Cessationism

Cessationism

7th April 2019

Cessationism is the teaching that the gifts of the Holy Spirit such as speaking in tongues, prophecy and healing ceased by the end of the Apostolic Age. There is no unanimous agreement by the Cessationists on the details of their teaching but the main idea they put forward is that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were only made available to the Apostles to authenticate their ministry and when the Apostles died the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased. This is arrived at by the selective use of bible verses taken out of context and by ignoring most of the church history since the Apostolic Age. Let’s be clear, there is nothing in scripture that clearly supports the idea that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were for the Apostolic Age only. It is just a man-made idea or theory. Anyone who reads the Book of Acts properly could not reach this conclusion. For instance, it wasn’t just the Apostles who used the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There were many Christians in the early church who were not Apostles but who used the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

One of the arguments of the Cessationists is that in the post-apostolic era the gifts began to disappear. However, they stop there and don’t look at the rest of church history. If you look at the whole of church history you see the gifts of the Holy Spirit in use at various times. And there are reasons for this. In 1 Corinthians 12:11 Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit gives them as He wills. This shows that they are not always available to us. And if you look at the whole of church history you see a pattern emerge similar to Israel in the Old Testament. There have always been times when the church in various places has been very fruitful, when many were saved. Then the church tends to turn what God did through the Holy Spirit into institutions and systems that lead to the quenching of the Holy Spirit. This then leads to a decline or deterioration in the church until God intervenes with a mighty work of the Holy Spirit to revive the church. And on the cycle goes.

The truth is that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have always been available throughout church history but we haven’t always seen them in action. This is partly because of the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit and partly because of the false teaching of Cessationism. If we are told by church leaders that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are no longer available to us then we are not even going to ask for them even though the scriptures tell us that we should eagerly desire them (1 Corinthians 14:1).

One of the reasons why some church leaders teach or practice Cessationism is that they are afraid of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Many church leaders like to be in control and to have everything carefully structured and organised. And they see the gifts as risky or even dangerous. And to some extent I can understand this. Sometimes things can go wrong when the gifts are in use in a church. You only need to look at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. However, that is easily remedied by giving sound instruction on their use as the Apostle Paul did. The risk of problems arising is no excuse for rejecting them outright.

When church leaders tell their congregations that the gifts are no longer available or in some way suppress them they are guilty of quenching the Holy Spirit. Furthermore they are guilty of robbing God’s people of the fullness of God’s blessings. This is a very serious matter. Jesus and the Old Testament prophets had some strong things to say about leaders who robbed God’s people.

I am amazed at how often Christians rely on certain church leaders and teachers and not the scriptures for their understanding of doctrine. Dr Jack Deere speaks about this in his book ‘Surprised by the Power of the Spirit’ when he recounts an occasion when he was interviewing theology students. Whenever he asked them to argue a certain doctrine from scriptures they couldn’t do it. They had got their understanding from books and teachers. He was very disappointed by this discovery. There are dangers in relying on certain leaders and teachers for our understanding. I have seen many examples of Christians accepting teaching from men who were manifestly teaching false doctrine. It is so important that we all study the scriptures diligently so that we can discern the true from the false. And I apply that to what I have said here. Don’t just rely on what I’ve said, read and study the Book of Acts and the Epistles for yourself to see if what I am telling you is true.