‘I am surprised that people professing Christianity, will believe nothing but what is comprehended by our vitiated reason and weak judgment; this argues the height of pride or ignorance.’
(Malcolm MacAskill, Presbyterian Minister of the Hebridean Small Isles – from a letter written on July 29 1763. Quoted in my book Seer.)
I have long considered any theology or belief that dictates to God what He can or cannot do to be extremely dangerous if not blasphemous. One such case is the theology of cessationism – which many in the Reformed Protestant tradition (mostly within its leadership) of my culture have adopted. I have argued in other posts that this teaching has become a cancer in many religious communities both in its arrogance and degradation of the Almighty and Omnipotent God they claim to represent. Truly he is shackled by them, and, if we hold to the biblical worldview, He can ‘do no mighty work because of their unbelief.’ (Mark 6:4-6). And then we wonder why the church is dying.
Our friendly Encyclopedia Wikipedia says this of the doctrine –
‘Cessationism is a doctrine that spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing ceased with the Apostolic Age. The doctrine was developed in the Reformation and is particularly associated with the Calvinists.’
While the above may be true to some extent there is overwhelming evidence historically that the common people within the Reformed tradition of the Scottish Hebrides and Highlands did not imbibe such a view – particularly as it related to a God who could reveal the future and the needs of believers to one another in a miraculous ways. Nor did many of their ministers. But what prompted this short article today was not the release of Seer, but a Blog post published recently entitled When Miracles Ceased by Orthodox Priest Fr. Stephen Freeman. I will leave the link to the full post below for anyone who might be interested (also to Seer). This can be proved by evidence presented in the book Seer, mentioned above, which I have just published.
It is always good (IMHO) to see ourselves as others see us – and to be able to learn from them – even when they may not come from our own tradition. Here is a quote from his article:
‘One of the stranger ideas that accompanied the Reformation, was the notion that miracles had ended at the time of the New Testament’s completion. Never stated as a doctrinal fact in the mainstream of Protestantism, it remained a quiet assumption, particularly when joined with an anti-Roman Catholicism in which the various visions, weeping statues, and saints’ lives were considered to be fabrications of a corrupt priesthood. Stories abounded during the Reformation about how this or that well-known miracle had been debunked. What replaced that Medieval world was the sober thought of the Bible as an answer book.
Many held that miracles were quite unnecessary after the Bible was “completed,” since everything necessary for salvation was contained within its covers. Miracles, visions or revelations from God were considered not only unnecessary but positively dangerous in that the faithful might imagine such things to carry an authority equal to or greater than the Scriptures.
Various groups within the Protestant world have actually codified this idea into a matter of their denominational doctrine. It is known as “Cessationism,” referring to the “cessation” of the gifts of the Spirit. The Modern Project itself, particularly in its secularized perception of the world, is a version of Cessationism. Indeed, the Cessationist ideas of early Protestantism were a primary force in the creation of the secular concept.’
I had not heard of the anti-Roman Catholic link before – although it makes perfect sense. Protestantism has a habit of throwing the baby out with the bathwater and sometimes even keeping the bathwater and throwing the baby out!
In a further remark on the post in answer to a comment Freeman wrote:
‘I will add that I think cessationism in early Protestant thought was largely driven by anti-Catholic sentiment. We seriously underestimate how bitter all of that was. Protestantism would gladly cut off its nose to spite its face if it could be proven that noses were strongly Catholic.’
But it was his comment – ‘Cessationist ideas of early Protestantism were a primary force in the creation of the secular concept’, that struck home to me for, implicit within it, is the suggestion that Protestantism is guilty, or at least this teaching within it is, of promoting the secular ideal which has destroyed our society, banished God from the public square and promoted the hopelessness and despair we see all around us. Remove a miraculous, all-powerful God from your theology; the result is no real surprise. We are certainly reaping the whirlwind all this has produced at this very moment in Scotland’s history. How tragic for those within the leadership of the ‘Reformed’ tradition and others who hold to this view to discover that it is they all along who have been responsible for the decline of the church and for the state of our society today. Of course some will not until the eternal days reveals all things.
I suspect then that there is a lot of repenting to be done in this regard by those who propagate such a view today – but I am not holding my breath. Most of what I see presently from the people who promote this theology is still the pride, arrogance and hard-heartedness of which Malcolm MacAskill wrote in 1763. No wonder judgement must begin at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17).
When Miracles Ceased – CLICK HERE
Seer – CLICK HERE