The Cessationism Debate

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Readers of this post will probably be a little disappointed due to the fact that I am not seeking to stoke the fires of this debate.  Rather, this is a plea for humility.  I wish to endeavour to breed a little humility in this often heated debate.  As I see it there are primarily two stumbling blocks with respect to achieving agreement on the topic.  The cessationist has an exegetical problem, while the continuationist has a theological problem.  In identifying these weaknesses in the argument I trust it will aid us in breeding humility.

The Cessationist has an Exegetical Problem

In some sense both the cessationist and the continuationist have an exegetical problem, in that neither can point to a particular verse, passage or chapter of Scripture which definitively supports either case.  However, the cessationist has a slightly bigger stumbling block to overcome as nowhere in Scripture is there an explicit statement that the miraculous speaking gifts will cease at the end of a particular age (nor indeed that they had ceased during the New Testament era).

Those who favour the continuation of the miraculous speaking gifts can clearly point to a number of different parts of Scripture which either record, document or rule on the use of these gifts in the context of the local church.  The following are just a sample:

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:4)

For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. (Acts 10:46)

And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:6)

Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up. (1 Cor. 14:5)

Cessationists need to concede that they cannot point to any particular verse, passage or chapter that documents the cessation of these gifts.  This should foster a degree of humility as there is the acknowledgement that there is no final nail for the continuationists coffin.

The Continuationist has a Theological Problem

This may of course encourage some continuationists to become a little proud in their position, since it is clearly documented in the New Testament era and more importantly present within the canon of Scripture.  However, the continuationist should not be so quick to jump to conclusions.  There is a significant theological problem which lies along their pathway.  As O. Palmer Robertson correctly observes:

No further words, ideas, or supposed visions and prophecies shall supplement the completed revelation of Scripture.  It is not just that the written canon is closed, meaning that no more words are to be added to the Bible.  The end of revelation means that all those former ways of God’s making his will known to his church have now ceased. (The Final Word, pg. 60)

With the exception of perhaps the first sentence most continuationists would agree that God’s authoritative revelation has ended with Scripture, the closing of the canon.  The continuationist, however, would simple argue that the miraculous speaking gifts are not revelatory in the same way today.  And here-in lies the theological problem.  It is very difficult to argue that tongues and prophecy are of a different nature in different eras of church history.

Humility

I am sure that as people from either ‘camp’ read through the above words that a whole host of arguments flooded to mind to defend their position.  My aim is not to encourage you to leave those arguments at home, rather my aim is to encourage you to hold your position fiercely but with humility.

There is nothing sadder than Christians who are flippant about their views on important matters such as this debate; except perhaps that brother or sister who holds their position so dogmatically that they query the salvation of those who disagree with them.  The above arguments are in no way conclusive arguments, but simply an illustration of how precarious the debate really is – no one has an ace up their sleeve.

Therefore, can we enter the cessationism debate with humility?  By all means continue to debate, read, study and pray – but do it all knowing there are subtle flaws in your own argument.


Author’s note: In case you are wondering, I lean toward the cessationist side of the debate.

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