Hellish Prophets

The Tragic Fruit of Non-Cessationist Theology

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.

The Point

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!

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  1. One can be a non-cessationist and not be crazy like the examples you’ve given. Even with Piper’s example, if what is said comes trues, then it is from the Lord, and if it isn’t, then it will not come true. There in NO NEW REVELATION that takes its place alongside Scripture. Scripture alone is the final revelation from God, yet I believe He can still use tongues and words of prophecy (etc.) to His people, to build up the church, the body, but it will never contradict anything in Scripture, and the biblical principles therein. Wouldn’t you agree?

  2. @Ben,
    You say: “One can be a non-cessationist and not be crazy like the examples you’ve given.”
    I absolutely agree with this. My point was not to say that Piper is a crazy just like the others I mentioned. My point is to show how the non-cessationist view breeds confusion, and the tragic results when said view dominates Christianity.
    In answer to your second question, we have the Scriptures–complete and unabridged–for the edification of the Church. Why do we need anything else? Why do we need special revelation and spectacular signs when we have already the complete Word of God, which we can open at any time and say “thus saith the Lord”?
    My point in including the comments by Piper was to illustrate the confusion inherent in the non-cessationist position.

  3. Dear Andrew,
    “Non-cessationism”, having as its basis Christ’s commandments, is not dangerous per se. The confusion comes from other issues. For example, 1Thess 5:19-22 & 1Cor 14:40 would have sufficed to prevent the 2 cases you presented, without necessitating cessationism.

  4. Sid,
    Thanks for taking the time to respond.
    I understand the argument…but must disagree. The abuses I mentioned (and they are sadly the tip of the iceberg here in Brazil) are indeed direct fruit of a non-cessationist theology. The whole reason people do not pay attention to the passages you mentioned is because their “spiritual leaders” are in direct communication with God. It is much “cooler” (not to mention easier) to get a special revelation than do the hard work of searching the Scriptures.

  5. Andrew,
    I would agree somewhat with you there: that some models of non-cessationism are dangerous. The charismatic church that I attended was nearly taken over by ‘apostle-fathers’ but to their credit, the elders insisted on a close alignment to plain Scripture and rejected the “apostles”. They are still charismatic, but insist that Scripture takes precedence.
    The church during the supervision of the Apostles was logically the most orthodox. And it was charismatic. It was also beset by false apostles (2Cor 11), false teachers and prophets (2Pet 2:1-3, 1Jn 4:1, Rev 2:2, 14, 20). These evidently were “super charismatic”; they had to be to be “super apostles”. They needed charismatic waters to swim in. I am sure that it was as confusing then as now. Remember they lacked a complete NT. However the Apostles never espoused cessationism as a solution. But what a fight it must have been, a handful of men against so many.
    But we have in the resulting NT material the correct model of non-cessationism. That is what I meant.

  6. Sid,
    Again, thanks for taking the time to respond.
    It is of course undeniable that the prophetic (or revelatory) gifts were a legitimate and necessary fact of life in the early church. It is also quite undeniable–as you helpfully mention–that even then they were a source of confusion and headache for the apostles.
    I of course would disagree with you on the apostle’s view of cessation. At the same time he encourages the Corinthian believers to seek the gifts, the Apostle Paul acknowledges (somewhat wistfully, it seems to me) that those very gifts will cease. I know my charismatic brethren feel that the “perfect” is Christ, but the context is clearly revelational…not eschatological.
    And now we have the Scriptures. I am sure most of my charismatic brethren believe the Scriptures are sufficient. My question is this: if they are indeed sufficient, why is there a need for extra-biblical prophecy?
    Getting back to the original post, I believe part of the answer lies in the fruits seen in a culture where Christianity is almost completely dominated by non-cessationist theology.
    I would welcome moderate non-cessationists like yourself as an improvement–but I fear you would have a very hard time of it. Only a clear break with the concept of extra-biblical revelation will save Brazilian Evangelicalism from this morass.

  7. Cessationalism itself seems fairly extra-biblical. We are told we will speak in tongues, prophesy, heal, and do many other things in the Old Testament, the Gospels and Epistles. Why would we think that this ended?
    But to your question, ‘if [the scriptures] are indeed sufficient, why is there a need for extra-biblical prophecy?’
    I’m not sure we can answer such a question. We feel comfortable today saying that Jesus had to come to redeem humanity, but imagine the situation of the first-century BC Jews if someone were to propose that Jesus needed to come, die, and be raised for our salvation. They might well say, quoting scripture: ‘We have Moses and the Prophets, why do we need someone to come back from the dead?’
    And I wonder if framing a question in terms of what God ‘needs’ to do isn’t a problem. God doesn’t need to create us, to redeem us, to speak to us. God chooses, wants to do these things. I think that God seeks us always, and has never abandoned the prophetic mode of speaking to us.
    God also, I think, doesn’t work the way we think, or think the way we think. And so God reaches out to us in ways that don’t always make sense to us. So we must be ready to hear a new word or bit of instruction, and test the spirits as we are instructed in scripture. In my opinion, prophecy and the other spiritual gifts are not and shouldn’t be a center or focus of our Christianity, but they are part of it, and can inform it.

  8. Andrew,
    I would agree that I would have a hard time. I am not sure though that you fully see my point.
    It was Jesus himself who espoused non-cessationism.
    The most orthodox Church was the Church under the supervision of the Apostles. They were on hand to correct inaccuracies. These men received the Great Commission directly from Christ and were in that position to understand what “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you (the apostles)” meant. To this end they labored, endeavoring to be build the intended universal Church on the foundation of the commandments of Jesus (Mt 28:20, Jn 14:15, 15:14, 1Thess 4:2, 2Pet 3:2, 1Jn 2:3-etc).
    Paul being an Apostle recognized the Commission’s task as the 1Thess 4:2 shows. Now 1Cor 14:37 plainly tells us that Paul asserted that his charismatic instructions “are the Lord’s commandments”. Surely if that was not true, the others would have arose to denounce him for teaching something they never received in the GC. But if it was true, then the commandments were also what they received. And then there is only one place to put the charismatic commandments- the GC’s corpus.
    So the ‘original’ Mission Statement of the Universal Church is ‘continuationist’. But with a focus on obedience to the commandments of Christ as due response to any revelation whether by exposition of Scripture or charismatic prophecy.
    But in Brazil, I suppose it is all split milk. We can only pray that God will raise new leaders for these churches with the genuine love for the Lord Jesus, earnestly seeking to be blameless in his commandments. Amen.

  9. Oops, I meant, “spilt milk”.
    Anyway, charismatic prophecy wasn’t meant to reveal doctrine nor change what is written. The samples of this gift recorded in the NT shows that they were local or personal, not universal. The only exception is Revelations. Even here, you would be hard pressed to find anything that substantially forces a new practice for the Church.
    The Bible is sufficient but for doctrine. It does not touch the little things that call for revelations of limited scope. In Acts 21:4; Paul could ignore prophecy from the Spirit telling him not to go to Jerusalem. He could do so without the issue of sinning being raised. Once Paul was committed, the Spirit revealed the consequence through Agabus in 21:11. Thus charismatic prophecy is a different order from Scripture and they should not be placed as equal.
    I hope this is helpful.

  10. Sid and Cousin Ben, I have been running around like crazy since arriving back in the US. I was going to take some time to continue this discussion today, but something else has come up. Perhaps tomorrow?
    Anyway, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

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