Imagine you are on a trip to the Grand Canyon. All along the highway you have seen distance markers informing you of how many miles are left. You have driven for hours and crossed numerous states. You, your wife and kids have reminded each other for hours of how amazing it is going to be to finally see in person this great wonder of the natural world.
At the last road marker before arriving, you are surprised to see a large crowd standing around the sign, touching it, looking at it from all angles and taking pictures with it. You pull over to get a better look at this strange behavior.
Slowly, it begins to dawn on you: These people aren’t going to the Grand Canyon at all; they are here to see the sign! You try reasoning with a few of them, only to be ridiculed as a skeptic. You explain repeatedly that the sign is not the attraction, but merely a pointer toward it. This doesn’t seem to help. It merely irritates the crowd, which seems to be continuously growing larger.
Your wife nudges you with her elbow and points discreetly at some tables a few yards from the sign. These tables contain all sorts of products promoting the sign. There are books: fiction and non-fiction; there are music CDs and DVDs. There are T-shirts, audio and video sets of lectures, there are knick-knacks and a host of other items all celebrating the wonder, beauty and greatness of the Sign.
Sound strange? This is exactly what Pentecostalism is and does. Pentecostalism looks to the signs and not to the things signified. This is why I find it alarming when people who claim to be Reformed start defending continuism.
In a response to a previous post on this subject, someone commented that maybe I was throwing out the baby with the bath water by my Cessationism. Cessationism is not throwing out the baby with the bath water. In fact, I would assert that Pentecostalism is throwing out the baby and keeping the bath water.
Getting back to my illustration above, “Tongues” was a sign gift. You don’t need to take my word for it. Jesus Himself called Tongues a sign. Mark 16:17, Jesus said, “These signs...” (This word is sometimes translated “miracle”). “These signs [these sign miracles] shall follow them that believe.” And part of the text says, “In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues.” It is a sign miracle. Then Paul says in 1Corinthians 14:22: “Tongues are for a sign.” They are deliberately given as sign miracles. Hebrews 2:3 says “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” This wonderful text raises the question: How will we escape what? How will we escape the wrath of God? How will we escape the just reward of our sins if we neglect so great salvation? Now look at the rest of the passage “so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.” How was it confirmed? “...signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost.” So right here the author is telling us that even before the apostolic age comes to a close you have someone looking back saying, “We got this message first from the lips of those who heard the Savior. The Lord confirmed the message by signs and wonders.” They are already looking back on a time when there were signs and wonders in abundance, but the purpose of them was to authenticate the message and the messenger.
The opponents of Jesus’ ministry were sign-seekers. That fact alone should be warning enough to us. Plus, it is evident that Jesus never performed a miracle in response to a challenge. Miracles and signs accompanied the ministries of those who were instrumental is communicating to the Church God’s final Word: Scripture. The itch for signs and wonder is a denial of Sola Scriptura, despite what any of its advocates claim.