Yes. I am a Cessationist. What is Cessationism? At the core, Cessationism is a Christian doctrine that certain spiritual gifts, as attributed to the twelve Apostles, such as miraculous signs and wonders, has ceased. These gifts were things like the Tongues we see in Acts 2, spontaneous healings and prophetic visions.
What Cessationism is NOT, is a doctrine that all spiritual gifts have ceased, or that God is not able to do any type of miracles, or that He no longer chooses to. God is sovereign and can at His will do anything, at any time, and nothing is impossible with God. Yet, does He still grant at-will miraculous power to all believers?
A Case for Cessationism
Scripture tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekness and Self Control. Scripture also states that you will be able to identify the followers of Christ, and leaders in the Christian faith, by their fruits.
In modern Charismatic and Pentecostal circles, the almost cult-style following around the supposed signs and wonders (most notably, speaking in tongues) has dramatically shifted the focus of the Christian believer’s life away from the Scripturally defined fruits, to fleshly and in many cases made up emotionally driven or psychosomatic behaviors.
Consider the text of Mark 16:17-18;
These are the signs that will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; even if they drink any deadly poison it will not hurt them; and they will place their hands on the sick, and they will recover. ~ Mark 16:17-18, KJV
These are the signs and wonders, as applied to the Apostles, plus prophecy as later noted, that Cessationism makes the case that has ceased. The simple case is that not all New Testament believers exhibit these signs. That must mean either you must fulfill this entire list to be considered a believer, or that there was a certain set of believers this was intended for.
One of the greatest doctrinal errors (in my own opinion) of modern Charismatic/Pentecostal circles, including and especially the Oneness Pentecostal sect that I belonged to, is serious mistakes in rightly dividing the Word of God. This error, including the belief that all of these signs WILL continue to ALL believers at ALL times, is either a symptom of or the cause for greater doctrinal errors.
So who was Mark 16:17-18 for?
I believe the answer is found in Mark 16:14-15.
Finally he appeared to his eleven disciples while they were eating. He rebuked them for their unbelief and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who had seen him after he had risen. Then he told them, “As you go into all the world, proclaim the gospel to everyone. ~ Mark 16:14-15, KJV
Jesus appeared to the Apostles, then called disciples, and rebuked them for their unbelief. It was this verse that awakens the reality of what Jesus was saying when he spoke of the signs that shall follow (accompany) those that believe. Adam Clarke’s commentary picked up on this belief long before I did.
“The believers, as we express it; i.e. the apostles, and all those who in primitive times were endued with miraculous powers, for the confirmation of the doctrines they preached.” ~ Adam Clark Commentary, Mark 16:17
Here, Jesus was literally saying, “My doubting disciples, you should believe! Because if you do believe (that (I) Christ had been resurrected), these are the signs that shall accompany your belief!”
Following the Gospels and the Book of Acts, we see all of those signs expressed in the Apostles, including raising the dead, being bitten by a serpent, poisoning, healings, prophetic knowledge, etc.
It is noteworthy, that we do not see Scripture saying anything about believers, saints, or otherwise non-Apostles performing these miracles. We do however see a supposed believer wishing to buy the power to perform these miracles, as he was seemingly unable to perform them- in Acts 8 with the character known as Simon the Sorcerer.
As mentioned before, the Charismatic/Pentecostal belief that these signs and wonders continue unrestrained has led to serious doctrinal errors, and I would even say, blasphemes the Holy Spirit. Without understanding the division in Scripture of who these gifts were for, and when they ended leaves the door open to incredibly and patently false practices of supposed supernatural power.
From Benny Hinn knocking over crowds with a swoosh of his jacket, to preachers causing himself and others to become ‘supernaturally drunk’, to so-called holy laughter and making animal noises under the so-called unction of the spirit, to completely false claims of miraculous and always unverifiable healings, to any New Testament saint who wants to believe God gave him prophecies and a ‘Word’, unrestrained error occurs when the simplicity of Scripture isn’t applied to our beliefs and practices.
Drawing the Line between Signs and Wonders and Gifts of the Spirit
There is another text in Scripture that helps us to evaluate Signs and Wonders gifts and whether or not they are for everyone who believes. Signs and Wonders gifts mostly being Speaking in Tongues, the Power to Heal, Prophecies, and the office of the Apostle.
Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? ~ 1 Corinthians 12:29-30, KJV
The rhetorical question here from Paul is simply, ‘Will all have these gifts?’. The obvious and understood answer is no. And when you correctly understand that the Signs and Wonders gifts ended with the Apostles, you stop attempting to make this Scripture say, “Some will heal, while others will be works of miracles, while yet some others will speak in tongues.”
No wonder Paul started by saying, “Are all apostles, or prophets?” Furthermore, when Paul says in verse 31, “But earnestly contend for the best gifts: and yet I show you a more excellent way”, he is not saying that we should be begging God or asking for these gifts. The more excellent way, as Scripture portrays, is the first item listed in the fruits of the Spirit – love.
1 Corinthians 13 is perhaps the most compelling text on Cessationism. Paul starts this Chapter expressing that though he had those sign and wonders power, they are meaningless if he does not have Love, and more importantly that Love is now the entire message.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-2, KJV
The terrible mistake of not correctly dividing the Word of God is that we can read this text and implant (Me) where Paul said (I). This was not another affirmation that (Me) will or could speak with the tongues of men and of angels. It was an affirmation that Paul (I) spoke with the tongues of angels and that Paul (I) had the gift of prophecy, and knowledge, and faith.
Paul states in verse 8 that Charity (Love) never fails while claiming prophecies will fail, and tongues shall cease, and knowledge will pass away. It wasn’t that these things were a flop, or a failure, these signs, wonders, and prophecy – it was that they were used, by God, through the Apostles to confirm the veracity of the Gospel which they preached.
Another ancillary example of the gift of healing ceasing is found in 1 Timothy 5:23 when Paul, addressing Timothy, inserts into his text, almost as a side note, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.” If, as many believe, Paul was speaking to Timothy about health issues, why would Paul not simply heal Timothy? And if Timothy had the Apostolic power of supernatural healing, why did he not simply heal himself?
This is also an extremely important division in Scripture to make – understanding who the signs and wonders were for, and rightly dividing the Acts of the Apostles. There are some who hang their necks (their salvation is based on something that isn’t rightly divided) on the Book of Acts for creating their salvation doctrines but cherry-pick Scriptures without using proper historical and contextual reference points with which to interpret correctly.
As I wrote about in my three-part series The Gospel Transitions from Jew to Gentile we uncovered an incredibly important transition in the Book of Acts. We knew from the commandments of Jesus that the disciples/Apostles were not to purpose their ministries to any but the House of Israel, the Jewish nation. He commanded them in Matthew 10:5-6 not to visit the Gentile nor enter the house of the Samaritan.
Further – Christ himself said he was sent not but for the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 15:24). His ministry, while he entertained the Samaritan woman, was purposed for the Jewish bride alone. It was not until (we see this pattern numerous times) the Jews denied Christ and the Gospel three times (think Peter denying Christ thrice) and the stoning of Stephen in Acts 8 that the Gospel transitioned to the Gentile.
In all cases of the signs and wonders gifts, it was done for the benefit of convincing a Jewish audience that the Gospel was confirmed by God and that it was true. Even in the event of Peter going to Cornelius’ house, when Cornelius and those with him spoke in other tongues, this event was for convincing Peter that the Gospel was now given to the Gentile bride. Cornelius had already been convinced. Its purpose was for confirmation to the Jew (a sign to them that believe) Peter.
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: ~ 1 Corinthians 1:22, KJV
No wonder, that in Acts 16, when faced with the question from the Philippian jailer, “What must I do to be saved?”, Paul did not repeat the pattern of Acts 2:38 nor impress any need for the signs and wonders gifts such as speaking in tongues. Paul did not need to be convinced of the Gospel and the jailer saw the miracle of God working through the shaking of the jailhouse, and believed.
Going back to Mark 16, if we continued to believe that the signs of casting out demons, speaking in tongues, healings, and other miraculous events were to accompany belief, we should observe them in the cases like Acts 16. Now, naturally, we cannot say that every gift was present at every event of belief or salvation, but there are groups that hang their necks on believing some of them are always present.
By way of example, the Oneness Pentecostal movement within the Charismatic system believes that you WILL and indeed MUST speak in tongues in order to be saved, clinging to the signs and wonders gifts. This, of course, took place in Acts chapter 2, at the Pentecost feast, yet again rightly dividing the Scripture we know that the audience was entirely Judaic and this was a great sign to confirm the opening of the New Testament Church. It was not a continuous or repeatable event, under the belief of Cessationism.
The Bottom Line of Cessationism
What we see in Scripture, from Acts 15 and beyond is the gradual cessation of the Signs and Wonders gifts, them being the casting out of demonic possessions, prophetic knowledge, speaking in tongues, spontaneous and at-will miraculous healings, etc.
Take a final scriptural example of how God gave the Apostles power to do wondrous things for the impact and effect of confirming the Gospel;
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? ~ Hebrews 2:1-4, KJV
We are not to neglect our salvation, and how great it is! Which, at first, was opened to us by the spoken word of the Lord Jesus and then was confirmed by them that heard the words of Christ – the Apostles. And they, having been confirmed by God both with signs and wonders and all sorts of miracles, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost as he saw fit to give them, wrote the Scripture, which we now understand to be God’s authentic word of Prophecy for us today.
Scripture does not teach, that all will, and should do the many signs and wonders, miraculous things of healing and prophecy. It was God’s will, through his son Jesus, to confirm the Gospel, through the Apostles by giving them the power of signs and wonders.
Furthermore, what we see in the Charismatic/Pentecostal realm is a gross misuse of the Word to define and defend wayward ministrations and fleshly tricks to stroke the ego of self, rather than edifying the church. John McArthur said in his book Strange Fire, “The Spirit never took pride in self, never took credit for the work he did, rather, he pointed to Christ.” Any true gift of the Spirit will never be used to edify and lift up a person, it will always point back to Jesus.
As Paul said, “So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.” (1 Corinthians 14:9) There must be order and purpose in what we do in worship to God.
Vain babbling in supposed tongues that is not a spoken language nor understood by anyone, nor supernaturally interpreted, erratic body movements or loss of body control, wild screaming, animalistic noises and worship that would confuse those visiting a church (1 Corinthians 14:23) I propose, is not driven by the Spirit of God, but is anti-Christ.
There are many pagan religions who practice many of the same wild and out of control worship styles as the Charismatic/Pentecostals do, such as Voodooism, Kundalini Yoga, Wicca, and more. If you were to view the things done by these groups, you could be left asking the question, “Are these Spirit inspired as well as the Christians that behave this way?”
We would never accept that God would be putting his stamp of approval and confirmation on those religions. Why should we think he approves of those who call themselves Christians behaving in such manners?
So the case for Cessationism is both Scriptural and practical. Scripturally speaking, there is a strong argument for believing that the Signs and Wonders gifts ended with the Apostles. Furthermore, without holding to the Scripture and believing that it is all-sufficient, we open ourselves up to modern revelation and go about accepting things not found in Scripture such as being ‘slain in the spirit’ and wild, out of control spasmatic possession during worship.
I accept that the canon of Scripture is closed – all that God had for this time was given by the Lord Jesus, confirmed by God through the Apostles and written in ink, and that what was written will be illuminated to us by His Spirit, to understand the dividing of Scripture, not to add to it, nor to take away from it. But to trust in it wholly, or not at all.
We are at a crossroad where we must either allow the modern emotionalism and Charismatic circles to recreate the Gospel, through heretic groups like the New Apostolic Reformation, or turn back to authentic and doctrinally sound, historic Christianity and trust in the more sure word of prophecy (Scripture) that was once and for all delivered unto the saints.
Scripturally, a ‘prophet’ was right 100% of the time. Modern-day so-called prophets or those who claim to have been given a prophecy are entirely fallible. If their claim doesn’t pan out, they simply excuse it away as a misunderstanding, undermining God by claiming He couldn’t get it right the first time. Old Testament prophets confronted sin, were specific, they did not use fortune-cookie claims like ‘someone here has a sore back…’, or ‘at some point in the future something good will happen.’
Accepting fallible prophecy and prophets undermines the clear voice of Scripture and provides confirmation for error-prone claims and make-believe doctrines. No – if God wished for these things to continue, He would have said so in His word and he would have continued to provide the empowering gifts to saints throughout the ages. We mock God by thinking for 2,000 years his Gifts were somehow ‘blocked’ by a dark era of Scriptural blindness that requires a modern awakening to reimagine.
Cessationism, at its core, is trusting in Scripture to be completely sufficient and loving God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. (Matthew 22:37) God wants us to be of a sound mind, to have full control of our bodies, to trust in His works of Calvary and to pursue the gifts of the Spirit, earnestly, which is Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekens and Self Control.