For a very long time, including the time I have been in a Charismatic church, I had this unease conviction about the practicing of the “spiritual gifts.” After watching a sermon by Tom Pennington, I am now fully convinced that these gifts have ceased and am now inspired to warn my fellow Christians about these unbiblical practices. If you love God’s truth, you have to hate error. Nothing eternal happens in an individual believer or in a local church apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. You can produce temporal effects, but have no capacity or power to effect eternal reward or eternal events into the life of the church or an individual.Here follows a summary of the content of the video sermon. Although my document is quite lengthy,it should cover all the truths you need to know.
Cessationists only believe the Spirit has ceased one function. He no longer gives today’s believers the miraculous spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues, prophecy and healing.
On the other hand, Continuationists either believe that the miraculous gifts have continued unabated since Pentecost while others believe that the gifts have waned through much of the church age but have now been restored. The chief arguments that they put forward are the following:
– First of all, they say the New Testament nowhere directly states that the miraculous gifts will cease during the church age. But that argument cuts both ways because nowhere have any cases been recorded after the period of the book of Acts.
– Secondly, by far the most common argument that Continuationists put forward is the fact that 500 million professing Christians who claim Charismatic experiences cannot all be wrong. By using that same argument, should we now accept all of the miracles of the 1.2 billion members of the Roman Catholic Church as well? After all, there is far more history to them.
Now let us consider the biblical case for cessationism. Cessationism does not mean that God no longer does anything miraculous. The greatest miracle is when a spiritually dead sinner is brought to life, which is a miraculous work of divine grace. Also, every time someone is healed, solely in answer to the prayers of God’s people in total contradiction to what the medical community has said, it is a divine miracle where He has intervened.
Gifts ceased as normative with the apostles. But the crucial question is why?
1. UNIQUE ROLES OF MIRACLES
The first biblical argument is the unique role of miracles. In reality there were only three primary periods in which God gave uniquely gifted men miracle working power.
The first was that of Moses and Joshua. That period lasted from the Exodus to about 1445 B.C. through the career of Joshua that ended in about 1380 B.C. In other words, that first period of miracles lasted about 65 years.
The second window when miracles were common was during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, who ministered from about 860 B.C. until 795 B.C. Again a period of only about 65 years.
The third time of miracles was with Christ and His Apostles. Obviously it began with His ministry and lasted at the very longest until the death of the Apostle John, or about 70 years.
This means that in thousands of years of human history, there were only about two hundred years in which God empowered men to work miracles. And even then miracles were not accomplished every day.
FOR PURPOSE OF VALIDATING OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETS
The primary purpose of miracles has always been to confirm the credentials of a divinely appointed messenger who speaks for God, not one who teaches or explains the Word of God. One in whose mouth God has put His very words. This pattern began with the very first miracle worker, Moses.
In Exodus 6:28, Moses recounts and expands what happened at his call. “Now it came about on the day when the Lord spoke to Moses in the land of Egypt, that the Lord spoke to Moses saying, “I am Yahweh, speak to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, all that I speak to you. But Moses said before the Lord, “Behold, I am unskilled in speech, how then will Pharaoh listen to me?”
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I will make you as God to Pharaoh and your brother, Aaron, shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh.’”
God is actually saying, “I can empower you and accomplish through you what I intend. You are going to be like God to Aaron, he’s going to be like your prophet. You put your words in his mouth, the words I put in your mouth and then he will speak to Pharaoh.’”
In Exodus 4:15 we read it: “You are to speak to him, that is to Aaron, and put the words in his mouth.” Remember, he’s the prophet. You put the words in his mouth and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth and I will teach you what you are to do. Moreover, he shall speak for you to the people and he will be as a mouth for you and you will be as God to him.”
Aaron could not speak for himself, he had to speak only the words of Moses who was in the place of God to him. That is what it meant to be a prophet. God’s own words put in your mouth. When God commissioned Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1, He also said: “I have put My words in your mouth.”
How were the people to know if a man who claimed to be a prophet was in fact speaking God’s own words? Moses, the very first prophet, faced this dilemma. So God used miracles to validate Moses as God’s prophet, and Moses’ message as God’s own words. (Moses’ staff could for instance turn into a serpent). Moses’ words became acceptable as the literal words of God.
This continues to be the purpose of miracles throughout the Old Testament.
CRITERIA FOR VALIDATING A PROPHET
In Deuteronomy, Moses laid down three criteria for discerning a true prophet from a false prophet.
He says that the true prophet’s predictions just ALWAYS come true. That’s how you know if he has in him the true words of God.
In Deuteronomy 13 verses 1 to 5 we find the second criteria, where God says that if he chose to authenticate a true prophet, He would do so by empowering him to work miracles, as He did with Moses.
Also in Deuteronomy 13 He says that the prophet’s message must always be in complete doctrinal agreement with previous revelation.
So in the Old Testament, only those prophets who spoke authoritatively and infallibly for God performed miracles because miracles were their credentials.
One of the most famous miracle comes in the ministry of Elijah and in 1 Kings 18:36 as he is calling down fire on the altar there at Mount Carmel. In 1 Kings 18:36 he said: “…Today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your …”
FOR PURPOSE OF CONFIRMING JESUS AS GOD’S FINAL AND ULTIMATE MESSENGER
Just as it was with Moses, and the Old Testament prophets, the primary purpose of Jesus’ miracles was to confirm his credentials as God’s final and ultimate messenger who spoke infallibly for God.
John the Apostle makes this point central in his gospel. In John 5:36, Jesus speaks: “… the very works that I do testify about me that the Father has sent me.” In chapter 10 verse
37, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me. But if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me and I in the Father.”
It is clear that Jesus’ MIRACLES WERE NOT PRIMARILY A TOOL FOR EFFECTIVE EVANGELISM. Jesus’ miracles also were NOT PRIMARILY ABOUT ALLEVIATING HUMAN SUFFERING, although we see in His miracles the great heart of compassion that He had.
The main reason the Spirit empowered Jesus to perform miracles was to confirm that He spoke the very words of God, that He was everything He claimed to be. On the day of Pentecost, a day of miracles, Peter reiterated that was the purpose of Jesus’ miracles.
FOR PURPOSE OF CONFIRMING THAT THE APOSTLES WERE GOD’S GENUINE INSTRUMENTS OF REVELATION
Jesus also gave that same power to the Apostles and their miracles served exactly the same purpose. Hebrews 2:3-4 makes this point. “The message of salvation was confirmed to us by those who heard, that is by the Apostles, God also testifying with them both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will.”
Since this pattern is consistent throughout the Scripture, it is reasonable to expect that with the death of the Apostles, with the end of God’s revelation, with the death of those who spoke God’s own words, the human capacity to work miracles would end as well…just as it had after Moses and Joshua for hundreds of years, and just as it had after Elijah and Elisha.
B.B. Warfield writes, “Miracles do not appear on the pages of Scripture vagrantly here and there and elsewhere and differently, without any assignable reason. They belong to revelation periods and appear only when God is speaking to His people through accredited messengers declaring His gracious purposes.” Scripture leads us to expect the end of the miraculous gifts because of the unique role that miracles have always played, as the validation of someone who spoke God’s own words.
2. END OF THE GIFTS OF APOSTLESHIP
In two places in the New Testament, Paul refers to the Apostles as one of the gifts that Christ gave His church. The first is in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, in the middle of the section on spiritual gifts. Verse 28 reads: “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second, prophet, third, teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.”
Paul is demonstrating the diversity that the Spirit has created within the body, so the Spirit has uniquely gifted different parts of the body. Here he includes Apostles.
Although not all spiritual gifts are offices, all New Testament offices are gifts to Christ’s church. Christ makes this very plain in Ephesians 4:7 as He lays out how the church is to function. When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men. Then in verse 11 He tells us what those gifts are. “He gave some as Apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists and some as pastor/teachers.”
One of the gifts Christ gave His church was the apostles. But they were a temporary gift. Most Christians and most evangelical Charismatics agree there are no more Apostles like the Twelve, or like Paul. Why is that? Because to be a true Apostle, you had to meet three qualifications.
You had to be a witness of the resurrected Christ. In Acts 1 after the suicide of Judas, they were sorting through who was going to take his place. It had to be a witness of the life of Christ, and of His resurrection.
Secondly, to be an Apostle, you had to be personally appointed by Christ. In Acts 1 verse 2, the Apostles are referred to as those whom He had chosen. At the end of chapter 1 of Acts, when they’re seeking to replace Judas, in their prayer they said to God, “Show which of those, or these two, You have chosen.”
Thirdly, to be an Apostle in the true sense, you had to be able to work miracles. In Matthew 10 verses 1 and 2, Jesus summoned His Twelve disciples and He gave them authority over unclean spirits to cast them out, to heal every kind of disease, every kind of sickness, not lower back pain.
2 Corinthians 12:12 says: “The signs of a true Apostle WERE performed among you with all perseverance by signs and wonders and miracles.”
No one alive today who meets those three qualifications. So the gift of Apostleship has ceased. That means is there is a significant difference in the plan of God and the work of the Spirit between the time of the Apostles and today.
It is crystal-clear that the gift of Apostleship ceased without a New Testament statement that it would. That means it is not unlikely that other significant changes happened with the passing of the Apostles as well. The one New Testament gift most frequently connected to miracles, the gift of Apostleship, ceased.
3. FOUNDATIONAL NATURE OF NEW TESTAMENT APOSTLES AND PROPHETS
The New Testament identifies the Apostles and prophets as the foundation on which the church was built.
In Ephesians chapter 2, Paul lays a foundational understanding of the church, in which Jews and Gentiles are brought together. He says in verse 20, “Having been built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”
The reference to the Apostles is clear, and largely undisputed. But who were these prophets? Some Charismatics have come up with novel interpretations and argued that Paul meant the Old Testament prophets. But in chapter 3 verse 5, he’s talking about this mystery that has been revealed to him of which he is a steward. And he says, “In other generations, it was not made known to the sons of men, Old Testament times as it has now been revealed to His holy Apostles and prophets.” He is talking about New Testament prophets. Other Charismatics take Ephesians 2:20 and reword it like this, “Having been built on the foundation of the Apostles which are the prophets.”
The context however makes it clear that the Apostles and prophets are two separate groups. In chapter 4 verse 11 he says: “He gave some as Apostles and some as prophets.” two distinct groups. So then, let’s put it together. The church is built on that foundation. Steve alluded to this as well. The foundation is finished and now the structure is being erected on that already completed foundation. We should not expect any more Apostles or prophets. We should not expect any more revelation.
4. NATURE OF THE FOUNDATIONAL GIFTS
If the Spirit were still gifting believers today with the miraculous gifts, they would be the same gifts that we find in the New Testament. However, the Charismatic gifts claim today bear almost no resemblance to their New Testament counterparts.
THE GIFT OF TONGUES
Consider, for example, the gift of tongues. According to Luke in Acts 2, the gift was the capacity as manifest at Pentecost to speak in a known human language. Verses 7 and 8, “They were amazed and astonished saying, ‘Why are not all these who were speaking Galileans and how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?’”
You come to the second occurrence that’s recorded in Acts 11:15 when Peter reports on the gift of tongues that was given to Cornelius and his household after his conversion: “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning.” Peter says it’s exactly the same thing that happened to them at Pentecost, and what happened at Pentecost is clear.
When Luke reports of a third episode of tongue speaking in Acts 19, there is absolutely nothing in the context there to indicate that it was any different. Luke when he wrote the book of Acts, knew what Paul had written six or seven years earlier in 1 Corinthians 14. Compare that with today’s tongues which are ecstatic speech. It’s not the same thing.
Also, the New Testament gift of tongues, including 1 Corinthians 14, was a public gift meant for at one level the edification of others. Today’s tongues, on the other hand, are primarily a private prayer language and has almost nothing in common with the New Testament gift except the word “tongue.”
THE GIFT OF PROPHECY
Contrary to Charismatic doctrine, the New Testament equates Old Testament prophecy with New Testament prophecy. In the book of Acts there are not even a hint of difference between them. That means that just as the Old Testament prophets spoke direct infallible revelation from God, so did the New Testament prophets. Just like the Old Testament prophets, their words were to be evaluated against previous revelation, but once it was approved, as we saw in Acts 2, their prophecies were added to the teaching of the Apostles to form the foundation of the church.
Ironically in Acts 21 verse 11, one of the favorite texts of Charismatics, the prophet Agabus used exactly the Old Testament prophetic formula when he says, “This is what the Spirit says…” No difference.
The most capable defender of today’s Charismatic prophecies, Wayne Grudem, admits that prophecy as it is practiced in the Charismatic Movement should not be prefaced with “Thus says the Lord.” Instead, he suggests that prophecies today should begin with, quote: “I think this is what the Spirit might be saying.” That is not the New Testament gift of prophecy.
THE GIFT OF HEALING
In the New Testament when someone with the gift of healing used his gifts, the results were complete, immediate, permanent, undeniable, every kind of sickness, every kind of illness. The purported healings of today’s faith healers are unverifiable.
So the displays that are today called the miraculous gifts are just not the same as the New Testament gifts. Even many Charismatics agree with that. Wayne Grudem wrote, “No responsible Charismatic believes that today’s prophecy is infallible and inerrant revelation from God. There is almost uniform testimony from all sections of the Charismatic Movement that today’s prophecy is impure and will contain elements which are not to be obeyed or trusted.”
If that happened in the Old Testament times, the prophet would be dead. Third Wave theologian Jack Deere admitted in his book Surprised By the Power of the Holy Spirit, that modern Charismatics do not claim to have apostolic quality gifts and miracle working abilities.
When Charismatics do post wild claims of limbs restored, or of resurrections, for example, they are almost always hearsay and therefore not verified.
5. THE TESTIMONY OF CHURCH HISTORY
The practice of the miraculous gifts declines even during the apostolic period. Pentecost and the events of Acts 2 happened within ten days of our Lord’s ascension. The second mention of tongues in Acts 10:46 occurs sometime within the next fourteen years before the death of James in 44 A.D. The third mention in Acts 19:6 occurs early in Paul’s ministry at Ephesus. That’s in the early fifties A.D.
First Corinthians, the only book outside of Acts that speaks about tongues, was written in 55 to 56 A.D. Now if you align the New Testament letters based when they were written, 1 Corinthians was only the fourth inspired letter that Paul wrote, following Galatians and 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Paul would write nine other canonical letters after 1 Corinthians to six different churches. There is never a mention of the gift of tongues again.
In the pastoral epistles in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, the books written near the end of Paul’s ministry as permanent directives for the post-apostolic ministry of the church, there is no mention of the miraculous gifts.
This come to its climax in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews 1:1 says: “God after He spoke long ago to the fathers and the prophets in many portions and in many ways, our Old Testament, in these last days,” (an expression the Jews had for the times of the Messiah, “in these last days He has spoken to us in His Son.”) God’s last word is His Son and those whom He appointed.
The book of Hebrews was written almost certainly just before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. That gives us a time frame. The writer of Hebrews says the message of salvation was first spoken through the Lord Himself. Then there was a second generation – the Apostles. The writer of Hebrews is putting himself in a third generation, and that is us. And he says of the second generation, the Apostles, “God also testifying with them…not with us…both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.” Already just before 70 A.D., the writer of Hebrews is saying that was then, this is now.
So in the chronological flow of the inspired New Testament history of the church, you find that even before the Scripture was complete, the miraculous gifts had already begun their decline.
Finally, the miraculous gifts ceased with the Apostles. Fast forward to the Reformation, Martin Luther writes, “This visible outpouring of the Holy Spirit was necessary to the establishment of the early church as were also the miracles that accompanied the gift of the Holy Ghost. Once the church had been established and properly advertised by these miracles, the visible appearance of the Holy Ghost ceased.”
John Calvin said “The gift of healing, like the rest of the miracles which the Lord willed to be brought forth for a time, has vanished away in order to make the preaching of the gospel marvelous forever.”
The New Testament teaches that the result of God’s completed revelation is an all-sufficient Scripture in many places. Second Timothy chapter 3 verse 16, “All Scripture is inspired by God, it’s profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate equipped for every good work.”
Men of God need no additional revelation from God. The Spirit speaks only in and through the inspired Word.
We don’t have to wonder if that message in our mind is from God or not, we have a message from God. Luther also wrote, “Let the man who would hear God speak, read holy Scripture.”
6. NEW TESTAMENT RULES FOR MIRACULOUS GIFTS
In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul lays out specific guidelines for how two of the miraculous biblical gifts were to be practiced in the church.
THE GIFT OF SPEAKING IN TONGUES
First of all, in verses 27 and 28, he addressed speaking in tongues. Two or at the most three, were to speak in tongues in a given service. Secondly, they were to speak one at a time. There had to be order, because that’s like God is. Thirdly, there had to be someone to interpret. No one was allowed to speak in tongues in the corporate worship of the church unless there was someone else who understood that language and could interpret what had been said. In the mouth of two or three witnesses a manner is established. Fourthly, women were not allowed to speak in tongues in the corporate worship.
THE GIFT OF PROPHECY
In verses 29 to 34 Paul goes on to regulate the practice of the New Testament gift or prophecy.
At the most three were to prophesy at a church service. Secondly, other prophets and the congregation were to evaluate those prophecies against previous revelation. They were to speak one at a time, for God is not a God of confusion. Fourthly, women were not allowed to prophesy in the corporate worship.
Tragically most Charismatic practice today completely disregards those clear biblical commands the Apostle laid. In most of the contemporary Charismatic practice, the Holy Spirit is not honored. Instead, He is routinely grieved and disobeyed. The result is not the work of the Spirit, but it is a work of the flesh.
Don’t allow the Holy Spirit’s work to be hi-jacked by those who abuse His name. Secondly, hold to your confidence in the all-sufficient Word. Reject all forms of continuing revelation, including the favorite evangelical form, subjective impressions from God. Don’t ever say “God told me.”
Finally, respond wisely to the different kinds of continuationists. Challenge those Charismatics who have bought into the prosperity gospel, to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith, are only concerned about their own physical needs being met.
When it comes to Charismatics who profess faith in the biblical Jesus and the true biblical gospel, graciously clarify the nature of the true biblical gifts. Treat them as brothers but do not downplay the serious and significant differences, as the sufficiency of Scripture is at stake.
Do not allow yourself for the sake of peace to simply refuse to come to a convinced position. Be like the Bereans who searched the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
Listen to Martin Luther. “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”