This is my third post in the debate on the cessation of spiritual gifts.
So far, I have merely responded to posts made by Coramdeo. But now I want to explain my true position on cessationism, why I have a problem with it, and why I think the spiritual gifts of tongues, prophecy and healing may still happen today.
Here is my Main Problem with Cessationism
It’s an absolute negative statement. What I mean is this: even if cessationists are claiming that only certain gifts don’t happen anymore, and the others do, they are saying that the gifts that have ceased never happen under any circumstances.
I got in a discussion with my father over this issue and he asked me a very telling question. He asked me, “What purpose does tongues have today?” This was meant has a rhetorical question, of course. In fact, it is not the question that matters at all, it is the assumption behind the question, the reason the question was rhetorical, that means something. My father, in his Christian life and theological education, which has been long and extensive, has decided that there is no purpose for the gift of tongues. Unfortunately, “decided” is not the most accurate word. “Assumed” is the most accurate because no one can know an absolute negative. No one can know that there is no use for tongues ever under any circumstances.
And yet, that it what cessasionism claims.
Are we really ready to believe that the Holy Spirit would never, ever use tongues, healing or prophecy under any circumstances? Even if I travel to a 3rd world country where I don’t know the language, the Spirit couldn’t use tongues to speak a language I don’t know to bring people to a knowledge of Christ? How more useful can you get?
In order for me to subscribe to cessationism I would have to know for sure that the Spirit would never use tongues, healing or prophecy (that doesn’t attempt to add to Scripture) under any circumstances or any time, ever. I’m just not ready to do that.
The reason I’m not ready to that is because there is no clear cut Scriptural reason for cessationism. I have no problem with absolute negatives in themselves, but only with clear Scriptural backing. For instance, Scripture is clear that there is no other way to God besides Jesus Christ. It’s an absolute negative, and I can know it because God tells me so. I would have to be equally Scripturally convinced of cessationism.
If the term “cessationism” is being used to describe a position where the gifts are different or used much more sparingly in modern times, then I don’t have a problem with that stance. I completely agree that the historical context matters and being two thousand years post-Cornelius Gentiles is not the same as being a Jew two years removed from Pentecost.
It makes sense that the Holy Spirit would bestow the gifts upon those building the church differently than those who are born two thousand years after the church has been built. However, I draw the line on making absolute statements about what the Holy Spirit will and won’t do unless Scripture is clear on that absolute statement.
The reason I’m not Scripturally convinced of the absolute negative, is that there are a few problems with cessionism, or “elephants in the room” if you will.
One of these elephants is 1 Cor 13 as explained in my previous post. This passage is often used in support of cessationism however their are many problems in interpreting “the perfect” to mean the canon of Scripture. Again, this was explained previously.
Eph 4:11-13 is also used as a proof text for cessationism. This passage says that certain offices have been appointed by God, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.” So Paul mentions them all in the same breath. Then he tells us what purpose those offices were appointed for, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ“. Then he gives us under what circumstances those offices will cease, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”
What the cessationists do is say that this means the offices of apostles and prophets have ceased. I have no problem with believing this is true. However, the office of apostle hasn’t ceased because the Church is established, it has ceased because the definition of Apostle is someone who has seen the Risen Jesus face to face. And since He’s ascended . . .
It’s also bad hermenuetics to pick out two of the offices mentioned all in the same breath and say “only these two have ceased because the church and canon are established” when Paul makes no distinction between the offices and when they will cease. Paul is exactly saying that all these offices will cease at a certain time and he doesn’t say that some will cease first and others second, or third etc. To insert an order here is just bad Biblical interpretation.
Also, Paul never says that these gifts will cease when the Church is established. The cessationist crowd must interpret “until we all attain the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” to mean the church. The parsing out of what exactly this is referring to would take a long time. It will suffice to say here that, looking at myself and the rest of the church, I’m not comfortable saying that since we have the canon we are “mature” to the degree “of the fullness of Christ“. If Paul is describing the church here, his description doesn’t accurately reflect any church I’ve ever heard of, in modern times or in the early church.
The third elephant in the room of cessationism ties in closely with this passage in Ephesians. In Coramdeo’s original post on this subject he says:
I think the N.T is quite evident that Pastors and Teacher are to continue on, but we do not have much evidence that Apostles or Prophets should continue on, and in light of other passages I think it is best to conclude that Apostles and Prophet offices have ceased.
I completely agree with Coramdeo here. There is no need to add to Scripture and so the office of Prophet (in the Old Testament sense) has ceased and Christ ascended two thousand years ago so the office of apostle died with the twelve. However, what Coramdeo is concluding here is that since those offices have ceased, so too have certain gifts.
The elephant in the room is two men by the name of Stephen and Philip. Both of these men were not Apostles, they were deacons. And yet, Luke tells us that Stephen performed “great signs and wonders” (Acts 6) while the people of Samaria “heard and saw that signs which he [Philip] was performing” (Acts 8). So deacons, and not just Apostles, were capable of performing “great signs and wonders” of the Holy Spirit. Even since the office of Apostle has ceased, apparently that doesn’t mean that gifts must cease.
Jesus Himself seems to support this definition of those who can perform works of the Spirit.
Mark 16:17-18, “These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So the qualification of those who can do such things are “those who have believed”. That’s it.
Let Us Pursue Love
Let us also be skeptical. Just because believers can do such things, it doesn’t mean that this does, or should, go on all around us. It also doesn’t mean that the gifts of prophecy, tongues or healing should be a primary pursuit of ours. 1 Cor 13:
1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
2If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
3And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
In fact, in 1 Cor 14 Paul explains in strict detail how gifts should be handled and that the goal should be for the edification of the church. These guidelines should absolutely be followed or the gifts are not being used correctly. And if they’re not being used correctly, then it’s not of the Spirit. Paul concludes the chapter with, “Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.”
Since we do not have solid Scriptural backing for doing so, let us not subscribe to an absolute negative regarding certain gifts. But let us pursue the greatest gift of the Spirit, love, and let us do everything for the edification of the Church and be bold enough to follow the guidelines laid down by Paul, squashing any “manifestation of the Spirit” that does not follow them.