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Cessationism in Christianity is the doctrine that Apostolic gifts ceased with the original twelve apostles. This is generally opposed to the view of continuationism, which teaches that the Holy Spirit may bestow the sign gifts to persons other than the original twelve apostles, at any time in the Church age.
In Christian theology, cessationism is the outworking of a three-fold belief-system:
With this foundation, many cessationists argue that:
Cessationists teach that their primary purpose was to authenticate the Apostles' message as being of divine origin and, therefore, authoritative (Hebrews 2:3-4). Since, however, the completion of the canon, the Church can test the veracity (or lack thereof) of any message claiming to represent God, against His written revelation having now been completed, rendering any supernatural sign as unnecessary (2 Peter 1:19; see also 2 Timothy 3:16-17), according to cessationism. It may also be noted that certain sign gifts had secondary purposes. For example, the sign of speaking in unlearned languages, amounted to a judgment upon unbelieving Jews (1 Corinthians 14:20-22; Isaiah 28:11-12). These other, secondary purposes are also believed to be passé, according to cessationists.
Cessationists are to note the connection specified in the context of the following verses to the Apostolic gifts: Matthew 10:8; Acts 2:4, 43; 5:12; 8:19; 2 Corinthians 12:12. The context of each of those passages, explicitly indicate that the ones performing the sign gifts, were indeed Apostles. Therefore, unless one can prove that he is a bona fide Apostle (see the next point, below), then he is out of line if he claims to have a sign gift, so argue cessationists. It should be clarified that it is not that cessationists deny the existence of miracles today, but rather, they object to calling anything today, an "Apostolic gift". For example, cessationists fully believe that God could, if He so chose, enable a person today to speak a language he/she has never learned; cessationists are careful, however, to avoid calling that, "the New Testament gift of tongues". Cessationists fully believe that God can answer a prayer for someone to be physically healed, but again, they differentiate between God's answer to prayer, and the Apostolic gift of being able to heal-on-demand. Rather, the Holy Spirit is in front of every healing miracle, not the apostle.
With regard to the role of the apostles being now ceased, there are at least three reasons.
The first is found in Ephesians 2:20. Here, the apostles (and prophets) are likened to a building's foundation. The argument from this metaphor is that, just as a superstructure has only one foundation, and just as that foundation is not added to once the superstructure is being built, so to, the gift of Apostleship no longer exists, nor will it return (with its corresponding gifts, naturally). The view holds that the "concrete" of this "foundation" was still "wet" when the revelation of scripture was still being written, and when the last of the twelve apostles, John the Apostle, was still alive.
At the completion of the Canon and the death of John, (the human author of the last Book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation), the "foundation" of the church was laid, and "no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid" (1 Corinthians 3:11; see also Hebrews 1:1-2).[clarification needed]
This is a part of the two-fold criteria for Apostleship, in which they had to be
(Some theologians[who?] say that a third requirement was the ability to work miracles; others[who?] say that, while the ability to work miracles was true for all the apostles, that ability was not a prerequisite to being one, but rather an evidence of being one.) In any case, using this standard, cessationists see no way there can be Apostles today, on the grounds that the Lord Jesus has ascended to heaven and will not personally visit anyone until His Second Coming.)
Closely related to this third point is the cessationist argument that, if the possibility of additional, special revelation exists today (via, for example, the Apostolic gift of tongues or prophecy), then a new way of salvation may creep into the Church. As proof, cessationists will point out cults which claim to have additional revelation beyond the 66 Books of the Bible, and the fact that they believe in other ways of salvation. Thus, they observe, it is no coincidence that the Canon closed at the same time when the last Apostle died, precisely because God's plan of redemption had finally been completely revealed, and nothing more needs to be added to it by way of new, special revelation.
Most cessationists argue that God would not give new, special revelation, after having issued the warnings in Deuteronomy 4:2, Proverbs 30:6, and Revelation 22:18.
For example, prior to the completion of the Canon, whenever God spoke, it was, with very few exceptions (e.g., Jeremiah 36:27), and became part of the scriptural cannon (and even if it didn't make it into the Bible, whatever God said was, nonetheless, universally authoritative and on par with Scripture, just as any other Word from God);
Cessationism has various forms and can be classified in different ways depending on the questions and issues on which cessationists disagree.[original research?]
Cessationism can be classified with regard to three questions: (i) the question of the presence of God's miraculous guidance, (ii) the question of the reemergence of the gifts and (iii) the question of justification of cessationism.
Cessationism can be divided into two types.
Cessationism asserts that the "sign gifts" such as prophecy, healing and speaking in tongues ceased with the apostles and the finishing of the canon of Scripture. They only served as launching pads for the spreading of the Gospel; as affirmations of God's revelation. However, these cessationists do believe that God still occasionally does miracles today, such as healings or divine guidance, so long as these "miracles" do not accredit new doctrine or add to the New Testament canon. Some cessationists believe that the miraculous gifts can take place where the message of salvation is being propagated to a tribe or nation which is unfamiliar with the Gospel. Richard Gaffin and Daniel B. Wallace are perhaps the best-known classical cessationists.
Thus while some cessationists allow for God's miraculous guidance, the cessationist allowance differs from the continuationist in that a cessationist contends that God's miraculous guidance is not through the operation of the Charismatic gifts.
With regard to the possibility of reemergence (reappearance) of charismatic gifts, we can distinguish between two versions of cessationism: strong and moderate.
The majority of cessationists subscribe to the total cessation of spiritual gifts. Examples of such literature are from Christians belonging to various denominations such as Conservative Baptist, Reformed Churches, etc.
This theory of cessationists denies the possibility of a reemergence of the gifts on grounds of principle; that is, the denial is on a priori grounds: a strong cessationist would deny the possibility of the existence or a reemergence of genuine God's prophets and healers in the post-Apostolic age, i.e. after the 1st century, no matter what – even if we met prophets or healers who prophesied/healed in the name of Jesus. This is supported using the principle of Sola Scriptura, insisting on three propositions:
According to traditional cessationists, a person with a gift of power is also a prophet because healings and miracles were always signs associated with the divine confirmation of the genuineness of a prophet in the periods when God revealed new truths with respect to the doctrine. A strong cessationist might concede that prophecies might be useful in the guidance of the Church. Nevertheless, he will insist that the Church can be perfectly guided to reach the right decisions if it applies the principles, teachings and examples of the Bible.
There is not much literature on moderate cessationism, but the view is propounded by certain Brethren groups of Christians, such as Hopewell Mennonite Church of Reading, PA, Free Brethren House Churches of Christ.
Thus they would also deny the possibility of gifts on a priori grounds. He would deny the existence of manifestations of genuine charismatic gifts in the Church. However, this view allows for the possibility of a new charismatic period in the future, when God would powerfully guide His people. This openness to the possibility of a new charismatic period is motivated by premillennialist eschatological expectations, where it is assumed that Christ's Second Coming will occur before the establishment of Christ's millennial kingdom on Earth. Within this premillennialist conceptual framework, the Great Tribulation is seen as a future period immediately preceding Christ's Coming. This insists that the new charismatic period is possible only during the Great Tribulation for otherwise the genuine gifts would be in operation before the Tribulation, and, thus, charismatic gifts could not be rejected on grounds of principle. This is also compatible with all premillennialist positions (pre-trib, post-trib, mid-trib and pre-wrath).
The understanding of the principle of Sola Scriptura is almost identical to the variation that denies all Apostolic gifts. A moderate cessationist would agree with all three propositions of strong cessationism, but with an important qualification: all three propositions are valid only in the post-Apostolic Age of the Church before the Great Tribulation, i.e. in the period after the 1st century until the days of the Great Tribulation. Thus, in practical terms, both strong and moderate cessationism are the same. They differ only in eschatological terms, whether the gifts will reemerge in the last days immediately preceding the time of Christ's Second Coming. The strong cessationist eschatological view is not a premillennialist, and, thus, does not share the premillennialist conceptual framework, such as the premillennialist view of the Great Tribulation as something belonging to the future.
Biblical grounds for moderate cessationism is the reference to two powerful prophets of God, Rev 11:3–11. According to a moderate cessationist, events described in Rev 11 are in the future, during the Great Tribulation. For this reason, a moderate cessationist has a ready answer to the question why the Bible is so vague about the cessation of the charismatic gifts: the Bible is obscure on this point precisely because the gifts will reemerge during the great tribulation. A moderate cessationist concludes that they will absolutely end at the second coming of our Christ, at the end of the great tribulation.
Two types of cessationism can be distinguished with regard to its justification:
Both strong and moderate versions of cessationism belong to the forms of cessationism on principle because they appeal to the principle of Sola Scriptura. Their denial of the possibility of gifts is on a priori grounds, or on grounds of principle. However, an empirical cessationist denies the possibility of charismatic gifts on empirical grounds because he does not immediately discard an apparent miracle, healing or prophecy as counterfeit. He will rather first investigate the genuineness of the manifestation of the charismatic gift in question.
According to an empirical cessationist, there is no Christian group practicing genuine charismatic gifts because, if thoroughly investigated, many healings and other "miracles" would most certainly be shown to be false. In other words, an empirical cessationist denial is based on observation coupled with the probabilistic expectation that apparent miracles, healing or prophecies are mostly improbable.
An example of the empirical form of cessationism is the view propounded by biblestudying.net. They have published a series of articles about charismatic gifts dealing with several issues concerning charismata. Their cessationist view is empirical because their denial of the continuation of the gifts is based on the historical research of early Church practices. Thus, their denial is on empirical grounds and not on grounds of principle, such as the appeal to the principle of Sola Scriptura.
According to their historical study, "the charismatic gifts did indeed decline and were eventually lost sometime between the second and fourth centuries AD". An interesting thing about their cessationist view is that it is a semi-continuationist view; that is, the gifts could have continued until Christ's return, but instead ended "sometime between the second and fourth centuries AD". The conclusion of their historical study is as follows: "Thus, we must discard the doctrine that the gifts were supposed to pass away before Christ's return. Instead, we must accept the fact that the gifts were supposed to continue as a confirmation of sound doctrine until Christ's return but were lost as the Church deviated from that sound doctrine given by Christ to the apostles and by the apostles to the early Church of the first few centuries".
On the question of the reemergence of the gifts, they would agree with moderate cessationists that the gifts will reemerge during the final days immediately preceding Christ's Second Coming. They unofficially call their view conditional cessationism because, as a spokesman for this view says, "The primary feature of our position is its assertion of the conditional nature of cessation and its positing that either a) continuation or b) cessation and restoration were possible".
Some cessationists, e.g., Warfield, argue that there has been no solid objective scientific reference of the working of miracles manifested within the mainstream church for the last nineteen centuries. References to miracles and spiritual gifts throughout church history, they claim, have been associated with cults and mystics. More recent studies, however, e.g., Foubister, Frost, Greer, Kelsey, Kydd, Ruthven, and Shogren, have shown that the evidence is much more positive than the citations offered by cessationists.
Some cessationist explanations about why gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased include:
|“||Seeing therefore miracles now cease, we have no sign left whereby to acknowledge the pretended revelations or inspirations of any private man; nor obligation to give ear to any doctrine, farther than it is conformable to the Holy Scriptures, which since the time of our Saviour supply the place and sufficiently recompense the want of all other prophecy; and from which, by wise and learned interpretation, and careful ratiocination, all rules and precepts necessary to the knowledge of our duty both to God and man, without enthusiasm, or supernatural inspiration, may easily be deduced. And this Scripture is it out of which I am to take the principles of my discourse concerning the rights of those that are the supreme governors on earth of Christian Commonwealths, and of the duty of Christian subjects towards their sovereigns. —Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (III, xxxii)||”|
|“||Since the canon of the Scripture has been completed, and the Christian Church fully founded and established, these extraordinary gifts have ceased. —Jonathan Edwards, Charity & Its Fruits, 29||”|