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Cessationist Misuse of Ephesians 2:20, by Sam Storms

To suggest that Ephesians 2:20 has in view all possible prophets active in the early church does not measure up to what we read about the gift of prophecy in the rest of the NT. Are we to believe that all those who prophesied on the day of Pentecost, “sons and daughters, young men, old men, bondslaves, both men and women,” were laying the foundation of the church? Are we to believe that “all mankind” (Acts 2:17) in the early church were contributors to its once-for-all foundation?

The cessationist is asking us to believe that the long-awaited promise in Joel 2 of the unprecedented outpouring of the Holy Spirit on “all mankind”, with its resultant revelatory activity of dreams, visions, and prophecy, was exhaustively fulfilled in only a handful of individuals whose gifting functioned in an exclusively foundational, initiatory, and therefore temporary fashion! Does this theory adequately explain the text? Is the revelatory and charismatic experience of the Spirit, foretold by Joel and cited by Peter, exhaustively fulfilled in a small minority of believers in a mere sixty-year span in only the first century of the church? It seems rather that Joel 2 and Acts 2 are describing normative Christian experience for the entire Christian community in the whole of the New Covenant age, called the “latter days”.

Cessationism would also require us to believe that a group of anonymous disciples in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7) who prophesied upon their conversion (none of which, be it noted, was ever recorded or mentioned again) did so with a view to laying the foundation of the church. It is no less a strain to think that the four daughters of Philip were a part of the once-for-all foundation of the church (Acts 21:9).

On the cessationist’s thesis, all prophetic activity is foundation-laying activity. But if it were, it seems unlikely that Paul would have spoken of prophecy as a gift bestowed to common people for the “common good” of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:7-10). Are we to believe that Paul exhorted all believers in every church to earnestly desire that they exercise foundational significance for the universal church (see 1 Cor. 14:1)? On the contrary, prophecy is to be desired because its purpose is to communicate revelation from God that will “encourage” those who are discouraged, “console” those who are disconsolate, and “edify” those who are weak and untaught (1 Cor. 14:3).

Again, I must ask, how does the exposure of an unbeliever’s secret sins in the churches at Corinth and Thessalonica and Rome and Laodicea and throughout the inhabited earth, sins such as greed, lust, anger, selfishness, etc., function in laying the once-for-all foundation of the universal church of Jesus Christ? Yet, this is one of the primary purposes for the prophetic gift (1 Cor. 14:24-25).

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Winter 2014

About the Author: Samuel Storms is Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He is also the founder and president of Enjoying God Ministries (www.samstorms.com) and serves on the Council of the Gospel Coalition. Dr. Storms earned his B. A. in History from the University of Oklahoma in 1973, a Th.M. in Historical Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1977, and a Ph.D. in Intellectual History from the University of Texas at Dallas in 1984. Before coming to Bridgeway Church, Sam served as visiting associate professor of theology at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, and is a past president of the Evangelical Theological Society. Sam is the author or editor of 27 books, among which are Practicing the Power: Welcoming the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Your Life (Zondervan), Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative (Christian Focus), The Singing God: Feel the Passion God Has for You ... Just the Way You Are (Passio), and The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts (Bethany House). Sam is also the General Editor of the ESV Men’s Devotional Bible (Crossway). For more about Sam, including the full list of published writings, see www.samstorms.com/about-dr-storms.

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