Cessationism

13 Mar

Are the miraculous gifts for today?  Like baptism, except probably even less so, this is not a cardinal doctrine of Christian faith.  It does not affect one’s salvation as such.  As a former pentecostal, with deep ancestral roots in that tradition, the contemporary use of miraculous gifts was of particular importance to me.  After much study on this issue as a layman, I’ve come to a cessationist, albeit a ‘soft’ cessationist, position on this doctrine.  A book that really helped, one that was fair in argument and tone, was Anthony Hoekema’s What About Speaking in Tongues? Also, in preparation for teaching 1 Corinthians 14 in adult Sunday School, I examined this issue fairly thoroughly some months back.  You can see my study and teaching notes here: 1 Corinthians 14 Tongues.

I discovered that both sides (continuationists and cessationists) often inaccurately characterize the position of the other side in the following ways:

Cessationsts make a mistake when they charge contintuationists of rejecting the protestant doctrine of sola scriptura, that the scriptures alone are God’s infallible inerrant sufficient word to man.  The best of continuationism does not do that (Wayne Grudem and his systematic theology is an excellent case in point).  Continuationists usually do not teach that experiencing the miraculous gifts is a necessary ingredient of either justification or sanctification either.  Continuationists, by and large, do not believe that Christians must experience the miraculous gifts in order to be ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit (they know that this comes at regeneration)

Continuationists make a mistake when they charge cessationists of rejecting the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, when they assume that cessationism is only a result of inexperience or ignorance of the miraculous, when they assert that cessationists do not believe in or pray for miracles or healings, when they associate cessationism with weak faith, and son.

Soft cessationism asserts that God no longer uses the miraculous gifts in the ordinary life of the Christian or the Christian church.  The purpose of the gifts was to authenticate and validate and point up the ministry of the Apostles, upon whom the faith is built.  Once their work was complete, inscripturated, and canonized in the bible, scripture itself provides all that is needed for matters of faith and practice, to make man right and holy before God.  Moreover, Paul makes it clear that the miraculous gifts and the pursuit thereof must occur, if it occurs, outside the context of corporate worship (1 Cor. 14).  However, as God sees fit, He may use the miraculous gifts or other signs and wonders for his own purposes, for the edification of the church, perhaps to compensate for a Christian life suffering from spiritual decay or immaturity, or perhaps to compensate for an upstart Christian community that does not have access to the full Word of God or sound biblical teaching.  Basically, though God has not entirely ruled out the use of the miraculous gifts, a normal ordinary healthy Christian life and church does not “need” them to be holy and happy and effective in Christ’s Kingdom.

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