Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cessationism--Where have the Gifts Gone?

I recently communicated with an individual who reads this blog who is a cessationist. I hadn't heard the term before, but have met others who were cessationists. Wikipedia defines cessationism thus:

In Christian theology, cessationism is the view that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as tongues, prophecy and healing, ceased being practiced early on in Church history.

Cessationists usually believe the miraculous gifts were given only for the foundation of the Church, during the time between the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, c. AD 33 (see Acts 2) and the fulfillment of God's purposes in history, usually identified as either the completion of the last book of the New Testament or the death of the last Apostle. Its counterpart is continuationism.

In other words, a cessationist believes the gifts of the Spirit have ceased since there is no more need for them. This individual I spoke with said that these gifts ceased because the apostles died and could no longer pass on these gifts to others. This idea is somewhat reminescent of the LDS concept of the apostasy. However, cessationists believe that it was God's will that these gifts cease since they have served their purpose. This individual further informed me that all we need is contained in scripture (i.e. The Bible). Cessationism is closely related to the (extra-Biblical!) Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura (See here and here and here).

Of course, Latter-day Saints are not cessationists. One of our articles of faith states, "we believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth" (Article of Faith 7). Many, if not most, of us LDS have seen such gifts operate in the Church from time to time as needed.

As a LDS I can point to slews of LDS scriptures that declare these gifts to be needed in the Church today as much as 2000 years ago. However, since my cessationist friend does not accept LDS scripture as valid, I will here investigate and analyze the Biblical passages that pertain to this topic.

So, what passages are used to support cessationism?

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.(1 Corinthians 13:8)

But when does this scripture say that prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will "vanish away?" Look at the following verses:

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away...For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

This seems perfectly clear to me. "Then," when we will see "face to face" we shall no longer "know in part." Then prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will be perfect and cannot be added upon. Do we now know all things? Do we know all speak the same language? If not, then there is no warrant, according to this scripture, for the cessation of these gifts.

Further, 1 Corinthians opens with a passage that clearly teaches continuationism.

1:4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;
1:5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;
1:6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:
1:7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:
1:8 Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This scripture indicates that the gifts of the Spirit will be on earth until the second coming of Jesus who will "confirm" (Greek: secure, establish, strengthen) us until the end.

Later in 1 Corinthians Paul exhorts us to "eagerly seek after spiritual gifts, most especially the gift of prophecy" (my translation of 1 Corinthians 14:1). When I pointed this scripture out to my cessationalist friend he responded that the verse refers to interpreting scripture. While my friend is welcome to interpret the passage this way, that is clearly a practice of eisegesis and not exegesis. In the same chapter Paul writes "Wherefore, brethren, with zeal seek to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking with tongues" (my translation of 1 Cor. 14:39). If Paul meant for these passages only to apply to the Corinthians of the first century A.D., he surely didn't say so.

Lastly, what about Jesus' statement that man shall live by "every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God?" Note that Jesus did not say every word that "proceeded" out of the mouth of God, but by every word that "proceedeth" out of the mouth of God. Surely God's words and works never cease (see Moses 1:4)

While this post certainly isn't exhaustive on such an important topic, I think it is sufficient to start a discussion on the topic if anyone is interested.

As I mentioned previously, LDS scripture has a lot say about this topic. I will not investigate this here, but I point the interested reader to 2 Nephi 28:3-6, 26-31; 2 Nephi 29; Mormon 9; Moroni 7:24-38; 10:7-28. Anyone who does not believe that the gifts of the Spirit exist today would benefit greatly from reading these passages, pondering on their meaning, and seeking the truth of the matter.


Ken Cook said...


First I think that you have Completely misunderstood and misrepresented Cessationism. I don't think that you have done this on purpose, but I think that you have gotten some bad info on the topic. Let me explain.

First a Cessastionist doesn't believe or state that there are no charismatic Gifts at all. But that the method by which they were passed on, via the apostles, is no longer available. Remember that these folks are ones who have seen the resurrected Christ, so not even modern mormon 'prophets' would qualify. That said, you are missing this as a Major support for cessasionism and you are missing the purpose of the Gifts.

So I would ask you, what is the purpose, from scripture, for the gifts?

I hope that we can have a pleasant discussion on this topic.

Andrew Miller said...


Perhaps I have misunderstood cessationism. Although wikipedia (I know, great source) states that cessationism is "the view that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit...ceased being practiced early on in Church history." You are saying that they haven't ceased per se, but that they were no longer passed on via the apostles. Perhaps I misunderstand, but it would appear that your definition of cessationism isn't the same as the definition I got off of wikipedia.

I guess the question I have is, do cessationists believe that there continue to be the gifts of the spirit or not? Wikipedia says no. Are you saying yes?

I think before we can discuss anything we have to make sure we both define the terms the same way.

"So I would ask you, what is the purpose, from scripture, for the gifts?"

The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 1 Cor. 12:7

He that propheseith edifieth the church. 1 Cor. 14:4

Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. 1 Cor. 14:12

Let all things be done unto edifying. 1 Cor. 14:26

For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. 1 Cor. 14:31

And he gave some apostles, some prophet, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men. Ephesians 4:11-14.

So, to edify, to comfort, to teach/learn, to profit or benefit, for the perfecting of the saints, the work of the ministry, the edifying of the body of Christ, to bring all to unity of faith, to the knowledge of Jesus, to maintain correct doctrine and teaching, etc

RWW said...

Remember that these folks are ones who have seen the resurrected Christ, so not even modern mormon 'prophets' would qualify.

Many modern prophets have claimed to have seen Christ.

Ken Cook said...


For a good understanding of Cessationism i would suggest the 5 lectures from Masters theological Sem. on itunes. This isn't a black and white issue (what is?) but the basic idea is that the gifts have ceased for your average Christian. The Can still be given by God, for specific uses and times, but it isn't in the same way that it was in the early church. However, A person Must be a justified believer to receive these gifts. Now there are different views within cessasionism. Most agree that Prophecy has Ceased. That there is no need, and based on what it is that you have said, i would say that the support for that is -- All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 3:16-17 ISV) It sounds like everything that you have said, is said to be have done by the Scriptures. And Sense we have the Scriptures we don't Need these gifts. Now I personally believe that the gifts come into play when a person doesn't have the scriptures then, I think that there is room for said gifts.

To directly answer your question - I would say, no i don't. That however, is speaking in the means of how it is that they are passed on via apostolic authorities. Of which the line has been broken, and does not exist anymore. *keeping in mind that these are the apostles who received the HS via flaming Tongues, save Paul, and Saw Christ Living.

I guess, the big question is, why do we need Charismatic gifts if we have all we need in the Scripture?

Ken Cook said...

Rww - So Christ has come back?? Did they literally see him? How do they Know it was Christ?? What proof is there that they Saw Christ?

NM said...

I am not a charismatic, and I definitely not a cessationist. =)

Andrew Miller said...


If I understand correctly you are saying that the gifts of the spirit (most particularly prophecy) are not generally needed because of the completeness of scripture.

Am I correct? If so, I guess the real question is whether scripture is complete and whether there is an open or closed canon.


RWW said...

How do they Know it was Christ?? What proof is there that they Saw Christ?

You could ask the same of anyone who saw the resurrected Christ in the Bible, so I don't see where you're going with that.

Ken Cook said...


I would say that you are correct.

I see no evidence, that the cannon could be reopened, given the qualifications that were required to have something considered as scripture.

Andrew Miller said...


Where does the Bible define what the qualifications are for something to be scripture?

Thanks in advance.

Ken Cook said...

There are five tests to see if a book belongs in the cannon. First, was the book written by a prophet? In other words, was the author a person who had the ability to speak for God? Second, was the writer confirmed by the Acts of God? Examples of this come from Exodus 4:1-9, 1 Kings 18, Acts 2:22. Third, did the message tell the truth about God? Keeping in mind 2 Corinthians 1:17-18 and Hebrews 6:18. Forth, did the book come with the power of God? The Word of God is transforming and anything that claims to be the word of God must therefore also be transforming. Consider Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:17 and 1 Peter 1:23. Lastly, was the book accepted by the people of God? Read 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul knew that the acceptance of the message was as important as the message itself.

I would suggest John McDowell's (sp) Evidence that Demands a Verdict Vol 1 & 2. Also, my blog has a post on this in December.