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Cessationism is the belief held by some protestants that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as prophecy, do not occur in present day. The general thinking is that these gifts "ceased" at the completion of the canon, closing any new revelation.

What is the basis for this belief? I'm interested in Biblical, logical, empirical and historical arguments.

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5  
To be perfectly accurate, it's a belief held by some protestant denominations; certainly not all (for example, the Pentecostal churches). –  Lawrence Dol Jan 10 '12 at 3:57
    
Right - I didn't mean to imply that all protestants held it. Only that it was protestant in origin. –  Eric Jan 10 '12 at 16:44

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I do not think you can have discussion about cessationism without mentioning 1 Corinthians 13:

1 Corinthians 13:8-10

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.

The question is, what Paul talking about? It seems that at some point in time, either in the past or in the future these gifts will not be taking place or would have stopped taking place. When will this happen? Paul gives the answer in verse 10, "...when completeness comes".

So the cessationist argument, using this as proof text, generally is centered around the meaning of 'completeness'. They would argue the completeness came at the end of the apostolic age.

Mark Driscoll gives a very thorough treatment of the text here, in which he comes to an anti-cessationist conclusion, but extremely thorough none-the-less, and worth a read.

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I'm not down-voting because I believe you are representing what some cessationist's proffer as a biblical rationale and am thankful for the link provided, but I can't help but comment regarding "They would argue the completeness came at the end of the apostolic age" - surely there must be more to it than this??? –  bruised reed Apr 2 at 6:30
    
Good answer. It is true that these verses have been used a basis for cessationism. Even if you don't believe in tongues or prophesy in the present day, you would have to acknowledge that knowledge has not passed away. In fact, knowledge is increasing. The verses make it quite clear that all 3 will pass away when completeness comes. –  Matt Aug 19 at 21:21

The argument for Cessationalism tends to be empirical rather Biblical.

  1. While there is significant evidence for glossalia in the NT writings (it is mentioned heavily), by the time of the Church Fathers (1 Clement, Didache, Polycarp, etc...), the evidence is scant.

  2. During most of recorded church theology (everything from say, Origin, Jerome, etc... to the Azusa Street Revival in 1900, this gift seems to have largely bypassed written record.

  3. This is often excused / explained by the idea that the gift of prophecy and miracles was superceded by the written Word of God. Another idea is that the gifts were no longer being used for their intended purpose.

The presence of miracles in Jesus' testimony, for example, was clearly given "in order that you might believe" (see Mark 2:8, Matt 17:26) and not for show (e.g. Luke 11:28-32). In Acts 2, the toungues were given as a miracle to substantiate the authority of the Apostles (those who would be 'sent out'). But, as Paul indicates in 1 Cor 12, the showy gifts like toungues and prophecy were causing divisions amongst believers.

As mentioned by Software Monkey, Pentecostal churches explicitly reject Cessationalism. The aforemention Azusa Street Revival (and modern manifestations such as the Toronto Blessing) are, for the Penetcostal movement, the evidence of their legitimacy. The term, of course, refers to the contrary position held by non-Pentecostals.

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1900? Only if you conveniently ignore 70 years of Mormon history, with numerous recorded instances of the Gift of Tongues and other spiritual gifts in use. And Joseph Smith gave at least one sermon in which he discussed the contemporary usage of such gifts in other branches of Christianity, so it was by no means only a LDS thing. –  Mason Wheeler Jan 11 '12 at 17:17
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CLARIFICATION: Whether or not the gifts were present before the Pentecostal Movement, the general perception of many to most most Cessationists is that they were not. –  Affable Geek Mar 21 '12 at 14:21

What is the basis for Cessationism?

The supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit were first observed at Pentecost;

Acts 2:16-18 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:

When Jesus gives the "great commission" to the eleven disciples, he describes the ability of believers to supernaturally heal others and be immune from harm from snakes and poison;

Mark 16:15-18 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

It is interesting to note from the Joel prophecy that it includes more than has actually happened so far;

Joel 2:27-32 And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed. And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.

Peter had every expectation that everything Joel said was about to be fulfilled. When Jesus began his ministry by quoting Isaiah, he stopped short.

Luke 4:17-20 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.

Isaiah 61:1-6 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations. And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves.

It might seem that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit are intended for the Kingdom. They were in evidence when the kingdom was immanent. (Paul was bitten by a snake and unharmed, Peter and Paul healed people including raising the dead, tongues were in use, and devils were being cast out)

There are three main views of spiritual gifts today.

  1. Spiritual gifts are fully functional and available to all Christians today.
  2. Spiritual gifts are only partially available today.
  3. Spiritual gifts have ceased functioning.

The biggest support for the view that spiritual gifts have ceased to function is empirical. The dead are not raised. Those who support full or partial gifts have to either cling to a distant report of some unverified incident or exaggerate the talent of a teacher or administrator as a "gift" from the Holy Spirit.

Prayers are answered. Healing does take place. The Holy Spirit does lead people to have the right words to say at the right time. However, supernatural gifts were not so subtle or transient as to be indiscernible from talents.

Peter said that the receiving of the Holy Spirit was told by Joel. Joel describes something very much related to Israel and can be considered Kingdom related. If one sees the offer of the Kingdom to Israel as withdrawn at the destruction of the temple or the diaspora, then one might see that the function of supernatural gifts would also be withdrawn.

When a faithful remnant is found in Israel (as described in Revelation), I would expect that the Kingdom would once again be immanent and that the gifts of the Holy Spirit would once again be poured out. I would also expect that the portions of Joel and Isaiah that were expected by Peter and truncated by Jesus would also come to pass.

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