The Bible is full of stories of the supernatural work of God intervening in the affairs of mankind. The church in the New Testament walked in the supernatural power of God, as outlined in the book of Acts. The Holy Spirit moved in mighty ways, the sick were healed, and the demonized were delivered.
Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 12 that though there is one Holy Spirit, He releases various gifts—or manifestations—to the people of God. These supernatural gifts enable believers to walk in the power of God in order to build up the church and minister to others. (Click here to read my article explaining the nine manifestation gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12).
There is a theology that states that God has withdrawn these supernatural gifts. This teaching—known as cessationist theology—says that since the original apostles died off, the “sign gifts” of the Spirit are no longer given to the church. (Some would say that the gifts ceased after the completion of Scripture). Gifts of the Spirit such as tongues, healing, miracles, and prophecy are said to no longer be given.
There are whole denominations, prominent seminaries, and many churches that teach that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased. Is this biblical? Where did this theology come from?
Cessationist theology does not come from the Bible. There is no indication whatsoever that the miraculous gifts we see in Scripture were ever supposed to stop. When I hear people argue for the cessation of the gifts, I am amazed at the inaccurate and irrational statements that are made.
Some have said, “By the end of the book of Acts, we see can see that God was already starting to withdraw the signs and miracles.” Really? In the last chapter of Acts, the apostle Paul laid hands on a leading citizen of the island of Malta and healed him. Then, everyone on the island that had a disease came and also received healing (see Acts 28:8-9). The miraculous power of God was still at work, right through the end of Acts.
Others have said, “The apostles were the only ones who did miracles and had supernatural gifts of the Spirit.” This is just plain false. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus commissioned 70 others to preach the kingdom and heal the sick (see Luke 10:1-9). Phillip and Stephen, who were deacons in the early church, are both said to have done signs and miracles in the book of Acts. The gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12 include healing, tongues, and other supernatural manifestations. Paul mentions these gifts operating in the church among believers; he does not say anything about them only being for apostles.
I could go on about other irrational and unbiblical arguments. But the point is, trying to build a biblical case that the gifts have ceased is futile. So, where did this theology come from? I believe that the following four factors are usually involved:
1. Lack of experience
Some accuse those who believe in the gifts of basing their theology on experience rather than the Bible. I would have to say that this applies more to those who do not believe in the gifts. It seems that many who have not seen or experienced the gifts of the Spirit have created a theology to explain them away.
2. Bad experience with the gifts
Others have witnessed abuse of the gifts of the Spirit or seen counterfeits and this has caused them to turn away from the gifts altogether. This reaction to error has led them into another error. Yes, abuse, misuse, and counterfeits exist. But this does not negate the true gifts of the Spirit. The presence of a counterfeit could only mean that there is also the true.
3. Misunderstanding of the gifts
Some have a misunderstanding of how the gifts work or what their purpose is. For example, I have heard some sarcastically say “If people are prophesying, we better record their prophecies and add them to the Bible.” This shows a total lack of understanding of the purpose of prophecy, which is to edify, comfort, and exhort–not create Scripture. If the sole purpose of prophecy was to write Scripture, then every true prophecy ever given would be included in the Bible. Clearly this is not the case, as we see several statements in the Bible about people prophesying without recording the actual prophecies given.
4. Fear of deception
Because the Bible warns about false prophets and deception, some have concluded that they would rather shy away from anything that is supernatural in order to protect themselves from being deceived. The problem is, fear of deception does not protect you from deception; a love of the truth does (see 2 Thessalonians 2:10). The irony here is that in order to protect themselves from deception, some have actually embraced a lie and therefore become deceived in this area.
Have the gifts of the Spirit ceased? No. They certainly have not. The Bible teaches us to earnestly desire spiritual gifts. It says to be eager to prophesy and not to forbid speaking in tongues (see 1 Corinthians 14:39). How does a cessationist obey these commands?
There is nothing in Scripture that teaches us that we should not expect the same gifts and power that the early church walked in. Fear, doubt, dissapointment, and unbelief are the true sources of cessationist theology. Many sincere and God-loving believers have embraced this teaching, and my purpose is not to condemn them. But we must break ourselves loose from this doctrine that so diminishes the work of the Holy Spirit. It is time to embrace the Holy Spirit and all of His gifts!
Thanks for this Biblical, pragmatic teaching. I’ve been mindful lately how destructive cessationist theology is in that it is unwittingly sending Christians into occult practices for healing, such as acupuncture and yoga. I am seeing this firsthand in the lives of several of my friends. It is “a form of godliness that denies its power” of which Paul warned.
That’s a great point Emily. When the church is powerless, we leave a vacuum that is then filled with counterfeits and other harmful practices.
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit were never ceased. These gifts are still in operation in the lives of the believers! The Bible never says anywhere that these gifts were ceased. Without these gifts, the church is lifeless and dead. In a recent conference on “Strange Fire…” many well known Bible scholars denied the Power of the Holy Spirit. It is a very sad commentary.
Once I belonged to a Church where they did not believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They taught after apostolic times, they were ceased. As I studied the Bible, I was convinced otherwise. The more I read the Bible on this subject, the more I became convinced and I asked God to baptize me with the Holy Spirit. Praise God, one day as I was waiting on God and praying in my mother-tongue, suddenly a power came over me and I began speaking in tongue. It was a very blessed experience and it continued even today. No, God has not taken the gifts. It is available for anybody who ask for it… “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off,…” (Act. 2.39)
Thanks for the comment Samuel, and for sharing your testimony!
For further analysis, check out two of Jack Deere’s books: “Surprised by the Power of the Spirt” and “Surprised by the Voice of God.” Both are wonderful resources for digging deeper into the issue, and also provide supporting reasons as to why the gifts do function today.
[…] have observed abuse of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and then reacted to take the belief that the gifts are no longer for today. Some have come out of legalistic backgrounds and reacted to the point where they deny the need for […]
What I want to know is, who or what gives them the authority to tell people this to be true? Paul would have completely called this foolish. We need a Paul in our world, badly. Yes, Jesus gave us his Holy Spirit so we could live by his power to overcome this world. I often wonder what the believers in Jesus are following after that denies the workings of the Holy Spirit? I have seen both evil, and I have seen good things in the supernatural. There is even a mock Holy Spirit today, because people did not go after the truth. He lives! and he lives in us who actually believe in his death and resurrection.