A Letter to my Colleagues and Students

I was raised and trained in a cessationist tradition, but a number of years ago, I began to have serious doubts about the biblical integrity of cessationism (the belief that certain biblically attested spiritual gifts ceased shortly after the first century). Over a period of years, I have devoted considerable time, effort, and prayer to a careful study of the exegetical, theological, historical and practical issues involved.

Rocky Mountain Bible College and Seminary, where I have served as a curriculum designer and instructor since 2008, and an assistant professor since 2010, maintains a very specific teaching position on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It reads, “The miraculous gifts (apostles, prophets, healings, miracles including a word of wisdom or word of knowledge, and tongues) were temporary in nature as signs to unbelieving Jews and as a validation of the New Testament message and its messengers at the initial stage of the church.” As a result, my possible shift on this issue had some fairly serious ramifications. I want to assure you that I hid none of this from Dr. Lewis. I consider him a mentor and a friend as well as being my boss at RMBC&S, and I’ve kept him apprised of my progress as I have wrestled through this issue. For his part, he made it clear that as long as I was willing to stick to the school’s teaching position while I was working through the issue, he was happy to have me continue on faculty. These things cannot happen overnight, and I’m very grateful for his openness and support while all this was in process. He is far from the only one; a number of mentors and friends have been generous with their time and insight. I am grateful to you all.

As the process continued, the conviction that began as a trickle of doubt about the viability of one exegetical argument in one passage became an overwhelming flood. I don’t say this lightly at all, but my conclusion is simple: cessationism is exegetically insupportable, theologically weak, historically false, unable to account for realities that I personally witnessed, and practically very far removed from the New Testament. The Bible simply doesn’t teach it. Of course this is a large claim, and my reasons for making it are a separate discussion that I will be happy to have; for the moment suffice it to say that I did my best to investigate every reasonable avenue. After discussion with Dr. Lewis, I wrote and submitted a letter in which I laid out my exception to the RMBC&S teaching position on spiritual gifts, and my reasoning for it.

At this point I felt myself in a bit of a dilemma. I do not believe that this sort of issue should divide Christian brothers. I continue to believe in the mission of RMBC&S and would like to continue aiding the school in our areas of common endeavor. As a result, I didn’t feel that I could simply resign in good conscience; it seemed to me that would convey a rejection of the school that I didn’t, and don’t, feel. On the other hand, I am well aware that within our tradition the lines on this theological issue are brightly drawn and well-policed, so my resignation might be necessary for the school’s sake. I had no desire to cause the school undue trouble, and of course I didn’t want to be one of those jerks who — just to make a point — refuses to resign and forces the administration to fire them. That’s no way to love your neighbor.

Unable to act unilaterally in good conscience, I sought Dr. Lewis’ counsel on a way to resolve the issue to our mutual satisfaction. I was prepared to tender my resignation immediately if the school wanted it; on the other hand if they would prefer to continue discussing how we might navigate our differences and continue to work together, I was open to that as well.

On July 17, Dr. Lewis chose to accept my resignation. At the same time, he also indicated that he would like for us to continue discussing these issues, and to continue discussion on the possibilities for looser collaboration as opportunities arise where we might serve together: ministry within the local community, student internships, and the like.

Working with RMBC&S and with Dr. Lewis has been a lot of fun, and I am grateful for my time there. My students and colleagues, each and all, have been a blessing to me. I continue to ask the Lord to bless the school, its students and faculty, and its mission to equip believers for service, and of course I remain happy to assist in that mission as the Lord may provide opportunity.

Please be assured that there are NO hard feelings; we all remain friends. We may not be working under the same organizational umbrella for the present moment, but we are all still working for the same boss, seeking His Kingdom and His righteousness — each in the manner that God has convicted him to do.

This kind of event, if not carefully and fully explained, presents opportunities for unfounded speculation and gossip. I would not have the enemy gain a toehold through this, so I have chosen to be as clear and specific as seemed advisable. If this isn’t clear and specific enough, please ask for more details; nobody’s got anything to hide here. Thank you for bearing with the length of the explanation, and again, if I have left you with some concern or doubt, please don’t hesitate to talk with me.

God’s richest blessings attend you as He leads you in His will for your lives. My love and my prayers go with you.

In His service,

Tim Nichols

Advertisements

9 Responses to A Letter to my Colleagues and Students

  1. Bobby Grow says:

    So what are you going to do now, to eat?

  2. Tim Nichols says:

    Bobby,

    I wasn’t doing it for my bread and butter anyhow. I’m a school bus driver; I’ll just keep right on doing that. Other irons in the fire include Headwaters Christian Resources and some other local stuff. That’s enough for me, these days.

    Thanks for asking.

  3. Jim says:

    Tim,

    I appreciate what you have discovered, your convictions, and the direction your headed; thank you for being a great teacher and I pray your journey will provide you all that you seek as you follow Jesus our Messiah.

    Your brother,

    Jim

  4. David says:

    Tim, you’ve been preaching love in the midst of doctrinal diversity for a long time and this really puts on shoe leather and makes it walk. You’re an encouragement, brother. May you receive the same blessings you closed your letter with.

  5. Tim Nichols says:

    Jim and David,
    Thank you both for your encouraging words. God is doing good things with this, and I look forward to seeing how it all comes out in the end.

  6. Bobby Grow says:

    Good, Tim. It is good that you are following your convictions, and not being straight-jacketed by something that many would find very idiosyncratic relative to holding you on as faculty or not. In other words, it is a very secondary issue — although I can appreciate why certain institutions want to keep their own idiosyncrasies pure. My concern with that approach though is that that attitude creeps down into the student body of said school, and thus a sectarian way of thinking is hatched that takes on a life of its own for the students (or it causes them to be disillusioned once they get outside of the walls of their institution and they are confronted with other realities and arguments etc.).

    Anyway, good move. I’m not a charismatic, but I also can’t see how anyone can defend cessationism (even though I have seen them valiantly try).

  7. Jeremy Myers says:

    Tim,
    Thank you for having the courage to follow the conclusions of your exegetical research… especially when your job is on the line. This is something very few Bible scholars today would do. Bravo!

    I certainly would be interested in reading more of the research and ideas that led to this conclusion.

  8. Tim Nichols says:

    Bobby,

    It has a way of feeling primary for people who’ve been confronted with certain abuses of the gifts (and/or counterfeits of same). There are biblical antidotes to that stuff, but one of the central temptations of human beings generally, and theologians in particular, is to try to make the argument easier than it is. It feels a lot safer and more secure to just say “that stuff doesn’t happen anymore” than it is to step up to the tricky and demanding task of discernment. This stuff is genuinely hard to live with, and a number of people have told me that it doesn’t get any less uncomfortable with time. Who is sufficient for these things?

  9. Tim Nichols says:

    Jeremy,

    I genuinely couldn’t do otherwise, so it wasn’t really a big struggle for me. All three of us kids in my family were raised to read carefully and say what we thought we saw in the text — clearly and without apologizing. I remember some knock-down-drag-out fights around the kitchen table during family devotions over whether the passage at hand really said this or that. Some of those conversations got quite heated, but Mom and Dad never used their parental authority as a club during those — the Word was the sole authority, and we’d just have to keep working at it until we hammered out what it was telling us. That had a serious formative effect that I don’t guess I’ve ever gotten over. 😉

    I’ll be writing some more on this shortly, but beyond that, feel free to drop me an email or a phone call. I’m still hashing though a lot of the implications of all this, and I’d love to have your help!

%d bloggers like this: