October 2, 2014

Why I am a cessationist

by Jesse Johnson

Yesterday I explained that spiritual gifts were God’s way of uniting believers in the church and advancing the gospel through the church. Every believer uses their spiritual gifts when they serve the church for the purpose of building up each other (1 Cor 10:23-24, 1 Cor 12:7).

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But there is an obvious exception to these principles: the sign gifts. By sign gifts I mean the gift of languages, interpretation, the gift of healing, the gift of apostleship, and the gift of miracles. These gifts were not merely examples of people serving the church, but instead they had a much more immediate role: they validated the ministry of the Apostles. This is exactly why Paul called them “sign” gifts (2 Cor 12:12).

Most Christians globally would say that those gifts all continue today, exactly like they did in Acts. I disagree. I think those gifts were given for a period of time and have since ceased—in fact, I believe they ceased before the NT was even completed. This view is called cessationism, and here I want to lay out my case for it.

Before I do so: I know this topic has been beaten to death recently—this isn’t even the first time our blog has done a post like this. Yet some how it keeps getting resurrected (score one for the miracles side, I suppose). Let the coroner’s report indicate that the time of death for this horse was 9 pm on October 1, 2014, and bear with me as I lay out the four reasons I am a cessationist:

  1. Because the sign gifts have ceased

My strongest argument is also the most circular, so I might as well get it out of the way at the front. I believe the sign gifts have ceased, because they are not around anymore. In the NT, people with the gift of healing healed everyone. They drove illness out of the cities they were in. You could touch their handkerchief and be healed (Acts 19:12). Their shadow would do the trick if their hanky was taken (Acts 5:15).

This is not what we see today. Today we see those with the “gift of healing” charging for their time, lying about the results, and staying far away from hospitals. The poor are robed, the desperate are exploited, and the sick die.

Today, if you are sick, you are supposed to ask for others to pray for you, and God may heal you through prayer. That is worlds apart from the handkerchief/shadow method seen in Acts. If someone had the gift of healing today, they really should go to the hospital, clean it out, and preach the gospel while they are at it. Start in the nations with Ebola.

The same is true for the other sign gifts as well. Bata-longa-sota does not count as the gift of languages. When someone once tried to teach me how to speak in tongues, they told me to just let go of my thoughts and repeat the same words over and over again until muscle reflex kicked in. Then I’d be off to the glossia races. Let’s just say, that’s not exactly the gift of languages in Acts 2, 10, and 19.

And of miracles? Apostleship? Even CJ Mahaney walked away from claiming that gift.

Look around the world—I know we all wish it looked more like it did in Acts (minus the beheadings), but the sign gifts that we see in the early church simply are not still in the world today.

In other words, I am a cessationist because the sign gifts are not still here—and their half-hearted prosperity-preaching step-sisters don’t’ count. The sign gifts simply are not here anymore.

Doesn’t count.

  1. Because the function of the sign gifts was to establish the early church

Why did God give the sign gifts to the church in Acts? Because it was a world without elders and a world without the New Testament.

Imagine how unhealthy a church would be if it didn’t’ have elders, and if it didn’t have a NT. This is exactly the situation in Jerusalem, then Corinth, and everywhere the gospel went in those first few decades of missions.

This is why 1 Corinthians 13:11 compares the sign gifts to the infancy of the church. Paul actually calls them childish, not because the gifts were for children, but because they were for the church when the church had not yet “become a man.” People can wrestle over what telios means until the cows come home, but getting over that debate, Paul’s comparison of the sign gifts to childishness is astounding.

Then glide your fingers over to Ephesians 4 where Paul again describes how some of the gifts (and particularly the gift of apostleship) were critical because the church had not yet grown up into maturity.  As it was, the church was “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” I’ll save this for a future post, except to say that the connection between 1 Cor 12-13 and Eph 4 is obvious. Both passages compare the church to a human body, they both describe the sign gifts as given before the church reaches “maturity/manhood,” and they both say that love is what remains when the church grows up.

In other words, the gifts were given to hold the church together until they got some of the NT books, and developed some elders who could preach whatever Scripture they could get their hands on (see also Eph 2:20).

  1. Because the function of the sign gifts was to authenticate the apostles:

In an immature church without the NT and without elders, what would people believe? What would they teach? Who would teach? Who would throw out the heretics, and who would commission the missionaries? Basically it would be a free-for-all, not at all unlike Corinth.

The answer to those questions in the book of Acts was simply: The Apostles. But how do you know who they are? You don’t have their pictures on Facebook. You can’t fax a photo from Corinth to Jerusalem to have this Paul guy checked out (aka: Saul). The function of the sign gifts was to fulfill this purpose (again, see 2 Cor 12:12).

food critic 1

The gifts authenticated the Apostles, and demonstrated to the world that they were the ones Jesus left in charge of his church until elders and the NT arrived. Because those Apostles are dead, churches have elders, and the NT is completed, those gifts have obviously run their course (cf. point 1).

  1. Because the gifts ceased inside the NT

Finally, the NT itself describes the cessation of the gifts. Consider Hebrews 2:3-4:

“It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”

Notice that the author appeals to his readers to remember the time when Jesus spoke, his message was proclaimed by the apostles, and God validated their message by the miraculous gifts. All of this points backwards to a time when that had happened in their past. If those sign gifts were still ongoing in the church, there is no conceivable way to understand these verses. Again, the argument is simply: “Don’t walk away from the gospel, because remember the time when Jesus spoke, and then his followers spoke, and they had the miracles to back it up!”

Earlier I compared how the gift of healing worked in Paul’s life with the so-called gift of healing today. (see: “handkerchiefs” in Acts 19:11-12 vs. TBN). But the truth is, we don’t even need to compare Acts 19 with the present day, when we can instead compare it with 2 Timothy 4:20: “Trophimus I left sick in Miletus.”

And with Trophimus, context is key. These are the last words Paul writes before he dies. He is abandoned, alone, and without his co-workers. He pleads with Timothy to hurry and join him, and tells Timothy that part of his urgency is because Trophimus was too sick to come.

Hebrews 2 and 2 Timothy 4 show that by the time elders had been raised up in churches, and much of the NT was written, the sign gifts had already faded away from the scene. They didn’t end when Revelation was completed, or when John died in isolation. They had run their course long before that.

An audio version of this post can be found here.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Daniel Richardson

    Thankyou for a much needed, well-written piece.

    I fear that there will be a need for this horse to be continually trotted out & flogged so long as we have a church that watches more of TBN et al than it does read it’s Bible.

    Bless ya mate.

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  • Terrence Daugherty

    Don’t forget that people don’t have the ability to “teleport” today either (Acts 8:39). 😛

    • Karen

      I don’t think people had the ability to teleport then either, it was a supernatural event that happened when God touched Phillip. I think that if God wills it, there could be teleporting again.

      • Terrence Daugherty

        It was a joke Karen. No one had or has the ability to do anything miraculous apart from the Holy Spirit. Also, to use your argument, if God wills not to use sign gifts anymore, then He won’t; and as Jesse points out, He doesn’t.

        • Karen

          Oh I see! I don’t always catch jokes online! You’re right, He could will not to do it if He wants and He is God. He doesn’t have to do the sign gifts if He doesn’t want to. I know there have been times when God has said no to my prayers and I need to trust His wisdom. I just think a big blanket statement that God wills to never use those gifts any more is a little hard to make, because how would we know that God wills to never use it ever? Besides, I don’t see in the book of Revelation that the gifts are all gone.

          • Kalev

            that’s why I like this cessationist THEORY. I would be careful to make a DOGMA out of it!

    • Jeff Schlottmann

      I believe john crowder claimed to be on both sides of the atlantic ocean at tge same time. That’s probably something different though.

  • Dan Phillips

    5. Because even “continuationists” are cessationists…unless they’re still writing the Bible.

    • Karen

      I’m not sure what you mean, can you clarify?

  • Karen

    But there are places where you see healings and miracles that God has done through people! Maybe not with hankerchiefs (but I think God could still heal that way, He is an unchanging God who always heals in unexpected ways, like Namaan getting washed in the river), but through the laying on of hands and the anointing of oil. God is still actively healing and I have seen testimonies of this, so I believe it is still happening. I think sometimes cessationists are skeptical about the stories they hear so they say healings aren’t happening, but they are–they just don’t see them or believe them.
    I think there is also such a thing as a private prayer language (1 Cor. 14) and I don’t think this has to be a language spoken here on earth.
    What do you think is going to happen in the end times, such as Revelation 11 with the two witnesses who prophesy and stop rain if these gifts are long gone, since the days of Paul? Do you think they will have been gone for thousands of years and then reappear during the end times?

    • Karen–good questions, and I’ll reply to each in its own comment to keep things moving here. I agree that God still heals, and I alluded to that towards the front end of the post. God still heals, miracles still happen. But the difference now: Sick person–>elders–>prayer–>God–>sick person healed. IN that flow chart, God heals, and God is the one validated. That is different than the gift of healing/miracles: God–>Apostles–>sick person. In that scheme, the Apostles are the ones that are validated, hence the purpose of the gift. Does that help?

    • Kalev

      if I got his point, the difference is that the direct fift is gone, while god still answers prayers.

    • So the tongues as private prayer language–that’s different than it was in Acts right? So are you granting that tongues as practiced in Acts has ceased? If so, I’m cool with that. I’ll write about 1 Cor 14 next week, but for now let me just say that there are no examples (outside of 1 cor 14) of people praying in tongues in the Bible, and that remarkable given how much instruction on prayer we have.

    • 3/3: Let’s say that in Rev 11 it is the spiritual gift of miracles that is used to stop/start rain (just for the sake of the discussion), and then let me ask you your own question right back: Do you think that people have that ability/gift to stop/start rain today? If so–they should go to California. If not, do you think they will be gone for thousands of years then reappear durring the end times?

    • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

      Karen, if you get a chance to read John MacArthur’s book “Strange Fire”, there is a section in the back called “Voices from Church History” (p.251-261) that includes quotes from leaders such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, etc. that testify that the sign gifts had indeed ceased. It was very helpful for me.

      • Jas25

        In that same book he discusses the history of the “personal prayer language” that completely crushed that possibility for me.

        Basically, people had been seeking the ACTUAL gift of tongues, thought they had achieved it, realized they weren’t actually speaking the languages they thought they were, said it was angelic languages, had linguists tell them it had no structure, varied entirely from group to group, and consisted of syllables found in their local dialect, and finally claimed it was a “personal prayer language”.

        Obviously, this backpedaling spanned a large period of time and the various intermediate beliefs spread in the mean time (resulting in some pretty disappointed evangelists with no language training). Unfortunately, one of the hardest (and most important if you’re concerned with truth) things to do is admit you were wrong and people will go to great lengths to validate beliefs we’ve already bought into.

        If it had just been a case of someone claiming that when they pray random syllables came tumbling out of their mouths (but not when gathered with other believers, because Paul talks about how pointless and chaotic vocal prayers that can’t be understood by those around you are) than I would say “weird but okay”.

        Unfortunately, it seems to be more a case of this being the final, indisputable (because of it’s subjective nature, not validity) foothold by people who wanted to claim they have proof of a closer connection to God than the rest of the church (without talking about the true fruit of the spirit). Most of my Christian friends who practice it now are unaware of the history (and then doubt it when they hear it), and probably think that, instead of a foothold, they are standing on a firm rock in a storm of doubt.

        • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

          Well said, Jas25. Asuza street proved that when they couldn’t justify their experience in scripture, they would twist scripture to make it fit and so it’s continued onto today.

          As you say, few charismatics know of this history which makes the book “Strange Fire” so important for those who are willing to examine the roots of what they believe. Coming from the JW’s who were pros at twisting scripture to make stuff fit, red flags were everywhere for me when as a new believer someone tried to “teach” me to speak in tongues and tried to tell me that tongues was “speaking to God, rather than men” (when Paul simply meant that only God could understand their (actual) language when no one else in the room could).

          As Paul said, tongues were for unbelievers, not believers and he accused them of acting like children (showing off). I’m glad you sought the truth. Keep trying to share it with your friends.

      • Miles Hegyi

        The problems with Calvin and Luther are profound in history. Some of the more disturbing ones are Luthers treatise called of the Jews and their lies (look it up it’s real). Also Calvin handed a man burned to the stake by greenwood for what he claimed to be heresy. Not to say it’s worse than the millions killed by the Catholic Church, however reformation ideology has its severe flaws that exist to this day.

        • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

          No one is defending Calvin or Luther’s behavior. But to ignore them and the countless others throughout church history that testified that the sign gifts had ceased is just foolish.

    • Dolly

      I wish all those who say they have the gift of healing would go to the VA hospitals and heal the poor guys who have been hurt, had their arms or/and legs blown off. Now that would be something I could believe in if that were to happen.

      • I wish I could upvote that 100 times over, Dolly.

  • Joshua Grauman

    You can add Ephesians 2:20 to your second point. Apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church, not the superstructure…

  • Adam

    Thanks for the post Jesse,

    Cessationism is a new concept for me, but i gobble up every piece of literature I can about it. This blog, and John Macarthur have wholeheartedly convinced me of the cessation of the sign gifts. I’m still very close with friends from my charismatic church i left, and they are planting a church. They have been doing “educational” trips to Bethel church in Redding, and have drank Bill Johnson’s red punch if you know what I’m saying. It’s very hard to talk about cessationsism with them for two reasons:

    1. They will absolutely deny your first point. The gifts are still active and in just as marvelous form. They say. “dude, when those guys at Bethel prophesied over us it was like they knew us our whole lives” And other testimonies about the “glory cloud”(gold glitter), and of coarse the plethora of “healings”.

    2. Like at bethel, the signs and wonders outweigh the sciptures that point to cessationism. Mind you, this is expected, obviously Bill Johnson doesn’t put a lot emphasis on scripture. The Holy Spirits moves them in the right direction with how the gifts are used. So whenever I try and make a case for cessationism in scripture they say things like, “well you think this verse means this… but this is what we think it means” and basically turns the scripture into a bunch of grey that can’t be know. And when the scripture is grey, they error on the side of the “holy spirit” and just go with the spiritual flow.

    My heart breaks for these guy’s because they are my best friends, and I am a “lone wolf” cessationist trying to fight a losing battle. Besides praying for the Holy Spirit to convict them, can you provide any wisdom on how to reach charismatics who truly believe the sign gifts are still just active and as marvelous as in Acts(and I mean to the point were some of these guys are probably going to try and raise the dead soon haha)? Because whatever biblical point I try and make is counter with, “well the proof is in the pudding, because people are being healed, and prophesies that no one could possibly know are coming to be true.”

    Thanks again for this post, and this blog. You guys are truly a blessing, and I look forward to every new post that pops up!

    • Thanks Adam. And I’ve been to Bethel church, and seen their services (and even went into one of their healing services). That could make for its own post sometime!

      • Maxwell Kendall

        Jesse,

        Please do make this post. I recently left a church as well who had drank Bill Johnson’s punch and it was quite difficult. Many in my area (Charleston, SC) are either punch drinkers or they have not the conviction to speak against him specifically.

        I know he has a wide influence, and I believe you would do well to shine a light on him! So please do!

        Thank you!

      • Dolly

        Why don’t you use that for a sermon sometime. Is the glory cloud at Bethel church demonic or fake. I always listen to your sermons and get so much out of them. I especially liked the sermon last week about the Passover and Jesus last day before he was crucified. I have listened to it several times.

    • Jas25

      What I found personally convicting while on that side of the fence was that the proof that’s in the pudding wasn’t valid according to God. Unfortunately, so few teachers will take the time to talk about the ONLY thing we are called to have faith in, namely the return of Christ (Hebrews 11).

      Despite what most would have you believe, you can’t have faith that Jesus was raised from the dead (though you can obviously believe it). Nobody is hoping that he will some day raised from the dead (he already did) and his resurrection wasn’t unseen (though at least this one could be argued that we didn’t PERSONALLY see it). Our faith is in his coming again. The rest is history.

      If we DID spend more time on end times people would know that the deceptive work of the false teachers includes and, in the case of the time of the Antichrist is largely based upon, miracles and we would stop using it as proof of anything other than the existence of supernatural forces in general (Matthew 24:24, Revelation 16:14). Also, that many who perform miracles and believe themselves to be saved based upon those works are deceiving themselves (Matthew 7:21). Then we’re left to test the spirits behind these teachers (1 John 4:1).

      What I found is that most charismatic teachers work overtime trying to redefine the meaning of these verses or just outright warning against doing “too much” studying. Why? What is so bad about people questioning the source of the works they’re performing? Why can’t we accept the Biblical truth that miracles are just as likely to be used to verify false teaching?

      Because when everyone’s being judged by the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control [Galatians 5:22-23]) it becomes much more difficult to prove a person is worthy of being respected (because people actually have to know you personally) and it’s much more expedient to pedal the spiritually insignificant (though physically impressive) sideshow of signs and wonders.

      • Adam

        Thanks for the insite!

  • pearlbaker

    Thank you Jesse. We are on the exact same page. The necessity to “continue” discussing this issue is of vital importance. No need to assuage any feathers, just because you bring it up yet again, although I know you want to show patience, grace and love to those who are deceived or who are searching for answers. We can never quit bringing the truth because the enemy won’t quit his lies, trying to deceive people on this issue. It is incumbent on those of us who have, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, been given insight into the truth that the miraculous gifts were only for a season and a reason. No cessationist would ever deny the power of God to act as He wills, but careful study of Scripture (and that is where we go for our answers) should reveal to the wise exactly what you have explained. So I encourage you and all pastors, for the good of the brethren in need of right teaching on this issue, to “keep ’em comin'” and never become weary in pleading the case of the Truth of God.

  • It’s taken me 23 years (so far) to overcome my 20 years in Pentecostal/Charismatic churches. The Lord gently weaned me from its teaching as I grew to understand His Word. Karen, keep leaning on Scripture, not on experience–the Holy Spirit will speak through Scripture to show you truth.

  • tovlogos

    Gifts are not as dramatic in import today, for sure. Just because your exegesis is valid, does not mean God refuses to heal people today in some circumstances.
    The things I’ve seen and/or been a part of, were not hallucinations.
    A woman who was part of my Bible fellowship group once suddenly contracted a pinched nerve. You know what that means, when the nerve gets caught between two discs. It was so painful the drugs were useless. We went to her apartment; since she never missed a meeting, we were a little worried. She opened the door leaned over in a 45 degree angle, wearing a sling — every one was very troubled. So, we decided to have the meeting at her house. She tenderly sat down on the edge of her bed; I sat sown next to her, and the rest found somewhere to sit. We opened the Bible to begin where we left off the preceding week. Suddenly, one of the girls was so upset, she said, Mark, why don’t you lay hands on her. I had never attempted to do anything like that before — never cared to. I was always interested in abiding, and walking in the Spirit — That is my thing. But we had to try, it was too painful looking at her. So, I laid hands and asked Jesus to please heal her — that’s it. She stood up, took the sling off, and got a big smile on her face. Her doctor believed the nerve slipped out by itself. Fine. I was more shocked than anybody. She walked around, raised her arms, and said, Thanks! I said, don’t thank me.
    It was spontaneous, and there was absolutely “no doubt.”
    I don’t believe that a man can be a “healer,” as in the NT period, for the very same reasons you articulated; however, I have been a part of a very few dramatic occurrences. I never thought it was a big deal — The questions is, will the Holy Spirit always inspire a person to have absolutely-no-doubt? No. We are not living in those times. Today, faith is almost non existent, including among the members of the Body of Christ.

    The completion of the NT is the final chapter in God’s plan for humans; and there is enough information to carry on with the guidance of the Spirit. There is certainly, no need for further revelation. We all receive little ailments routinely; miraculous healing is most often inappropriate. But no one can tell me it is impossible under certain circumstances. Nevertheless, obviously the dramatic occurrences of the New Testament are not happening to day, and won’t happen until the Tribulation Period. Therefore I too am a cessationist for the reason you cited.
    By the way, I never accepted money for the several years I ran the group. Not that I didn’t have the right to, but the people in the group were the very last people that you would have ever seen in a formal church setting or any setting.

    Thanks Jesse,

    Mark

  • Heather

    Thanks, again, for a great article, Jesse.
    One thing I haven’t heard much of is what do you have to say in response to the situations/instances where something “miraculous” actually happens in response to these sign gifts? Have there been any articles on that here that you can point me to? Specifically, I’m trying to say that I think there is much more demonic work going on than I think many are willing to admit, and I wonder if you’ve written anything about that?
    I once got into a conversation with a lady who is into the sign gifts, and all that goes with that, and one day an angel appeared to her in her room, and long story short, this angel has finally persuaded her that Jesus is a curse and partaking of communion is partaking of Satan’s puke. For 3 hours my friends and I tried to warn her that it was not an angel of God appearing to her, but an angel of Satan, and to not listen to that angel anymore, and then showed her in Scripture the truth about Jesus and communion. The conversation didn’t end with her changing her mind or anything, but she did realize that Scripture is no longer her authority, but only that angel is. Very scary, and very sad. I realized that simply exposing the evil and then revealing the truth is a large part of this spiritual warfare against these lies that are spreading through the Church, and I hope, somewhere down the road, these people who are being deceived will remember back what was said to them and then turn back to the Lord and to the truth in His Word.

    • Short reply: miracles still happen (I think it woudl be impossible to be a Christian and argue against that). But there is a difference between miracles and having the gift of miracles (being able to do them). That’s the million dollar distinction.

    • I appreciate this question, and so will take a shot at a response. I defer to Jesse if he decides to comment later.

      But there are a couple points to remember in response to this. First, cessationists don’t deny the supernatural. We are, as B. B. Warefield — Captain Cessationism himself — said: unashamed supernaturalists. And so we don’t argue that God is intimately, meticulously, and graciously at work in this world. It’s just that not everything supernatural is a result of a spiritual gift, and not everything people call “miraculous” is actually a miracle. God rules over all creation through His providential control of all things. There may be instances in which He does something extraordinary — e.g., healing someone of cancer without any medical explanation through the prayers of His people. But we would not say this is the gift of healing, but rather an extraordinary providential working of God. As I think of it, this message might be very helpful for you.

      Second, regarding your friend with the angel / demon, there are a couple of possibilities here. One is that she really is being oppressed by a demon — the reality of which cessationists don’t quibble with. Without falling into the trap of finding Satan under every rock — so that we’re constantly rebuking the demon of the common cold, or the demon of the migraine headache — we wholeheartedly affirm that Satan and demons are real and active in today’s world. None of that contradicts the fact that the miraculous sign gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased. Another possibility, though, is that your friend is allowing herself to be carried away by her own imagination, as she’s been taught to do so by people who do find demons under every rock. The kind of psychological manipulation and persuasion that goes on in some charismatic churches are just as real as Satan and demons. And the reality is, we’re never able to objectively distinguish between an encounter with a demon and a troubled imagination (the human heart is deceitful above all things, Jer 17:9), and so we should speak less dogmatically about whether it was one or the other.

      I hope that provides some sort of help.

      • Heather

        Thank you, Mike! Yes, that does make sense and I fully agree with you.
        I guess my issue that I come across with many people in churches (that are into the whole sign gift stuff), is that they say they experience supernatural things, and to them, it is 100% real and they undoubtedly account it to God. Although I agree that the human imagination is easily capable of creating astounding things, I also tend to think that a lot of these things people are seeing/experiencing ARE supernatural, but I don’t think it is of God. Which begs the question, well if it’s not of God, who is it of? To me, there is only one other option: Satan. To actually SAY that to a person, however, is a very difficult thing to say (and usually I would never boldly say it like I did to that woman, but I really have no doubt that it was demons appearing to her). And not that I go around trying to correct people or anything, but situations like this have fallen into my lap, and I didn’t really know how to convincingly tell them to beware of what they were getting into (and I’m sure you know that most people like that would NEVER buy the whole “it’s just your imagination” thing). What I was trying to say was, apart from saying that the sign gifts have ceased, how do we show them, from Scripture, that what they are actually doing couldn’t possibly be from God? I mean, even if it isn’t a demon, but only their imagination, it still means it isn’t of God, which is a big deal and is the whole point of why we’d be warning them in the first place. Anyways, thanks for the comment, it was helpful. I’m going to listen to that sermon when I get a chance, thanks for pointing me in the right direction 🙂

  • Nathanael

    I’d just like to add my 2c worth. My mum tells of a preacher she knew who once preached the gospel in Chinese to a Chinese man who had entered the church service. The preacher did not know Chinese before and the visitor did not speak English. This seems to be just like the disciples in Acts. This I know is just one instance, and I have no reason to doubt the integrity of this story, and would keep me from saying that the gifts have totally ceased.

    • Nathanael, I don’t want to be harsh, but do want to be direct: let me encourage you against drawing theology from your experience, much less the experience of your mom, and even mucher less from the experience of a pastor your mom knew once. But even at face value, that’s not what it was like in the book of Acts, is it? There it was dramatic, to groups, verifiable, and widely attested.
      With that said, I’m not saying the story is not true. But if that is something that happened one time in one place to one person, I’m comfortable calling that a miracle more than a gift. Gift has the affect of authenticating the one with it. A gift is not somethign you use one time in one place, but something that characterizes you. you have the gift vs. one person did it one time. That is not a small distinction. I hope that doesn’t sound harsh, but I couldn’t figure out a softer way to say it.

      • Nathanael

        No it doesn’t sound harsh. Thanks for your reply. I really want to understand this right. So you are saying that a gift is an ongoing ‘ability’ to say speak in tongues or perform healing rather than a one time instance that would classify as a miracle?

        Just as a bit of background I have come from a charismatic background and only in the last few years have I begun to be able to shake off and ‘unlearn’ lots of their teaching. I would now classify myself as a Calvinist for lack of a better term. I guess this is why I struggle with things like cessationism.

        • Let me say it this way:
          God still heals, miracles still happen. But the difference now: Sick
          person–>elders–>prayer–>God–>sick person healed. In that
          flow chart, God heals, and God is the one validated. That is different
          than the gift of healing/miracles: God–>Apostles–>sick person.
          In that scheme, the Apostles are the ones that are validated, hence the
          purpose of the gift. Does that help?

    • Bill

      The only question I would ask, “was she there to actually verify the story.” Some preachers tell stories for the sake of sensationalism. Verify is the best approach before repeating.

  • Arun Rooban

    Hi Jesse,

    I am a PK’s Kid. My Dad has been a preacher for the last 20
    years or so. We grew up in a charismatic Church but in the last decade or so we
    have focused more on reformed teaching. Sermons from Jonathan Edwards, Luther,
    Calvin, Owens & Piper were among
    many others who were commonly referenced
    by my Dad. However, about 5 years ago, to keep a long story short, My dad was called by God to go India (he struggled with that as he really don’t want to! Mainly
    it was due to financial issues).But of course he obeyed. In those meetings,
    well, lots of healing started taking place and those annual trips have turned
    into evangelical and healing meetings. And it has been incredible. I lean
    towards the cessationistic side on an intellectual level, but the reality is
    that there are crazy healing taking place and I cannot escape from the reality
    of the work of the Spirit through healing! There is one scene which was caught
    on tape where a girl about 18 yrs of age who was born deaf and mute had her ears
    opened and she started speaking! But amidst
    all these, my Dad gives Glory goes back to Christ. My Dad, always emphasis that
    he is an old weak man and there is nothing he can do but pray. He has no power
    in him but what was done on the cross that gives us power and hope. It is Jesus , working through the power of the Holy spirit that heals. Even in the Ministry of Jesus, He didn’t heal everyone the same way, some he spit in to their eyes, some he touched and healed, somehe healed without touching. Therefore I feel that we cannot discount the ways that God uses to touch people and to open their eyes to Christ. The point is to always point to the finished work of Christ and to reveal his Glory. If God heals someone to show his Glory & love & grace to them, so be it! The experience is an encounter with Jesus with sparks off the knowledge of Christ in them.

    Of course, if they were to live on experience alone one after
    and another, then it’s a tough walk of faith for them but if these ‘gifts’ help
    them to understand or enable them to increase in the knowledge of Christ which comes from the scriptures then it could be an important aspect of Christianity for some of us even today!

    • Sweet Roobsy. Thanks for that comment. Like I said, I have no problem believing that miracles still happen today, and of course I believe that God heals. Praise God for that. As long as your dad didn’t say that the gift authenticates him with the signs of an apostle, I”m grateful for his ministry.

  • brad

    On #1, does a gift mean that you can do it at will and at all times? In other words, could someone have the gift of healing and sometimes not heal. Or the gift of wisdom and not always show wisdom. Or the gift of teaching and not always teach clearly? It seems like we say that the NT letters are inspired, but we wouldn’t say that Paul, Peter or John were inspired in everything they do. I have thought of the gifts in a similar manner, which is why I quibble with #1.

    And then the obvious followup would be that there is tons of evidence, experientially, that the sign gifts do continue today – even if I haven’t or don’t experience them in my own context (i.e. we hear stories of healing, miracles, tongues etc. often in places where the gospel is going forth for the first time.)

    • In Acts it may not seem to be an “at all times” kind of thing, but it also is way more than “I once heard of a guy who got healed.” I like how you worded it though: those would be two good points on the continuum.
      For the follow up question, I’m not sure that “tons of evidence” is the same as “hearing of stories.” With that said though, if you wanted to make an argument that those gifts might still be active in a place in the world that didn’t have the gospel/churches yet, I’d be open to hearing that argument. I’m not sure I’d agree with it (I’ve spent a lot of money supporting misssionries to unreached people groups–I’d want a refund!), but I’d entertain it. Thanks brad.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    We all hear tales of “miracles” from this corner of the world or that, or from someone we swear is sincere or not given to lying. But I tend to chalk them up as unverifiable: “Video, please, or it didn’t happen.” (And in our age, even video isn’t enough–it can be faked, too).

    People have stories all the time of alien abductions with entire afternoons “missing” from their memories, complete with scars and apparent pieces of foreign objects imbedded in their skin to “prove” their claims. Or that they saw a UFO land in their yards and can even show you the ground where nothing grows any longer. Or they may claim to have seen their grandfather, who lives out of state, standing at the foot of their bed at 2:15am–only to learn later that he died at that hour.

    What are we to make of these stories? Satan? Lack of sleep? Carbon monoxide leak? Beats me, but I tend to put them in the same category as “miracles” we hear about. It’s not that God “can’t”–it’s that I tend to believe He calls us, in large part, to bear up under many sorrows and instead look for our redemption from on high.

    After all, plenty of other worthy people are never healed and suffer tremendously without relief. Someone has back pain, they pray, and claim miraculous healing? Meanwhile, our servicemen and women return from war without limbs or with damaged brains, and they have to live with it? Children with cancer are taken from parents?

    I agree that if the gift of healing were still around, those things would be erased. But those UFOs…hmmm.

  • george canady

    What I have struggled with, as I have read and am learning the history and arguments, is that one has to discount some very godly men on both sides to make a flat assertion at what the Bible says about the type and timing of sign gifts. I have really been saddened and embarrass at what seems to be a sarcastic and sometimes hateful tone taken by some with the cessationists views I lean toward. It seems like we would write some excuse for someone like D.M. Lloyd-Jones, but not extend that kind of charity to our contemporaries.

    • Yeah, and I readily admit that the majority of the world’s Christians, confrence speakers, bloggers, etc., today would strongly disagree with my post.

      • george canady

        I would be one who is grateful for the defense of the cessationist position. However, I as I observe who’s approach seems more tenable, I am inclined to investigate more deeply the claims of the reformed continuationist just simply based on attitude alone. I have seen a disheartening fall of some of the leading ones though. Even so, I do not trust my feeling on this. For instance, I was an Arminian before and for sometime after my salvation. It seemed natural to me. It felt right. But after much study and hearing the teachings, the doctrines of grace were slowly revealed to me and confirmed as Calvinism before I even knew what it was. So it seems, for me, with cessationism. I was that way hard before I was a Christian. It seemed natural to think those contiuationist ridiculous even before I knew what that was. I have now read and listened to many things by thoughtful serious reformed contiuationist. I no longer think the possibilities of some things carried over from the passing of the Apostles foolish. I know I could be wrong and I would not like to see something attributed to the Holy Spirit that He did not do or promise, but I don’t want to be uncharitable ether. I been sometimes like that for to long. When I think of the giants who have changed their minds on this, it makes me think it is ok to grapple with this.

  • Dan Sudfeld

    This is really good, Jesse. I appreciate the conciseness of it. Its going into my files… with the addition of Dan Philips’ #5. Since the coroner’s report is in, I’m ready to bury it (so long as it doesn’t get resurrected).

  • Libs

    It is a subject that is “beat to death” lately, but it is still necessary, especially in my world, thanks for the post.

    So, basically, we can know signs and wonders are false when they are performed by a person who claims to have the gift of healing or prophecy in “Jesus name” rather than, say, a healing occurs as an answer to prayer by “ordinary” christians?

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