Cessationists, as the name suggests, believe something has ceased. Something that was present or true in biblical history is not true in our day, and is not to be expected or sought. For a cessationist, that something is the presence of miraculous gifts and signs and wonders which we believe were unique to the apostolic era.
a) This is not a question of what God can do. God is able to all His holy will at any time or place.
b) This is not a matter of changeableness in God. God can change His methods in dealing with men (and often has), without requiring His nature and character to change.
Principles to agree on, before the debate can be fruitful:
1) Miracles are not self-authenticating. Just because a miracle occurs, does not mean it has authenticated its origin, purpose or validity.
2) Scripture is sufficient to explain Christian faith and practice.
The cessationist debate does not hinge on a few verses in 1 Corinthians or an isolated text here or there. The debate revolves around our understanding of the book of Acts.
Is the book of Acts to be understood as a normative description of Christian faith and practice for all churches everywhere? Is it to be understood as a description of a transitional phase?
Consider the differences:
|Old Testament through Gospels||New Testament|
|Priests, Kings, Prophets, Rabbis||Elders|
|Israel||Jews and Gentiles|
How do these changes occur? The book of Acts is the answer. To achieve this, Acts contains at least three major turning points – Acts 2, 10, and 19.
Which group of people is common to each of these events? The apostles.
Consider the uniqueness of the apostolic office.
Unique place – Revelation 21:14 14 Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb
Unique role – Ephesians 4:11-12 11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ
Ephesians 2:20 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone,
Ephesians 3:5 5 which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets
Unique number. The number of twelve is significant. Twelve tribes of Israel – to twelve apostles. They are the transitional figures of the new people of God.
Unique ministry – They are responsible for the primary written and prophetic revelation during this time. They seem to be responsible for the primary acts of the miraculous. The churches in which the miraculous occurred were established by an apostle.
Acts 2:43 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
2 Cor. 12:11-“the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience and signs and mighty deeds.”
Heb. 2:3-4 – God authenticated the ministry of the apostles with signs, wonders, etc., and at least with some kinds of spiritual gifts.
The confirming is not for the message, but for the Apostles. If that is the case, once the Apostles had been authenticated, then there is no ongoing need for the signs and wonders to be repeated. At the latest, you will have miraculous gifts no later than the death of the Apostle and the apostolic churches to which they ministered. The last of the Apostles died ~ 100 A.D. People who responded to John’s ministry near the end of his life might live into the middle of the 2nd century. You do find references to miraculous gifts in some of the very early church fathers, as late as Irenaeus. He says that within living memory there have been prophecies and resurrections.
What items were found in connection with apostolic ministry?
– A staggered experience of the baptism of the Spirit – the 3 key transitions of the book of Acts (2, 10 and 19)
– Miracles- healings & resurrections
– Prophetic revelation (foretelling & forthtelling)
– Tongues & its interpretation
Were the apostles unique? They were uniquely chosen, with a unique purpose: to guide the transition from Israel to church. For such a massive transtion, which included additional Scripture, the men overseeing the transition, and writing that Scripture required much miraculous confirmation. If the signs and wonders were unique to the apostles, and the apostles were unique men used for a unique purpose, then the debate is essentially over.
What about modern-day phenomena?
1) They are not self-authenticating. They must submit to Scripture and reason.
2) The burden of proof is on those who claim such things to explain their place in Scripture and church history, since the phenomenon is new.
3) The use of prophetic gifts often contradicts, or stands in contrast to, written Scripture. The offices of prophet and pastor cannot co-exist except in a transitional period.
4) The use of modern-day tongues often violates the prescriptions given in 1 Cor 14.
5) Scripture has several warnings about misleading prophecies and supernatural occurrences (1 John 4:1, 2 Thes 2:9, Mt 7:22-23)