Cessationism in a Nutshell
Of all the posts that I’ve put on this website, my past series on the cessation of apostles has received more comments than anything else. My posts are typically generated out of my weekly sermon study for my church, and we are presently going through Acts, a book full of miracles. So, that being said, my goal is not to poke anyone in the eye but to simply post what I believe to be true from Scripture, recognizing that fellow Christians disagree over this particular issue. At the same time, this particular issue is not insignificant, which is why it provokes so much debate. What follows is what I believe to be a strong argument for cessationism among a number of arguments that could be offered.
The term cessationism is typically used in theology with reference to the belief that the practice of miraculous spiritual gifts ceased at the end of the time of the apostles. In contrast, the term continuationism is used with reference to the belief that the practice of miraculous spiritual gifts continue to be practiced today.
Some gifts are miraculous because they involve the reception of God’s direct revelation—prophecy (receiving and giving this revelation), discerning of spirits (confirming that the Spirit gave revelation to another), wisdom (revelation giving wisdom), knowledge (revelation giving knowledge), tongues (revelation involving a known human language previously unknown to the speaker), and their interpretation (supernaturally interpreting a known human language previously unknown to the interpreter). See 1 Corinthians 12:8–10.
Other gifts are miraculous because, like the gifts above, they only take place by the supernatural work of God. These gifts include faith (the kind of faith granted for miracles; something beyond faith for salvation, it seems; cf. Matthew 17:20), miracles in general, and healings in particular. Again, see 1 Corinthians 12:8–10.
This second set of gifts— miracles, healings, and their necessary faith complement the first set of gifts, those that involve the reception and communication of divine revelation. Miracles confirmed that the speaker and his revelation from God were authentic and true. The message of “such a great salvation” was spoken by Jesus and the apostles, and “God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hebrews 2:3–4; see also Acts 14:3).
Though miracles were occasionally practiced by someone outside of the apostles (e.g., Stephen in Acts 6:8; Stephen in Acts 8:6; Ananias in Acts 9:17–18), miracles were primarily the practice of the apostles themselves, so much so that Paul identified “signs and wonders and mighty works” as “the signs of a true apostle” (2 Corinthians 12:12). Apostles were those who had followed Jesus since the time of John the Baptist, could be a witness for having personally seen Him after His resurrection, and were personally appointed by Him to their apostleship (Luke 6:12–16; Acts 1:21–26). While Paul did not meet the first of these three requirements, Jesus Himself appointed Paul to his apostleship, and he was thus an apostle “untimely born” (1 Corinthians 15:8).
These requirements for being an apostle are historically conditioned. No one today (or for the last 1,900 years) fits these requirements. The apostles have ceased to be. And if signs, miracles, and wonders are primarily the signs of an apostle, then the practice of these miraculous gifts has also ceased to be. And if the primary purpose of these gifts was to attest to new revelation, then the reception of new revelation has ceased as well.
I realize that one can believe in the gospel and be either a cessationist or a continuationist. I also believe that God can do miracles today apart from the hands of men. But, as seen above, I also believe that new revelation and the miracles that validated this revelation and its speaker ceased with the apostles.
The importance of this whole matter lies in what claims as one’s authority for Christian belief and practice today—does God speak to us through Scripture alone, or does He continue to speak through men? If He continues to speak through men, the authority for Christian belief and practice lies in the Bible and also in men. But if God ceased to speak in this age when the apostles died and when He closed the Canon of Scripture, then Scripture alone is sufficient for our Christian belief and practice.
While the above is only the briefest of explanations for the cessation of apostles, miraculous gifts, and revelation, I believe that all we need for every good work and all the knowledge necessary for life and godliness is found in Scripture alone. May God help us all to mine the riches of His Word to do these good works and live a godly life for Him.
All quotes ESV.
About David Huffstutler
David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL, serves as a chaplain for his local police department, and teaches as adjunct faculty at Bob Jones University. David holds a Ph. D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His concentration in Christian Leadership focuses his contributions to pastoral and practical theology.