Continuationism is a belief that the sign gifts of the Holy Spirit continue to and in the present age, such as miracles, tongues, healing, and prophecy. Continuationism is the opposite of cessationism. How bad is continuationism? Is it even a big deal? Scripture says it is. I say it is. Most say, not so much.
Evangelicals don't separate from continuationists, that I know of. They might write books about and hold conferences on them, but they don't separate. They do the equivalent of the little dog that yaps and yaps when you get close to its front lawn, that you know won't bite you, so you're not afraid.
Let's say that continuationism is a deal breaker for a separatist, independent Baptist. It actually is for me and our church. How do I know who is a continuationist? Some continuationists wear the tag. Others don't even know it, so they wouldn't say they are. Others deny continuationism, but believe and practice continuationism, all the while continuing to state their denial.
In contemporary theology, continuationists are categorized as either hard or soft continuationists, or just continuationists or soft ones. I've found that the soft ones may deny or not deny that they are continuationists. The ones who deny almost always say they don't believe in speaking in tongues or the gift of healing, so they aren't and can't be continuationists, if they know what it is. I've found them many times to say they aren't Charismatic without understanding that they believe very similarly to or even identical to Charismatics.
At least among independent Baptists, fundamental Baptists, and even unaffiliated Baptists, I have recognized that the soft continuationism is supposed to be accepted or at least ignored. You may not like it, but if you were to separate from it, you would be seen as unnecessarily divisive, some type of enemy of unity. What am I talking about?
I want to describe the characteristics I have often seen and see. They don't mirror the extreme form of Charismaticism, but they are often in principle the same. The soft continuationists modify the sign gifts into some lesser type, the same as the Charismatic movement, except with reduced manifestations or ramifications. For someone who wants Charismaticism, it's there, but for the person who doesn't want it, the sign gifts are denied. The soft continuationists have straddled to some degree being and not being Charismatic by offering continuationism in a less extreme form.
On soft continuationism, I know there are those who are the face of it, like John Piper and Wayne Grudem. However, what I have seen and see close up and in person is continuationism among independent Baptists. I'm going to describe what I see there. Maybe you're not an independent Baptist and you see the same among Southern Baptists and others.
God is done speaking to us, but there are many different ways that independent Baptists "receive" extra-scriptural revelation. They don't call it prophecy. They don't equate it with scripture. There is an ambiguity to it that allows for deniability but still with God speaking to someone outside of scripture. Here's what I hear on a pretty regular basis.
"God gave me this new method or strategy." "God told me what to preach." "God told me to build this building." "I prayed about it and God told me." "God gave me this message." "God gave me special insight." "God called me to go to...." "God told me how to do this." Sometimes less clear words are used, like "God moved me, "God put it within my heart," or "God has burdened me with."
One additional way that I hear that God speaks is through a particular interpretation of a passage. Someone says the Spirit told him what a passage says, which is referred to as the teaching or illumination of the Holy Spirit. The interpretation doesn't come through a normal means of study, but through someone impressed in the brain separate from study. I've found that very often, and it shouldn't be surprising, that this teaching or understanding was wrong.
What you know is that God gave some kind of information either with a voice in the head, a feeling, or a vision. Somebody knows something that he didn't know before. God's stamp of authority is upon it, because it came from Him.
Miracle is a common word thrown around by independent Baptists. What they say is a miracle might just be the providence of God. I'm fine with providence, because everything is either caused or allowed by God. However, it isn't a sign. A miracle is a sign. These signs have ceased, so whatever it is, it isn't a miracle. God works in the normal affairs of men, but miracles are not being produced.
Some might ask, what about salvation? Isn't that a miracle? It isn't. God saves people, but that isn't a miracle. Every work of God is not a miracle. A miracle is very particular, but this has been generalized and brought along even by independent Baptists.
These "miracles" are treated like signs by independent Baptists. They mean God is working in some unique way that gives them credibility. It causes people to expect miracles.
I don't know of an independent Baptist that believes in the gift of healing, but prayer has become a means by which someone has that gift. The Lord Jesus and the apostles and prophets could pray for healing and receive it as a part of their gift. However, we are not promised that people will be healed. Prayer is still seen as a means of physical healing.
What I've noticed is that certain diseases get prayer and others don't. For instance, blindness doesn't receive prayer. If God is doing the healing, blind people can get their sight. This kind of selectivity isn't seen in the Bible for signs. If it's of God, it isn't limited.
Like signs, the prayer healing intends to validate a church. People expect it from a church, want it from a church, so a church should have it at its disposal. Even if people are not healed 75% of the time, the prayer healing is still an important church method.
This last one is the most subjective and perhaps the most important of the ones I've listed. At Pentecost, there was the wind and the flames. You won't get those from independent Baptists, but you'll get a feeling or atmosphere in the midst. It often arises in a preaching and musical style, producing a mood, aura, impression, or spirit. The preaching itself might be unscriptural, but the style supersedes that. God is working and the demonstration is seen through these subjective, external stimuli. Corinth has the same problem in the ecstasy that accompanied what they thought they were receiving from God (cf. 1 Cor 12:1-3).
The equivalent of firing people up for a pep rally is not a necessary condition for the Holy Spirit to fulfill His ministry, promised by Jesus and the Apostles. A big reaction to particular styles doesn't authenticate them as the Holy Spirit. Some of what I'm talking about relate to the wrong understanding of conviction. Conviction is what occurs when someone has been proven guilty. Conviction isn't a feeling. Someone can be convinced of his guilt and not feel anything.
When a particular method works, this is attributed to God. "Dozens or hundreds were saved." This is pointing to a "Pentecost" style revival. When the Holy Spirit is really working, a lot of people are saved. This is a supernatural, powerful working that overcomes resistance to the message being delivered. A majority of these people didn't get saved.
If a big crowd gathers or lots of people walk an aisle, men take that as a sign that God is prevailing or working in the situation. If very few show up, God didn't either. These effects are pointed to as a basis for a church being "alive" versus being "dead." A dead church is one where these external effects, actually produced by men, are missing. They are not biblical means of discernment, but they are given greater authority for discernment the biblical means.
Most independent Baptists are very dependent upon the fake signs I listed above. They are the cues given to their churches that everything is OK. If these were missing, the people would think something is wrong. Since they are expected, they must continue. In most independent Baptist churches, if a church announced these were no longer going to play a role in the church, it would cause a massive split. A large chunk of the congregation would move to somewhere where they would continue to experience these fake signs.
to be continued