For I am יְהוָֹה, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. Malachi 3:6 (AV)
In this post we are going to briefly explore the topic and doctrine of cessationism in the context of its damaging but decreasing influence upon the modern church, Christian spirituality and the Bible itself. The damaging influence of this doctrine is apparent in many ways and it being unfounded in the scripture itself, but rather, based upon shonky exegesis and theological bias should raise several alarms.
Why is this important? It is extremely important because cessationism in essence denies the very identity of God, diminishes the Christian experience, and has launched an all out attack upon the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the church and life of the believer. In other words, cessationism is one of the chief causes of hindrance and opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit in today’s Christian world and individual Christian lives, to the extent that I would suggest it is a demonic doctrine and its propagation is an ongoing work of the devil.
Without this pest of a doctrine snapping at the heels of Spirit-filled believers like a rabid, unrestrained poodle, the church would receive much more grace to achieve its calling and God’s people would be much more enriched in their faith and relationship with Him. The good news is though, that according to real world, gritty, raw and unadulterated multinational Christianity, unrestrained by the whims and desires of misguided men and institutions, this doctrine is on its way to a much deserved death.
The doctrine of cessationism is the primary theological reason why many Christians in the west are unable to identify with and experience the Holy Spirit in their lives. This doctrine is the historical position of many mainstream protestant denominations and is highly taught and defended today especially in certain Reformed, Baptist and Evangelical denominational circles.
Cessationism states that the supernatural and miraculous phenomena and spiritual gifts we see recorded in the Bible–and particularly the New Testament–have ceased to occur at the close of the apostolic age and with the canonization of scripture. It could be said more clearly like this: “God does not manifest Himself today in the life of the believer as He did in the biblical/NT times through miraculous and supernatural activity – that was only for the apostles and served to authenticate the gospel; and as we now have a complete Bible, we do not need such manifestations of His power in the church.” More accurately, cessationism is a theological and polemical assertion which opposes the experiential component of the Holy Spirit in regards to the Christian life. The trouble with cessationism is that it has no real basis in scripture, but is based upon bent exegesis of certain passages and more strongly upon other considerations such as historical polemics and ideological supremacy.
There is more than meets the eye with this doctrine. To the sincerely informed and unbiased church historian, it is evident cessationism is a doctrine born out out of heavily polemical reformation theology and the horrible abuses of the Roman Catholic church when approaching supernatural phenomena. In other words, cessationism was the extreme theological/polemical response of historical protestants to wayward spiritual activity in the Roman Catholic church touching the miraculous.
Throughout the dark ages of the Roman Catholic hegemony, the notion of supernatural or miraculous phenomena was abused for political and spiritual gain by the Roman leadership and priesthood in order to control governments and populations. Miraculous signs were said to have occurred, which authenticated the Roman Catholic Church as the only church and particularly that the Pope or Bishop of Rome, who was declared to be the absolutist, authoritative leader of the Christian church and known world. The problem here was that the signs presented and portrayed to the masses were so alien from those recorded in scripture, that the abuse of that principle was shockingly clear.
This still carries on today in Roman Catholicism’s attempts to gain converts and influence its power upon the nations. As a more recent example, Pope Francis performed a so called public miracle when he handled a vial of dried blood belonging to a certain deceased Catholic saint, and after handling it for a moment, half of the blood liquefied. This is considered a miracle in Catholic thinking and serves as a miraculous authentication of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church, proving they are operating under divine authority. Now apart from what actually happened here, this so called miracle is in no way agreeing with the calibre of miracle Moses, Jesus, the apostles or the Old Testament prophets and even God Himself independently performed as described in the Bible. I would suggest this type of phenomena is demonically sourced and occult based, performed to beguile the scripturally ignorant. After all, Satan has been biblically exposed in his methods being known for using lying signs and wonders to deceive the superstitious and ignorant masses:
Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 2 Thess. 2:9-10 (AV)
Long story short, when the reformation occurred, cessationism was the natural and logical end when fighting the polemical and ideological war between Roman Catholic theology and Reformation theology. Though breaking out from a tyrannical establishment such as Catholicism was most praiseworthy and was permitted by the Providence of God at the reformation (and there were many noble protestant patriarchs who stood with the Word of God against the horrible darkness of Roman Catholic superstition), cessationism went too far and the doctrine having no basis in scripture suppresses biblical truth, hinders the growth of God’s people and plays right into the hands of the enemy and his devilish hordes working to blind the nations from the Glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.
The Damaging Effects of Cessationism
It is heartbreaking to see the damaging effects the doctrine of cessationism has upon the Christian life. Earlier it was said that cessationism denies the very identity of God, diminishes the Christian experience, and has launched an all out attack upon the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the church and life of the believer. Let us expand on these points briefly.
The Miraculous and the Identity of God
Cessationism denies the very identity of God in that it attacks the miraculous action of God inherent to His nature. God is a miraculous God – He always has been and always will be. From Genesis to Revelation we see God act frequently in miraculous or supernatural ways so much so that examples need not be given due to the obvious. Even the simple act of God speaking to an individual is miraculous or supernatural in that it is an exercise of the prophetic inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Such an event as hearing the voice of God is a supernatural act of God inherent to His identity; how much more then is the healing power of God and the miraculous action of His Spirit upon events and people inherent to His identity. These are all things cessationism denies to one degree or another. God has always been a God of power and miracles, but somehow it was decided following the reformation, with its newly developed theology, that God had ceased to act in such ways.
Let us zoom in on the subject of the voice of God in this context. At the core of cessationism is the denial that God speaks directly to individuals today, but rather, only speaks through the written Word of God or Bible. Once again, reformation theology worked hard to stamp out any kind of external authority claiming direct connection to God–namely that of the Pope of Rome–by asserting that the prophetic voice of God has now ceased to be active anywhere outside of the scriptures having ceased with the apostles and New Testament writers.
The good thing is that apart from cessationist claims, the scriptures testify in many ways that God still has the ability and intention to speak directly to individuals prophetically, and ongoing historical Christian experience and testimony outside of cessationist circles utterly refutes the notion that God does not speak directly to individuals by His Spirit today. God still speaks, heals and acts in a supernatural manner according to His own individual action or through His people by way of the Holy Spirit as is inherent in to His identity; therefore, By denying that the miraculous phenomena and supernatural action of God is still active and occurring today in the context of the Christian life, cessationists deny the very identity of God.
The Miraculous and the Christian Experience
God’s people have always enjoyed a miraculous experience in covenant relationship with Him. The Old Testament has set the precedence for this, with it only continued on into the New Testament and even more greatly emphasized therein. Who can forget the miracles performed by God with Noah, Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, Elisha and the OT prophets? How about the staggering miracles of Jesus, the apostles and the disciples filled with the Holy Spirit and power in the NT?
We cannot overlook the continuing pattern of God’s supernatural activity in the lives of His people as it is written from cover to cover in the scriptures and attested to by countless numbers of God’s people over the ages. However, cessationists have come to the conclusion somehow that this activity all just basically vanished following the death of the apostles, and that the Christian life is now not to include such experiential activity. On whose authority? It is certainly not the authority of scripture they claim to be so faithful towards, as scripture clearly states that the miraculous phenomena described above is a continuing component of the Christian experience.
This is ultimately a matter of the definition of the Christian experience, and that of God. I would suggest the cessationist type of Christian experience is a dry, dull and boring one and does not mirror the scriptural pattern but reflects the medieval Catholic mindset. New Testament Christianity is lively, vibrant and likened symbolically to fire when touching the Acts Pentecost example. The Christian experience is to include the miraculous phenomena described in the Bible and there is still a lot of experiencing and figuring out to do in this regard.
The idea of an actionless God who consists in the cliché boring church service where you can cut the air with a knife is not biblical. Think of a god who does not speak to you, listen to you, respond to you, do anything for you, does not heal you, lead you and just plainly seems like he is not there. Beyond all the religious rhetoric and priestcraft, that is the cessationist god and quite frankly I do not see the difference between that god and the idle idols of the nations which reflect this description. The scriptures declare that Jesus is Emmanuel – “God with us”; therefore, the notion of a dead cessationist god is unacceptable and ought to be rejected by every sincere biblical truth seeker.
New Testament Precedence
We have a great precedence in the New Testament confirming the ongoing miraculous phenomena of Christianity and its place in the Christian church. Acts chapter 2 gives us this precedence:
But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Acts 2:17-21 (AV) (Cf. Joel 2:28-32)
This passage above from the Book of Acts outlines a prophetic fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy of the Prophet Joel concerning a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon God’s people; including manifestations such as dreams, visions and prophecy in the context of the approaching last days. This fulfillment began on the day of Pentecost following the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ where the disciples received the Holy Spirit in power initiated by the manifestation of the gift of tongues. All of the listed phenomena in the passage are attributed to the miraculous action of the Holy Spirit as a result of the described outpouring. Reading on in the Book of Acts we discover that physical healing, deliverance from demonic spirits and diverse miracles also followed as a result of this outpouring, done through the hands of the apostles and various disciples.
Traditional interpretation has confined this fulfillment to the single event on the day of Acts Pentecost. However, plain reading of the passage combined with study of the entire Book of Acts in conjunction with the wider NT and OT prophecy confirm that this is an ongoing event beginning at Acts Pentecost and continuing on until the season of the return of Christ. In the passage we are met with this glorious outpouring, the consequent manifestation of the miraculous and also a time frame in the phrases “in those days” and “before that great and notable day of the Lord come”. These two phrases give us the knowledge that what was spoken of the outpouring and miraculous phenomena is an ongoing event that encompasses a set period of time ending at the notable day of the Lord – the season of God’s judgment and the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Aside from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself demonstrating the miraculous action of the Holy Spirit in the gospels and exhorting the disciples to the same action by way of the power of the Spirit, the force of this passage gives great authoritative precedence which cannot be denied when touching whether or not there is an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit regarding supernatural phenomena among the church – the work of the Spirit continues.
Abuses of the Christian Experience
Something needs to be said here about the abuses of the supernatural in the church today. There are insincere persons in the church who are certainly abusing the Christian experience for personal gain and power. The truth is, there have always been such individuals and they will continue to appear, as Jesus even prophesied would happen in the last days.
Cessationists have historically pointed at these characters and have used their abuses to reinforce their view on the miraculous; however, they have fallen to excess in claiming that all miracles and spiritual gifts have ceased. The actions of certain groups or individuals cannot be used as a basis to broad-brush everybody and everything into the same category. This is an association fallacy. False miracles being performed does not lead to the conclusion that all miracles are false or have ceased. Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8 managed to perform false miracles claiming to be ‘the great power of God’, but the Apostle Peter performed true miracles in parallel according to the true power of God. But somehow cessationists have made a giant leap in that they claim all miracles have ceased. They do not have any proof to support this claim and the scripture is not on their side.
These abuses call for serious Spirit-filled, careful searching of the matter in a fresh way to honor scripture and God Himself. And they also call for a serious and powerful declaration of the truth of scripture even in the face of our inexperience regarding the matter. In other words, we must sincerely consider what the scriptures say about the supernatural and declare it faithfully while sincerely synchronizing that plain truth of scripture with our modern Christian experience.
While this has been a brief discussion on the subject of cessationism in regards to its death, it has been a powerful one and is sufficient enough to get us moving in the right direction. The death of cessationism is apparent, just take a look at the power of the Holy Spirit in the wider international church, blazing like a wildfire. Cessationists make a lot of noise, but in terms of the entire church of Jesus Christ, thankfully their influence is on the decline.
The death of cessationism is also equally about the death such a doctrine brings to the Christian life in quenching the Holy Spirit and minimizing the vibrant and dynamic reality of a true relationship with God. According to the Bible and the presence of the Holy Spirit in power, the miraculous action and supernatural power of the Almighty El-Shaddai, the Holy One of Israel, in and about His people, has not ceased.
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