I sometimes joke that I believe cessationism died with the apostles. While I am amused by the statement, it often does not get the reaction I am looking for. The truth is that there are many people who hold to cessationism, the belief that spiritual gifts are not for today. At the same time, charismatics believe that spiritual gifts are today and should be common among Christians.
Are spiritual gifts for today?
We need to start by presenting what the Bible says about spiritual gifts. The most common passage is from 1 Corinthians.
“For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:8–10 ESV)
There is no reason to believe that Paul is providing an exhaustive list here. These may have been the gifts that were common to the Corinthians. It is worth looking at Romans 12 as well.
“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:6–8 ESV)
Some may argue that Paul is talking about something completely different here. I disagree as it is place right between teaching about the Church as a body and a discussion on love, just like in 1 Corinthians 12. Some would be more hesitant to include this passage from Ephesians:
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11–13 ESV)
While it does seem to deal more with roles, it should be noted that it also is in a letter where Paul talks about the body of Christ.
I can understand why some people would be uncomfortable with spiritual gifts today. As Evangelicals, our focus is on the Bible and we would not want anything to distract from that. Plus, there are numerous examples of televangelists and others faking these gifts for financial gain.
Still, as Evangelicals we need to look to what the Bible says. It seems clear that spiritual gifts were a part of the early Church’s experience. Is there any hint that this would change?
The Bible actually does confirm that spiritual gifts would come to an end.
“As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1 Corinthians 13:8–10 ESV)
The question about this passage is the meaning of the “perfect.” Some have seen in this a reference to the Bible. The Bible is the perfect Word of God and once the Bible (Old and New Testaments) had been compiled, spiritual gifts could disappear. The problem is that when this passage is read in context, the perfect is seen to be return of Jesus. It would make sense that the gifts of the Spirit could end when Jesus returns.
Others have seen a hint of cessationism here:
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1–2 ESV)
Is this about the end of prophecy? It looks more like a reference to what God was doing in the Old Testament.
Some have seen something in this passage from Ephesians.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:19–21 ESV)
The thought is that once the foundation is laid (in this case apostles and prophets), they are no longer needed. If that is held consistently, we would have to say that Jesus’ role is now done, since the cornerstone has been placed.
I really do not see any solid biblical argument for cessationism. Having said that, I am not arguing that all churches should become charismatic. I am not charismatic (even though I was baptized in a Pentecostal church). When I look to hear from God, I do not seek a word of prophecy, I go to the Bible. The Bible is our sure Word from God.
But I do hear stories of God working in miraculous ways. Much of this comes from places where Christians are a minority and the mission field is fresh. I only speak to this issue to say that we must be careful not to put limits on God where he has not revealed those limits. If God wants to give spiritual gifts to people, he is free to do so.