respond to the light they have and seek after Him, because He is seeking them.
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