What if Cessationism is Wrong?

When it comes to continuationists of the reformed or at least gospel-centred ilk it is appropriate and wise to place the matter of the gifts in the secondary issue box. I love the warmth and genuineness expressed in Mahaney and the fire and passion in Piper. However, I recently shared an article Shreiner wrote called “Why I am a Cessationist”, and the discussion that followed got me thinking. While the doctrine is secondary and should not create division in the body the implications of this doctrine are rather huge.

Unless you are from the real extreme of charismania where you believe whatever is peddled from a stage, you have to concede that the quantity of supernatural manifestations of the kind we are speaking and the nature of these manifestations are far less frequent than in the Gospels or Acts. In John 14:12 Jesus said “”Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.” Now the issue of who this was promised to aside, does greater mean quantity or quality? The Greek can mean both of those. How anyone could do a greater quality of work than Jesus is hard to understand. Jesus raised the dead, walked on water, ascended into heaven, cast out demons, and calmed a storm with a word… I mean what is qualitatively greater that we could do? We definitely don’t see the Apostles doing qualitatively greater things, so unless our reasoning is that it skipped a generation and waited for the 21st century to allow us to astral project or turn into super saiyans level 5 or something of the sort, I have a hard time thinking that Jesus meant qualitatively greater.

On the other hand if it means quantitatively greater then continuationists have a rather troubling issue to deal with regarding the church. It would then mean for at least 1900 years the tree that grows from a mustard seed and fills the whole earth, the stone that smashes Nebuchadnezzar’s nightmare statue and grows into a mountain that fills the whole earth, the very kingdom of God has for some or other reason grown without any substantial manifestation of supernatural sign gifts. If the reason is that, based on Ephesians 4:30, we have grieved the Spirit, then somehow God has blessed the church and allowed it to grow substantially with a grieved Holy Spirit. Interesting, the criteria for doing the ‘greater works’ was merely believing in Jesus, it did not contain all the criteria mentioned in Ephesians 4, but even there the context does not guide me to think gifts play a role in what Paul was writing about.

Now we can talk about what we hear is happening on a mission field somewhere, or what a friend heard happened somewhere, but this doesn’t fall into either definition of greater works. It is definitely not more in quantity or quality. Could those occurrences just be the hand of a sovereign God in history, but not necessarily the gifting of individuals with particular spectacular sign gifts?

My point here is not to try and prove from history that the supernatural sign gifts have ceased, but more to identify the implications if my continuationist brothers are right. It means that by and large for most of history the church got by without that which was allegedly promised to the church. Or that only small sects sporadically and a couple of missionaries are the only ones who have not grieved the Spirit, or done whatever else can stop the Spirit from imbuing believers with supernatural gifts. Then again He doesn’t seem to mind giving cessationists non-sign gifts like administration, faith, mercy, teaching etc.

I think I could put my thesis more simply by saying this: If the supernatural sign gifts are meant to be normative for the church, why is there any debate as to whether a normative thing actually happens or not? Now don’t straw-man the cessationists, many of us are nice guys and don’t take kindly to be scare-crowed; cessationism does not teach that God can’t do miracles and can’t answer prayer, but rather that the individual gifting for supernatural works were, well like in the book of Acts, generally limited to the Apostles or connected with the destruction of Jerusalem.

  7 comments for “What if Cessationism is Wrong?

  1. February 3, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    Have you read much of Andrew Wilson’s engagement with these sorts of issues? He has an interesting piece here http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/more_charismatic_than_you_think – also see Sam Storms’ piece which is linked in Wilson’s. I’m a tentative continuationist mainly because I find the exegesis by Schreiner to be unpersuasive at certain points. Yet at the same time I tend to think that we’re often having similar experiences and using different language to describe it.

    • Dan
      February 4, 2016 at 2:10 pm

      I am also quite intrigued by the way charismatics interpret church history trying to identify these signs. I haven’t read Storm’s article but intend to. However, I can’t help but feel that Wilson misses the point a bit. As Tyrell pointed out, cessationists believe in miracles and answers to prayer etc, but aren’t we talking about those who claim to have the gift of healing or prophecy etc. Did Augustine believe that an individual, since the death of the Apostles, could be endowed with the ‘gift’ of healing for example? Or take prophecy, would Augustine have allowed for individuals to give ‘prophetic words’ that did not then come true? Would he have considered prophecy on a par with revealed Scripture? I’m just not convinced that the examples Wilson gives from Augustine actually prove that he was basically a charismatic! I look forward to reading Storms version of things.

  2. February 4, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    One important aspect that cessationists (i am one) need to remember, is that God is sovereign & can do as He pleases when it pleases Him.
    He will however never circumvent His Word.
    Many (most) of the aspects of contiuationism are unbiblical, even when it originally was not radical.
    Concerning Scripture, context is important.
    Those who have a hang to take Jesus’ words literally concerning doing greater things that He did, lose the context & tend to become misguided & deceived by deceiving spirits.
    The context is that the Apostles & the disciples had to authenticate their message by miracles.
    Since we now have the canon of the Scriptures, miracles have LARGELY ceased.
    But they still happen – in God’s sovereign will & not driven by human theology & a wrong interpretation of Scripture out of context.
    The generality of speaking in tongues, slain in the spirit, etc is out of context as it becomes a main drive for so-called ‘successful’ ministries, opening these people up for serious deception.
    There are however isolated cases where God sovereignly let someone speak in an unknown tongue, but the hearers could understand – just as on the Day of Pentecost.
    It is not unintelligible gibberish – and not everyone has the gift for all time & age.
    Demons also speak in tongues, as there are Muslims, Hindus, Krishnas & African witch doctors who speak in tongues.
    Therefore, testing the spirits as the Scripture calls us to do, is an imperative.
    Challenge a continuationist on this, & you find he is virtually without exception not prepared to have it done.

  3. Gottfried Sommer
    February 6, 2016 at 9:18 pm

    Still actual:

    Click to access On-the-Cessation-of-the-Charismata-Ruthven.pdf

    BTW Somerset (Sommie) Morkel
    “Therefore, testing the spirits as the Scripture calls us to do, is an imperative.
    Challenge a continuationist on this, & you find he is virtually without exception not prepared to have it done.”
    That’s not true, we have proven this at the following fb group:
    Come and join, if you really think that you do have biblical arguments, what I have seen are mostly a posteriori arguments, based on extra biblical doctrins.

    • tyrellh
      February 7, 2016 at 10:34 am

      Hallo Gottfried. Welcome to the blog and thank you for your contribution. I enjoy the subtle irony of defending extra biblical revelation by accusing the cessationists view of being an extra biblical doctrine.

      • Gottfried Sommer
        February 7, 2016 at 10:52 am

        Thank you, tyrellh?
        So you do agree that the cessationist view is an extra biblical doctrine otherwise you would have pointed to a solid biblical argument for it?
        So lets concentrate on the question if the application of 1Cor. 12-14 for the present church will lead to extra biblical revelation and not to divine revelation in a biblical frame like the divine revelations in the OT and NT which HAVEN’T also inserted in the bible.

  4. February 7, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    Gottfried: i am a member of that group, not active though as i belong to many groups, although there was a time where i did contribute.
    When people argue a point & if the the point is clear, i do not consider it necessary for me to make a contribution as well.
    And in that group all the arguments of both sides as far i can see, have been repeatedly put forward.
    There comes a time where must move on by God’s grace to focus on that which He has called one to do.

    May i just point out that arguing your point viz-a-viz another is not testing of the spirits.
    Often argumentation leads to a hardening of the fronts & it goes nowhere.

    What i regard as a positive point with non-cessationists, is that they take the Bible seriously. They mostly do so, however, without discernment, because they neglect or ignore a basic premise in God’s Word:.

    1 John 4:1: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,
    2. for many false prophets have gone out into the world.By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
    3. but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” (ESV)

    The spirit has to be tested whether is believes that Jesus was the Son of God – something which Satan hates with a consuming hatred.

    That means humbling yourself before the Word of God & allowing brothers to help you test the spirit of eg. tongues. Such spirit is not necessary from God & therefore it has to be tested, which is severely (actually in-toto) lacking in non-secessionist circles today – which means many are deceived.

    It is part of the process of discernment, as the above Scripture warns of falseness, if not done.

    Jesus said of the false prophets: “By their fruits ye shall know them”.

    When we stand on this biblical basis of discernment, we need to take a look at the fruit & test it – & then the spirits divide. Fruit sometimes looks good, but it is rotten inside.

    Pride is a severely rotten fruit. Not subjecting yourself to the Word of God to have the spirits tested, is rooted in pride, which God hates. i have encountered this time & again in ministry, that people refuse it because they say something like “I know it’s the Holy Spirit and I will not have the Spirit in me grieved by testing it.”

    How do they ‘know’ if they have not tested it?
    They don’t – & they are subject to easy deception by demons.

    1. A woman in Germany – who never in her life has been outside of Europe – repents, comes to the Lord & is baptised. She feels she wants to speak in a tongue. She goes to a Pentecostal church & they pray for her by laying on of hands & she receives the gift of speaking in tongues as per the baptism with the Holy Spirit & it is declared as such. During personal Bible study over time, she reads the text noted above & starts praying about her gift. She starts getting uncomfortable with the tongue. She writes it down phonetically & sends it to all language institutions she can think of in Europe (this was before the time of internet, Google translate,etc). None could help her as it is an unknown tongue. The church keeps telling her it is a gift of the Holy Spirit & she will get used to it & that she should continue practicing it. Eventually a German-speaking missionary from South Africa visits Germany & she goes to listen to him. He speaks out against tongues. When she goes to him for counselling, she shows him the text of her supernatural tongue. She was praising King Chaka & the forefather spirits – in fluent Zulu. He prayed for her & she was set free.
    2. In prison ministry i encounter this often that people speak in tongues – sometimes after using dagga (marijuana), but also among the Muslims & the Pentecostal Christians. This Maximum prison (minimum sentence: 15 years) in Pretoria houses 997 inmates. Of them 34 regularly attend Bible classes & Bible study, of which 13 attend the more advanced Bible School, where i am involved. When there is a ‘revival’ by outside churches or whatever, more than 120 additional people usually turn up to sing, jump, clap hands, eat sweets & cookies, & speak in tongues. Afterwards most of them are not seen again until the next ‘revival’. They resist coming to Bible study & Bible School & most of them are known connivers in the prison. One day a Venda prisoner from the Far North of S.Africa came to me. He told me that he had heard a white Christian man speaking in tongues in the cells. The man was supernaturally speaking Venda, which is a difficult language & not easily understood by blacks in SA generally. He was praising the White Crocodile & the secret Vundutsi Lake in Venda where it lives – and where yearly a young maiden is sacrificed to it, to this day.

    i have more examples but these suffice to illustrate the point of how important it is to test the Spirits, in line with the biblical imperative.

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