Cessationism: No Need to Argue
I have had many friends who consider themselves charismatics or continuationists (believing that the miraculous spiritual gifts of speaking in different languages, prophesying, and healing continue in the present day). These friends of mine are/were part of Assemblies of God churches or Sovereign Grace churches. In writing this post, I mean no ill-will against my friends. On the other hand, I believe that consideration of whether we should look for the miraculous gifts to be manifest in churches today is important. If my charismatic or continuationist friends are correct, then my church (and many other Baptist churches) are missing out on a work of the Spirit that we really should be experiencing. On the other hand, if the cessationist position (the teaching that the miraculous gifts have ceased to be a regular part of church life with the close of the apostolic era) is correct, then churches should not invest time and energy seeking after these gifts.
In considering how we should think about the miraculous gifts, I would like to draw readers' attention to the following passages:
14 And [Jesus] was casting out a demon, and it was mute; when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke; and the crowds were amazed. 15 But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons." (Luke 11:14-15)
45 Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. 46 But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs." (John 11:45-47)
14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. (Acts 4:14)
Notice that when Jesus and His apostles performed miracles, they did so in public, and even their enemies could not deny that the miracles had taken place. This is in accordance with how Christians in the generation just after the apostles wrote of the miracles of Jesus. Take the following passage from Justin Martyr as an example:
The spring of living water which gushed forth from God in the land destitute of the knowledge of God, namely the land of the Gentiles, was this Christ, who also appeared in your nation, and healed those who were maimed, and deaf, and lame in body from their birth, causing them to leap, to hear, and to see, by His word. And having raised the dead, and causing them to live, by His deeds He compelled the men who lived at that time to recognise Him. But though they saw such works, they asserted it was magical art. For they dared to call Him a magician, and a deceiver of the people. Yet He wrought such works, and persuaded those who were [destined to] believe in Him; (Dialogue with Trypho, 69)
Even the Babylonian Talmud, written by Jews who did not believe in Jesus as their Messiah, mentions the miracles of Jesus. This document does not contain a denial that the miracles occurred, but it attributes them to sorcery, rather than the power of God:
On the Eve of Passover they hung Yeshu the Notzarine [Jesus the Nazarine]. And the herald went out before him for 40 days [saying]: “Yeshu the Notzarine will go out to be stoned for sorcery and misleading and enticing Israel [to idolatry]." (Babylonian Talmud [Munich manuscript], b.San.43a)The point here is that the miracles were obvious to all: believers and unbelievers. This observation places the burden of proof squarely on the shoulders of charismatics/continuationists. If the miraculous gifts are operative in the church today, then where are they? [NOTE: this is NOT a question about the presence of occasional miracles occasioned by prayer, which cessationists do NOT deny, but about people empowered to perform miracles, as the apostles were.]
Notice that even those who opposed Christ and His apostles in the New Testament era--King Herod and the Sanhedrin (Luke 23:8; Acts 4:14)--knew of the miracles and had to admit that they had occurred. Where are the miracles today that match the types of miracles found in Scripture: miracles that are so obvious as to be undeniable even to skeptics and enemies of the faith?
Dr. Michael Brown, a charismatic apologist, says that asking for such proof undermines the sufficiency of Scripture. But if Scripture itself sets forth a model by which we should expect to see certain proofs, then calling for those proofs is simply submitting to scriptural authority. In the absence of the type of miracle-workers found in Scripture, the cessationist has no need to argue. It is pointless to argue about something that is obviously not occurring.