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Answering the Cessationists’ Case against Continuing Spiritual Gifts, by Jon Ruthven

Pneuma Review Spring 2000

In the preceding article, we left our friend, George, the novice charismatic whose excited testimony ran into a wall of biblical-sounding arguments from his pastor, a cessationist.1 This article offered a kind of pocket guide of “pro” charismatic arguments which George (or you, gentle reader) can photocopy and send to your cessationist friends for comment. We now offer George some responses to a couple of prominent arguments he is likely to hear from his cessationist pastor and others like him.

The most thorough catalog of cessationist arguments—and answers—appears in these pages in Wayne Grudem’s four-part article, a reprint of chapter 2 in an excellent book by Gary Greig and Kevin Springer, editors of The Kingdom and the Power: Are Healing and the Spiritual Gifts Used by Jesus and the Apostles and the Early Church Meant for the Church Today? published by Regal Books in 1993.

This present article seeks to supplement that chapter with answers to two prominent objections to continuing spiritual gifts:  1) “History shows that miraculous spiritual gifts have ceased,” or, in a variation of that objection: “If miracles and spiritual gifts have continued, then why don’t we see them as widespread and obvious today as in New Testament times?”  2) “Ephesians 2:20 shows that the ‘foundational gifts’ of apostle and prophet have ceased.” In my experience, these are two of the most common cessationist arguments in use today which are worth examining.

1.    “History shows that miraculous spiritual gifts have ceased.”

Following Benjamin Warfield’s classic cessationist work, Counterfeit Miracles published in 1918, many today appeal to history to show the cessation of miraculous gifts. Warfield insisted that his book stood on “two legs”: biblical and historical proofs. But his “legs” were grossly disproportional: probably 97% of his book stood on the historical leg, while his biblical arguments were haphazardly scattered through his pages, responding only to the biblical arguments of his opponents.

Older Pentecostals and charismatics find this odd, since our critics have often said that we base our “theology” on “experience” rather than on the word of God. Yet an appeal to “history” is actually an appeal to “experiences”—at least to those in the past. These days, the shoe is very much on the other foot: cessationists increasingly appeal to “experience” (history) while charismatics, like Jack Deere, Gordon Fee, Wayne Grudem, Gary Greig, Max Turner and John Wimber are building increasingly sophisticated biblical arguments.2

The cessationists’ ad hominum argument does not deal with the issue: according to Scripture, are charismatic manifestations a normative part of the Christian life today?

Cessationists often cite horror stories in connection with charismatic manifest­ations, as for example, Hank Hanegraaff in his book, Counterfeit Revival3 or John MacArthur in Charismatic Chaos. Certainly the Pentecostal/charismatic movement has had its share of weirdoes. But the cessationists’ ad hominum argument (against individuals rather than against the proposition) does not deal with the issue: according to Scripture, are charismatic manifestations a normative part of the Christian life today?

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Category: Pneuma Review, Spirit, Spring 2000

About the Author: Jon M. Ruthven, Ph.D., spent his entire adult life in ministry, starting with David Wilkerson in Boston and New York City in the mid-60s. After spending a dozen years pastoring, a couple a years as a missionary in Africa as the head of Bible school, he ended up teaching theology in seminary for 18 years. Always interested in training and discipleship, Jon is developing a radically biblical approach to ministry training that seeks to replicate the discipling mission of Jesus in both content and method. Jon has written numerous scholarly papers and books including On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Postbiblical Miracles (1993 and 2009) and What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology? Tradition vs. Biblical Emphasis (2013). He continues to emphasize the biblical grounding for a practical ministry of healing, signs and wonders in the power of the Spirit. Facebook.

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