In Christianity, cessationism is the doctrine that spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophecy and healing ceased with the apostolic age. This is generally opposed to continuationism, which teaches that the Holy Spirit may bestow the spiritual gifts on persons other than the original twelve apostles at any time. Cessationists believe that when the Old Testament canon closed at Malachi, for the next 400 years until John the Baptist, the gifts had ceased. Similarly, when the New Testament canon closed the gifts ceased.
Cessationism has various forms and can be classified in different ways depending on the questions and issues on which Cessationists disagree. Cessationism can be classified in two ways: (i) with regard to the question of a reemergence of the gifts and (ii) with regard to the types of justification for cessationism.
Cessationism can also be divided with regard to the question whether God still and occasionally performs miracles and healings or provides miraculous guidance. Cessationists are divided on following issues:
- Can we expect genuine miracles, healings and miraculous guidance from God in our churches?
- Is there a possibility of a reemergence of the gifts?
- Difference between types of justification for cessationism.
With regard to the presence of miracles and healings
- Classical Cessationists assert that the "sign gifts" such as prophecy, healing and speaking in tongues ceased with the apostles and the completion of the canon of Scripture. They only served as launching pads for the spreading of the Gospel; as affirmations of God's revelation. However, these Cessationists do believe that God still occasionally does miracles today, such as healings or divine guidance, so long as these "miracles" do not accredit new doctrine or add to the New Testament canon. What should be emphasized is that the Classical Cessationist allowance of miracles, healing and divine guidance is different than the Continuationist one. A Cessationist can allow the presence of God's supernatural guidance of the Church, but not through special chosen prophets or healers. In this view, God can perform occasional miracles and healings, but as a result of a prayer, and not as a result of a work of special chosen prophets or healers. Richard Gaffin, John F. MacArthur and Daniel B. Wallace are perhaps the best-known classical Cessationists.
- Full Cessationists argue that along with no miraculous gifts, there are also no miracles performed by God today. This argument, of course, turns on one's understanding of the term, "miracle." Proponents of this view worth mentioning are B. B. Warfield, John Gresham Machen, and F. N. Lee.
With regard to the reemergence of the gifts
With regard to the possibility of reemergence (reappearance) of charismatic gifts, we can distinguish between two versions of cessationism:
- Strong cessationism
- Moderate cessationism
- The completion of the canon of the Bible
- The infallible and sufficient authority of the Bible
- The perfection of the Scriptures to guide the Church
It has been argued by Peter Masters and John Whitcomb that the original function of the sign and revelatory gifts has therefore been fulfilled and they are therefore now defunct. These authors also taught that the testimony of foreign tongues has been accomplished, as a warning to Jews and an invitation to Gentiles that the Kingdom of God is now accessible to all nations. The Holy Scriptures are now complete and wholly sufficient for all the needs of a Christian worker. The gifts were withdrawn with the death of the apostles and their immediate delegates, in their distinct function as witnesses to new revelation.
According to a strong Cessationist, a person with a gift of power is also a prophet because healings and miracles were always signs associated with the divine confirmation of the genuineness of a prophet in the periods when God revealed new truths with respect to the doctrine. A strong Cessationist might concede that prophecies might be useful in the guidance of the Church, but that this supernatural guidance ceased at the completion of the canon of the Bible. This rationale leads to the view that the Church can be perfectly guided by the principles, teachings and examples of the Bible alone.
A moderate Cessationist would likewise deny the possibility of gifts on the grounds of principle by appealing to the principle of Sola Scriptura. They would deny the existence of charismatic gifts in the Church no matter what, even in the event of seeing apparent miracles or healing. However, moderate cessationism allows for the possibility of a new charismatic period in the future. This openness to the possibility of a new charismatic period is motivated by premillennialist eschatological expectations, where it is assumed that Christ's Second Coming will occur before the establishment of Christ's millennial kingdom on Earth. Within this premillennialist conceptual framework, the Great Tribulation is seen as a future period immediately preceding Christ's Coming. A moderate Cessationist would insist that the new charismatic period is possible only during the Great Tribulation when the principle of Sola Scriptura will no longer be valid. Moderate cessationism is compatible with all premillennialist positions (pre-trib, post-trib, mid-trib and pre-wrath).
The moderate Cessationist understanding of the principle of Sola Scriptura is almost identical to the strong one. A moderate Cessationist would agree with all three propositions pr. 1-3, but with an important qualification: all three propositions are valid only before the Great Tribulation. Thus, in practical terms, both strong and moderate cessationism are the same. They differ only in eschatological terms, whether the gifts will reemerge in the last days immediately preceding the time of Christ's Second Coming. The strong Cessationist eschatological view is not a premillennialist, and, thus, does not share the premillennialist conceptual framework.
Biblical grounds for moderate cessationism is the reference to two powerful prophets of God, Revelation 11:3-11. According to a moderate Cessationist, events described in Revelation 11 are in the future, during the Great Tribulation. For this reason, a moderate cessationist has a ready answer to the question why the Bible is so vague about the cessation of the charismatic gifts: the Bible is obscure on this point precisely because the gifts will re-emerge during the Great Tribulation. A moderate cessationist concludes that they will absolutely end at the second coming of our Christ, at the end of the Great Tribulation.
There is not much literature on moderate cessationism, but the view is propounded by Hopewell Mennonite Church of Reading, PA, and by certain Brethren groups of Christians, such as Free Brethren House Churches of Christ.
With regard to its justification
Cessationism can be further differentiated with regard of what kind of justification is employed for its position. Cessationism can be justified either on grounds of principle or on empirical grounds, i.e., on experience or empiria. Thus, we have two forms of cessationism:
- Principled cessationism
- Empirical cessationism
Both strong and moderate versions of cessationism belongs to principled cessationism because they appeal to the principle of Sola scriptura. Thus, their denial of the possibility of gifts is not on empirical evidence but rather on grounds of principle.
An empirical Cessationist denies the possibility of charismatic gifts on empirical grounds because he does not immediately discard an apparent miracle, healing or prophecy as counterfeit. They will rather first investigate the genuineness of the manifestation of the charismatic gift in question. In this view, no Christian group in modern times has genuine charismatic gifts because, if thoroughly investigated, later healings and other "miracles" would be shown to be false. In other words, an empirical cessationist denial is based on observation coupled with the probabilistic expectation that apparent miracles, healing or prophecies are mostly improbable.
An example of the empirical form of cessationism is the view propounded by biblestudying.net. They have published a series of articles about charismatic gifts, dealing with several issues concerning charismata. Their denial of the continuation of the gifts is based on their historical study of early Church practices: "the charismatic gifts did indeed decline and were eventually lost sometime between the second and fourth centuries AD". Their empirical analysis demands incontrovertible evidence of continuation which will explain its conditions. In their view the gifts could have continued until Christ's return, but instead ended "sometime between the second and fourth centuries AD". Their conclusion is: "Thus, we must discard the doctrine that the gifts were supposed to pass away before Christ's return. Instead, we must accept the fact that the gifts were supposed to continue as a confirmation of sound doctrine until Christ's return but were lost as the Church deviated from that sound doctrine given by Christ to the apostles and by the apostles to the early Church of the first few centuries".
Spiritual gifts may be explained as false other than those contained in the Holy Scriptures according to conservative Presbyterian theologian and researcher Benjamin B. Warfield (1851–1921) who found no solid objective scientific reference of the working of miracles manifested within the mainstream church after the lifetime of the apostles. Warfield identified many attested miracles and spiritual gifts throughout church history associated with cults and mystics. Opponent theologians and researchers have pointed to stronger citations than those denounced by Warfield. Cited or omitted by each side are the below chronological references:
- Justin Martyr (d.165) in his Dialogue with Trypho makes the comment: 'For the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time.' Dialogue with Trypho Cpt 82
- Irenaeus (d.202) was a pupil of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the apostle John. He wrote in his book Against Heresies, Book V, vi.: "In like manner do we also hear many brethren in the church who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light, for the general benefit, the hidden things of men and declare the mysteries of God, who also the apostles term spiritual".
- "Those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years…. The name of our Lord Jesus Christ even now confers benefits [upon men], and cures thoroughly and effectively all who anywhere believe on Him".
- Origen (253/4) never mentioned tongues and even argued that the "signs" of the Apostolic Age were temporary and that no contemporary Christian exercised any of these early "sign" gifts. (AD 185–253). He professes to have been an eye-witness to many instances of exorcism, healing, and prophecy, although he refuses to record the details lest he should rouse the laughter of the unbeliever.
- Chrysostom (d.407) – writing on 1 Corinthians and the gift of tongues said, "This whole place is very obscure; but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. And why do they not happen now? Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity hath produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more?". (AD 347–407)
- Augustine (d.430) – In a homily on the 1st Epistle of John, Augustine commented that speaking in tongues was a miracle suitable for the early church, but that it was no longer evident in his own time. In chapters 8 and 9 of Book XXII of his City of God, written circa AD 415, Augustine noted that miracles in his own day were not as spectacular or noteworthy as those at the dawn of Christianity, but that they continued to take place.
Some other cessationist explanations about why gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased include:
- they were taken away as a form of discipline from God on unbelief or disobedience.
- they were neglected and faded from use.
- they were misinterpretations or exaggeration and could instead be attributed to natural and psychological phenomena.
- they were signs attesting to the truth and authority of the apostolic preaching of the gospel and are now preserved for the church in the New Testament witness.
- Aleksandar Katanovic, "The End of Charismatic Gifts," published at the website of Free Brethren House Churches of Christ, a group of Cessationist Christians.
- Articles on this view can be found here: Links on articles about Charismatic movement
- Strong cessationists belong to various denominations such as Conservative Baptist and Reformed Churches. Literature expounding strong cessationism are John F. MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos (Zondervan Publishing House, 1992); Robert L. Thomas, Understanding Spiritual Gifts (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, 1999); Walter J. Chandry, Signs of the Apostles (The Banner of Truth Trust Edinburgh, 1978).
- Masters, Peter; Whitcomb, John (June 1988). Charismatic Phenomenon(ISBN ). London: Wakeman. p. 113. ISBN 978-1-870855-01-3.
- Masters, Peter; Wright, Verna (February 1988). Healing Epidemic. London: Wakeman. p. 227. ISBN 978-1870855006.
- Examples of Cessationists employing such argumentation is John F. Mac Arthur and Walter J. Chantry. John F. Mac Arthur's second chapter of his Charismatic Chaos is an appeal to the principle of Sola Scriptura and the closeness of the canon of the Bible as an argument for cessationism (Charismatic Chaos, Zondervan Publishing House, 1992). Walter J. Chandry's fourth section of Signs of the Apostles similarly devotes his attention to the cessationist implication of the closeness of the canon of the Bible (Signs of the Apostles, The Banner of Truth Trust Edinburgh, 1978).
- It is safe to say that all Cessationists agree with the perspective of the confirmatory gifts such as John F. MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos, pp. 134-141, 244 (Zondervan Publishing House, Michigan, 1992); Robert L. Thomas, Understanding Spiritual Gifts, pp. 31-33 (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, 1999); Richard B. Gaffin, "A Cessationist View," in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today - Four Views, p. 42 (Zondervan, Michigan, 1996); Walter J. Chandry, Signs of the Apostles, section 3 (The Banner of Truth Trust Edinburgh, 1978).
- Examples of strong cessationists who explicitly appeal to the closure of canon are Robert L. Thomas (Understanding Spiritual Gifts) and Walter J. Chandry (Signs of the Apostles).
- Katanovic, Aleksandar. "Moderate cessationism," in: "The End of Charismatic Gifts". Free Brethren House Church. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
- Strong Cessationism is chiefly defended by Reformed Churches. Christian Reformed Church is generally amillennialist in its eschatology. See for instance "Eschatology" at the site of Christian Reformed Church in North America Archived 16 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
- Katanovic, Aleksandar. "Moderate Cessationism," in: "The End of Charismatic Gifts". Free Brethren House Church. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
- The view is introduced by Aleksandar Katanovic in the article "The End of Charismatic Gifts," published first on the site http://www.house-church.net/, a site owned by Free Brethren House Churches of Christ. Free Brethren House Churches of Christ is a group of Cessationist Christians.
- Aleksandar Katanovic, "Various forms of Cessationism," in: "The End of Charismatic Gifts"
- An example of an empirical cessationist denial, see the seventh statement of the list of Statement of Beliefs of biblestudying.net, a group of empirical cessationist Christians
- "biblestudying.net/topic_charismatic". biblestudying.net. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
- biblestudying.net, Preliminary Proof: When the Gifts Would Cease
- biblestudying.net, Preliminary Proof: Conclusions
- Foubister, Frost, Greer, Kelsey, Kydd, Ruthven, and Shogren[who?]
- "Ante Nicene Fathers", vol 1, Irenaeus Against Heresies, bk 2, ch. 32, sec. 4, p. 847.
- Contra Celsum, I, ii; III, xxiv; VII, iv, lxvii.
- "FathChrysHomXXIX". Piney.com. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
- "CHURCH FATHERS: Homily 6 on First John (Augustine)". Newadvent.org. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
- "CHURCH FATHERS: City of God, Book XXII (St. Augustine)". Newadvent.org. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
- Why I Am Not Charismatic, written by C Michael Patton at Parchment and Pen
- The Ultimate Cessationism Resource, compiled by Nathan W. Bingham
- The End of Charismatic Gifts, published by the Free Brethren House Churches of Christ. The article conveys the perspective of moderate Cessationism.
- Pentecostalism, the Charismatic and Faith Movements, a series of articles about charismata, seen from the perspective of empirical Cessationism
- Gaffin's Cessationist exegesis of Eph 2:20, R. Fowler White's article dealing with Gaffin's Cessationist exegesis of Eph. 2:20 as a reply to Grudem's book The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today
- Can Cessationism be proven from Scriptures, Published in the Sword and Trowel Magazine, London Metropolitan Tabernacle
- A (Modest) Case for Cessationism
- Articles related to Cessationism