True Story #1
Nina Rodrigues is a little town in the interior of the Brazilian state of Maranhão. It is small, but very well kept. The populace is traditional—mostly Roman Catholic, but there are also a few Charismatic churches. In one of these Charismatic congregations not too long ago a boy of about twelve years began to prophesy. The credulous people—conditioned as they are to receive any and all prophecies at face value, listened to what he had to say and obeyed his injunctions. This of course encouraged the lad, who began to make more and more bizarre proclamations.
The situation came to a head when he commanded all the men of the church to get their firearms and go to the top of a hill, where Satan himself was supposed to appear in the form of a serpent. The men obeyed, and the sound of gunfire alerted the police. Only after a denominational leader came in from the capital city was this nonsense stopped.
True Story #2
Another city in the state of Maranhão—Pinheiro—is the scene of our next, even more sinister, tale. A pastor in his sixties received a vision from and angel. The heavenly being supposedly told him that he was to have many children who would save Brazil. In order to do this he would have to impregnate many girls.
The girls he chose were all under age. At this writing two of them are pregnant. The “pastor” is in jail, still claiming that he was obeying a divine edict.
There are many men whose ministries I admire who are not cessationists—in other words, who do not believe that the revelatory gifts have ceased with the completion of the canon of God’s revealed word. These men would probably disagree robustly with what I am going to say next, but it must be said: when you allow for extra-biblical, special revelation you open the door for abuse.
It is no coincidence that both of the cases mentioned above happened in Maranhão. While Brazil as a whole is saturated in non-cessationist teaching, the churches of this state are completely dominated by it. In the neighborhood where I am staying now there is a “Protestant” church on virtually every corner. All but one of these churches are driven by the special revelations received by their leaders. Some of the pastors even go so far as to call themselves “prophets”. The name on the door of one of the churches closest to where I am writing this reads “The Prophetic Church of the Restoration”.
With such a cacophony of “revelation”, is it any wonder that understanding of the Bible is at an all-time low? After all, why spend time in the Scriptures when your pastor has a direct line with the Almighty.
The sign on another nearby church reads “Come here on Sunday to have your curse broken.” The non-cessationist teaching has given birth to an ignorant, shallow, superstitious version of Christianity that barely resembles anything found in the Scriptures.
Granted, not every non-cessationist is a wacko like the ones mentioned above. As I mentioned at the beginning, many godly men whose work I admire hold to this view. One of these is John Piper. His books and sermons have edified me tremendously over the years. When he writes a new book it immediately goes on my wish list.
Yet his view on extra-biblical revelation makes me cringe. Here is a quote from a recent interview:
I will give you one that is from a prophetic word given to me yesterday—take it or leave it. I’m cautious when people come to me with these kinds of things. But this rung true, and you can see that it is true without making a claim to special divine authority.
If it is biblically true (and the rest of the interview—which is about the dangers of making theology God instead of God—is outstanding), why on earth is there a need for a special “prophetic word”? And did the person who made this prophecy to Piper really claim divine authority? If so…scary.
If it is a “take-it-or-leave-it” kind of thing, and if he is cautious about it…shouldn’t he just stick with the infallible, inerrant Word of God? Then he could offer this very sound advice without attaching the caveats.
Clearly Piper cannot be compared with the “hellish prophets” of the first two examples. This is not my intent. Rather, I want to point out that when we compromise on the sufficiency of the Scriptures, we do indeed open the door to such craziness.
Back to the Diet
Be it here in Brazil or in the US, it boggles my mind that the heirs of the Reformation would be so quick to fudge on Sola Scriptura.
In 1521 Martin Luther appeared before the ecclesiastic authorities at the Diet of Worms. Like the non-cessationists of today, these men claimed to have a corner on communication with God which trumped the Scriptures. Martin Luther’s ringing cry needs to be re-engraved on the heart of all who use the name “Protestant”:
Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
Oh that the conscience of the Brazilian church—and, for that matter, its American counterpart—would once again be captive to the Word of God!
Talk back to the missionary: What are your thoughts regarding the cessationist/non-cessationist debate? Let us know in the comments section.