Canon and Cessation: The Problem

Supposedly, the best defense among evangelicals against the claims of Charismatics is that “The canon is closed and [these] spiritual gifts are no longer viable.”  Has anyone really examined this argument. There is no logical connection between a closed canon and the spiritual gifts being outdated.

Examining the Arguments

Evangelicals want to affirm that no revelation contradicts God’s complete revelation (i.e., the Bible). The “gift” of prophecy, therefore, contradicts the Bible.   This argument only works if we assume that the “Bible” (such a notion is foreign to the New Testament) is the only, final, and fully authoritative piece of God’s revelation.    The New Testament makes no claim like that.   The Old Testament seems to say something like that, but I caution evangelicals against reading too much into Old Testament claims on the word of God, since the New Testament, per this reading, often contradicts the Old (for example, the OT says circumcision and the feasts were supposed to last forever, which is explicitly rebutted in the NT; therefore, the apostles advocated something besides sola scriptura).

Wayne Grudem (a non-cessationist) and John Frame (a cessationist) have both pointed out the flaws in the above types of arguments.  Since I personally am undecided (and not practicing) tongues and prophecy, that’s all I really care to say on that.

Does Canon Even Exist?

Some will respond, “But without a complete canon, the charismatics win the day.   The Bible clearly has a beginning point and an ending point; ergo, canon.”    The last clause is true.  However, philosophically, the existence of a canon is not the same thing as our knowledge of it and whether or not we should employ it in the above fashion.   These two points are often assumed without argument.

On sola scriptura principles alone, you cannot make a case for a canon for several reasons:  1) there is no list of canonical books resembling anything like the Protestant canon in the NT;  and 2) there is no NT verse saying we should use the canon in arguments.

One other problem:  it is historically unwarranted to read later, non-biblical historical scenarios (the development of the canon, which by the way, was NOT the current Protestant canon) into the canon as a framework for interpreting Scripture (this is why Meredith Kline’s arguments are necessarily wrong).  You cannot use the canon to prove New Testament theological conclusions when the New Testament knows nothing of a canon to begin with.

But, it is argued, without a fully complete canon we have no good response to charismatic wackiness.

The Solution

The key to a sane, biblical spirituality lies not in the canon, but in the Church.   Charismatics, too, read the Bible.   Why is their interpretation worse than yours?   In determining good and bad spiritualities we rely not on our individualistic readings of Scripture, but on the mind of the Church, which is the mind of Christ.    We submit our spirituality to the discipline of the Church (which is informed by Scripture, of course, but it is also informed by 2,000 years of men and women whose lives were formed by Scripture).   We participate in the sacramental life of the Church.