Cessationism and Another Gospel (by T)

Cessationism and Another Gospel (by T) February 15, 2012

This post, on Cessationism, Word-Faith and ‘Another Gospel,’ is by T, a regular contributor here. (I’m ready to call him a Jesus Creed Correspondent.) [Cessationism, roughly, means the miraculous gifts seen in the New Testament have ceased and are not therefore today.]

I want to start this discussion with our ideas of ‘gospel.’ As we’ve discussed here many times in recent months, Scot’s most recent book, King Jesus Gospel, has the ironically surprising thesis, with which I agree, that if we want our term “gospel” to match the apostles’ understanding of the term, then we need to start thinking of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) as ‘the gospel.’ These ‘officially authorized’ stories of Jesus’ arrival, public life and work, death and resurrection (as the culmination of Israel’s story), are the gospel of Jesus. It is the actual story of Jesus—his manner of arrival, his recorded actions and words, culminating in his particular death and resurrection—as the fulfillment of God’s promises and work via Israel for the whole world, that the apostles proclaim as the gospel. Further, in proclaiming himself as this centerpiece of God’s promises and work, and inviting others to follow him, Jesus was not only proclaiming the gospel, he was the walking embodiment of it, and he knew it. To trust him and to trust “the gospel” were the same thing, because the gospel focused on him as the Christ of God’s kingdom-en-route.

It was in the context of having read Scot’s book and letting these ideas ruminate, tearing down structures in my mind and building new ones, that I read a post by Roger Olson asking if the word-faith movement within extreme Pentecostalism presented ‘another gospel.’ Let me add right now that I disagree with word-faith (and ‘prosperity gospel’) teaching wholeheartedly. In the interests of space, my naked disavowal will have to suffice. But as I read the post that was rightfully denouncing extreme word-faith and prosperity gospel teachings, I couldn’t help but wonder, If the gospels are the gospel, does extreme cessationism present a “gospel” that is farther from “the gospels” than word-faith Pentecostalism?

As I thought about this, I thought of several things. Initially (as a born and raised Biblicist evangelical!) I thought in terms of express scriptural support for word-faith on one extreme and for extreme cessationism on the other. On that score, word-faith has a clear advantage over cessationism. Even if it has to be selective in its NT areas of focus, it can at least point to clear, express NT teachings, not only to support the general idea that God does miracles through his people, but also the extreme word-faith teachings (Mark 9:23, James 5:15, Matthew 17:19-21). Again, while I think other portions of the NT make it clear that these verses must be nuanced to avoid taking them without any qualification, they are more expressly supportive of word-faith teachings than most of us would like. But my next line of thought wasn’t rooted in my Biblicist leanings and prima-scriptura goals, but in Scot’s thesis. Namely, if the gospels are the gospels, they proclaim a Jesus that not only heals as the bread and butter of his work, but also

– Authorizes/commands others who represent him to heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead,

– Commends the faith of those who believe in his authority and/or willingness to heal (Centurian, Canaanite woman),

– Challenges and/or criticizes the faith of his disciples when they don’t have the faith to believe that THEY can cast out demons in his name,

– Predicts that anyone who believes will also do what he has been doing (John 14:12; Mark 16:17),

– Sends out apostles after his resurrection who found churches who then, in fact, also do miracles and signs and wonders in Christ’s name (Galatians 3:5, I Cor. 12-14, James 5:13-18).

Considering all this and more with “the gospels are the gospel” ringing in my head, I began to lose articulable reasons to answer this question in the negative: “Do word-faith Pentecostals proclaim a Jesus, a gospel, more like the Jesus presented in the gospels than cessationists do?”

The best argument I could come up with was the “prosperity” teaching that so often accompanies Pentecostalism of various stripes. Scot’s thesis gives us nothing positive to say about prosperity gospel preaching, whether Pentecostal or otherwise, considering the relative poverty of Jesus, the apostles, and many early churches. But as we consider the larger questions, let me clear something up. I’m not going on any heresy or witch hunts. My basic posture is that I’m convinced that God is much more familiar and comfortable with our inevitable errors about him than we are, at least I hope so for my sake. I’m not looking to label anybody or get excuses for dissociation instead of discussion.

I’m just asking the question that struck me in light of Scot’s thesis, namely, whose “Jesus” is farther away from the Jesus of the gospels: word-faith Pentecostals or cessationists, at least on the dramatic point on which these groups differ? I might then ask a second follow up question: For each of us who want to be always reforming and letting “the gospel” be the central focus of our ongoing reform and growth, is this an area in which we are culturally and communally conditioned to be blind and/or resistant to the gospel? For my part, despite having participated in some wonderful and surprising prophetic and healing miracles and even taught repeatedly on the subject, I find my lack of faith quite stubborn, and can understand how even the apostles can have “little faith” to do these works themselves even after years of personal exposure and apprenticeship to Jesus in the flesh.

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  • phil_style

    I lean towards cessationalism, but not for “scriptural” reasons. Having spent 25 years or so in the company of evangelical and Pentecostalism Christians claiming that miracles occurred (quite regularly if you ask some) I realised that I had never once observed such events or had been given any credible evidence to suggest these things had ever happened.
    In addition I did observe far too many instances where people were faking healings and other “supernatural” events. Many might not have been doing it deliberately but there was just too much shenanigans going on for my liking.

  • phil, I totally get where you’re coming from. I’ve been there too. The only difference from my own experience is that there have been many times in my life that I have seen God intervene, not in flashy ways, but for sure in ways that were so “against all odds” as to leave me with a sense of wonderment at God’s miraculous power and love. I wish the preachers would give up on the sensationalism, and that God’s people would live more in His kingdom all around us.

  • Woop woop! Thanks, T; here in the UK there’s much less outright cessationism, and less loony-fringe charismania, than there appears to be in the US, so I feel like I’ve come home hearing these reflections. Keep up the good work!

  • gingoro

    I tend to lean against cessationalism, but not just for “scriptural” reasons. My parents were missionaries in East Africa. I observed too many instances of answers to prayer that occurred to be able to discount God’s interaction with this world.
    Dave W

  • Norman

    This discussion on the continuation of the “miraculous gifts” should always be framed in the overarching theme of biblical redemption. That theme is the replacement of an old Adamic order “way of approaching God” called works with a newly established one; through “the Holy Spirit” bringing in a New Adam (Christ). That old world order was illustrated by the replacement of Jewish Legalism with walking through the Spirit. The context of the OT was a looking forward to that day and then the transition period of time it took to implement or establish this new Kingdom. The problem with historic Christianity is a belief that this transition period of time is ongoing and never essentially ends in practical terms. The NT documents this specific period and nothing else and so to read the NT as an ongoing daily guide is to relegate the church to wandering in the Desert Exodus and never reaching the Promised Land of the New Kingdom. This is hardly the case as the old Covenant’s sign of removal and dissolution was as Christ stated the Judgment upon the Jews, the Temple, Priestly system and animal sacrificial system. The NT doesn’t document this ending put continually points toward it as the time of consummation for the arrival of the New Kingdom. Josephus and history documents it for us as occurring 40 years after the Cross in 70Ad under Rome’s (the 4th Beast) hands. This period is the time of the apostolic spreading of the Gospel to the Roman World and was accompanied by the laying on of hands and the application of the miraculous gifts for that intent and purpose of establishing the church.

    Just as Christ was accompanied by the Miraculous signs so also He projected that these gifts would accompany the spread of the church as often demonstrated in the NT writings. This climatic period of understanding was understood from the OT especially from Daniel where these issues were prophetically foretold. The OT and 2T literature reinforced this messianic special period of time and it was never expected to continue as an eternal event. Indeed it was to usher in the eternal Kingdom of life through the Spirit. Take a look at Daniels prophecy and how it fulfills what Christ reaffirmed would happen after His resurrection and in the life time of that Generation. Notice that this period of messianic fulfillment would bring an end to Visions and prophecy. There is no need once the Kingdom is in place and consummated. That indeed is the theme of the NT as they looked forward to the transitionary breaking in of the New Kingdom to replace the Old one. The NT writings all ended before this AD70 event of judgment occurred so we think it must be going on. No that (AD70) was to be the sign of the end, not some mystical never occurring future event with planet earth dissolving.

    Dan 9:24-26 “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, TO PUT AN END TO SIN, AND TO ATONE FOR INIQUITY, TO BRING IN EVERLASTING RIGHTEOUSNESS, TO SEAL BOTH VISION AND PROPHET, and to anoint a most holy place. … to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, … an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.

    Dan 12:6-7 … “How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?” … and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be finished.

    This is also why Paul states in 1 Cor 13 that the time they were looking forward to would also see the end of certain aspects of the Kingdom establishment. Namely there would no longer be needed prophecies, tongues and prophetic knowledge as all would be accomplished. And guess what it happened and Christ Kingdom is here to stay.

    1Co 13:8-10 Love never ends. As FOR PROPHECIES, THEY WILL PASS AWAY; AS FOR TONGUES, THEY WILL CEASE; AS FOR KNOWLEDGE, IT WILL PASS AWAy. (9) For we know in part and we prophesy in part, (10) but WHEN THE PERFECT COMES, THE PARTIAL WILL PASS AWAY.

    Often the idea that if the gifts of the Holy Spirit are over then the Holy Spirit has also left. Not hardly, there is absolutely no reason to expect the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ to leave the house just because He has established His dominion. We walk by the Spirit of Christ and to imply that Christ doesn’t live in the New Temple of a faithful heart is indeed misunderstanding the OT and NT narrative. The question arises now that the Kingdom is here do miracles still occur? I’ve never seen nor experienced one being raised from the dead nor heard of a documented case where it occurs since AD70, however I believe God has blessed me and countless millions of Christians through life in the Spirit. Wasn’t that what it was all about in the first place? Are we like the Jews still looking for signs and simply not seeing them in a renewed life through Christ. How many of us have seen lives transformed over the years.

    To say those that believe that God did what He said He would do and that the miraculous signs were declared for a specific period is a false argument to accuse them of a false gospel. A person simply needs to always realize the understanding of the NT is contingent upon knowing the context of the times of that literature and to quit stretching it out beyond its prophetic period.

  • DRT

    I clearly come at this from a considerably different angle. As a child and teen I had no doubt that god could do whatever he wanted, and that he had subtle influence over everything, and would occassionally step in and do something extraordinary, I was a Roman Catholic.

    As I fell away from that faith, I explored a wider range of religious and secular schools of thought and found a home in a combination of Buddhism and Jungian psychology. Both of those disciplines provide support to my own experience, that there is a profound interconnectedness to life, our lives, and the world and universe, and that intentions, actions, subconscious attitudes and feelings have a way of going out into the cosmos and influencing the way things are. We all are interconnected at a level that is much more intertwined that a superficial consideration of our lives can reveal.

    Then, as I came back to Christianity and have seen it move more toward the story being important I have been able to integrate my beliefs of interconnectedness with Christianity quite successfully. I feel that they do indeed teach similar things.

    Christianity, in the gospel, puts the relationships between people and things together as the most important element. Love is not a belief, it is an orientation. Jesus life is not a transaction; it is an example of Love. This orientation toward the world (meaning the creation, including all people) and towards individuals sets up a way of interacting that has ramifications for all at very many levels at a fundamental level that is beyond our superficial sleep walker view of the world.

    What we, as individuals, do and believe in this world has impacts via mechanisms that we have not yet quantified, but are as real as anything out there. There really is a world where the relationships, attitudes, beliefs and orientations of people has a direct impact on the existence of everything. Reducing the gospel to something that I only do to impact my salvation misses the point.

    So to T’s question, yes, word-faith is directionally correct, we can impact things, but we have to use our powers for good, and the manifestation of those powers often appears as something totally unlike we are expecting. We need to wake up and look for the non-obvious and unexpected, not the result we are looking for. In other words, it is our orientation that produces a result, not our desire for a result. I believe this is consistant with Jesus, express, love, faith and belief. Not a desire for health, wealth or other impacts.

    This is also what I feel Paul’s natural theology is.

  • DanS

    One has to distinguish between the miraculous as an answer to prayer, and the particular “gifts” of miracles, that is, the “signs, wonders and miracles” that Paul identified with an apostle in 1 Cor 12:12.

    I am not a cessationist, in that I don’t think anything in the New Testament demands that “sign” gifts ended, but the fact that such gifts were associated with the twelve leads me to be cautious. Also, the New Testament era was a major transition from the Old to the New. The signs validated the authority of the bearers of the New Covenant message.

    So, at the least, people with a specific gift of performing “signs, wonders and miracles” should not be expected as the norm. Answers to prayer, including miraculous answers, should not be discounted.

    But to say or imply that cessationism is farther from the gospel that “word-faith” teaching is frankly laughable and somewhat insulting. The doctrinal liberties taken in the word-faith movement have no comparison whatsoever to the view that apostolic gifts ceased with the death of the apostles.

  • phil_style

    @gingoro #4, thanks for the note. I presume your response was partly to my first comment. I agree with your sentiment that my reasons are purely subjective. Unfortunately the very problem I have is that the “missionaries in africa” have continually failed to produce anything nearly like what I would consider a “miracle”. I myself have seen “miracles” happen, only to find out later the some wool had been slipped into the gap between my eyes and the subject.

    I’m not saying that the miracles DON’T happen, but I’m yet to be convinced that they do. The problem is, this is a great disappointment to me. I really do wish to observe something inexplicable one day. I prayed for years and years for this. I went to my share of meetings and missionary events. I read stories by guys like Reinhard Bonkke and others who were claiming they had witnessed such things. However, on closer inspection I always found that critical components sometimes as simply as “was the person actually sick in the first place?” were not there. The most odd thing about this is that other Christians are going away satisfied that they had witnessed a miracle, when it was quite clear and obvious that nothing of the sort had happened.

    In this age of copious videography and documentation I find it uncomfortably odd that the claimants are not producing some more convincing case-studies.

  • I think we need to be careful about labeling others with “another gospel” or “false gospel. For Paul, “another gospel” is a “false gospel” and those who preach it are to be “accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9). Do we really want to say that cessationists and/or Word-Faith are to be accursed. I am not the former, but I am somewhat the latter. Am I to be cursed?

    In regard to cessationism, or its opposite, continuationism, the Church has seen the continuation of the miracle gifts from the beginning, past AD 70, past the completion of the canon and on through to today. I compiled a book on this a few years ago called Miracles and Manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the History of the Church

  • Chris Criminger

    The idea of comparing the word faith movement which typically gets condemned to cessationism or hyper cessationism is a great discussion starter. Here are a few thoughts:

    1. Experience or LACK of experience plays a huge role in how we interpret or form beliefs. I have a friend who says he has always believed in God, is a member of a church, but has never had an experience of God in his life.
    Experiences or lack of them shape us in more ways than we can count.

    2. Risky faith, even the risk to fail usually gets frowned on and talked negatively in the church. I can not help but wonder what God thinks of the many people in churches that sit on their hands and never get criticized because they are not doing anything in their faith for God.

    3. If Christianity is growing 800 times faster in the global south which is often charaterized with many power demonstations of God’s Spirit, what does that say about us in the West?

  • TSG

    “Whether these gifts of the Holy Ghost were designed to remain in the church throughout all ages, and whether or no they will be restored at the nearer approach of the ‘restitution of all things,’ are questions that are not needful to decide. But it is needful to observe this, that, even in the infency of the church, God divided them with a sparing hand. Were all even then prophets? Were all workers of miracles? Had all the gift of healings? Did all speak with tongues? No, in no wise. Perhaps one in a thousand. Perhaps none but the teachers in the church, and only some of them, 1 Cor. xii, 28-30. It was therefore, for a more excellent purpose than this, that ‘they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.’
    It was to give them( what none can deny to be essential to all Christians in all ages) the mind that was in Christ, those holt fruits of the Spirit, which whosoever does not have them not, is none of his; ……..
    Without busying ourselves then in curious, needless inquiries, touching those extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, let us take a nearer view of these His ordinary fruits, which we are assured will remain….-of that great work of God among the children of men, which we are used to express by one word, Christianity; not as it implies a set of opinions, a system of doctrines, but as it refers to men’s hearts and lives…” John Wesley, Sermon V, Scriptural Christianity, Preached at St. Mary’s, August 24, 1744.

  • phil_style

    @TSG, great quote from Wesley, which not only indicates that Wesley himself never witnessed such things (otherwise surely he would have used that experience!) but also focuses on the really important thins – our character.

    “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing”

    I’ve seen far too many people claiming supernatural gifts, and behaving like idiots to know which type of spiritual engagement is more desirable.

  • It seems to me that many of the times when Jesus did miracles they were called signs. As signs they were pointing to the reality of Jesus as king as well as giving evidence of what it looks like when the Kingdom of God is breaking in to our world. While I cannot find any compelling reason to go along with the cessationist position, I do think that many have camped out at the signs rather than embracing the reality towards which the signs were pointing. This happened over and over in Jesus’ day when he performed miracles and continues today. I have seen miracles or healing, freedom, as well as powerful encounters with God’s love and forgiveness. But none of those experiences will do if we do not embrace Jesus as king. The majority of my formative years in church were around charismatics. While I appreciate the expectation to experience God and that God can and will do miracles in people’s lives I have also really struggled with becoming cynical about all of it because of all of the abuses, showmanship, and theatrics that many times accompany the gifts. But I don’t want to ever get to a point where I won’t pray for God to heal someone who is sick or break through the barriers of someones life with any kind of miracle.

  • dopderbeck

    The “cessationist” position never seemed convincing to me. Like others here, however, I’ve seen enough of Pentecostalism and Charismatic-ism to know that I don’t really favor the other end of the spectrum. I also agree with Jeff (#9) that we should be careful about throwing around labels one way or the other either towards cessationists or prosperity gospel folks.

    A friend of mine is a very serious Catholic who is part of a group promoting a certain American Catholic leader for Sainthood. Sainthood requires proof of three miracles. The process involves careful testing of the claims, including legal briefs and a sort of evidentiary hearing.

    Hanging out this semester at an Eastern Orthodox seminary, I’ve learned that they sometimes experience miracles — things like icons that weep oil, healings and so-on. But they are very circumspect about these things. They are careful not to sensationalize them or let them detract from the rhythms of the liturgy.

    It seems to me that these are helpful models.

  • Richard Jones

    #4 Gingoro is exactly on track with that report. Get outside Christianity as it is seen and practiced in Western affluence — go where dependence upon God ia all one has — and then see if you still believe in cessationism.

  • Jeff Martin

    The key to interpreting verses that talk about asking God what we want is very consistent with NT Wright’s and Dr. McKnight’s view of Jesus as King.

    “In my name” is the key phrase repeated over and over again. If one sees Jesus as king, then “in my name” begins to take on a unique nuance. “In my name” would be better translated nowadays as “under my authority”.

    Think about how this changes the conversation completely! The focus is solely on what guidance we are getting from Christ through His Spirit regarding our lives.

    I remember a story I heard of a Korean pastor who believed God told him to pray for a blind person in the congregation to be healed, and he prayed and the person was healed. The next week a whole bunch of blind people showed up, and asked to be prayed for and were not healed. The pastor was questioned as to why they were not healed, and the pastor simply said, “God had not spoken to him to pray for them for healing”.

    To avoid confusion I am not saying do not pray for someone who asks for it unless you hear from God, but what I am saying is that when you pray for someone “under Jesus’ authoritative guidance” then that thing will happen” simply becuase Jesus wants it to happen

  • phil_style

    @Richard Jones, #15,

    We must be careful about promoting this idea that somehow things in the “developing” world are so much more spiritual than here in the “west”. It seems to be a convenient excuse to claim that the reason we don’t see the supernatural is because God is doing it someplace else.

    I know plenty of people who have been exposed to non-western affluence influenced Christianity and have come away feeling more disillusioned than before they went.

  • Ray S.

    I always chuckle to myself when people start cherry-picking gifts in order to allow that some have somehow ‘sqeezed through’ for today (pastor, evangelist) while others haven’t (apostle, prophet, gifts of healings, workings of miracles, etc). As a charismatic pastor I believe that I stand firmly upon Biblical truth when I say that none of these supernatural gifts have passed away and my experience over the years confirms it.

    People sometimes say: “Well, I don’t ever see miracles happen.” And I ask them, “Well, are you going to the places where they ARE happening?”

    To relegate the gifts of the Spirit as merely ‘signs’, in my opinion, is to do harm to the Scriptures. In Paul’s premere teaching on the function of the gifts in the local church in 1 Co.12-14, right smack dab in the middle of that is where we get our premere teaching on ‘love’ (it’s amazing how folks can come in and lift it out of its setting without even mentioning the context in which it was written). Make no mistake about it, these charismata (Grace-gifts) are nothing other than manifestations (channels for) God’s amazing love! It’s his LOVE that gives inspiration for a ‘tongue’ and it’s His LOVE that gives the ‘interpretation’. It’s His LOVE pouring itself out in healing to a sick body and it’s His LOVE that works a ‘miracle’ when all other hope is gone (and I could go on and on 🙂

    Are there abuses ‘within’ the Charismatic community sometimes? Of course. But it’s not as bad as the abuse that is perpetrated when we tell people “It’s not for today.” To cut off the Body of Christ from this extra,supernatural help she so desperately needs is a ‘spiritual crime’. I wonder how God will view our personal ministries at the Judgment Seat when we tell Him, “Well Lord, I just thought that stuff was for crazies. My ministry was much more sophisticated than that.” Jesus could respond, “Well then, ‘your’ ministry was much more sophisticated than My ministry was.”

  • Sherman Nobles

    I believe cessationism presents a “gospel” that is far removed from the Gospel, the story of Jesus. “Extremes” in the Word of Faith movement and the prosperity “gospel” are not as far removed from the Gospel. Jesus was so rich in God He fed the multitudes and had left-overs, paid His taxes with money from a fish’s mouth; and His ministry was so properous, being particularly supported by many women, that He didn’t even chaff over having a dishonest accountant on staff. Jesus lived in both supernatural and natural provision for his life and ministry.

    So from the story of Jesus I’ve come to have faith in God for healing and provision so that I can be a blessing to others. And I’ve seen God provide healing for me and my loved ones and others both through natural means and supernaturally, the same with finances.

    Give and it shall be given unto you shaken, pressed down, and overflowing!

  • AHH

    Question out of ignorance:
    Does the Biblical justification of cessationism come ONLY from dispensationalism and its idiosyncratic interpretation of some verses in I Cor. 13? Or is there other reasoning that gets some people to that position?

    I say this as one who rejects cessationism but tends to live as though it were true. The charismatic and word-faith expressions I was exposed to in my early days as a Christian left such a bad taste in my mouth, where I now think most (if not all) of what went on was not of God, that I tend to shy away from anything like that. It also messed up my prayer life (from seeing prayer as a way to manipulate God), but that’s another story …

  • Luke Allison

    For anyone interested in seeing what happens when a jaded cessationism type has his wife healed, click on this link to my friend’s page: http://walamn.com/Vonna%27s-Story.php

    This is one of the things I’ve personally seen. There are others out there, I’m sure.

  • T

    Thanks all for the comments so far. Let me reiterate that I agree that calling a whole camp of Christians “heretics” or some similar label is of no interest to me, in fact, I would not call anyone a heretic, whether they were “word-faith” or cessationist, based on that alone.

    But one point I did want to explore is how much easier it was for someone as genuinely admirable as Olson call the “extreme” word-faith “another gospel” while he wouldn’t say the same about “hard” cessationism. That difference, to me, highlights a few things: One, it will be a long time before any of us works through the significance and implications of Scot’s KJG thesis for what “the gospel” is. And two, we are so much more used to cessationism, both in tradition and experience, that we often can’t even see how contrary it is to the New Testament examples and teachings; it’s just the water most of us have been swimming in.

    Another irony: critics of the word-faith movement rightly say that word-faith folks teach that the kingdom of God is fully here, that there is little to nothing “not yet” still about it, other than what our disbelief perpetuates. As Norman (5) and other cessationists make clear, they too have to base their theology on the idea that the kingdom, the perfect, has already fully “come” in some predominant way. The so-called signs (but also knowledge?) have passed away only because “the perfect” has already come, we no longer look through a darkened glass. We see and know Jesus fully, just like we’re fully known.

    Again, my question is whether “hard” cessationism presents a gospel that is more accurate than the gospel of word-faith folks?

    DanS and others, my point is not to be insulting, nor am I approving word-faith or much of what often accompanies it. I know you take scripture very seriously, as do most cessationists, and want it to shape our faith more than any tradition of thought. Look at all we have to ignore or explain away in the NT to adopt cessationist theology. And on what biblical basis exactly? Then do the same line of questioning for word-faith. Cessationism stands on far weaker biblical ground. But beyond all this, if the gospels are the gospel, cessationism has several contradictions with that gospel, both in teaching and practice of it, while word-faith’s deviations are small by comparison, even though still real and harmful.

  • Luke Allison

    “Again, my question is whether “hard” cessationism presents a gospel that is more accurate than the gospel of word-faith folks?”

    I think the average person, if left alone in a bomb shelter for five years with nothing but a Bible, would be far more likely to come to the same conclusions as Word-Faithers than cessationists. Honestly, without some exegetical gymnastics, cessationism just doesn’t happen.

    I’m not saying I agree with Word Faith theology, but I think it comes from a “plain reading” (very plain) of the Scripture much more naturally than cessationism does.

  • T

    AHH (20),

    I know of no cessationist theology that is not entirely dependent on interpreting “the perfect” in I Cor. 13 in some way that it has already come, whether it be the canon of scripture or the establishment of the church. It’s the only passage of the NT there is on which cessationist theology can even attempt to stand upon. (Surprised? I was when I first found out!) Never mind what kind of “faith” Jesus praised and criticized, never mind what he said believers in him would do (and did do and still do), never mind huge sections in Paul’s teaching and even some commands that are undone in cessationism. Never mind that Paul sought to have faith built upon demonstrations of the Spirit’s power *along with* the declaration of Christ crucified (and in contrast to human arguments and wisdom). I do this kind of post because you are by no means the only one ignorant of these things. The churches of my youth elected simply to not talk about these things.

  • phil_style

    @ Luke, #21,

    Thanks a lot for linking to that case. I really enjoyed reading the blog by the husband also (faithforthinkers blog).

    It’s nice to see someone who was a first had witness going through the evidence with some healthy skepticism.

    Like I said at the top comment, for me cessationalism is not scripturally supportable on the whole… it’s something I take sneaky glances at due to the hand that life has dealt me 😉

  • T #22, you said, “Another irony: critics of the word-faith movement rightly say that word-faith folks teach that the kingdom of God is fully here, that there is little to nothing “not yet” still about it, other than what our disbelief perpetuates.”

    I have been following Word of Faith teaching for around 15 years now, and I have heard or read a number of WOF teachers. I have never heard a single one teach that the kingdom of God is fully here. If there are any, they are not prevalent among the WOF folks. As far as I can tell, they are most usually premillennialist in their eschatology (I am sort of an anomaly in being postmillennial WOF). We are all waiting for the fullness of the kingdom to be revealed when King Jesus comes again.

  • John W Frye

    There is *no* exegetical base for cessationism. I am a Moody Bible Institute grad (BA) and a Dallas Theological Seminary grad (ThM) so I was “trained” in the “rightly dividing the word of truth” dispensational system. Cessationism has been created by a series of logical deductions from theological givens. Some early dispensationalists taught that “when the perfect comes” (1 Cor. 13) meant when the entire New Testament canon was completed, then the so-called “sign gifts” (aimed primarily at unbelieving Israel) would cease. I strongly disagree with Norman (#5) that “the perfect” is fully present … that too is a deduction within a theological package. I think the majority of New Testament evangelical scholarship acknowledges a “now/not yet” scenario of the God’s kingdom. Nothing in the New Testament even suggests that *any* of the spiritual gifts of 1 Cor. 12-14 have ceased. On this T is correct.

  • Joe Holda

    T – I think you are on to something here in #22. Jesus came preaching the Kingdom of God. The question is this: has the Kingdom come in its fullest, or is there still a not yet element to it? Most Word of Faithers’ that I know are Kingdom Now people. Considering some of the cessationism arguments that I’ve read on these comments, I would now say that Cessationalists are Kingdom Now people as well – that the Kingdom has come in it’s entirety (that make the 1 Corinthians 13 quote hold water).

    Personally, I am a Kingdom all ready / not yet person (and I believe that is the same message that Jesus preached). If that is the case, then there should be moments that we experience Kingdom breakthroughs (signs, wonders, healings, gifts, etc) and moments when we don’t. We won’t see the Kingdom in its entirety until Jesus comes back.

    So, is it a different gospel? Perhaps, considering that I don’t believe that Jesus preached that the Kingdom is here in its entirety yet.

  • Amos Paul

    Firtly, I must assert that Wesley did, indeed, hold the gifts in high regard both in practice and defense: http://ucmpage.org/articles/rtuttle1.html


    “I’m not saying that the miracles DON’T happen, but I’m yet to be convinced that they do.”

    I’m not saying that miracles are necessary or that there’s anything wrong with your faith–but what of the Gospel statement that even Jesus could not ‘perform’ many miracles in his hometown because of their lack of faith (trust in His miraculous power)?

    When some read the Gospels, they see Jesus healing left and right and ask–where’s all the miracles! When others read the Gospels, they see Jesus walking into a whole room of sick people (Ex. pool of Bethesda) and healing only one. What do you think the rest thought of that? Where’s all the healing?

    What of Jesus saying things like, he who has eyes to see and ears to hear. That the Spirit of truth is only visible to those who look?

    I’m saying that it’s all a matter of perspective. If you look at the various miraculous signs and wonders in the Gospels–they are all for a purpose. For demonstrating or establishing God’s relationship with people and His Kingdom. They’re all for the purpose of pointing to the King. To Jesus.

    Now we have plenty of examples of Jesus (and others) *telling* believers to pray and trust these things to happen. For example, John 14:12-14 or James 5:13-18. But who’s to say we always see it happen ourselves? If we did, there’d be no risk. No faith (trust) would be required to *just pray*.

    It’s both a challenge and privilege to take these sorts of risks. To pray and expect even when we only occasionally think we ‘see’. But that’s the thing. No one got healed or experienced the miraculous in the Gospels who did not take a chance. Who didn’t step out to Jesus and say, “Please heal me,” with trust and expectation. And God is not slow to act as some count slowness (2 Pet 3:9).

    The signs and wonders or Jesus reflect and accentuate the Gospel. We don’t *have* to experience and see them to have the Gospel (at least not immediately–ultimately speaking we all trust in a miraculous wonder!). But if the Spirit and the accompanying power *really is* a GUARANTEE deposited into us by God–then we’re encouraged to expect and rely upon the Spirit. But if we don’t intentionally trust God to open our eyes to do and see this type of work in the first place, it should be no surprise we find ourselves never experiencing it.

    Addendum: Virtually every word I’ve ever spoken to someone or time I’ve prayed prayed that someone responded *the most* in a way that God directly impacted/healed them in an obvious way–I felt the least spiritual and least capable of expecting those things. But God used me anyway. ESPECIALLY in those times I hard time trusting anything might happen and went ahead speaking my heart to someone in prayer or praying agaisnt some ailement anyway.

    And rememer, God made you. His voice and Spirit in us is natural, not alien and unnatural like we want it to be (more obvious). It takes work and practice to rely upon God IN us when we might otherwise think that’s not God–just ourselves.

  • Joe Holda

    Jeff #26

    I hate to disagree with you, but I have heard it taught repeatedly as Kingdom Now – that the Kingdom is fully here and so we should expect that God will heal now. I’m a Vineyard guy and one of the biggest criticism of our movement from the WOF camp is that we are not Kingdom Now guys. I have been told by many WOF leaders that we have “quenched the Spirit” because we make too many excuses for when God doesn’t heal.

  • phil_style

    @Amos Paul, thanks for your words,. “I’m not saying that miracles are necessary or that there’s anything wrong with your faith”

    I would probably be the first person to admit there is probably something “wrong” with my faith 😉
    I work in science, in a very secular place (City of London) and I come from a disillusioned evangelical/Pentecostal background. It’s hard enough for me go to a mainline church, let alone endure a full service in an evangelical one any more.

    I take a lot of comfort, solice and “faith” from hanging out here on the web chatting with you fine folks and burying my head in the likes of Rene Girard and Fyodor Dostoevsky.

  • Amos Paul

    Typo corrections:

    *signs and wonders –OF– Jesus reflect and accentuate the Gospel.

    *Especially in those times I –HAD A– hard time trusting anything might happen…

  • Joe Holda #30,

    If you have heard WOF repeatedly taught as Kingdom NOW (fully now?), and I have not heard it taught in all my years with WOF, then it is clearly not enough to conclude that WOF is Kingdom Fully Now. Because however many you have heard who teach, there are also very many WOF who do not. In the WOF, I think you will find very many who believe that the kingdom has now come, but I don’t think there will be that many who believe that it has already fully come, that there is is nothing left to be fulfilled.

    Perhaps I have been listening to the wrong group of WOF, or perhaps I have an insider’s view on what WOF teaches. WOF recognizes that there is still sickness and poverty in the world, and folks demonically oppressed, and that physical death is still a present reality. Jesus has given us authority to heal the sick, free the demonized and raise the dead (as He sent the disciples out to do), and wherever we learn to engage that authority, the kingdom manifests. But this is still much left to do, as every WOF will surely acknowledge. We will know that the kingdom has fully come when there is no more sickness, demonic oppression and death in the world — we will not see that until the King returns. Until then, it is the kingdom now already begun, but not yet done.

  • T


    Thanks for voicing (importantly, as Olson did in his post) that there are “hard” and “soft” WOF folks just as there are with cessationism. Many of the “softer” WOF folks just see faith as a very important factor in the effectiveness of prayer. Frankly, it’s hard to argue from the NT (both the gospels and James) that faith doesn’t play a very important role.

    As an example of “extreme” WOF teaching though, Olson tells the story of a speaker at ORU’s chapel, when Roberts first started getting into WOF teaching:

    “I will never forget the day a California-based African-American preacher of positive faith and prosperity (he boasted of owning several Rolls Royces) spoke in chapel. We were all required to attend. With students in wheel chairs in attendance he shrieked “You can’t be a good witness for Jesus from a wheel chair!” Dead silence fell over the nearly five thousand people in the Christ Chapel. Then he asked “Well? Am I right?” One usually quiet and very humble professor stood to his feet and shouted through cupped hands “NO!” Then he sat down. Many, many chapel speakers were from that wing of the Charismatic movement. Oral himself did not teach or preach an extreme version of the so-called Word-Faith message he allowed surrogates to do it for him.”

    So that would be an example of “extreme” or “hard” WOF teaching that raises eyebrows and appropriately meets resistance. But I also know of stories of wonderful and faithful folks who were directly or indirectly booted from cessationist churches and ministries after disclosing a surprising experience with tongues or even healing. That would be what I would call “hard” or extreme cessationism. But with all these theologies (and the practices that embody them), there are degrees.

  • As a student at a Pentecostal university studying Pentecostal theology, I see how presupposing cessastionism develops a different gospel than is presented in the NT. I once wrote a paper about the implications of Spirit Baptism and was convinced that the Holy Spirit is both the extension of the person and work of Jesus (the reality of Jesus in his physical absense) and the means of experiencing God’s kingdom presently, as each gift and act points toward future consummation. (Healing is a work of the Spirit that is a present Kingdom reality, but points to no sickness or death in the eschaton).

    So if the Spirit is the reality of Jesus, it is how our narrative is included in the narrative of the gospel. And if the Spirit is how God’s kingdom is breaking into the present (the Spirit is our “already”) I see full continuity with the flow of the work of God through the spirit and the gospel. It seems as clear as Pentecost beginning Jesus continued work through the church, by the Spirit, and the proclamation of the “last days” in Peter’s quotation of Joel in the first gospeling; as the continuity of Luke, in Acts, showing the followers of Jesus doing what he did in his ministry that he previously wrote about in the gospel of Luke. To interrupt this continuity with speculation of the cessation of gifts interrupts, in my mind, the flow of the gospel narrative that we see in Luke-Acts as well as our ability to participate in the present reality of God’s kingdom or point the world toward life in the consummation.

  • Norman

    Folks, it’s been a good heart felt discussion so far. I’ll stand on my premise that the Kingdom perfection of Jesus Christ came and was firmly established. As I presented in my earlier post the whole basis of this discussion is upon the setting of biblical context and understanding that context. Those that believe Jesus didn’t fully accomplish what He desired and begun and that there is still something left to perform have IMHO simply missed “part” of the Boat. We are reading in the NT scriptures a snapshot of time that from all indications occurred between AD30 and AD70 and is what is known as the New Exodus period. Now if we continue to project ourselves into that narrative without restriction then of course we are going to read it literally as if we are still in a process that was ongoing during that period. We need to step back and study this issue from the reality of what was going on and why Paul and the Apostles constantly reminded the faithful that in their generation there would come relief then (not 2000 years later and counting).

    However I also realize that I’m presenting some ideas that are hard for some to contemplate as they may challenge ones worldview of faith in the way they have constructed it. This issue is surely not determinative of ones salvation but it “may” be instructive for not tending to overstep or overstate practical Christian living and sometimes harming others with manifestations that simply never materialize. I believe all faithful Christians believe in the providence of God and its actions in ours, family and friends lives. We believe through faith that we see that evidence. I am not challenging that providential faith reality but am simply challenging that the “miraculous” in the manner of restoring someone back from the dead has never been demonstrated and documented in history since the first century AD. I simply state the challenge that if one can find an instance and present it so firmly that it can stand up in a court of law by cross examination then we have an example. Anecdotal personal stories and our own faith experience are something we cherish within us but I’m not talking about those. We all believe that God heals and we often believe it is miraculous and who can argue or would want to against such an occurrence. Those experiences are precious to our faith walk with God and are simply not part of my points. I’m talking about how the plan of salvation was implemented and has been firmly established and is not lacking from God and Christ purpose for the faithful. We may want more but like Paul, God has given us enough Grace that is sufficient for our faith.

    By the way just this past Sunday I went to church and ate lunch afterward with a good friend who wants to share his personal faith experience with me and my wife. He cautioned me that he hopes I would not boot him out of the church when doing so. He said this because I’m an elder in this church. However I shared with him that it is one of the most beneficial things that occurs in my life when people tell their faith story. There is not a way under the sun that I would not embrace this man as he confides with me his faith and all of the possible “miraculous” details that will accompany it. There is a point in that even though I believe I may grasp the order of the Biblical narrative there is no way that I fully understand the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives and how it transforms lives. Sometimes when we disagree we are splitting theological hairs that don’t amount to much in the big picture.

  • T


    There’s a very well respected doctor (a heart surgeon, I believe) in my area who is confident God raised a man from the dead in his presence. He lost a patient on the operating table, did everything they could do medically. He (or someone else) then prayed for God to raise him back and God did so on the spot. As I recall, the doc was a Christian, but not any kind of pentecostal beforehand. Now he’s more thoroughly pentecostal than I personally prefer! So he was certainly satisfied that this patient was both dead and had no physical way of coming back, but did so by God’s intervention. If you’d like to get a hold of this doctor and discuss it with him, I can try to arrange a conversation. You (or anyone else) can email me at tnfLaw at bellsouth dot net. That said, you may prefer to read craig keener’s book Miracles. I’ve heard it is ridiculously well-researched.

  • T

    For the record, also, just so it’s abundantly clear. I don’t view cessationist folks as presenting a gospel so different from the apostolic gospel that I would hesitate for a second to call a cessationist my brother (nor would I treat a WOF pentecostal any differently) based on this issue. That said, I think some articulations of the gospel are more at odds with “the gospels” than others. In that vein, the cessationist version of the gospel is more problematic than I previously thought, before having read KJG and letting it sink in.

  • james petticrew

    Not on the subject but I thought this might interest and perhaps amuse you. Dawkins caught on the jaws of his own trap, later claimed he was “ambushed” unfairly


  • T #24, you wrote: “I know of no cessationist theology that is not entirely dependent on interpreting “the perfect” in I Cor. 13 in some way that it has already come, whether it be the canon of scripture or the establishment of the church.” Actually, there are cessationists who are not entirely dependent on 1 Cor 13 as you state. Richard Gaffin of Westminster Seminary is one. He provides the cessationist position in the Four Views book on miraculous gifts edited by Wayne Grudem. The big verse gone to by those in the Reformed tradition is Ephesians 2.20. For a good response to this usage see the remarks by Sam Storms in “Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views” pp. 78-81. Another good resource is Jon Ruthven’s “On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Post-Biblical Miracles” (2nd ed.). He has appendix on the cessationist use of Ephesians 2.20 (pp. 203-219.

  • T


    Thanks. I hadn’t ever heard a cessationist argument from any other section of scripture. Although, I have to say after re-reading the Eph. passage, I think the cessationists are better off with I Cor. 13!

    Eph. 2:20 is, at best, another “maybe we can infer . . .” kind of “support” for cessationism. The whole passage is talking about Jews and Gentiles being united in one house of God, and ascribing a foundational role in that work to the apostles and prophets. All continuationists would give a big “Amen” to all that. Of course the apostles and prophets were foundational to the building of the early church. We can have apostles and prophets play a foundational role in this work . . . and still be foundational for work to come, just as Jesus will continue to be our Plumb Line and our cornerstone, just as the scriptures will be important, etc. etc. The passage just doesn’t get into future work at all.

    I think John Frye (27) isn’t overstating the point.

  • Norman


    Thanks for the offer. I’ve been around enough to have encountered every story there is about raising the dead.

    One of my son’s church high school classmates was considered as good as dead on the operating table and she recovered even with physical impairments that she had to overcome. Do I think that was miraculous? Yes and providential but there is a big difference from bringing someone back that had laid 4 days in the tomb and smelled than a person coming back from a “near” death experience. I can’t contest the good Doctor and I won’t as that is not for me. What I do is present that there are limits to what a person can concievably do regarding the miraculous that I don’t believe are still avaiable. Those signs were a testimony to those who doubted whether Christ or the apostles were of God. If I’m wrong then I will ask God’s forgivness and praise His Name.

  • DanS

    I don’t thing the argument of the post is that the “Gospel” is not the gospel unless a miraculous manifestation occurs. Hence, I don’t see how cessationism (and I am not in that camp) can in any way be equated with “another gospel”. For Pete’s sake, saying certain gifts were meant for the apostles is not the same thing as saying the Holy Spirit stopped working with the death of John, or that miracles as a result of prayer can’t happen!

    I don’t think cessationists as a rule believe miracles cease. The ONLY thing that is at issue is whether an individual has a particular gift to heal at will or perform particular other signs.

    Word of Faith, on the other hand, (as distinguished from generic charismatic and pentecostal views) gets into the realm of God being a sort of force to be manipulated – that faith is almost a technique to bend reality to our will, to make us wealthy and healthy. Add to that some pretty frightening statements that call into question Christology, Trinity, the atonement and other important matters (well documented in Hank Hannegraf’s “Christianity in Crisis”) and there are all kinds of problems. Again, not talking about your average Assembly of God pastor, but about the extremes of the Word of Faith movement.

    The reason I find the comparison insulting is that I see Cessationists, (though I disagree with them) following where they think the text leads, but I see Word of Faith teachers straying far from the text in subjective story telling that they claim comes from the “spirit”. Maybe they have an advantage in this postmodern age where anyone who believes in objective truth is portrayed as an oppressor, but I think there’s a lot of really bizarre stuff in WOF that you would never have heard from a Merrill Unger.

    Again, I don’t see enough scriptural evidence to say God cannot grant certain gifts today, but I do think the apostles were unique and that the miracles and signs they performed were validations of a message that ushered in the transition from Old to New Covenant.

  • JohnM

    DanS #43- “…I don’t see enough scriptural evidence…but I do think the apostles were unique and that the miracles and signs they performed were validations of a message that ushered in the transition from Old to New Covenant”.

    I don’t disagree with you but why do you think that? Is there scriptural evidence that the 1st century apostles were unique and that the miracles they performed were unique evidence for a unique time? – And if so, would that not constitute a kind of scriptural evidence after all that we should not expect God will grant similar gifts today? No specific proof texts needed?

    Anyway, I take the view that it is less cessationim and more the claims of contemporary gifts and miracle working that bear the burden of proof in the first place.

  • Dana Ames

    I think a big part of the problem is the dualism that the terms “cessationist” and “non-cessationist” imply. If all of reality is One (*not* talking pantheism here!!!) then God is not distant and so does not function in any way as a deus ex machina. According to Wright, the view of the Totality of Reality as heaven (the part that we can’t see) and earth (the part that we can) seems to be the usual view of 1st century Jews, and so the context of the New Testament.

    I think seeing “the miraculous” this way actually can make things more difficult and leave us with more questions than “answers”, especially if we have to have certainty…

    I do very much like the aspect of the Orthodox take on such things described by dopderbeck above: God does stuff – and it’s not made into any kind of a “dog and pony show”. I’ve heard anecdotal stories – and they’re nearly all after-the-fact. There’s not the driven-ness to have to “prove” any particular incidence. I do have doubts about some of them, but it’s not my place to pronounce judgment; there’s a lot I don’t know, and who am I to determine how God is supposed to manifest his love and care?


  • I was a staunch cessationist—until I began listening to testimonies from missionaries about how the Holy Spirit performed miracles through them and how He defeated demonic powers. A number of the folks I have heard from are not even Pentecostals but Southern Baptists and Methodists!

    Bottom line: if Paul said that the kingdom of God is demonstrated not simply through preaching or through words but also in the power (dunamis or miracle-working power of God) of the Spirit, then I can’t dismiss the Spirit’s desire to demonstrate His power (cf. 1Cor. 1:24; 2:4; Rom. 1:16, Rom. 14:17; 15:19; 2Cor. 10:4-5; 1Thess. 1:5).

    I highly doubt these discussions are happening in places where confrontations with demonic powers (my presupposition about the reality of evil should be clear) are a normal part of church planting and mission work.

  • DanS

    John #44. I could develop a case based on statements Jesus made to the Apostles specifically that should not necessarily be taken as normative for all Christians. I could point to the New Jerusalem bearing the names of the twelve. I could point to the particular status the apostles had in the early church and throughout Church history, including the Nicene Creed. I think a case can absolutely be made for the uniqueness of the apostles and in that context statements like 1 Cor 12:12 (signs of an apostle) and Acts 2:42 (devoted to the apostles’ teaching) carry a bit of weight in suggesting subsequent teachers had neither the authority nor the unique powers the twelve had as the founders of the church.

    I do think it a tougher sell to say God could never allow gifts of healing or tongues or other signs. I just don’t think sign gifts are intended to be the norm for everybody everywhere.

  • DanS

    Missional Girl #46. I don’t discount the miraculous as answers to prayer, nor do most cessasionists. Nor do I think the absence of certain sign gifts in any way limits the “power” of the Holy Spirit. Again the only question is whether an individual has a particular “sign gift”. Cessasionism is not the end of the work of the spirit or the end of answers to prayer or the end of miracles or the end of the power of the gospel.

  • DanS

    BTW I know of two young men in our church who believe they were healed of childhood diseases. I was once a participant in an excorcism. All of these events were primarily a matter of God working through prayer independent of anybody’s gift.

  • T


    I’m really glad that your experience has been with what I would call very “soft” cessationism. But that was demonstrably not the cessationism I grew up in. Despite Paul’s command, in “hard” cessationist churches (sometimes unknown as such until faced with an in-house occurrence) tongues are forbidden and if leadership admits having such an experience, they are asked/told to leave and/or keep it to themselves.

    Also, I don’t think you can make the case that “The ONLY thing that is at issue is whether an individual has a particular gift to heal at will.” There are several instances that make it hard to believe that the apostles healed at will. Why would Paul, for instance, tell Timothy to drink wine instead of just water for his recurring stomach problems if he could heal at will? Why was he concerned with losing Epaphras to illness if he could heal at will? And the apostles, who had authority to drive out demons, couldn’t do it on at least one occasion, presumably from a problem with their faith and/or approach. So, I can’t agree that the only issue is whether someone today has the authority to “heal at will” because I don’t even think the apostles had that; that’s just not what I see in the NT examples of healing or prophecy for that matter. Lots of folks prophesy in the NT, but I don’t get anything in the scriptures that tells me that those folks did so “at will.” The need for cooperation with, dependence on, and sensitivity to the Spirit is ongoing. Gifting doesn’t mean independence from God’s sovereignty. Even Jesus said he did what he saw the Father doing. And he teaches that Elisha was “sent” to heal Namaan the Syrian, even though there were many lepers in Israel. In fact, it’s only the word-faith teachings that talk about healing being something like “at will” which is the teaching that is appropriately challenged.

  • DanS,

    I don’t think the gifts of the Spirit were ever meant to be merely “validation for the message.” I think they are manifestations of the kingdom. Jesus didn’t heal the sick and cast out demons because He needed to validate His message ~ He was manifesting the kingdom of God on earth. The kingdom of God is the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven. There is no sickness in heaven, so the manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth in regard to sickness is healing. Likewise, the manifestation of the kingdom in regard to demonization is expelling the demons.

    Jesus promised that whoever believed in Him would do the same works He did, and even greater ones (John 14:12). In the history of the Church, the gifts waned in some times and places, but they never left. They have continued, and not merely in theory. They have often been recorded. Healings, exorcisms, various miracles, speaking in tongues, words of knowledge and of prophecy, and other manifestations of the Holy Spirit. They are still happening today all around the world. They manifest the reality of the kingdom.

  • T, I don’t think of the practice of the gifts as “at will,” but rather, “as needed.” As I have heard numerous times in WOF circles, when the question is about what is the most important gift, the answer is, “Whatever is needed at the time.” For example, when someone is sick, what they need is healing. I think that is the same with the word of knowledge or word of wisdom, or some other miracle. The gifts is not the particular manifestation itself — the gift is the Holy Spirit, and He brings forth what is need. I learned that also from WOF.

    The only matter of the will is the decision of whether we are going to believe God and His Word.

  • DanS

    Perhaps “at will” is the wrong term. But the apostles had a lot of ability early in their ministry to heal with a word or a touch. What does “sign of an apostle” mean if every first century believer had that gift? Yes, cessasionists can be hard-nosed about “no tongues”. I don’t really agree with them. My background was in a church that taught “seek not, forbid not”. But I’ve seen plenty of false manifestations and abuse of healing and tongues in this country. Some of it just phony and manipulative and some of it seemingly from the dark side.

    Odd that on a blog that regularly promotes a view of science that all but excludes the miraculous with respect to events in the distant past, we are now debating whether miracles are a normative and necessary manifestation of the gospel in the present era. I wonder if there are some underlying differences going on here about the relationship of Biblical authority to experience. Seems like on this topic, many want to say that since there are real experiences of the miraculous especially on the mission field, scripture has to mean “x” while the more conservative reader would say scripture doesn’t seem to say “x” exactly so maybe we should be a little more cautious about the experiences. Who was it that said we should not so much teach the experience of the apostles as experience the teaching of the apostles. I think my main point here is to preserve the uniqueness and authority of the apostles. And I think “signs of an apostle” does indicate that signs weren’t the norm for everybody who wasn’t an apostle, else the phrase is meaningless.

    Did not Jesus say to the pharisees who demanded a sign that no sign would be given save the sign of Jonah, and did he not say that even if one rose from the dead some would refuse to believe? Miracles and signs are not essential to the gospel work of everyday pastors and laymen. The conviction of the Holy Spirit is.

  • I have always found cessationism a little odd. If Jesus and the the first apostles needed the Holy Spirit to be hard at it, how can the church cope with him bound up.

    Jesus is a not much of a king, if his chief minister, the Holy Spirit is bound up and powerless.

    We must be careful not to let our experience determine our theology. My experience of the Holy Spirit’s power is much less than I would like it to be, but that is due to me, not him.

  • AT

    I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.
    Roman 15:19

    Is the gospel ‘complete’ without miracles and signs…according to Paul’s theology?

  • gingoro

    Yes I was responding to you but I was also saying that for me, my experience sets up a bias against cessationism.

    I hold a broad definition of cessation to mean that God does not intervene in the modern world except wrt conversion and the Christian spiritual life. I am not only talking about miracles such as the case with Paul and the snake bite which demonstrate God’s power to the pagan world.

    A few missionary books and speakers come across as if their experience was that miracles occurred every minute. Frankly I do not find such credible or helpful as they do not reflect the reality that I saw as a child years ago.

    On the other hand I believe that God did intervene from time to time in a significant way. Could I document such to convince a skeptic? No, as in my opinion one needed to experience an extended exposure to such occurrences to become convinced that God was working and that what was occurring was not merely the natural outcome of events. My memory is fading as I left Africa in 1955 but my recollection is that the incidents that impressed me were ones where a great deal of prayer was offered up.
    Dave W

  • DanS #53,

    The Bible nowhere makes the equation: signs, wonders, miracles = signs of an apostle. Miracles accompanied the signs of an apostle, but were not themselves necessarily signs of an apostles. There were others in the NT who performed miracles but who were not apostles. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes about the gifts of the Spirit, which include “gifts of healings” and “workings of miracles.” These were by no means limited to apostles but were functioning among the members of the church.

    The experience of miracles in the history of the Church and today do not tell us how we should interpret the pertinent Scriptures. The NT simply does not tell us that the gifts have ceased — the cessationists have failed to make a biblical case. So, if there are experiences of the gifts still in action today, it is not in contradiction to the Scriptures or good hermeneutics, nor does it drive the hermeneutics. There simply is not a good hermeneutical case for the cessation of the gifts. Since the Scriptures do not tell us that the gifts have ceased, then, there is certainly nothing wrong in identifying the miracles that have occurred and the gifts that have been active.

  • I was taught cessationism growing up. 10 years ago I began attending a charismatic church and for 1 year I was highly skeptical that any of the miracles they were talking about there were real.

    But I stuck around long enough to verify what was going on:

    -A friend who had lupus was suddenly healed after years, when someone in her Bible study stood up suddenly and said, “The Lord told me to pray for you.”

    -I went to India with a friend. We laid hands on people and a woman who had no feeling in her left arm and seizures from brain surgery was suddenly healed in a space of 15 minutes. The problems never returned.

    -At the same location in India a woman who had torn up her shoulder (rotater cuff I think) and had very limited motion of her arm started waving her arms wildly because the pain had completely left. Another’s digestive problems ceased after years.

    -Not everyone there was healed of everything. It was a mixed bag.

    -I began investigating documented miracles. There are MANY. Lots of scholarly literature on this. Vastly more if you include non-scholarly literature.

    -A peer reviewed paper in Southern Medical Journal from 2010 documents healing of blind and deaf people in Mozambique. 10-60dB improvements in hearing, 0 to 15X improvements in vision.

    -Read Real Miracles by Richard Casdorph; God and the Sun at Fatima by Stanley Jaki; Miracle Detective by Randall Sullivan; any number of books on Lourdes. A large scholarly work has just come out, Miracles vol 1 & 2 by Craig Keener. There is an overwhelming case for dramatic miraculous healings, occurring occasionally now and in the past.

    I have written much more about my experiences with links and videos at http://www.coffeehousetheology.com/miracles/

    The biblical case for cessationism is so weak, all the arguments I’ve heard for it painfully stretch interpretation in bizarre ways.

    *Some* charismatics may be taking things too far but in general they are the ones who are Biblical. Cessationism is anti-Biblical and I believe it’s one of the biggest mistakes in the history of the church.

  • TSG

    It’s not that the gifts aren’t still with us. It’s that in putting them as a priority, as so very important, makes people who hold the view of them as so important incongruous( so many examples could be given). Who hasn’t been impacted by the implication that if a loved one’s faith had only been enough they wouldn’t have died from cancer? What this world so desperately needs is not the gifts of the Spirit, but the fruits, and whenever this discussion comes up, that must be emphasized. They are a thousand to one the prority of the Holy Spirit. We must prioritize as He does.

  • T


    Jeff makes very important (biblical) points in 57. I want to respond personally to this:

    “Seems like on this topic, many want to say that since there are real experiences of the miraculous especially on the mission field, scripture has to mean “x” while the more conservative reader would say scripture doesn’t seem to say “x” exactly so maybe we should be a little more cautious about the experiences.”

    This implies that the biblical case for cessationism is strong compared to the biblical case for continuationism. I have argued here many times and many ways the opposite is the reality. In fact, in this whole discussion we’ve been given two (!) verses of New Testament that supposedly support the cessationist view: I Cor. 13:10 and Ephesians 2:20. Read them yourself! I will be kind and simply say that in neither case is the supposed cessationist interpretation obvious let alone explicit. Two verses that require big inferences compared to chapter after chapter of explicit and positive examples, teachings and commands. Further still, when I used cessationism here in a previous post about the Quadrilateral, I did so because several cessationists and/or skeptical folks admit the bible is *not* the reason they were cessationist, but rather experience, even here in those discussions. Even many of the newer “soft” cessationist scholars at traditional cessationists seminaries are “soft” admittedly because the biblical case is so weak. So they are open to be pursuaded by experience, but their posture is still largely disbelief and they are in churches that, at best, “seek not.” Of course, this is really problematic if there is any truth to the several scriptures that say that our faith and our asking or even “eager desire” does play a role in what we experience in this regard. So I agree with you wholeheartedly–let’s let scripture be the primary voice shaping our faith, especially the gospel, and let experience play a secondary role.

    For all the talk I hear about valuing the “plain reading” of scripture and “sola scriptura” in conservative camps, it all goes out the window on this issue. When it comes to cessationism, experience and tradition are ruling the day, not scripture generally, not the gospels specifically.

  • T


    You argue for a biblical priority for gifts, but then you say this: “What this world so desperately needs is not the gifts of the Spirit, but the fruits.” I agree with you that love is the most excellent way. But if you read I Cor. 12-14, you won’t hear Paul saying that the world does not need the gifts. You won’t hear him say that anywhere. Rather you’ll hear these:

    “About the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.”

    “eagerly desire the greater gifts”

    “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.”

    “the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.”

    “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy.”

    “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.”

    “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.”

    That’s just Paul’s praise for the Spirit’s gifts and working in those few chapters. There are several more in several of his letters. So, as I say to DanS, Yes! Let’s let scripture set our faith and our priority for God’s powerful working through the Spirit. Again, after reading Scot’s book, let’s let the gospels continue on that score as well. If we do, we won’t end up with “seek not” or saying that the world doesn’t need them. They are, as others have said above, expressions of *Love* from an all powerful Christ and God. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of love and power. God doesn’t keep those two neatly separated from one another, whether in Christ or his church. The same Spirit empowers both, even at the same time.

  • Norman

    Can someone tell me how God healed His faithful believers before the coming of Christ and the Holy Spirit? Did people of God of old have the same healing blessings available to them as those post Christ and the HS. If things changed then explain in some detail how it was a permanent manifestation that was not available to people of old.

  • AT

    Regarding the interpretation of 1 corinthians 13. Gordon Fee makes the clear argument that the completion of the canon (which was an entirely foreign concept to the authors and original audience) could not possibly have been the original meaning of the text.

    Whilst I feel sick at the ‘hyper prosperity’ and ‘you weren’t healed because you didn’t have enough faith’ folks…I have grown into a kingdom ‘now’ but ‘not yet’ view…

    The thing is once my theology changed I began to see healings occur….

  • TSG

    I don’t deny the gifts of the Spirit. I don’t think they are separated. But I say every Christians should exemplify and emphasize the continuing development of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. And these aren’t given fully developed or they wouldn’t be called fruits.
    The main emphasis in my lifetime about concentrating on the restoration of the gifts of the Spirit came from the latter rain movement. Today all the major doctines of that are carried on. From Hammond, P.Cain, Joyner, Wimber, T. Nelson, J. Edwards, Woodroffe, Bickle, and so many more. Whatever one’s opinion of neo-Montanists maybe, you can look up the doctrines and see they are not scriptural. The other Pentecostals of that time knew it was not sound, primarily because the people in the pews read their Bibles. And it cost them people who believed it and left. Today, none admit to being being “latter rain” but they carry on every doctrine. The charismatic renewal, discipleship/sheparding, holy laughter, Rhema, word/faith, the prophetic movement, signs and wonders, apostolic movement all carry it on. The emphasis on restoring the gifts of the Spirit doesn’t need help from evangelicals. I believe that once you start to believe that the power the church needs is in the restoration of the gifts, you have succumbed to montanism-one of the three heresies of the beginnings of the church( the other two being gnosticism and ebionism).

    I say again- the gifts are real and have not ceased. But I can name group after group that have gone the way of Montanus throughtout Christian history in the name of restoring the church. Though a sign of life and power, it opens the door with notorious ease to an unbalanced subjectivity. Thanks to the disapproval of the church established, to the restless sense of the contrast between empirical and ideal Christianity, starting with promises and apocalyptic visions, dreaming of the lost pentcostal springtime of the church, believing in the presence and activity of the Spirit to whose action they have abandoned themselves in complete passivity like a violin vibrating under the bow- Novations, Donatists, Cathari, Priscillianists the followers of Joachim di Fiore, Fraticelli, Homines Intelligentiae, Flagellants, Vaudois, Herrnhunters, John of Leiden, Swedenborgians, Irvinggates have gone the way of the prophets of today who want to restore the gifts to their rightful place. I’m just saying that their rightful place is thousands of times lower than the fruits of the spirit.
    H. M. Gwatkin was a good Christian historian in a tough time. He said there were three problems with reputing Montanism. (1)we were left sacraments (2) a deep distrust of the prophetic as enthusiasm (3) left with the contrast between the apostolic age of gifts and now as they are ended. I’m not insensitive to the positive side of this argument which the “spirituals” among us have always made. But the negative side must be presented.

  • The gifts of the Spirit and the fruits of the Spirit are not in competition. One does not invalidate the other or render the other unnecessary. God has given both to the Church. Neither is to be marginalized or denigrated.

  • T


    I’m all for pointing to historical mistakes (of hyper-subjectivity or hyper-rationalism, or anything else). We need the wisdom of past mistakes and successes. Further, I’ve been clear that word-faith is wrong IMO, and that prosperity gospel is worse. But my basis for saying what I’ve said, in denouncing word-faith, cessationism and prosperity teaching, and for elevating love above all is because I see the New Testament clearly doing all that, especially the gospels (as the gospel).

    As personal note, the small group that meets at my house has growth in Christ’s love as its express purpose. We’ve met with that purpose for over two years and I am deeply grateful for it. So I couldn’t agree more that the focal point of our faith is Christ-like love. My own practices give me away.

    All that said, there is no denying that supernatural healing and prophetic insights are hallmarks of Christ’s ministry that he personally did, that his disciples did, that their disciples did. We serve a God that is Love, and is also very powerful, not just via the Son, but also his Church, all via the Spirit.

    As for the non-scriptural doctrines of Latter Rain and others, this venue is limited. I did identify two doctrines that have popped up in several (not all) pentecostal groups and agreed they are problematic in varying degrees. But the larger point is that it is hard to read the gospels (as ‘the’ gospel), let alone Acts and the epistles, and say on the basis of their witness that cessationism is not a serious error that overturns much that is taught and modeled in the NT. Tradition (both bad and good) and Experience (both bad and good) have their place in building theology, but if we want to let Scripture (especially the gospel(s)) be the primary voice shaping our theology and practice, then we have to take cessationism as an error on one extreme (not the only one) to be avoided.

  • CGC

    There is a kind of irony that some oneness pentecostals who are theologically wrong about the person of the Holy Spirit walk in power and miracles of God’s Spirit while some may think cessationist theology is more theologically correct but have no awareness or experience of God’s miraculous power in their own lives.

  • Amos Paul


    I think you were asking what difference there was in the Spirit’s activity before and after the historical work of the Cross?

    I certainly don’t deny that it was (and is) the same Spirit at work throughout all the ages. But I *do* think that Scripture indicates a distinct difference between the prior age and this one based upon how God has now, through Christ, especially “poured out” His Spirit.

    Jesus said to Nicodemus that the Spirit blows where it wills. But now, Peter and the apostles testified along with Joel:

    “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel–

    ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

    I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

    Romans 5:5, “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

    That’s the age we live in. And there is something substantively different aobut it and the last in how the Spirit is now ‘poured’ in a way it wasn’t exactly poured out upon us before..

  • TSG

    I appreciate your active listening.

    The King Jesus Gospel is a different approach and way of thinking about the Gospel than many have originally.

    Now we have with us a large group who concentrate on God’s omnipotence. They think all powerful is attached to a coercive element of power. He is almighty God. It is a deterministic, reductionist view. It is hard to show them the idea that the Bible teaching controlling is highly contradictory, despite verses that support their idea, You, T, show a power of love rather than a power of force. Loving relationships and creative imaginations are part of El Shaddai, a more Biblical way of looking at power.

    Likewise we have with us a large group of people adverse to evolution. Evolution originally came from a Cartesian, mechanistic view of process. But Intelligent designers even believe Cartesianly, because they have to bring a supernatural element to the process. That evolution is an organic mechanism, has a purpose, is hard to get them to agree. Even non-believers have begun to rethink evolution organically. From the organic perspective God has been at work all along. Grace is every monment, some more apparent, but it doesn’t exclude others.

    Likewise we have among us many who see the gifts of the Spirit in this supernatural and deterministic mind-set. Power to them is divine healing, praise and worship to usher God into our presence, manifest sons( to me closer to Nietzche), and a word from God that is direct, not Jesus as the word.

    I’m in complete agreement with you about cessationism not being part of the Gospel, but word-faith Pentecostals are no closer. Word and faith morphing into wealth and power is a give away. It is very hard to get them to think differently about the gifts of the Spirit. They are still in that controlling mind-set, which also is on display in many of their contexts.

  • T


    I see your point, but I can’t say that I feel like Elijah and think that all have bowed down to Baal. We’ll just have to pursue Christ’s kind of riches and power as best we know and can, and invite others to the same.

    FWIW, I don’t think that Pentecostals have cornered the market on ‘prosperity’ teaching by any stretch of the imagination. Ultimately, I do think that learning to value and work with God’s kind of power is tied to learning to devalue and depend less on the world’s kind of power.

    Thanks and God’s grace and peace to you.

  • Norman

    @Amos Paul #68,

    I don’t believe anything mystical changed in the physical world with Christ coming. What was important according to Paul in Romans from a comprehensive overview and study was the changing of the way we approach God. The old approach of attempting to walk with God through Law Keeping was being set aside to a new means of walking through faith in Christ; called life through the Spirit. That is what Paul lays out in detail especially in Rom 5-7 and then in chapter 8 brings it to a conclusion contrasting life through the Flesh (Law) as opposed through a Spirit filled life. IMO we often mix the Spirit filled life with the pronouncements of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit to bring about the establishment of the church. What we read in the NT was not expected to be the status quo forever as the New Kingdom became established by clearly replacing the Old Covenant kingdom of works. If you read the NT open ended then it’s easy to see how one can come to that conclusion but as I have stated earlier the NT was always pointing to a point in time in their generation when Kingdom life would have fully arrived. That sign would be like the sign to the Jews of their disobedience in 600BC when Solomon’s Temple would be destroyed. That is what Christ pointed to along with the Apostles in regard to the desolation of the 2nd Temple as the consummating sign to everyone that there was a new sheriff in town.

    Once the Kingdom was fully confirmed through the fulfillment of Christ prophecies then there was no need for the miraculous gifts to continue to confirm something that had already been established. I believe we have tremendous benefits through our Holy Spirit walk with God instead of trying to work ourselves into a right relationship. That is the first and foremost change that came about for God’s covenant people. I know people want to believe they have special gifts such as tongues and healing but the gifts now come to us from God through our faith walk with Him not an Apostle laying on of hands.

    People here are overstating and mischaracterizing the cessationalist position in order to make their arguments against it. The arguments I see being made here are almost universally taking things out of context and that is always an easy game. Proof texting never works but a systematic understanding of the purpose of the coming of Christ the Messiah and what it was all about sets the correct context to understand what occurred. It was not to bring in everlasting tongue speaking and raising people from the dead as that confirmation served its purpose. I’m not worried about this issue so much because we all know that the center of our faith is our walk with Christ. The particulars are debatable but our faith is the gospel news of Jesus Christ and the Grace we all find through Him.

  • Jon Ruthven

    Brothers, on this issue, I would urge you to read the monumental new 2 volume, 1179 page work just out from Baker Academic by Craig Keener,*Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts* —it overwhelming documents modern miracles and refutes the traditional Enlightenment-era cessationism (David Hume) we have inherited and think is somehow “orthodox”.

    Also, for a thorough examination of the Biblical arguments, see Jon Ruthven, *On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Post-Biblical Miracles* called “the definitive study” (L W Hurtado, Edinburgh U Dean), “best study” (Alistar McGrath), et al. For a larger framework of this issue, see the forthcoming, *What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology* (Word & Spirit Press, 2012).

  • Amos Paul


    That was an incredibly long-winded way of saying that your theological paradigm disagrees with Jesus Christ, Peter, and Paul.