In my last article, “An Unbiblical and Dangerous Response to Charismatic Craziness,” I set forth some problems with the unbiblical responses to the leadership failures and crazy expressions in Charismatic circles around moving in the gifts of the Spirit.  Some people have responded by adopting a position of “Theological Cessationism,” in which they have adopted a doctrinal belief that the gifts of the Spirit ceased being given by God once the Apostolic age was concluded or the canon of the New Testament was completed.

Other people have adopted a “Practicing Cessationism” in which they mentally assent to believing that the gifts might still be available. Yet, they no longer pursue their practice in reaction to the crazy examples they have seen.  “It is better to leave it alone, and if God wants me to have or move in them, He will do it sovereignly apart from my desires or efforts.”

One of the biggest problems with Theological or Practicing Cessationism is that it is Unbiblical.  No one could pick up a Bible and start reading it and conclude that God is not doing signs and wonders anymore or that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased.  It reminds me of a story of a leader visiting underground churches in China.  He explained to them what church life was like in the seeker-friendly, mega-church circles in the States.  Several of them started laughing, and one of them was waving the Bible and shouted, “How did you get that from reading this book.”  It is a similar phenomenon when we embrace Cessationism; you can’t get it from reading the Bible.

An even bigger problem with a Cessationist approach is that it leads us to disobey the Bible.  All the commands in scripture to “seek after, kindle afresh, desire earnestly, do not despise, etc., moving in Spiritual gifts are disobeyed.  People with a Cessationist posture do not just ignore God’s word but disobey it.

Refuting common arguments for Cessationism

The greatest danger of a cessationist approach to God’s word is that it reduces God’s word to match our experiences instead of the biblical approach of pressing forward to see our experiences align with God’s word.

1. God only moved with miraculous and spiritual gifts and ministries to authenticate Jesus, the early leaders (Apostles and Prophets, etc.), and the early church. He then withdrew their activity.    

This idea’s first and biggest problem is that no scripture indicates this. It is not a biblically-based idea. Spiritual gifts and the supernatural did authenticate the early church, but biblically speaking, that wasn’t their only purpose. Paul indicates that a big reason for miracles, healings, etc., is that they enable God’s people to be useful in helping others and building up His church as they live their everyday lives (1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 14:5-22, Romans 12:1-9).  They are also part of the Kingdom of God being expressed “The Kingdom of God doesn’t exist just in words but in power” (1 Corinthians 4:20).

In the New Testament, many people moved in supernatural manifestations, not just the apostles and prophets (Acts 6:8, 8:6). Paul instructed everyone in the church to desire earnestly and seek to move in Spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).  Even Peter, on the day of Pentecost, quoted Joel 2:28-32 to show the biblical atmosphere to moving in the manifestations of Holy Spirit “God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).

These things are not just for a few “important ministries” to move in, but for the everyday saints, both young and old.   Everyone in God’s house was to experience powerful manifestations of the Spirit. This is the opposite of the cessationist perspective that only sees a small, limited group of “important leaders” as able to move in Spiritual manifestations to legitimize their ministry.

2. The decline of supernatural Spiritual activity after the early church age shows that God was withdrawing them.   

Again, this idea does not have a biblical basis. IT BASES ITSELF ON EXPERIENCE INSTEAD OF SCRIPTURE, WHICH IS DANGEROUS AND UNGODLY.  It is important to remember that we never want to subject the Scriptures (God’s truth) to mankind’s experience.  We want to see our experience measure up to God’s word.

The problem with the logic of basing truth on experience is seen in other areas.  When we look at the history and experience of the church after the Apostolic age, we also see a lack of authentic commitment, worldliness, and corruption that progressively came into the church.  It accelerated on the heels of Emperor Constantine making Christianity the State Religion.  People self-identified as Christians based on other motives (to be seen positively with the Christian culture), which caused a diminished form of Christianity.  Does this mean God withdrew His call to follow the Lord Jesus as disciples who lay their lives down daily?  Did He withdraw this kind of biblical Christianity?  Did He withdraw that type of biblical commitment to Him and His word, and now we can live without it?

It is also good to know that there were documented cases of believers experiencing the manifestations of the Spirit throughout church history. Dr. Sam Storms addresses this argument in his helpful article, “Gifts in Church History,” in which he cites six sources from church history that document manifestations of charismata in local churches between the first and fifth centuries.

These include examples from the writings of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Eusebius, Augustine, and more. If you would like to review some strong refutations of this argument for cessationism, consult Dr. Storms’ articles and other writings on the topic.  There is also a much more extensive work on the power of God and Spiritual gifts continued by New Testament scholar and continuationist Craig Keener, entitled “Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.”

3. Jesus warns us that in the end times, false prophets will work miracles and deceive the elect.  Therefore, we should beware of and not seek prophetic, spiritual, or miraculous gifts. 

There has always been the counterfeit work of the enemy regarding the things of God.  This is why the Scriptures say so much about learning to distinguish between the false and true prophets. Texts such as Matthew 7:15-17,  2 Peter 2:1-22, and 1 John 4:1-6 guide the church to distinguish the false prophet from the true prophet.

Remember that the bible says we are “to desire earnest Spiritual gifts, especially that we would prophecy” (1 Corinthians 14:1-6),  and 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 tells us “do not extinguish (put out, quench) Holy Spirit or despise (minimize or treat them as unneeded) prophetic utterances, but examine them carefully and hold fast to what is good.”

Avoiding the good because of the bad is not sound biblical logic.  The Bible says there will be false teachers in the end times.  Does that mean we should abandon the gift of teaching or never teach anymore for fear of being deceived?

4. The epistles rarely speak of the miraculous gifts.  This proves these gifts passed away toward the end of the first century. 

The line of this argument says that the gifts are not discussed much in the epistles and that we do not find Epaphroditus, Timothy, or Trophimus being supernaturally healed in the letters written toward the end of Paul’s life.

The argument from silence is very weak.  First, the epistles refer to the miraculous gifts in Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Galatians 3:5, Ephesians 4:1-16, and 1 Thessalonians 5:20.  Moreover, there is no explicit command in the epistles to evangelize.  Should one conclude that the apostles had stopped witnessing by the end of the century?  Just because Paul did not heal the three men he mentions in the prison epistles does not mean he had lost his gift of healing.  The Scripture does not say why they were not healed.

Former cessationist Jack Deere points out that there is a contrast between narrative literature and didactic literature.  The Book of Acts is narrative literature.  Luke explained that the purpose of the book of Acts was to tell “about all that Jesus began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1).  Acts is the story of Jesus’ continuing His miraculous ministry through the church.  The epistles are letters written to churches dealing with specific problems.  When the problems related to gifts, as in Corinth, the epistle addressed it.  Otherwise, there was little reason for the gifts to be mentioned.  Yet the epistles also instruct us to desire to move in gifts and stir them up.

There are 47 accounts in the book of Acts of activity attributed to Holy Spirit.  If you took Holy Spirit’s activity out of the book of Acts, 95% of what the church did would cease.  Today, if you took Holy Spirit’s activity out of the church, probably 95% of what the church does would continue.

May we pursue God’s design to move in spiritual gifts and His power and not let any false cessationist logic cause us to disobey His word about seeking more!  

  • Ephesians 5: 18-19 NLT Don’t get drunk with wine…be continually filled with the Holy Spirit (the verb tense of filled is “be continually filled”).
  • John 7:37-39…Jesus stood and cried out, saying, If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink (Thayer’s Greek Definitions, “ let him keep coming to Me and keep drinking from Me.”)  (38)  He who believes on Me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”  (39)  But He spoke this about the Spirit, which they who believed on Him should receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. 
  • 1 Corinthians 12:31  But earnestly desire (“to burn with zeal towards, to exert oneself towards, to zealously seek after”) the greater gifts.
  • 1 Corinthians 4:20 The Kingdom of God doesn’t exist just in words but in power.
  • 1Corinthians 14:1-5  Pursue love, yet desire earnestly (to burn with zeal towards, to zealously seek after) spiritual gifts, but especially (to a greater degree, sooner, especially, more) that you may prophesy… (5)  Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy…
  • 2Timothy 1:7  For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh (“to kindle up, kindle afresh, inflame, like stirring up a fire”) the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
  • Ephesians 1:18-20  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,  (19)  and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might  (20)  which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22  Do not quench the Spirit;  (20)  do not despise prophetic utterances.  (21)  But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.