Tag Archives: Cessationist

The Spirit of God and the Jewish People

Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel SchneersonMy father wrote that he heard in the name of the Alter Rebbe that all rabbinic authors until and including the Taz and Shach, composed their works with ruach hakodesh, the Divine Spirit. An individual’s ruach hakodesh, as explained by Korban Ha’eida in Tractate Sh’kalim (Talmud Yerushalmi), end of ch. 3, means that the mysteries of Torah are revealed to him. This comes from the aspect of chochma in its pre-revelation state.

-from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly.

Pirkei Avot 1.1

This isn’t going to resonate well with Christians who believe that God has abandoned the Jewish people. On the other hand, in reading the First Fruits of Zion book Gifts of the Spirit, I came across this:

We confuse ourselves regarding the giving of the Holy Spirit when we assume that, prior to the Shavu’ot even described in Acts 2, Jewish people did not have the Holy Spirit. That assumption also leads us to believe that non-Messianic religious Jews after that could not possibly receive inspiration from the Holy Spirit, act in any capacity of the Holy Spirit, or perform miracles by the Holy Spirit. These assumptions, I believe, are based squarely upon a misunderstanding of John 7:39 where it says, “He said this about the spirit that those who believe in him would receive, because the Holy Spirit was not given before Yeshua was glorified.”

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Chapter 3: A Pledge of What is to Come,” pg 39
“Gifts of the Spirit”

That quote also won’t sit well with the vast majority of Christians, and I will comment more extensively on this quote and other chapters of the book next week.

But I got to thinking about the relationship between God and the Jewish people, all the Jewish people, not just those who profess a faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah and Son of the Most High. Did God cut them off? Are Jews and Judaism “dead” to God and only those Jews who convert to Christianity (or alternately, enter into faith as a Messianic Jew) “alive” to God?

I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?

Romans 11:1-2 (NASB)

Paul goes on to speak of a chosen remnant within Israel selected by God’s grace, which certainly makes it seem as if only a few Jewish people will “make it” and the rest are toast.

But there’s more to the story:

But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

Romans 11:13-15 (NASB)

JudaismIt seems the “stumbling” and “partial hardening” (v 25) of the Jewish people is for the benefit of the Gentiles, and this was Paul’s warning to the Gentile believers in Rome, as I discussed in my reviews of the Mark Nanos book The Mystery of Romans, to not create additional “stumbling blocks” between the Jewish people and faith in the Messiah by the arrogance of the Gentiles in the Roman synagogues.

How can we say that God abandoned all or even most of the Jewish people if Paul never did?

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 9:1-5 (NASB)

One of the Nanos papers (PDF) discusses a translation of the Greek we read in Romans 11:25 as “partially hardened” and renders it as “callused,” indicating that what separates most Jewish people from the knowledge of Messiah is a temporary condition, one which can be healed so that “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).

If this is God’s intention for Israel, the Jewish people, the chosen nation of Hashem, then who are we, the non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah, to stand in the way for the sake of our own “self-superiority,” which is the same condition Paul was chastising the believing Gentile believers in Rome for exhibiting?

And yet, how are we to believe that the Holy Spirit continues to be with the Jewish people, even as they are “temporarily calloused” toward the identity of the Messiah, when in the Church, we believe someone receives the indwelling of the Spirit only when we come to faith in Jesus Christ?

Has the Holy Spirit of God abandoned the Jewish people or does the Spirit guide the “rabbinic authors” in composing their works? It’s difficult to imagine that one unifying Spirit is guiding all the Jewish people when the various sages across history and the different streams of Judaism today all seem to disagree with each other. But then again, examining the different denominations of the Christian Church, we see the same phenomenon: multiple streams of Christianity which are theoretically all guided by the same, unifying Spirit and yet all disagree with each other on a number of important theological and doctrinal details.

But every once in a while in Christianity and Judaism, we see evidence of the presence of the Spirit of God working in interesting and surprising ways:

A few months before he died, one of the nation’s most prominent rabbis, Yitzhak Kaduri, supposedly wrote the name of the Messiah on a small note which he requested would remain sealed until now. When the note was unsealed, it revealed what many have known for centuries: Yehoshua, or Yeshua (Jesus), is the Messiah.

With the biblical name of Jesus, the Rabbi and kabbalist described the Messiah using six words and hinting that the initial letters form the name of the Messiah.

-Aviel Schneider
“The Rabbi, the Note and the Messiah,” May 30, 2013
Reprinted from Israel Today Magazine, April 2007

You can click the link I provided to read the full article and also, go to YouTube to view a brief (4:48 minutes) video on Rabbi Kaduri’s revelation.

Rabbi Yitzchak KaduriThe yartzeit of Rabbi Yitzchak Kaduri was observed last December 31st (the 29th of Tevet), which is why this information has been recently re-published in magazines and social media.

I’ve been writing a great deal on whether or not the “gifts of the spirit” have ceased or continued past the closure of Christian Biblical canon. To listen to John MacArthur of Strange Fire fame and other “cessationists,” the answer is that no human being has been granted specific gifts of prophesy, speaking in tongues, having visions, or healing in nearly two-thousand years. He and his colleagues have plenty of opposition to this idea.

My reading of the “Gifts of the Spirit” book, named for a conference I attended last May, tells me that the Holy Spirit continues to be active in our world today in very observable ways, but doesn’t really emphasize particular individuals continually exercising specific “gifts” provided by the Spirit of God. After all, we aren’t the apostles, so how can we expect to operate at their level of spirituality and holiness? Maybe there are a few tzaddikim (Christianity would call them “saints”) or exceptionally righteous individuals who can apprehend such gifts, but I’d have to say they’re few and far between in our religious and historical landscape.

I consider it nothing less than miraculous that Rabbi Kaduri could come to such a startling conclusion, which certainly has sent ripples of interest and shock across the body of his disciples and across the span of religious Judaism.

There’s a great deal that I don’t know about the Spirit and how He chooses to move among those who pray to the God of Abraham, which includes Christians, Jews, and Muslims, but I believe God can do exactly as He desires to do without the consent of human beings. I choose to believe Rabbi Kaduri had a vision. I choose to believe God did not abandon the Jewish people or Judaism. There is still wonder, and awe, and amazement, in our world as God is present among His people and speaking to us in many voices. I’m glad Rabbi Kaduri chose to listen and obey. It’s a message of hope for all believers and for all Jewish people that the gospel message of Moshiach is indeed good news for the Jews, and also for the people of the nations who are called by His Name.

Why did I write all this now? I read the quote I put at the top of this blog post today and everything else fell into place.

The Challies Chronicles: Tom Pennington and the Cessationist Argument

Tom Pennington at Strange FireToday Tom Pennington spoke at the Strange Fire conference and provided a case for cessationism. He offered seven biblical arguments for the cessation of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. Here is a summary of his session.

The label “Cessationism” is negative, but the real problem is that it has been easily caricatured as believing that the Spirit has ceased his work. But the fact is that we who are cessationists believe the Holy Spirit has continued his work. Nothing eternal happens in a person apart from the Holy Spirit. Temporal things can happen, but nothing eternal. We only believe the Spirit has ceased in one function: the miraculous gifts, such as tongues, prophecy, and healing.

-Pastor Tim Challies liveblogging
Strange Fire Conference: A Case for Cessationism,” October 17, 2013

That’s something of a relief, but sometimes I think “Cessationists” have only themselves to blame for being “easily caricatured as believing that the Spirit has ceased his work.” This is especially true when that category or branch of the Church places specific limits on the work of the Spirit but apparently acknowledges that evil spirits have full reign to do as they please.

OK, that’s probably an exaggeration, but not by much.

So Cessationism teaches that the Holy Spirit has ceased only “one function: the miraculous gifts, such as tongues, prophecy, and healing.” Of course, I haven’t been in a church where prayers for healing haven’t been requested, so I wonder why we’re praying for our friends and loved ones who are ill or injured if the Cessationist viewpoint is correct?

To be fair though, and remember, I’m trying to be fair, Pastor Pennington doesn’t say God doesn’t do miracles anymore, just that the Spirit no longer conveys upon believers any miraculous spiritual abilities or gifts as were given to the apostles. According to Pennington and the Cessationist perspective, “The primary purpose of miracles has always been to establish the credibility of one who speaks the word of God—not just any teacher, but those who had been given direct words by God.”

So the only purpose for miracles was to establish the validity of the prophet or apostle and the words he was speaking that were from God. Now that we have no apostles and prophets, I guess the point of miracles is moot…well, specific miracles such as prophecy, supernatural healing, and speaking in “angelic” languages.

Charismatic prayerI have to admit that I think there’s something to this. A friend of mine came to Christ many years ago at a local church that believed when someone professed faith during an altar call, they would speak in strange languages. Everyone around my friend had their own tutor or helper, a volunteer at the church, who would guide them in this, and my friend heard the others around him making noises that to him, sounded like gibberish. But no matter how hard my friend tried to open himself up to the Spirit, this spontaneous event didn’t happen to him. His helper urged him to try harder, especially as it was getting late and the helper’s wife was waiting for him out in the parking lot.

Now my friend happens to be multi-lingual, so in an act of desperation, he started speaking in the various languages he already knows. Apparently, that’s what this person from the church wanted to hear and the requirement was satisfied…

…except it wasn’t a miracle, my friend just happens to be gifted in this area and he had already learned those human languages (romance languages for the most part) through studying and travel.

I’ve never been to a church where I’ve heard anyone speaking in a non-human language, so if there’s any validity to this practice, it must not be widespread. Also, I’m highly dubious of anyone calling themselves a prophet, since the world is replete with men and women who claim to have made prophesies about the return of Jesus and absolutely none of them were correct (all of the predicted dates have long since passed, and yet Messiah has not returned).

But I can’t say that miracles absolutely don’t occur. True, I think practices such as holy vomiting (I kid you not) and holy laughter seem pretty ridiculous and in the former case, really disgusting, and of course, you don’t see examples of either in the Bible. On the other hand, I do have a copy of Gifts of the Spirit, which was produced by First Fruits of Zion and is a compilation of the presentations made at their Shavuot Conference last spring, which I attended and blogged about extensively (click the “gifts of the spirit” tag to see all related blog posts).

I’ll have to revisit those experiences through my previous blog posts and that book because, as I recall, there’s another side to living a spiritual life besides performing miraculous deeds, and gifts from God can take on many forms, including the ability to write, teach, pray, comfort, and express extraordinary kindness and compassion to others.

I’ve heard Christians, people I respect, say that one of the reasons we don’t experience gifts is because we are not open to the Spirit. I don’t want to reduce God to a formula because I think there are plenty of people who are open to God who do not overtly hear from Him, at least not “on command.” However, Cessationists tend to put God in a box, too. They have made up all of these rules that say what God is and isn’t doing. There is no room for exceptions. Who’s to say that God doesn’t heal miraculously according to His will?

heavenly-manAnd there are reports, presumably credible reports, that God does do miracles in places and through people when it is necessary to further his work of spreading the Good News. True, I haven’t witnessed any of this myself, but then again, I haven’t witnessed demon possession either, and yet people like John MacArthur say that’s absolutely real.

Cessationists say that certain miracles are done away with, such as healing, and they prove their points by quoting scripture. They say (or some of them do) that demons are real and continue to have influence in our world, and they prove their points by quoting scripture.

We live in a real, physical world, but it intersects with some pretty strange places, places I’m not qualified to discuss in any detail, places that, for the most part, are out of my lived experience. But I can’t put God in a box, either. Sometimes I think He does things, including supernatural things in our world, because He’s a Sovereign God. He doesn’t have to have a reason that we understand. All that said, none of those supernatural events in any way can contradict what we read in the Bible. The problem is, from a human standpoint,  correctly understanding what God is saying in scripture. We don’t always get it right.

I think that refuting or bringing to light some of the more outrageous claims of those who say the Spirit of God made them spontaneously vomit is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean God’s hands are tied if He wants to heal someone of cancer. It doesn’t mean He has to heal, but we don’t always understand God and we absolutely don’t get to tell Him what His limits are just because we’ve inferred things from the Bible (and inference of the scriptures is what the Cessationist argument primarily relies upon).

He [the God-fearing person] will not fear evil tidings, his heart being firm in his trust in God.

Psalms 112:7

If we seek an encounter with God, it may not manifest in a dramatic, public event. It may be in the small stillness of the night when your spirit is troubled and you need to be comforted. We don’t get to tell God what to do or how to do it, so neither side of this debate is in full control of God’s truth and His activities. But if we trust in God, then we know that when we need Him, He’ll be with us.