Cessation and Continuation on the Spiritual Gifts of the Church
Table of Contents
Cessation is the belief that the spiritual gifts given in the book of Acts ceased with the original first church, or more specifically, when the Apostles of Christ died. Cessationists typically believe that the miraculous signs and wonders have ceased; i.e tongues, healings and prophecies, and are no longer a normal part of the church’s ministry. Cessationists typically believe the Spirit does not give gifts as listed in the time of the Apostles, and that the gifts ceased with the exit of the Apostles age.
The signs and wonders where an accreditation by God to the church fathers to affirm the Apostles of Christ as Gods ambassadors, and once everything was established, the spiritual gifts ceased since their primary purpose had been accomplished.
Continuation(ism) is the belief that spiritual gifts exist today the same as they existed in the original church. That the gifts of the Spirit should be sought by Christians for today as set forth in 1 Corinthians 12-14.
Arguments for Cessation
Sufficiency of Scripture
One of the primary doctrines that cessationists and those that advocate for the cessation of spiritual gifts in the church conjoin with their stance is the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture. This is the belief that the word of God, biblical scripture, is complete and nothing can be added to it. The doctrine of the sufficient of scripture states that the Bible is the inerrant, complete and living word of God given to humanity through the Prophets and Apostles God used to write His word.
This doctrine is agreed upon by all major Christian groups.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3.16
First Apostles of Christ
Gods Requirements & Accredited for Apostles of Christ
God appointed prophets and apostles in the beginning of the church age to complete His written word, the Bible, and they were validated with signs and wonders. God used supernatural miracles and spiritual gifts in the church to affirm and bear witness those who wrote the word of Gods, as true speakers for God.
The office of the Apostle of Christ is inferred through various scriptures, they are individuals who had to be:
- A disciple of Jesus Christ (Acts 1.21, Heb 2.4),
- Appointed by Christ (Acts 1.23)
- An eye witness of His resurrection (Acts 1.22b)
Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection. – Acts 1.21-22
How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him? God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? – Hebrews 2.3-4
Specific Gifts Unique to Apostles
The writings of Luke make a point to specifically mention that the apostles where doing various signs and wonders and works of miracles. Cessationists use these verses to comment that the spiritual gifts were a unique province for the first apostles of Christ, and their time only.
Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands. Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them – Acts 15.12
No More Founding Apostles
Cessationists point to the fact that Gods word (the Bible) was completed during the first church by the Apostles of Christ and that since that time, there has not been, nor will there be any more Apostles of Christ or Prophets to add to God’s word.
Therefore, Gods word is complete; nothing further will be added to the Bible until Jesus Christ returns. This gives the inference that the special calling of the first apostles of Christ was an office that was done away with after the foundation was laid and they went home to heaven.
In Ephesians we see that the church was built on the foundations of the apostles and prophets. That foundation is complete and cannot be added to. Since the early church, the rest of God people are being built upon that already existing foundation.
19.b.you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. – Ephesians 2.20-22
Apostleship Ended with Miraculous Gifts
Cessationists will infer from the cessation of the first apostles of Christ that the miraculous gifts also ceased with them. They state that all the miraculous gifts mentioned in Corinthians 12-14 ceased with the first churches apostolic timeframe.
Cessation with Miracles
The cessationists who agree that miracles occur today state that what the church observes now is in a separate class then the spiritual gifts listed in the Bible. They state that all miracles and wonders should be treated specifically as acts of God, not as gifts of the spirit.
Most cessationists do believe in miracles and that miracles still occur frequently, and that God does heal people through prayer and works signs and wonders; however, it is not the same as the given spiritual gifts of the apostolic era. Again, they separate the gifts of that first age as special gifts God gave to the church to accredit his message to the people of that time through the apostles of Christ.
Church History – No Other Infallible Ministry of Miracles
The final argument cessationist’s use for their theology is from Church History. For all of the Churches history since the time of the apostles, the only historic account we have of the church producing instant, infallible, miraculous works against even the hardest cases, is from the original apostles of Christ. There has been no other church or group of believers that has produced an infallible work of miracles and healings we see from the book of Acts.
Jesus clearly stopped certain ministries
Cessationists infer another argument from the New Testament, showing how Jesus did cease specific iteration or parts of His ministry. In Matthew 10.5 Jesus commanded His disciples to go and preach only to the Jewish people, the lost sheep of Israel, and not gentiles. However, in the book of Acts (10.15), Jesus opened the ministry to include all peoples.
Continuationists believe that all the gifts of the Spirit exist today for Christians and are gifted to Christians through faith. Almost all continuationists accept the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture, and that the foundation and completion of God’s word was laid out with the apostles of Christ. They do not see this as a contradiction to the acceptance of the gifts of the Spirit.
Continuationists believe Apostles and the gift of apostleship do exist today; the word in the Greek is ‘apostolos’ which simply means ‘sent off.’ The apostles of today who start major church movements or church missionaries are used by God but not to add to his word or do workings of miracles like the originals Apostles of Christ.
Continuationists state the gifts are not as strong today as the first church time period primarily because people reject this kind of ministry, just as when Jesus encountered the unbelieving village (Matt 13.58). However for those who believe in them, do experience them frequently.
Argument for Continuation
Foretaste of Gods Kingdom
When Jesus sent out the 70, who were not apostles, Jesus told them to preach the gospel and to heal the sick. This mission was a foretaste of the coming kingdom.
In rebut to the cessationists argument on Jesus stopping certain ministries, continuationists state that Jesus never resented his command to heal. In fact, He said whoever believes in me will do the works I do. He did not just say this to apostles but whoever believes in Him (John 14.12).
Non-Apostles performed Miracles
The New Testament teaches us that many miracles and signs and wonders where done by believers that were not apostles. Stephen and Phillip performed miracles; in Acts 6.8 we see that Stephen was full of grace and power.
In Galatians 3.5, Paul speaks about how God works miracles among the church. He specifically said to ‘you’ speaking to the people of the church, that God supplies the spirit to the people in the church not the apostles. This verse shows that Paul held the view that God was working miracles among the churches, regardless of the presence of the Apostles of Jesus.
In 1 Corinthians 12, the gifts of miracles and healing are spoken about as given to the believers in the church. These are not for the apostles only as we see in verse 28 that the gifting of apostles and miracles are separated.
Spiritual Gifts are Instructed in the New Testament
There are multiple passages throughout the New Testament where spiritual gifts are mentioned, and instructions are given on how to properly use them. If they were going to cease when the apostles left, why did the apostles continue to mention them to us and give us instruction on how to use them properly. This would seem to only work in confusing the church throughout all the ages, and we know that God is not the author of confusion (1 Corin 14.33).
No Mention on Ceasing of Spiritual Gifts
None of the apostles mentioned anything throughout the texts of the New Testament on the cessation of any of the spiritual gifts. The apostles exhorted the church in spiritual gifts, admonishing them for proper use and understanding. Spiritual gifts were for the edification of the body of Christ.
Ephesians tells us the Christ gave gifts to His people when He ascended.
Spiritual Gifting Continues Today
As the spiritual gifts are mentioned throughout the New Testament, Ephesians 4.11 tells us specifically five gifts are for the equipping of the saints: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Cessationist’s arguments would remove certain gifts like apostles and prophets from this list, however, would keep others like evangelists and pastors without any particular reason. If these truly are gifts from the Spirit, it would reason if they were to be removed, they all would be taken away. There is no reason why certain gifts should be cherry picked and removed from the lists God gave us without some scriptural basis.
Ephesians continues to teach that the gifts are to work to unify the saints as we move into the future attaining the whole measure of Christ.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ – Ephesians 4.11-13
Debate on Miracles Today
There are countless testimonies among believers concerning miracles that they have witnessed or experienced; acts of God in their lives protecting them, giving them guidance or direction or miraculous healings from very serious diseases or wounds.
The Bible teaches us that if Christians do not ask in faith, they will not receive. That many do not receive because they are still carnal or worldly in their minds and hearts. Many ask with wrong motives to receive fulfillment of their pleasures; therefore, they should not expect to receive anything from God.
You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures – James 4. 2b – 3
When you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord – James 1.6-7
The purpose of Spiritual gifts is to promote the common good of the church (1 Corin 12.7), to build up the church (1 Corin 14.12), to edify the church (Eph 4.12-13) and to do the work of God (1 Corin 12.4-6, John 14.12). People who have the wrong motives or desire to glorify themselves do not have the things of God in mind. Similar to how Simon the sorcerer wanted the power of the Holy Spirit, so he tried to buy it with an impure heart, he was told to repent. Therefore, we can see how faith and obedience is important for the gifts of the Spirit and the miracles of God to be manifest in the first place.
Denying the Power of Godliness
The Bible strictly warns believers that in the last days there will be many who have a form of godliness, but will deny its power. This should be a warning to every Christian to be diligent in their faith towards the power of God and of godliness in their lives.
There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. – 2 Timothy 3.1-5