The suggestion here is that God, if he were truly continuing to distribute miraculous and revelatory charismatic gifts throughout the Body of Christ, as Rom 12:3—8 teaches he does, then cessationism would be abandoned because of the obvious work of the Spirit’s grace in every church. In other words, if tongues and prophecy were occurring today, they’d be just as likely to manifest in cessationist churches as they allegedly do in charismatic churches; and on that basis, cessationism would be universally rejected by all. While continuationists may just as easily offer a similar objection regarding cessationism,1 cessationists will be better served if the objection is answered directly.
“If continuationism were true...”
For the sake of this exercise it will be necessary for cessationists to lay aside their presuppositions and consider the objection from a continuationist’s perspective.
“...there would be no argument about it among Christians.”
If God continues to distribute miraculous and revelatory gifts today, as he did in the first years of the Church, according to his will and across the entire Body of Christ, why aren’t these gifts experienced in cessationist churches in the same way as they are experienced in charismatic and Pentecostal churches?
These gifts are less likely to occur in cessationist churches for the following reasons:
1) Churches will submit and conform to the teaching and example of their pastors.
Paul teaches, in Eph 4:4—11, that evangelists are empowered by the Spirit and given to the Body of Christ for its equipping and upbuilding. Nevertheless, if a church has a hyper-Calvinist for a pastor, who constantly beats the drum of that aberrancy, then it is unlikely that such a church will have any members doing evangelism or holding an evangelist’s office. In this case, the wrong but authoritative instruction of the pastor will subvert the proper teaching of Scripture and stifle the work of the Spirit in that church.
Similarly, if a pastor teaches cessationism, it is just as unlikely that his church will desire or experience charismatic gifts as the hyper-Calvinist’s church is to experience evangelism. If Paul instructed the Corinthians to “...earnestly desire to prophesy”2 but cessationist teachers tell their disciples that prophecy is a blasphemy against the Doctrine of Sufficiency, no one who submits to that teacher is going to earnestly desire that gift. They will despise it.3 And if Paul wrote, “...do not forbid speaking in tongues,”4 but cessationist pastors teach their churches that tongues are the manifestation of delusions or of demons and they prohibit the exercise of that gift in the church, it should not come as a surprise that no one sitting under that pastor’s preaching speaks in tongues.
Reformed evangelical cessationists would never accept the absence of evangelists in hyper-Calvinist churches as evidence for the cessation of the evangelistic office, yet they use the same argument to present their evidence for the cessation of miraculous and revelatory charismatic gifts. The only thing that this objection proves is that wrong teaching begets wrong practice.
2) Charismatic gifts are practiced according to one’s faith.5
If cessationists have no faith that God still gives certain charismatic gifts, then the faith which is necessary to enable the operation of those gifts will also be absent. Correspondingly, Mark says that Jesus “...could do no miracle there [in Nazareth] except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He wondered at their unbelief.” (Mark 6:5—6a NAS) and, if cessationists are prejudiced against the Spirit6 in the same way the Nazarenes were prejudiced against Jesus, then the Spirit will also do no miracles among them.7
3) Cessationists may exercise a charismatic gift without recognizing or acknowledging that they have done so.
First, cessationists may not recognize that they have experienced revelatory gifts because they have either, a) unwittingly accepted how the worst of the worst charismatics define these gifts — i.e. prophecy = “God told me that he would kill me if you do not send me 8 million dollars within 3 months.” — and they know that they’ve never uttered such ridiculous predictions. Or, b) they have failed to understand that the gift of prophecy, given to prophets in the Church, differs from that which was spoken through the prophets who were sent to the nations of Israel and Judah, in the Old Testament. In either case, a cessationist would fail to recognize that a spontaneous but timely word of encouragement, exhortation, or consolation for the church, is the gift of prophecy. Similarly, if a cessationist prays for healing over the sick and a sick person is restored, the cessationist will rightly defer the glory of the miracle to the Holy Spirit, but they will wrongly dismiss the possibility that it was the Spirit working his power through them as a gift of healings.
Second, when a cessationist does acknowledge that something exceptional or supernatural has happened, through something they have said or something they have done, they will redefine the phenomena to resolve the contradiction between their experience and their theology; preferring to call prophecy an extraordinary providence, or the gifts of healings, merely, an answer to prayer.
In conclusion, Paul exhorted his disciple, Timothy, to fan into flame, the gift that was given to him.8
While cessationist pastors, as well intended as they may be, charge their disciples to put out the Spirit’s fire. And if charismatic and Pentecostal pastors teach their congregations to practice the gifts, while cessationist pastors teach their congregations that the gifts no longer exist, then this should explain why the gifts are absent in cessationist churches but remain active in continuationist churches.
So to my cessationist friends, before making this objection, it is important that you remember, that just because you’ve not experienced it, does not mean it does not exist. The absence of evidence does not prove the evidence of absence.
Return to first article in this series: Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts
<< Objection 4 Objection 6 >>
1 “If cessationism were true then there would be no debate in charismatic and Pentecostal churches.” In other words, if the Spirit had ceased giving tongues and prophecy, then continuationism would be abandoned because of the obvious absence of those gifts in these churches.
1) The cessationist is certain to respond to this counter-objection by arguing that tongues and prophecy, since they may be counterfeited, offer evidence that is far less persuasive than the verifiable non-experience evidenced in cessationist church practice (charismatic experience can be faked, cessationist non-experience cannot). Therefore, according to the cessationist, the counter-objection cannot invalidate the original objection. Furthermore, 2) they may continue to press, that since the counter-objection fails to answer the question which the original objection implies — namely, “If God still distributes miraculous gifts, indiscriminately throughout the Body of Christ, why aren’t these gifts experienced in cessationist churches as well?” — then no actual response to the objection is being offered.
In response: 1) While counterfeit gifts may be rife within the charismatic movement and Pentecostal churches, these abuses cannot prove that the genuine gifts have ceased. They can only prove that sin still infects the hearts of men. And, 2) the question implied by the original objection is answered in the body of the article.↩
2 1 Cor 14:39a↩
3 Contra. 1 Thes 5:20 ESV↩
4 1 Cor 14:39b ESV↩
5 Rom 12:6↩
6 The Spirit who still gives all the gifts to the Church.↩
7 Whether Jesus’ power was limited because of the Nazarenes’ unbelief, or he simply had no occasion to demonstrate his power because they refused to approach him for help, has no effect on the argument. The Spirit’s power may be limited among cessationists because of their unbelief, or he simply may have no occasion to work his power through them because they refuse to petition him for help. The net effect remains the same.↩
8 2 Tim 1:6 NIV↩