What Is It: Cessationism
In this What Is It series, we are exploring dozens of different topics within the Christian faith that are common, and commonly misunderstood. This series post is an objective overview of the doctrine of Cessationism.
As with every series post, we ask you, the community to play an active role in commenting and providing your understanding.
What Is Cessationism?
Cessationism can be defined as the belief that the office of the Apostle ceased with the last apostle’s death. The Apostolic age, or era, was filled with signs and wonders and delegated authority to establish the church and to spread the gospel. You can read more about Signs and Wonders and Delegated Authority in the What Is It: Signs and Wonders post.
Cessationism believes that the primary purpose of the signs and wonders gifts was to authenticate Apostolic authority and the gospel message. Once the Apostles were gone and the canon of Scripture closed, there was no longer a need for signs and wonders. They ceased.
Cessationists hold to the core tenant that because there are no longer apostles, there are no longer signs and wonders. The signs and wonders gifts were prophecy, speaking in tongues and interpretation, divine healings, and casting out demons.
Primary Arguments for Cessationism
The End of the Apostolic Era
As already stated, the primary argument is the ending of the office of the Apostle. According to established history, the Apostle John was the final original apostle to pass in circa 98 AD.
Like the prophets of old, the Apostles came with authority to establish God’s will. In this case, the New Testament church, or Body of Christ.
It is Biblically accurate to state that the original Apostles were directly called by Jesus Christ for this purpose. And that Jesus gave them direct authority to perform signs and wonders. We read about this in Matthew 10:1-4, and Luke 6:12-16.
Finally, there is no direct indication in the Bible that additional Apostles are or will be called. Matthias replaced Judas as a chosen Apostle in Acts 1:21-26, but there are no further incidents of new Apostles.
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The foundation of the church was laid by the Apostles. Likewise, the canon of Scripture is closed. Therefore, the argument is that if those two things are true, the office of the Apostle has ended.
Scripture indicates the end of Signs and Wonders
Cessationism argues that Scripture explicitly and implicitly illustrates the ending of the signs and wonders gifts. Explicitly, the Apostle Paul in his extensive writing on the abuse of the signs and wonders gifts states they will end.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away1 Corinthians 13:9-10
From the Cessationist point of view, the perfect to come was/is the closed canon of Scripture and the full revelation of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, this position holds to the absolute infallibility of Scripture. Likewise, it is the complete revelation and no further extra-Biblical revelation is needed or forthcoming. (2 Peter 1:19)
Implicitly, the Bible seems to indicate a decrease in the quantity of the signs and wonders gifts. During the life of Christ and the early Church, healings were common.
Secondary Arguments for Cessationism
The Form and Nature of Signs and Wonders
One distinction made from the Cessationist standpoint is that Jesus and the Apostles had the delegated authority of God. (Matthew 10:1) In other words, they did not ask God to heal, they had the power to heal themselves. Furthermore, Christ chastised his Apostles for not recognizing this power and using it.
This also leads to the question as to why certain individuals were not healed. In the Pauline pastoral epistle, Paul recommends Timothy use wine for his physical ailments rather than be healed in 1 Timothy 5:23.
The Abuse/Misuse of the Gifts
Another secondary argument from the Cessationism perspective is that the modern signs and wonders gifts do not mirror Biblical gifts. For instance, in today’s Pentecostal and Charismatic circles, prophecy is no longer being defined as infallible and inerrant. Cessationists argue that just as the Old Testament proclaims Prophecy must be inerrant, so too should prophecy today. (Deuteronomy 18:22)
Furthermore, healing is now up to the faith of the one being healed instead of the power of the healer. This allows faith healers to say that potential failures in their ministry were the fault of another.
Finally, the act of speaking in tongues no longer needs to be a human language. Today, the Pentecostal and Charismatic groups extol glossolalia (unknown or non-human language, or babble) rather than the Biblical xenoglossy (known human language that can and will be interpreted).
A common example is the events of Topeka, Kansas in 1901 at Charles F. Parham’s Bible college. Here, Agnes Ozman is credited as being the first there to speak in tongues. Parham stated that Agnes spoke in Chinese for 3 days and even wrote in Chinese. However, her published writing shows no Chinese characters.
Does the Spirit still operate today?
During my studies and in teaching classes on Biblical topics I have discovered one thing to be true: Most Christians do not understand what Cessationsim (and many other topics) teaches. While this article is not to prove whether or not Cessationism is right or wrong, I do want to clarify the position.
The most common oppositional argument (which will be covered in the next article on Continuationism) to this theological stance is that Cessationism implies God no longer performs miracles. Or that the Spirit is no longer in operation.
However, Cessationism does not teach this. Most, if not all Cessationists pray for healing, and they pray for miracles. They believe miracles still take place, with the chief miracle among them being individual Salvation. Thus, cessationism fully believes that the Holy Spirit is still in operation today.
The key distinction of this position is that the Apostolic Signs and Wonders gifts (Tongues, Prophecy, Divine Healing) ended with the passing of the Apostles.
Finally, the teachings of Paul in 1st and 2nd Corinthians on the spiritual gifts of tongues, prophecy, and healings do not run contrary to the position of Cessationism. This is because Paul was an Apostle, and he was active/writing during the Apostolic era.
In Acts 15 Paul was in Jerusalem among the other apostles, he traveled with other Apostles and even contested other Apostles. Thus, when Paul said to desire prophecy, he meant it. A cessationist does not believe this discredits the position of Cessationism.
Do you believe the office of the Apostle has ceased? Do you believe that means the signs and wonders gifts ceased with them? Should we accept any alleged gift if it doesn’t match the Biblical example?