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The Bible’s Undertaker: Cessationism in Contrast to a Living, Miraculous Christianity

Developing a theology that supports miraculous experiences must begin with taking apart the arguments advanced by cessationists. Pentecostals maintain that all the spiritual gifts, including tongues, prophecy and healing, remain in operation since the days of the apostles. However, cessationists contend that the revelatory gifts have not functioned in the church since the close of the apostolic age. A key battleground passage of scripture for debate is 1 Cor. 13:8-10. Jon Ruthven insightfully acknowledges that “1 Cor. 13:8-13 is perhaps the locus classicus in the discussion on the continuation of spiritual gifts.”[29] For the purposes of this section, the King James Version is utilized. Paul pens in 1 Cor. 13:8-10,

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. 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.

Sandwiched between two chapters highlighting a proper understanding on the spiritual gifts, his instruction teaches that certain gifts will cease when “the perfect is come” (1 Cor. 13:10, KJV). The question is, “what does Paul mean by ‘the perfect?’” This slice of scripture presents an exegetical and hermeneutical interpretation that must place the meaning in context with Paul’s letter and teaching to the Corinthian church.

The interpretation of the word τέλειον has a monumental impact on this crucial debate. Though the King James Version and older translations have “perfect,” the accurate translation of the word is “complete, bring to an end, finish, accomplish.”[30] Thus, completeness is a better understanding of the word τέλειον. In other words, when we are with the Lord in complete condition with him “face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12), the partial revelations of all the gifts will be removed for the perfect or complete disclosure of knowing God in all his fullness. That is why Paul metaphorically admits “we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12). A state of wholeness and completeness serves as a better interpretation of the word in its context. Typically, cessationists teach that the conclusion of the canonical Bible by the last living apostle denotes that the miraculous gifts are no longer necessary. God bestows the gift to establish the church, hence, the Bible contains the only source for revelation in the church and equipping the saints (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Thus, because the Bible exists, there is no need for miracles or spiritual gifts. This interpretation cannot be supported exegetically in Scripture’s context. Reformed minister D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones rejects this idea expounding,

It means that you and I, who have the Scriptures open before us, know more than the apostle Paul of God’s truth…It means that we are altogether superior …even to the apostles themselves, including the apostle Paul! It means that we are now in an position which…‘we know, even as also we are known’ by God…indeed, there is only one word to describe such a view, it is nonsense.[31]

The notion of a completed canon is foreign to the apostle at the moment of his writing and such a notion forces him to address a topic that is not on his mind. In addition, those who support this flawed opinion disregard Paul’s earlier admonition when he wrote in 1 Cor. 2:10-13,

These are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.

Cessationists forget that on this side of eternity the same letter promises the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit who would search and disclose the deep ideas of God to believers.

Several logical criticisms from Scripture require discussion. If the spiritual gifts of prophecy and knowledge ceased, why does Peter’s declaration in his first sermon (Acts 2:17-21) quote Joel 2:28-32 depicting future prophesying? In addition, Revelation 11:1-6 describes two witnesses prophesying in a forthcoming era of human history. Stating that knowledge ceased is incompatible with present reality. Obviously, knowledge has not ceased and the gift of teaching continues in the church. The cessationist view is based on western European Enlightenment presuppositions that negate the supernatural and define God’s present ability with empirical scientific realities. In his magnum opus, Truth and Method, Hans-Georg Gadamer criticizes the Enlightenment as a methodology of understanding Scripture and argues that these notions produce false prejudices about the interpretation of history.[32] His book tackles the Enlightenment prototype that science is the only legitimate means to decipher life. Thus, western civilization’s acceptance of the Enlightenment has intrinsic weaknesses in its processes.[33] Cessationists incorrectly assume that those who accept a miraculous view will promote heretical movements that are incongruent with Scripture. Yet, any responsible and reasonable Pentecostal identifies that revelation which does not harmonize with scripture is false revelation. Thus, the cessationist view is not tenable by Scripture and church history (Roman Catholic and Protestant) demonstrates the obvious continuation of the gifts.

Conclusion

The unbiblical claims made by cessationism are filled with disingenuous comments toward those who believe in the miraculous and the Holy Spirit. John MacArthur is a familiar critic of charismatic theology. He unfairly claims that “charismatics treat Him [the Holy Spirit] like an impersonal force of ecstatic energy and evangelicals have generally reduced Him to the caricature of a peaceful dove.”[34] MacArthur believes charismatics are guilty of an unhealthy focus on the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit points only to Jesus. Yet, Jesus teaches about the Holy Spirit and His powerful work is highlighted in the book of Acts and the epistles. Certainly, the Spirit desires to extend all the credit to Christ, but it is a mistake to ignore the Spirit or limit His power. The church requires God’s miraculous power in a world imbued with satanic manipulation.

Cessationists have chosen to believe that God does not reveal Himself directly and immediately today.

- R. T. Kendall

MacArthur unjustly alleges that “charismatics downplay doctrine for the same reason they demean the Bible: they think any concern for timeless objective truth stifles the work of the Spirit.”[35] Again, he knows little of most Pentecostal’s expertise in Scripture. On the whole, Pentecostals embrace a conservative evangelical theology, are traditionalists on social issues and accept a high view of the authority of Holy Scripture. His accusations are based on groundless suggestions and polemical innuendo.

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2015

About the Author: Cletus L. Hull, III, M.Div. (Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry), D.Min. (Fuller Theological Seminary), Ph.D. (Regent University), has served as a pastor with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for 32 years and psychiatric chaplain for 30 years. He teaches courses in New Testament at Biblical Life Institute in Freeport, Pennsylvania. He has researched the growing Disciples of Christ churches in Puerto Rico and has an interest in the significance of the Stone-Campbell churches in American Christianity. His article, "My Church is a Mental Hospital" appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Healing Line. He is the author of The Wisdom of the Cross and the Power of the Spirit in the Corinthian Church: Grounding Pneumatic Experiences and Renewal Studies in the Cross of Christ (Pickwick, 2018). Twitter: @cletus_hull, Facebook, www.CletusHull.com

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