Why I’m Mostly a Cessationist

The recent debate with Coramdeo gave me an opportunity to reflect, study, and reason through the issue of Spiritual gifts.  Most importantly, I was able to see the arguments and Scripture used to support cessationism.

The title of this post may seem in contradiction to my previous one.  However, as I will show, I still have the same problems with cessationism yet consider myself to be one.

Definitions

Most of the difficulty in studying and discussing the issue of spiritual gifts lies in what the heck we mean when we say things.  To some, cessationism means a belief that God never does any miracles, nor imparts His power onto His people in the form of “gifts”, anymore. 

To some, continuationism means those who believe that the gifts have continued in the exact same way they occured in the New Testament.

In fact, even the term “gifts” is hard to nail down.  If God has given me the gift of prophecy, does that mean I hold the office of prophet?  Or merely that God has gifted me with the ability to teach His Word?  Is not speaking God’s Word directly in the lives, hearts and minds of fellow Christians a gift?  If I participated in a healing through prayer, does that mean I have the gift of healing?  Or is it that God just did a singular work of healing?  Is not a singular healing still a gift?  How many healings do I have to be involved in before I “have the gift”?

Do you see how hard to define these words become?  Alot of explanation is needed before we are on the same page when I say the word “gifts”.  In order to clarify, I will attempt to parse out a difference here:  I consider that a “gift of the Spirit” has been bestowed upon someone even if they only do it once.  Does that person “have the gift of healing”?  I don’t know, but at that moment they did.  You can think of this as a single incidence of God working through a believer, it’s the same thing, I’m just using the word “gift” to describe it. 

On the other hand, the office of healer or prophet is someone that can do it all the time.  Just as the man who holds the office of president is president all the time, if you went to someone who held the office of healer, you would be healed.  Some may think of this as someone “having the gift of healing” but I’m using the phrase office of ____ to describe it because it provides the separation we need when discussing this issue.

I’m interested in discussing these definitions and seeing if there is a better fit out there that allows us a better way to think about this issue.

It doesn’t matter what definition to the these words you subscribe to, it matters how people use them.  The cessationism I have a problem with is the one that says “God just doesn’t do these things anymore”.  The cessationism I have become to subscribe to is the kind that says the gifts are wholly different than they were in the 1st century, and the offices have ceased.  I will explain what I mean.

 Historical Cessationism

Ok, the above term is nothing I’ve heard of before.  Perhaps there is a term out there that already represents what I’m about to describe, but I just thought of this one. 

My cessationism comes from the annals of history.  If you read the history of the church and especially the writings of the early church fathers, not only do you not hear of any prophets but you see them lamenting the fact that there aren’t any!  Think about it from their point of view:  There has been a long standing tradition of prophets existing in the world as recorded in the Old Testament, which continued with a flurry as recorded by the Book of Acts.  In fact, you could consider every writer of the New Testament as prophets as they were inspired to write the Word of God.

The early church fathers would naturally assume that this tradition would continue.  However, it did not.  They all looked around them and all they could see was false prophets who went against the Word of God  (There is a good reference here for that).  The office of prophet seemed to be…gone.

Another exercise could be to look around today.  Are there any prophets?  Maybe, but I haven’t seen any.  He’d have to prove himself and, sorry, Benny Hin is not it.  Same with the office of healer.  Sure, God has and does perform miraculous healing using prayer and the actions of His Church.  However, the office of healer is someone that heals all the time.   Think about a guy like Peter.  If you went to him, you were healed.  In studying early church history, and looking at the world around us, there doesn’t seem to be someone like that.

So, history seems to attest to the cessation of the offices of prophet and healer.  My cessationism is historically informed. 

Why the “Mostly”

I can call myself a historical cessationist but not a Biblical cessationist because Biblical cessationism doesn’t presently exist.  That is, the Bible says the gifts will cease but in describing whenthe gifts will cease, it is clear that it is not now.  Let’s look at the verses used to support cessationism and why I can say that Biblical cessationism doesn’t exist.

1 Cor 13 is one of the more popular ones used: 

…but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part;  10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.  12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

There are many problems with translating “the perfect” as the “the canon” and that is explained in one of my previous posts.  The bottom line is that at the very least, it is just as likely that Paul is referring to “the perfect” to be the coming of our glorified bodies in heaven as it is the canon.  In fact, the NIV translates “the perfect” as “perfection”.  The only way that this passage is solid evidence that the gifts ceased with the canon is if you want it to be.

Eph 4:11-13 is also used quite frequently.  The argument made here is that the offices of prophets and apostles have ceased because the church has been established:

11And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13until 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.

This point is more well explained in my previous post, so I’ll be brief here.  Basically, it is bad Biblical hermeneutics to pick two offices out of the five Paul mentions in the same breath and say, “those have ceased!”.  If those two have ceased because of the establishment of the church, then all five have ceased because Paul lists all five together.  The only reason a cessationist will say that the offices of pastor, teacher and evangelist hasn’t ceased is because it’s obvious they haven’t!  They use the passage when it supports their position (apostle and prophet) but ignore it when it doesn’t (pastor, teacher and evangelist). 

Also, Paul tells us when these office will ceased and, I’m sorry, but looking around at the church today we have not attained the unity of the faith and are not mature men “to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ”.  That is not the Church today.  So just by a plain reading of the text, it’s clear that Paul is not talking about the current church as to when the gifts will cease. 

Remember, I agree that the office of prophet and apostle have ceased, but that’s just not what this passage says.

Another argument used to support cessationism is that if you read the New Testament, the only people who perform the gifts of tongues, prophecy and healing are either Jesus, the Apostles, or those the Apostles laid hands upon to give the gifts. 

The ironic part is that if really doread the New Testament, Scripture doesn’t support this position.  There are a few instances (Acts 8, Acts 19…to name the ones I remember off the top) where those who receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands immediately begin speaking in tongues and prophesying.  However, Scripture never says that the laying on of hands imparted Spiritual gifts.  This is an non-Biblical idea.  In fact, there are two cases in the Book of Acts that render this position irrational. 

Stephen and Philip weren’t apostles, they were deacons, and didn’t receive the Holy Spirit through the laying of hands (as far as we can tell) and yet could perform “signs and wonders” (Acts 6 for Stephen and Acts 8 for Philip).  In Acts 10, Cornelius becomes the first purely Gentile convert to Christianity.  Peter isn’t even done speaking, doesn’t lay hands on them or baptize them and Cornelius and his family and friends receive the Holy Spirit and begin speaking in tongues and prophesying. 

Conclusion

I look in the history of the church, and the current state of the church, and I see that the office of prophet and healer has ceased to exist.  I look in the Scriptures and I find that I can’t say the gifts have ceased.  I see clear guidelines in how to use them and discern what is actually from the Spirit and what isn’t. 

I also see that Paul emphasizes one gift over all others:  Love.  We should not focus on, pray for or consider important any other gift besides love.

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12 Comments on “Why I’m Mostly a Cessationist”

  1. S.Lim Says:

    Eric,

    Well, you know what Paul said, “Pursue love AND desire (zeloo) spiritual gifts…” What does ‘zeloo’ meant? Sitting down haplessly wringing our hands at historical facts? He did not say it just once.

    Supposing we know from the Scriptures that God desires ‘A’ to happen, and it depends on us to ‘zeloo’, but against this is that we see ‘B’ all around. ‘A’ is the Scriptural truth, ‘B’ historical and current facts, but what do we do? Can we take up Antipas’ cry, “then Antipas is against the whole world!” and do something about it?

  2. Eric Kemp Says:

    S.Lim

    I have a question about your position . . . are you saying that gifts and healing and prophecy (telling the future) should be done just as they were in the New Testament? And if you are saying this…then why don’t we have healers and prophets today? And if we do have healers and prophets today, can you point me in the direction of one?

  3. DB Says:

    Yes, Eric, this has been our question on this issue as well! If these gifts do remain, then why have we never experienced them, in a non side-show fashion: televangelist’s marsh gas types?

    The same could be asked of tongues. I’ve heard people speak in “tongues,” over the years, but they couldn’t interpret, so they shouldn’t, if the tongues were legit, have been speaking in public, according to Paul.

    And yet, maybe it’s our lack of faith that has accumulated over seventeen hundred years of man’s dead religion, as opposed to the spirit led life in abundance of Christ? I don’t know!

  4. Eric Kemp Says:

    DB

    I have heard, from brothers that I trust, of the gift of tongues being used correctly. A worship service was being conducted, someone spoke out in tongues, then another, then one more and the pastor stopped the worship and the tongues (three, just as Paul says in 1 Cor 14), and asked for a translation. If there was one, then the tongues could continue, if there wasn’t, then no one could do so anymore. They waited twenty minutes. I forget if there was a translation or not, but the point is, is that there is a correct way of doing these things and discerning if it is from the Spirit or not. It is up to the office of pastor-teacher to regulate these things and if you are attending a church where the pastor doesn’t follow Scripture in that area, it’s time for a quite exit.

    And yet, I have never heard, from anyone of any repute, that the office of healer or prophet continues today. Has anyone?

  5. DB Says:

    And yet, I have never heard, from anyone of any repute, that the office of healer or prophet continues today. Has anyone?

    I haven’t. But, I believe and hope, especially with prophecy, that there are such gifts left. I believe that the revelation (not the book) of God is an ongoing process, and that each of us who are seeking Him are being exposed to this revelation. I have also seen the power of prayer change and heal lives.

    I wonder if it could be that the spiritual gifts are spread out, over all, among the Body of Christ now, and therefore, not as singular and visible as they were 1900 years ago?

    Just a note: I may have sounded clinical or even cynical with my statement on tongues, I wasn’t meaning to be. In fact, some of the people I have loved the most, in the Lord, over the years, have spoken in tongues. They were loved by and loved the Lord!

  6. S.Lim Says:

    Eric and all,

    To answer the question “are you saying that gifts and healing and prophecy (telling the future) should be done just as they were in the New Testament?”
    If the Faith that was once and for all committed to the saints is not changeable by any force of history, why not? If we have received exactly what the 1st gen Christians received, why not?

    Your 2nd and 3rd Q is a bit more difficult to answer. There are two distinct gifts ‘healing’ and ‘prophecy’. Than there is that issue of ‘office’. There is also a personal issue.

    It needs be asked, ‘what do we expect of prophecy or healing?’

    Most Cessationists insist on the understanding that every prophecy is equivalent to Scripture. Yet that cannot be the case. Let’s look at 2Thess 2:5-7. No one can understand this passage definitively to day. Why? Because it requires some other bases never recorded as Scripture for us (vs5). So, not every revelation became Scripture. Therefore:
    Not all revelation = Scripture.
    Scripture NE all the revelation there is or can be.

    But prophecy = revelation, is that not correct? And revelation does not necessary have to do with future? Thus Paul spoke of ‘exhortation, encouragement and comfort.’ What I mean prophecy also reveals God’s exhortation, encouragement and comfort for the Church or for the individual. Here is one example in Scripture: Col 1:8, the ‘saying’ of 2 Tim 2 is another in the form of a charismatic poetry or song. Here is one from the OT: 1Chron 12:18 (similar to Col 1:8?). It is not all foretelling, there is variety. And the more we restrict prophecy the less of it we will get in quality, quantity, and variety.

    Have you ever had the experienced this that you would be thinking of an issue, only to find the subject being preached later on in Church? Or that a fellow Christian bringing it up also? Being prophetic is basically being sensitive to the Spirit and developing that sensitivity. Its root is basically in how a Christian ought to respond to God. You became a Christian because you had a connection to the Holy Spirit and was convicted. Being sons, you were all prophetic from day one, only you never moved on or think to grow in the ‘connection’.

    Perhaps your not experiencing these is situational. I am sorry I do not have the time to write on healing. The issue of ‘office’ is more important. If you were actually asking about people who have these offices, then I would be the wrong person to ask. For me, there never was any intended in the Bible!

    First, is that the only structural offices of the local church mentioned in the Bible are the ‘Overseer’, ‘deacon’, and ‘elder’. For each of these, there are set qualifications. There is nothing as explicitly set for apostles and the balance of the ‘five ministries’ and for operators of the gifts. We have simply read the idea of office into the charismata.

    Secondly, the ‘classical’ P/C belief holds that the five ministries and the gifts are to be in the ‘rank and file’. In this case they cannot be offices, being intended to be expressible by the whole. They could also of course exist (in various mixes) in the local church offices of overseer, elders and deacons, but they should not be considered offices in their own right.

    The Bible seems to focus on the gifts and ministries, not as offices but as functionalities in the whole Body of Christ that each and every member must perform:
    Eph 4:16, “the whole body”, “every joint”, “every part”
    1Cor 12:7, “to each one”
    1Pet 4:10, “as each one has received a gift”
    Rom 12:3-8, “to everyone among you…”
    To elevate the gifts into special offices is therefore incorrect in the context and goes ‘beyond what is written’. Indeed, in Paul’s analogy of the Church vs the human body, he likened us to ‘members’ of a natural body. No one, as far as we know would associate his hand as an office of his body. There is no office of the hand, another of the leg and so on. It is about being a functional member of the Body and not an office.

    So then, you cannot and should not look for anyone with the office of prophet or healer. God never intended superstars in the Church. The ministries and gifts were to be “by each one for the benefit of all”. Time and time again I see a division of those who seek stardom and those who just want to be entertained. The end result is that Charismaniacs gain ascendancy. So most definitely we should seek the gifts to be operated exactly the way (universal) the apostles wanted it.

    Sorry to be writing so much. There are so many pieces in the jigsaw that I cannot where to start. A man with a completed picture can take a piece and it would seem so self-evident where it should fit, but his brother playing with the jigsaw the first time would not be easy to convince!

  7. DB Says:

    So then, you cannot and should not look for anyone with the office of prophet or healer.

    I’ll speak for myself only here. I am not looking for the “office,” because I believe the “offices” are no longer in effect. If they are, why isn’t the Lord exposing us to these select people. What I am saying is, I believe that the gifts of, in particular, prophesy and healing exist, as I stated above.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your quote here S Lim:

    Being prophetic is basically being sensitive to the Spirit and developing that sensitivity. Its root is basically in how a Christian ought to respond to God. You became a Christian because you had a connection to the Holy Spirit and was convicted. Being sons, you were all prophetic from day one, only you never moved on or think to grow in the ‘connection’.

    Yes, the gifts of prophecy exist (and perhaps others also) through the spirit of God in us! We must learn to reconnect with our spirit (Romans 8: 14), then we can rely on the “mind of Christ!”

  8. Eric Kemp Says:

    S.Lim

    I was planning on leaving you a lengthy and detailed response, but when I read your comment a second time, I realized that I still have some questions about your position that need clarifying.

    I want to say that agree with you on what the word “prophecy” means, or what it is used to describe, in the NT. I also agree with you that that gift, and those who have it, are alive and well and I have personally experienced times when what can only be described as a gift of prophecy has happened right in front of me.

    Are you saying that the office of prophet didn’t exist in the New Testament in the same way it did in the Old Testament?

    I’m using the word “office” to describe someone who did, or is classified, as someone who did a gift “all the time”. For instance, Peter didn’t just heal people, he was a healer. He held the office of healer. Is it your position that this isn’t an actual office that existed in the New Testament?

    Also, deacons and elders were doing “signs and wonders” in the New Testament. It’s obvious that none of this is taking place today. If those offices still exist, and of course they do, then why are deacons and elders still not performing these “signs and wonders” today?

    Of course I agree with your position on the body of Christ . . . with two questions. Are you saying that there is no heirarchy within the body of Christ? What I mean by heirarchy, is not that one member of the body is more “important” or “better” than any other. But that there are those within the body more spiritually responsible before God FOR the rest of the body.

    Also, you said that there are offices of deacon, elder and overseer actually do exist. But then later said, ” There is no office of the hand, another of the leg and so on. It is about being a functional member of the Body and not an office.” This seems to be a contradiction, can you clear this up for me?

    Oh, one more thing that I just saw: you said, So then, you cannot and should not look for anyone with the office of prophet or healer. God never intended superstars in the Church.

    Of course I wouldn’t want to use the word “superstars”, but what would you call Stephen and Phillip? What about Billy Graham? If God did not intend to give more responsibility, reach and influence to some and not to others, then why did he bless their ministries in such dramatic and history altering ways? Calvin? Luther?

  9. S.Lim Says:

    Eric,
    Sorry for such a delayed response.

    “I’m using the word “office” to describe someone who did, or is classified, as
    someone who did a gift “all the time”. For instance, Peter didn’t just heal
    people, he was a healer. He held the office of healer. Is it your position
    that this isn’t an actual office that existed in the New Testament?”

    What do you think? What was Apostle Peter called to be? What was his ‘core’ ministry? I venture that whatever miraculous gifts he had were merely incidental to his main calling. I cannot imagine it in his mind to call himself a healer. The best it can be said is that such an office would only be a perceived one; ‘de facto’, so it is not ‘actual’ or official to my mind.

    “Are you saying that the office of prophet didn’t exist in the New Testament in
    the same way it did in the Old Testament?”

    I admit that I have not make any in depth study on this issue. For now, I can say there are differences and similarities. For example, if a prophet prophesied falsely during the OT times, he could end up under a pile of stones, dead. Today, he could get a television contract! I think in the circumstances of the OT times, it really took a special sort to rise up in genuine prophecy, and that might have some impact on the ‘office’. But in the NT, prophecy was encouraged without this threat of death, making me cautious to the idea of making them equal to the OT prophets.

    “Also, deacons and elders were doing “signs and wonders” in the New Tetament.
    It’s obvious that none of this is taking place today. If those offices still
    exist, and of course they do, then why are deacons and elders still not
    performing these “signs and wonders” today?”

    They selected their deacons and elders differently (Acts 6:3-8). Note of the 7, little is testified of 5, showing that in those days, not every deacon was like Stephen. Today, we have redefined ‘full of the Spirit’ and expect the same results!

    Like I said, Eric. These are the offices proper having clear qualifications laid down. But none included charismata as part of the qualification. These offices emphasized on character and also imply study. The qualifications for these offices had to rise above the presence of the ‘common’ charismata. The charismata were by and for all in the Body. Even ‘problem Christians’ can operate the gifts, as the Corinthian epistle attests. But these despite the charismata they can perform cannot hold the offices. Thus the charismata are incidental to these offices only.

    Now if you look at the case of healing by elders in James 5, I cannot see this to be definitely the use of the charismatic gift in 1Cor. It seems to suggest that even if the elders do not have the charismatic gift of healing they can still heal supernaturally by virtue of their ordained authority (symbolized in the bottle of oil). And this ‘authority’ issue is important. For me I see a difference between ‘grace to heal’ of the charismata and ‘authority to heal’ of the offices. The twelve Apostles were also able to heal outside of the use of the charismata based on the authority given in Matt 10:1 BEFORE they received the Spirit at Pentecost.

    So I did not reckon the offices of the elders and deacons ‘charismata’ and did not fit them into Paul’s ‘body’ analogy. If we must fit them in that, I have to admit to contradictory belief!

    “Are you saying that there is no hierarchy within the body of Christ?”

    I think you can see from the above, that I have a strong view of the authority of elders (inc the Overseer, an elder himself). These were commanded by Paul to be set up. Therefore the necessary Divine authority behind these appointments should not be disputed. But it is an upside down hierarchy compared to the World’s. In Christ, the lowest servant is the greatest of all.

    Have a nice weekend.

  10. Eric Kemp Says:

    S.Lim

    No problem in taking a bit to get back to me. There is no rush.

    Quick question before I respond; What do you mean when you use the term “charismata”?

  11. S.Lim Says:

    Eric,
    My use of the term included the sense used in: Romans 11:29, 1 Pet 4:10, Eph 4:7, besides the usual 1Cor ‘s. Crucial to my definition is that according to Rom 11:29, whatever gifts God gave to support His calling of the Church, once given cannot cease to exist though they may be rendered impractical. Those ‘irrevocable gifts’ are what I meant by ‘charismata’. If they can be revoked, then there are not charismata by my understanding of Rom 11:29. It is possible to consider ‘the Word of God’ as a charisma according to this sense.

    I hope this helps. Would appreciate if you think there is a better definition or correction.

  12. Sirius Says:

    See, this is why I identify myself as a charismoderate.

    ;]

    -Sirius Knott


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