Why I am not a Cessationist? And…What am I?
Cessationism Defined: I define cessationism as the idea that the gifts of the spirit (See 1 Cor. 12, Romans 12:3-8 etc.) ceased when the Apostles of Jesus Christ died (the last was somewhere around 95A.D.)
When I was a younger Christian, I was often debating other Christians regarding if the gifts of the Spirit were still around. Some in these groups will sometimes quote 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 to back their view up which says, “Love never ends. As for Prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (ESV).
My main reason for disagreeing (agreeably) with these awesome Christian brothers and sisters of mine is for many reasons. But one of them is that the Christians Paul is writing to were not Apostles, and many would have outlived the Apostles. Thus, if Paul’s advice was to be at all relevant for that church, he had to have assumed the gifts were possible beyond the Apostles themselves.
Moreover, it seems difficult to say that the gifts passed-away because perfection has come, without also saying that knowledge itself has passed-away (See the verses above). Gifts and knowledge are mentioned together. Therefore, I think there is good reason to leave in God’s hand the power to gift his people with a variety of gifts or graces (as the Greek implies) still today.
There is of course more to the whole story. The reason Paul orders his words in chapters 12, 13, and 14 the way that he does is because the Corinthians were divided over so many things. Paul needed to show them that the “gifts” were only a means to an end and were not the end itself. The end (and the greatest means as well) is Love (see 1 Corinthians 13), and the Corinthians were having plenty of trouble in that department.
This brings me to some other questions which surround this discussion and were dealt with in the first centuries of the church which may help clarify my own thoughts some.
Why I am not a Corinthian? I use “Corinthian” here as an identifier for the type of spirituality that is contrasted to Paul (which best represents historical-biblical Christianity). Corinthian Christianity was dis-ordered and competitive and divisive in so many ways. I simply stand with Paul the Apostle and historical Christianity on this one (See the whole of 1 Cor. 14). We do not want to be Corinthians. 😊
Why I am not a Montanist? Montanism was a group that broke off from the church and pursued undiscerned prophecies in the 2nd century. The movement seems to have started as a renewal movement within the church, but eventually their break away led to their demise. They started pursuing the experiences themselves, rather than the one who gifted them with the experiences. They ended up prophesying when the end of the world would come and eventually disbanded. We do not want to be Montanists. 😊
Why I am not a Gnostic? Gnostics had a variety of spiritual experiences, and some even claimed to be Jesus followers. However, these groups devalued the physical in their search for the spiritual. Biblical Christians did not, as they always affirmed the goodness of the physical world God created. Moreover, Gnostics believe in ‘secret’ spirituality and prophecies and more. Christians however have always taken the public route which gives the ability for group wide discernment on prophecies. Certainly, we do not want to be Gnostics. 😊
Why I am not a Pentecostal? Let me begin by saying that Pentecostals (at least in their official doctrinal statements) are full-fledged members of the Body of Christ, whereas Montanists and Gnostics are not. Pentecostals believe all the essential items as found in the historic creeds, and there are many great Pentecostal Churches. I know and love many Pentecostals and will always link arms for the cause of Christ. With that said, Pentecostals have at least one theological distinctive, and that is the idea that if one has been Baptized in the Holy Spirit, that the initial evidence of that baptism will be that they speak in other tongues. This also often means that if one does not speak in other tongues that they are not baptized in the Holy Spirit.
My reason for disagreeing with this is because the doctrine was never taught by the apostles or their successors or anyone else for that matter for 1900 of the 2000 years of Christianity. This is a very recent viewpoint which arose in a small Bible College in Kansas. This aspect of Pentecostalism has certainly had powerful experiences, and many stand as great Gospel preachers. For this we can be grateful. However, on this one doctrine (called the initial evidence) their teaching is incorrect and does have large implications for Christian practice and ministry focus. The correct view to hold is that God himself gets to distribute whichever gifts he wants to whomever he wants and is not limited to that one gift in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. There is much to learn from our Pentecostal family members, but on this one item we should agreeably disagree.
Now, if we flip the above around to more affirmative statements…I will share what I am.
I believe the gifts (or graces) of the spirit are still around today. I believe the Apostles were the unique witnesses of Christ, and because of that they are set apart as THE representatives of Jesus Christ and have set the foundation of doctrine as found in the Scripture. I also believe that we too can rely on the same Holy Spirit that they relied on for ministry and life. We can see this throughout the entire book of Acts.
I believe in ordered (see 1 Cor. 14:33 and 14:40) Christianity that can use the gifts to drive us forward to the greatest gift, which is love (see 1 Cor. 13:7-8). Gifts/graces are instrumental. They are used as a ‘means to an end.’ They are not an end in themselves. Also, I do not believe anyone alive today (or tomorrow) should try prophesying when end of the world will come. This is a bad idea and if anyone does, we should RUNNNN!!!! 😊 Lol.
I believe in discerning or “testing” all spiritual activity and not just giving a pass because it has the label “God” on it (1 Thessalonians 5:21). There has always been fool’s gold and we should not want it. At the same time, just because there is fool’s gold, does not mean we should forget about gold in general.
I believe that God gets to decide who gets what gift and when (1 Corinthians 12:11). We should give God glory for whatever he has given us and be grateful for the many and diverse gifts he has placed in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).
Finally, I shepherd with the idea of Holy Spirit realization. Namely, that no matter where one finds themselves in their walk with God, as a mature believer or as a new believer, each person can keep realizing the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. This puts all members of the church on the same level ground. This keeps us all equal, all part of the same organic body (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-26). We need all of God’s gifts to make up the body of Christ, not just those that are in vogue on any one given year.
As an historical extra, you might be interested to know that the early Church experienced quite an influx of false prophetic individuals in the 1st and 2nd centuries. These people were taking advantage of God’s church in several ways. Some of these were complete fakes and others were lost in ecstatic visions. Each typically gathered followers and took advantage of people’s pocketbooks. The book of 1st John is in part a response to this, and he developed some hard tests for spiritual activity. This goes on however even after the last Apostle dies. Christian leaders were developing tests between true and false prophets to help protect their churches. In fact, this was one (of many) influences that pushed the church in the earliest days to install Pastors and Elders in all local churches.
Well, enough of history. To close, if someone ever asks me for my view on this subject, I will say that I have the exact view of the Apostle Paul. In 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 we read…
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” There is of course tension in this view of Paul’s. He says both, “Do not quench” and “test everything.”
I say the same. I am Pauline.
If you are interested in exploring these subjects more, I recommend at least two books:
“Quenching the Spirit” by William DeArteaga
“Keep in Step with the Spirit” by J.I. Packer