Why I am a Cessationist (Reprise)

DisclaimerI would like to begin this post with a couple disclaimers; 1) I believe there are many beloved brothers and sisters in Christ on both sides of the cessationist vs. charismatic debate – so don’t take this as indictment of anyone’s salvation. 2) This is a short blog post not an extended treatment of every argument for or against either position – so please show grace towards the limits of what is being shared. And now back to our regularly scheduled blog post.

While I was attending seminary and again more recently in some further academic endeavors, I was tasked with stating my position on what many call the “sign gifts” found at work within the pages of the New Testament. What follows is an amalgamation of those responses edited for sharing here at Parking Space 23.

The many churches my family visited during my childhood practiced speaking in tongues, the laying on of hands for healing, and preaching that God wanted all believers to be wealthy. [1] As an adult I hardly ever attended any religious services, and when I did they were usually not very religious at all as they were part of a military ceremony. That is until I was saved in 2003, after that the Lord graciously placed my family in church unlike any church I had ever visited as a youth. However, it was not until I was completing a seminary degree that I actually began to be able to connect the dots to complete the picture of why it is I am a cessationist and not a charismatic. A visit to each of these dots will take you through the same journey I traveled in a much truncated manner, by primarily focusing on the Third Person of the Trinity. This will be accomplished by examining His ministry in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the transition of the Messianic era to the Church Age.

What is primarily seen throughout the Old Testament is a very specific role of the HolyOT Scroll Spirit in equipping people for very special tasks. Examples of this are seen starting in the life of Joseph in Genesis 41:38, and especially in the provision of the knowledge and skills required to complete the construction of the Tabernacle (Ex 31:3 – 5). This same type of empowerment is also viewed in the enablement of the Judges – e.g. Gideon and Sampson (Judges 6:34; 14:5 – 6; 15:14 – 15) – as well as the prophets of Israel. One must never overlook that this mission-specific enabling was often temporary –both Sampson and Saul had the enablement of the Spirit removed from them due to sin – and does not indicate regeneration. All of this is not presented in order to demonstrate that the Spirit was not working to regenerate sinners for this ministry of the Spirit is found in the lives of such believers as Ruth, Naaman (2 Kings 5: 15 – 17), Rahab and even the Ninevites. However, in the Old Testament the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of sinners is found to be more in the background while his working in the special area of enabling is found in the foreground.

In the New Testament on the other hand we start to see a transition of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is best seen in the Gospel of Luke where Luke is detailing by way of an historical account the transitional period from the Messianic/apostolic era to the Church age. During this transition the Spirit is found to “come upon, rush upon, come over” people in much the same way he did in the Old Testament.

In way of contrast, after the church is established at Pentecost and immediately thereafter, Luke begins to indicate that the filling of the Holy Spirit is more of a disposition of being controlled by the Holy Spirit and not a particular enablement (Acts 6:3, 5; 7:55; 11:24; 13:52). Paul likewise continues this concept that filling of the Spirit is an issue of control and not enablement. This concept is probably best demonstrated by the contrast Paul makes between being filled with the Spirit and being filled with wine (Eph 5:18). The emphasis here is the choice of the agent by which the individual will be controlled.

I have never doubted there are spiritual gifts given to believers individually or to thegifts church as a whole. I have always based this understanding on Scripture because it specifically states that are “varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Cor 12:4) and that Christ “gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers” (Eph 4:11). But what I have always been determined to know is how are the gifts given and to what end? So it is not that I disagree with my charismatic brothers and sisters that there are spiritual gifts, just about what those gifts are and to what purpose do they glorify God by edifying the Church. However, I must conclude with Ryrie that any claim of possession or exercise of a “sign gift” must be held up to the lens of Scripture to determine if what is at work today is what was at work in the narratives depicting such out workings of the “sign gifts” — especially tongues. [2] I have found that when I apply this metric consistently, I cannot conclude what is happening in many churches today is the same as what is observable in Scripture.

[1] These practices are representative of a blending of charismatic practice and the false Prosperity Gospel. It should be noted that not every Church which practices Charismatic Theology is guilty of engaging in the damnable doctrines of the Prosperity Gospel.

[2] Charles C. Ryrie, The Holy Spirit, Rev. and expanded. ed. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1997), Ch 16 – 21, with a special emphasis on Chapter 17 which deals with the phenomenon of speaking in tongues.

  • Jason

    Amen Andy! Thanks for this. I agree with your assessment. Often I find myself pondering, “Could the gifts still exist today?” The argument for why those have ceased is weak. But are the “sign-gifts” being practiced today those same gifts described in the NT? I have a hard time saying yes. Tongues was a known, language (Acts 2) and prophecy had to be true or the prophet was discredited and considered a false prophet. . . . The fallible prophecy explanation is horrible!