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Classical Cessationism asserts that the "sign gifts" such as prophecy, healing and speaking in tongues ceased with the apostles and the finishing of the canon of Scripture. They only served as launching pads for the spreading of the Gospel; as affirmations of God's revelation.

If those people who lived around Christ's time witnessed miracles, and thus believed in God after seeing miracles, how is it that we who are living in the present age are expected to believe in God if we don't see any miracles?

In the present day, why is it that we have to believe the humans, normal people who don't perform miracles, that preach the Gospel, that what they say is true? Isn't it "unfair" that we humans today have to believe on what other people preach without seeing any miracles, but people in Christ's time got to see miracles and thus it was easier to believe in God?

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Note to any potential answerers: This question is tagged cessationism. In order to answer this question, you must explain how somebody coming from a cessationist theological position would handle these delimas. Normal site rules that make answers subject to deletion if they try to defend a different view rather than covering the one asked about do apply here. – Caleb Feb 16 '13 at 19:48

4 Answers 4

The simple answer is found in Mark 4. The sower sows the word. Here is the word: these gifts are given to you. They are yours to use if you believe they are; if not, you stomp them under your feet. The gifts have not gone away, but you have stopped believing in them. Your fields are growing with unbelief. Whose will are you doing if you don't believe? God trusts his word to work, Jesus knows God's word works and he gave it to you, Satan knows God's word works and he steals it from you.

Sow the word, you speak it out your mouth. Get your fields growing God's word so the gifts will come out. That is a harvest of God's will. They are signs for the unbeliever. Who is an unbeliever? Those who don't believe in the signs. We're not talking about salvation, we're talking about the gifts of the spirit.

Run stop signs and it won't be long before your car is in a wreck. Is your life a wreck because of your unbelief? If it is, attack. Use the word to stop it. If you don't believe it works, then may God have mercy on you.

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Seeing Miracles Does Not Result in Belief

There is an invalid assumption in the question, specifically that the viewing of miracles makes it easier to believe in God. If this were so, then all of the people who saw firsthand the miracles that Jesus performed would have believed in Him. That, however, was not the case at all. In reality, many of those who saw the miracles responded by hating Him, attributing His miracles to demonic powers, falsely accusing Him of blasphemy, and calling for His death.

The Apostle Thomas at first refused to believe in the resurrection of Jesus without seeing Him for himself. However, he was not commended for that demand. Rather, those who believe without seeing were commended. So, indeed, believing without seeing is most certainly possible, and even the preferred method.

Also, when Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man asked that Lazarus be risen from the dead to go back to the rich man's family and warn them. However, the rich man was informed that even if someone were to rise from the dead, people would still not believe.

Many Believed Without Seeing Miracles

Even in the first century, immediately after the resurrection of Jesus, thousands upon thousands of people became believers without seeing any miracles. It is true that there were still some miracles being performed, but not for every individual to see.

The question, then, is what it was that caused so many people to believe if they saw no miracles. The answer is that they saw the transformed lives of the apostles. Even the religious leaders of the day took note when Peter and John, who were unschooled, ordinary men, stood before them with an astonishing courage and proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus and salvation in His name. (Acts 4:13)

Foxe's Book of Martyrs records how many people believed when they saw the faith of others in the face of persecution and death for their belief in Jesus. They faced death so peacefully and they so steadfastly refused to denounce their faith that others could only conclude that what these people believed had obviously had supernaturally transformed them.

Others were persuaded based on the evidence of the fulfilled prophecies. Stephen reasoned with people, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was, in fact, the Christ.

The Work of the Spirit

An important thing to note is that belief does not come from merely physical evidence. The Spirit of God testifies to the hearts of men of the truth of the Gospel. Christians understand that mankind is not purely physical, but also spiritual--that is, we have a spirit as well as a body (and a soul as well). God testifies to our spirits directly.

The Complete Picture

So, people believed in Jesus in the first century based on 1) the transformed lives of others who were Christians, 2) the evidence of the fulfilled prophecies, 3) the witness of God directly to their spirits.

Some also saw miracles, of course, but that again did not automatically result in faith.

Today, people believe in Jesus for the same reasons. Some today do see miracles, but those are often seen by those who are already Christians.

The issue really is not an issue of having enough evidence to believe. I would contend that there is enough evidence to convince someone, beyond a reasonable doubt, that there is a God and that Jesus is the Son of God who became a man, died, and rose from the dead. It is not an issue of evidence, then, but of choice. As the saying goes, "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still."

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On cessationism:

Cessationism is not a denomination but a doctrine that many denominations adhere to. Generally, the cessationist disallows the addition to biblical cannon, so must therefore say that prophecy and such have ceased because they would add to it. So, naturally, the cessationist is a strict sola scriptura adherent, meaning, roughly, the only authority for righteous living is the Bible (typical 66 book protestant version, usually). With that in mind I will try to stick to the principles of a strict cessationist and answer the question as if I were one. This means I will only use the bible to answer the question.

An issue with the logic in your question (not just cessationists would say this):

You make it sound like it is easier to believe simply because you see a miracle. That may be true for some, but the Bible does say in a few places that seeing and not believing is more common. The Jewish leaders and their followers and the Romans during Christ's time didn't believe, yet they must have seen some miracles. And they continued to persecute the disciples for years after, but there were still miracles being done. Even in the future, Revelation states that when the wicked are raised and see the glory of God from the new Jerusalem they do not repent and be saved, but rather congregate to over-through the city! Right in the face of God! Thus, seeing miracles (or anything supernatural) and becoming a believer are not necessarily related.

So now to answer your question (if seeing a miracle is important to you), how can you believe today if miracles cannot provide proof? This is an issue of faith, which can be defined as believing in what you have reason to believe in. You might say that you would have stronger faith if you could see a miracle but that is not Biblical. Most notably is the parable where the wicked rich man and poor Lazarus both die and see each other in Hades and paradise, respectively. After pleading for mercy and not getting any the rich man asks to send someone back and tell his brothers about that terrible place so that they can be spared. Abraham tells him that they have the law and the prophets (meaning the books not people). If that is not enough then nothing will be, even the return of a dead man. This is from Luke 16.

Ok, now what might give someone reason to believe? Study, prayer and meditation, and fellowship with other believers is a good start. As the parable says the law and the prophets should be enough; if you read, study, and learn them, then do your best to follow them your faith should be strengthened.

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I don't necessarily disagree with anything you've said here (I agree at least the first paragraph properly addresses a reasoning flaw in the question), but you haven't shown how any of this has anything to do with Cessationism. What do they say about the hows and whys of belief and the purpose of miracles? – Caleb Feb 16 '13 at 22:11
@Caleb You're a tough mod. under strong cessationism and moderate cessationism. See my edit. Further, hows and why of miracles was not the question. OP did not ask for a dissertation on cessationism. – fredsbend Feb 16 '13 at 22:33
I'm sorry I'm really not trying to pick on you, but we do have a rash of miss-matched questions/answers right now and I'm trying to help you get off on the right foot. Don't copy the modus-operendi from the last couple days because that isn't what this site is all about. Please don't just make footnote edits for me, I'm just trying to point out areas that need improvement so they can get incorporated for all future visitors. – Caleb Feb 16 '13 at 22:40
Unfortunately, I don't think (even taking into account your edit) that this is helpful for the original question. The points you raise are not necessarily contrary to Cessationism, but you've framed this in your own personal theological workspace without even knowing what Cessationism is. I know your inclination is to point people to what you believe as truth, but truth isn't what this site is about. If you don't have expertise in the specific area of Christianity asked about in a question, please don't fill in the blanks from your opinion, even when you're right on that doesn't help. – Caleb Feb 16 '13 at 22:43
And just a hint on content: Cessationism doesn't have any problem with miracles today, what it doesn't believe in is miraculous gifts. In other words, miracles can still happen, but not because some preacher has a gift of doing X. In the context of this question, you would need to deal with what a Cessationist believes about the nature of Scripture and how believe was never supposed to be in a miracle or in a sign but in the giver of the signs in the first place, and that those signs have been fulfilled and passed on to the present. – Caleb Feb 16 '13 at 22:47

A cessationist belief is best understood by finding out why miracles and wonders were performed:

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:1-4, NIV)

Here we have the order. Salvation was first announced (i.e. the gospel), then God performed miracles to confirm and testify his approval of this new doctrine that was preached. More directly God's testimony did not only affirming the truth of what Christ and the Apostles preached, but was a heavenly vindication and seal of approval on their very persons and ministry as infallible guides on establishing the remaining canon of scriptures. Once these scriptures were completed, they became the final authority in all matters of church practice and Christian living. In fact the only reason why we believe miracles to have occurred is because the scriptures say so.

Now in the context of Hebrews the author is showing the differences and similarities between the Old Covenant and New Covenant. Although Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever, we find God never continuously performed miracles anywhere in the Bible, but only on occasions as he chose. Especially in the founding of each covenant, did he show many wondrous signs.

Looking back at what God did it seems reasonable. Miracles do not cause people to believe in God (eg. Pharaoh) but they do allow for mammoth shifts in Salvation history, taking people 'by storm' as it were. It should not be surprising then to see that God used:

some divine work to be established amongst men, by virtue of a new and never-before-heard-of revelation of God’s will, or a restoration of the same, when collapsed and corrupted by the sin of men. ... This we may see in Moses and (after Jesus Christ, anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows to preach the gospel) the apostles. But this may pass, for nothing in such a way shall ever again take place, God having ultimately revealed his mind concerning his worship and our salvation, a curse being denounced to man or angel that shall pretend to revelation for the altering or changing one jot or tittle of the gospel. (John Owen's Works, Vol 13.31)

The facts that the Jews wickedly expected miraculous signs (Matth 16:4, 1 Cor 1:22) as though without which it might be considered 'unfair of God' to expect obedience to his word without them, may have partly been due to the history of miracles that God performed in establishing the Old Covenant. The parable of the rich man in hell talking to Abraham was one way in which Jesus tried to expose foolish human thinking that miracles were needed for faith:

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. ’” (Luke 16:31, NIV)

A wicked expectation of miracles, is due to a want of belief in the power of scripture and the Holy Spirit's ability to convict men of sin and bring them into salvation thereby. Clearly this lack of faith and desire for miracles in carnally minded and to be loathed if any fear of God should properly quicken a man's soul from death.

This begs the question, if miracles do not cause faith, but only God's word does when believed, why do miracles 'confirm' God's word then? To answer we need too look at Moses or Christ and see the effects they had. When considering how difficult it would be for a person without God's power to arrest the attention of a large body of people and introduce to them a whole new practice of worship and doctrine, we can see the miracles helped just that. Even Pharaoh had to stop and give attention to Moses and question his own beliefs and decisions. Also in the life of Christ, his popularity helped spread his fame. Miracles simply overwhelm human opposition so that even those who hate God and who would never believe, they are yet arrested even if for a moment to allow God's changing of the course of history and establishing of his kingdom as he sees fit. They never were no ever have been God's regular mode of operation.

This leads us to the last question. Will God ever perform miracles again, not to bring in a new teaching as various cults demonically attempt and sometimes do, but to reform the church, if ever crushed under a mountain of sin? He did after Moses so why not after Christ? The again the prophets kept prophesying of Christ but after the book of revelations there is no more prophecy in terms of additional scripture. Still what about a possible future time? Although historical cessation views, such as the views of Luther and Calvin did not absolutely believe this could 'never occur', most have simply stated the facts that it has 'not occurred’. In fact the reformation, when one would have expected it, if it were to happen, did not include any miraculous signs. Having said this however it is recognized that the antichrist in the last days would pretend to perform miraculous wonders, so what is important for believers is to test anyone who claims to have extra ordinary miraculous gifts. If God ever does see fit to bring about a ‘restoration ministry’ that including miraculous signs (and we have no basis for assuming he must) both the miracles would be undeniable and the teaching fully biblical and believed throughout history. This has not occurred since the times of the Apostles as a matter of common sense and observation. After all, nobody ever denied Christ's miracles they were easy to believe. That is why they were provided. They did not deny his miracles, they denied him.

Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:37-38, NIV)

Cessationism is more of a practical awareness of the cessation of extra ordinary miraculous gifts, rather than a doctrine that they should have ceased. If they did not cease it would be obvious to all of us. I think it is equally obvious that some gifts such as discernment, knowledge and wisdom never did cease as various men, endued by the Holy Ghost have continued to proclaim the gospel throughout the centuries with wisdom and power surpassing all human abilities. Finally almost every person in history has come to faith in Christ without ever witnessing a miracle, so why would we ever think miracles were required?

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Just plain logic in bold at the end. I like it. – fredsbend Feb 17 '13 at 8:31

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