Cessationism

Miraculous Gifts: If They Ceased, Why?

So far in this study of cessationism (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), we have considered the what question and the when question. Per the what question, cessationists conclude that what took place in the New Testament (with regard to the miraculous gifts) is not happening in the church today—even if charismatics are using biblical terminology to refer to non-biblical practices.

Per the when question, cessationists conclude (on the basis of passages like Ephesians 2:20) that the miraculous and revelatory gifts were intended only for the foundational (apostolic) age of the church. Thus, they should not be expected to continue after the time of the apostles.

But this raises the why question: Why were these gifts given, such that they are no longer necessary after the foundation age ended?

At least three purposes are designated in Scripture.

Purpose 1: a sign.

The miraculous gifts were given as a sign by which God authenticated His messengers during a time of transition from Israel to the church. That purpose was no longer necessary once the transition was complete and the church was firmly established.

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Miraculous Gifts: If They Ceased, When?

This study of cessationism considers three essential questions. Focusing on the gift of tongues, Parts 1 and 2 addressed the first of these: What were the gifts in the New Testament, and how does that biblical description compare to what is happening in contemporary charismatic circles? When we approach the continuationist/cessationist debate by first defining the gifts biblically, it becomes apparent that modern charismatic practice does not match the New Testament phenomena.

The second essential question is the when question. If the miraculous gifts (biblically defined) are not occurring in the church today, then does the Bible provide indications to when those gifts ceased?

For the sake of space, this question will be addressed only briefly. Those interested in further study on this issue should read Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit by Thomas Edgar.

In interacting with the when question, six texts must be considered. Many of these texts are used by continuationists to argue for the ongoing nature of the charismatic gifts.

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Addressing the Charismatic Question, Part 2

This study of cessationism focuses on three essential questions. Focusing on the gift of tongues, Part 1 began to address the first of these: What were the gifts in the New Testament, and how does that biblical description compare to what is happening in contemporary charismatic circles?

Seven similarities provide strong evidence that the gift of tongues in Acts was the same gift of tongues in view in 1 Corinthians 12–14. In Acts and 1 Corinthians, tongues share the same source, recipients, substance, terminology and primary purpose. They also share the same connection to the other gifts and the same reaction from unbelievers.

Several additional exegetical comments might be made about the gift of tongues:

1. Some, not all

First Corinthians 12:8–11 and 27–31 make it unmistakably clear that not everyone received the gift of tongues (cf. 14:26). Note that there is no contextual or grammatical warrant for seeing 1 Corinthians 12 as one type of tongues (that only a few receive) and 1 Corinthians 14 as a different type (that everyone is to receive). Along those lines, Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 14:5 (“Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues”) is almost identical to his earlier statement in 7:7 regarding singleness. (“Yet I wish that all men were even as myself”). Thus, Paul’s wish does not indicate that everyone in the Corinthian congregation actually spoke in tongues.

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Addressing the Charismatic Question

The following is adapted from seminars given at The Shepherds’ Conference with help from Voice magazine. Used by permission.

Historically speaking, evangelical Christians (from Martin Luther to Jonathan Edwards to Charles Spurgeon) have held to a cessationist position. They believed the miraculous spiritual gifts of the New Testament era ceased shortly after the first century. Contemporary cessationists include names like John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul, Sam Waldron, and Richard Gaffin.

It is important to note, at the outset, that cessationists do not deny the possibility of miracles in the general sense of special acts of divine providence. Rather, cessationism limits its focus to the miraculous and revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit, contending that those specific gifts did not continue after the apostolic era came to an end.

With the birth of Pentecostalism in 1901, followed by the Charismatic Renewal in the 1960s and especially the Third Wave in the 1980s, the evangelical camp found itself divided in its view regarding charismatic gifts. A number of widely-read evangelical pastors and theologians (like Wayne Grudem, Sam Storms, and C. J. Mahaney) have been outspoken about their continuationist views. As evangelical charismatics, they believe the miraculous gifts of the Spirit did not cease and are still in operation today. Other well-known leaders (such as John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and James MacDonald) have also expressed openness toward the idea that the miraculous gifts are still operational.

In assessing any theological position, it is vital to begin with the Word of God. If we are to rightly understand the gifts of the Spirit we must start by going to the Scriptures which He inspired.

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A Case for Cessationism

With all of this as a backdrop (see part 1 in this series), the question is reduced to this: Is God giving authoritative revelation on par with that which He has given in the past, much of which has been inscripturated, or is He not? If He is, then the church of Christ needs to take note and come into compliance with the modern prophecy movement, following its revelations as it would Scripture. But if the Lord is not revealing His inspired word today, then we need to reject the claims of the modern prophets and expose these supposed revelations for what they are. This means the position taken by most on prophecy—cautious but open—is untenable. The cautious but open crowd is skeptical of the claims coming from the prophetic movement and they are suspicious of the many “words from God” that so many evangelicals are claiming. Still they hesitate to embrace cessationism. They are concerned about limiting God or, as it was mentioned above, “putting God in a box.” To this let me make two replies:

  • It is okay to put God in a box if God, in fact, is the One who put Himself in that box. In other words, God can do anything He wants to do, but we expect God to do what He says He will do. If God has put Himself in the cessationist box we can embrace and proclaim it.
  • Taking the open but cautious view really does not hold up. Either God is speaking today apart from His Word or He is not. If He is speaking, how do we determine which of the multitude of messages people claim are from Him and which are bogus? If, with Grudem, we have eliminated the tests of Deuteronomy 13 and 18, how are we to evaluate all these revelations? How do we know to whom we should listen and whom we should ignore?
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Cessationism, Revelation & Prophecy

From Voice, Nov/Dec 2012. Used by permission.

Despite the fact that the majority of conservative evangelical Christians since the Reformation have held to a cessationist position with regard to divine revelation, true cessationists are rapidly disappearing. In the articles and books I have written nothing has evoked as much criticism and anger as my position that God is speaking to His people today exclusively through Scripture. Due to the influence of a multitude of popular authors, theologians and conference speakers, cessationism is barely treading water, even within the most biblically solid churches and organizations.

As a matter of fact, among those who claim to be evangelicals there are five identifiable views prevalent today on the matter of revelation:

Pentecostal/Charismatic/Thirdwave

All miraculous gifts exist today, including the gift of prophecy. God speaks through prophets and to His people both audibly (through dreams, visions, words of knowledge), and inwardly (inaudibly in the mind or heart). Representatives of this position are Jack Deere, John Wimber, the Kansas City Prophets, the Assemblies of God and the Word of Faith movement. Charismatic author Tommy Tenney, in his popular book The God Chasers, writes,

God chasers…are not interested in camping out on some dusty truth known to everyone. They are after the fresh presence of the Almighty… A true God chaser is not happy with just past truth; he must have present truth. God chasers don’t want to just study the moldy pages of what God has done; they are anxious to see what God is doing.1

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