Cessationism: an Arid Theology


The greatest difference between present-day Christianity, and that of which we read in these letters (of the New Testament), is that to us it is primarily a performance; to them it was real experience. We are apt to reduce Christian religion to a code or, at best a rule of heart and life. Perhaps if we believed what they believed, we could achieve what they achieved.


J. B. Phillips

In the introduction to his New Testament translations


In this paper I intend to rebut the Cessationist views that I have run afoul of in my ministry.  I intend to be kind, but truthful, tactful, but sharp in logic.  My intentions is not necessarily to cause those who disagree with me to agree, but to help those with questions to understand that there is a way of the supernatural open to all those who choose to walk with Jesus in deep paths.  As always I choose to love my brothers in the faith who disagree with me in these details as well.

Cessationism Defined

Cessationism is a theology that says that all the miraculous works as spoken in the New Testament were only for the time of the Apostles and at the ending of the first Apostles that the miraculous ended.  They contend that any miracles today are counterfeit and either natural occurrences, or if obviously supernatural are works of the enemy.  They accuse Charismatic / Pentecostal Christianity of being in deep error.

Cessationism’s champion was a theologian of the late 1800’s named Benjamin Warfield (1821 – 1921).  He held a position as editor of the Princeton Theological Review and taught thousands of ministerial students at Princeton.  During a time that liberal theology was sweeping the nation with the higher textual criticism of theologians in Europe, Warfield held the line in conservative and fundamentalist circles in the United States and for that is to be commended.  His book Counterfeit Miracles became the definitive statement of Cessationism to the conservative fundamental segment of Christianity.  In this book Warfield makes the case that all miracles ceased after the last Apostle died and that any claims after that time of the miraculous is false.  He made claims that the early church documents also made this claim, though as we will see later is a false claim.

Cessationism has made many inroads in the conservative and fundamentalist circles as well as even the more liberal circles.  Any place where people are uncomfortable with the move of the Spirit of God and desire a religion that is quiet and subdued is a place where Cessationism can find root.

Cessationism Issues

Before we get into the issues of Cessationism, I would like to speak here about proper exegesis of the Word and how that works.  In reading the Word of God one must be careful not to read things into that Word that are not there.  This is accomplished by not coming to the Word with our external agendas but with a humble and grateful heart, desiring to hear from the author of the Eternal Word what He wants you to hear.  This is not an easy process and we must be careful in what we get.  One issue I find in the cults and bad theologies out there is that they find their “truths” in a very complex reading of the scriptures.  In other words they derive something beyond what a simple and clear reading of the scripture would allow.  Any time this occurs I am immediately suspect that there is an attempt to put something into scripture that is not really there. A proper exegesis has some fundamental points.

1.    Keep the verse in the context of the passage and book.

2.    Let the Bible be the interpreter of the Bible and use other contextual verses.

3.    Only read beyond what the simplest meaning of the verse means when it is obvious the verse is leading you there.

4.    Read as if Jesus is reading with you to breathe in the life of the Living Word into your spirit.

 I find that the theology of Cessationism breaks one or all of the above points and it one of its’ fundamental problems.  We will see this numerous times in this article.

Now we go on to the serious issues of Cessationism.

I  Does I Corinthians 13:8-10 tell us that the gifts of the Spirit were done away with when the Bible was canonized?

This argument is the result of improper exegesis of this scripture.  Here is the scripture:

1 Corinthians 13:8-12 ( ESV )
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 
When I was a child, I spoke like a child; I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Notice that, in their interpretation, the Cessationists stop at verse 10 and then try to fit over an interpretation of what they want to believe before they let the rest of the verses explain what the verse 8 and 10 say.   They say that the “perfect” of verse 10 is the canonized scripture and that when the scripture was canonized in around 325 AD the miracles stopped.

But when you look at the later verses you see an different interpretation of the word “perfect”.  Verse 12 says that this “perfect” will know us fully as we have known fully.  This knowing is an intimate knowing and relates to a personal knowing, not a head knowledge, but a heart knowledge.  We can know a book with head knowledge, but a person with heart knowledge, and thus the “perfect” in verse 10 is the person of Jesus.  This “Parousia” or coming of this perfect one is the future coming of the Lord of Glory and not the canonization of the Bible.

This interpretation of I Corinthians 13 is also tied to another argument of the Cessationists.

II Signs and Wonders were only to confirm the Scripture as it was being written in the times of the apostles and as the Bible has been canonized then the time of miracles is now past.

 When we look at the Scriptures we see that this is a simplistic analysis of the reasons for Signs and Wonders.  Cessationists say that only the writers of the Scriptures or Apostles were the ones who performed miracles and that was only to confirm the Word as they wrote it.

But Both Philip the Evangelist and Stephen performs Signs and Wonders in Samaria (Acts 8:6-8) and in Jerusalem (Acts 6:8) respectively.  Neither Philip nor Stephen wrote any of the Scripture and thus show the weakness of this argument.

Other purposes of miracles were also put forth in the New Testament.

Jesus spoke in Matthew 12:28 and Matthew 10:1, 7- 8 of the Kingdom of Heaven that was present and was here to spread the benefits of all God had for people in salvation, healing and deliverance.  Signs and Wonders were to show that this Kingdom of Heaven was close and active.  Jesus was showing that God’s victory over all the oppression of the devil was a result of God moving in power (Luke 4:18). 

Jesus brought healing because He desired to help those who needed help.  He moved in compassion and pity on people to show them God’s character (Matthew 20:30 – 34, Matthew 14:14, Luke 7:13).  There are many more verses that point this out.  He still heals today because of that compassion that truly fails not.

If we believe in signs and wonders are we running against Jesus when He spoke in Matthew 16:4 saying to the Pharisees to not seek a sign except the sign of Johah?  Also akin to this question is the idea that miracles themselves don’t mean anything because there are false miracles and true miracles and we cannot discern between them so we just should avoid all.

In Matthew Jesus was talking to the Pharisees and not the disciples and he spoke specifically to their challenge to show them a sign that He was truly the messiah.  He told them than an “evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign”.  The Pharisees already had all the proof they needed, miracle upon miracle had been performed in their presence, but they fulfilled the evil and adulterous generation that asked for another sign just for them to believe.  They suffered the result of their unbelief about 30 years later when Titus came and took their kingdom away from them.  That was their one fear that Jesus would do that very thing.  But remember this word was not to the disciples and neither they nor we fall under that admonition. 

Indeed we are to seek the Lord with all our hearts and ask Him to come and teach us how we can “do the works” that He did.  John 14:12-14.  We are to ask for miraculous answers to prayer, Acts 4:30; I Corinthians 14:1; Galatians 3:5.  Look at these verses and see that miracles and preaching the gospel are tied together, with no time or space limitation, Acts 3:6, 12ff; 4:29-30, 5:12-42; 6:8-10; 8:4-12; 9:17-18 etc.  I think you get the idea as these are just a few of the verses that point out the miracles and the gospel goes together.

Now we see if the question of true and false miracles is a problem.  Is it true we cannot discern between true and false miracles?  Well we would ask did the people in Jesus time discern between true and false miracles.  Remember the prostitutes, drunkards, and sinners saw the miracles and believed.  Not many of them were astute theological and learned men and women.  They were needy and God moved in Jesus life to reveal Himself to them and they believed.  It was the Pharisee and Sadducees two didn’t believe and said that the miracles were from Beelzebub.  People also saw the signs, wonders and miracles at the hands of Peter, Paul, Phillip the Evangelist, Stephen etc. and believed.  If we cannot today discern between the Devine and the demonic we are far worse off than those early believers.

Weren’t all the miracles of the Bible limited to the Apostles and thus ended when the Apostles died? Didn’t the early Church Fathers also say this?

Some believe that only Apostles were the one’s bearing the miraculous works of God.  Certainly the Apostles Peter and Paul were dynamos of miraculous power and in Acts 5:12-16 the Lord speaks of signs and wonders being performed from all the Apostles and of “all being healed” at their prayers.  Paul was so laden with the anointing of healing and deliverance that in Acts 19:11-12 it says “God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.”  In Romans 15:16 the Lord worked in Paul’s ministry by the power of “signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

There was a powerful anointing on the Apostles in the New Testament, but were they the only ones with miraculous ministries?

Stephen, who was not an Apostle, but a deacon, had a ministry of the miraculous in Acts 6:8 and Philip the Evangelist had a powerful ministry with signs and wonders abounding in Acts 8:6-7.  Indeed the miraculous life is promised all Christians in the Scriptures in
John 14:12-14 ( ESV )
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 
If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

You can see there is no limitation on this scripture for any particular person with the exception of “whoever believes” and there is no time limitation on this verse whatsoever.  Some might say that is was spoken to the disciples who were to become the Apostles, but that is untenable as the entire gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were spoken to the disciples and if this one verse is rendered invalid to us in this time because it’s truth was only for the disciples then the whole gospel is also rendered invalid for us.  No but God wants to perform miracles in His church today for the very same reasons He wanted perform them in the 1st Century. 

What about the early Church Fathers?

Cessationists claim that the gift of healing passed away in the early second century. It is interesting that the beginnings of Cessationism were from St. Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430 AD).  He stated in one of his first books On True Religion,


These miracles were not allowed to last until our times lest the soul (of the believer) ever seek the visible things and the human race grow cold because of familiarity with those things whose novelty enkindled it  Augustine On True Religion 25.47.


However about six years before he died Augustine rejected Cessationism.  This was due to a dramatic healing he witnessed at the beginning of the Easter service in the church he attended.  An man afflicted with epilepsy was healed and this caused Augustine to investigate other reports of healing. In his later book Retractions he tells of his changed heart on healing:

But what I said is not to be so interpreted that no miracles are believed to be performed in the name of Christ at the present time.  For, when I wrote that book On the True Religion, I had recently learned that a blind man had been restored to sight in Milan . . . and I know about some others, so numerous even in these times, that we cannot know all about them or enumerate those we know.”  Augustine, The Retractions, trans. Sister Mary Inez in The Fathers of the Church, vol. 60 (Washington D.C. “Catholic University of America Press, 1968), book I, sect 11.7

So you can see that Augustine when he wasn’t really looking for the miraculous didn’t see it, but when he started looking for it found it all around.  Such it is for the Cessationist, they deny the reality of miracles and don’t really look for them in their denial and thus don’t find them even though they are all around.

Miracles of healing and deliverance have continued up through the ages in many movements such as the Anabaptists, the Pietists, the Moravian Brethren, and the French Prophets to name a few. 

Even today miracles abound to those who choose to walk with their Lord deeply.  I have personally seen thousands of healings and deliverances overseas and even around my neighborhood and family.  My very wife was healed of arthritis of her toe by the power of God to heal; I have friends who have been healed of MS, Grand Mal Epilepsy that I can have them contact anyone to tell them of what has happened to them.  I challenge anyone to contact me if they doubt and I can have any of a hundred people that can attest to healing.  I personally have seen healing in instantaneous manner in my own body.  God is the same yesterday, today and forever and we must not forget that deep truth and the book of Acts is the mandate for Christians today.

The Cessationists always claim a “High” view of Scriptures, but is it really a High view?

In my ministry I have had encounters of the most unpleasant kind with Cessationists who desire to push their views upon me to correct my deeply erroneous theology.  When I tell them what I have seen they tell me in so many words that I must be lying as God doesn’t do that stuff today.  I guess when I go out and spend a month in a foreign country traveling by bus from town to town from one end of country to another, preaching in churches each night and watching miracles or if I go to a country and go to a village out in the jungle and pray and see healings of pagans and then preach and see salvations and get to sleep in the best accommodations of that village, a 1/8” mat on a hard bamboo floor in the hut of a villager, that people are thinking I am just wasting the money on some vacation.  Nonsense, and I am very disturbed by the lack of kindness in their responses.  I challenge them on their supposed high view and say that they must take a black magic marker and strike out verses from their Bibles that obviously don’t have any meaning for us today and in fact can lead people astray by their reading of them.  Here is a partial list of those offending verses.

Matthew 10:1-8

Luke 10:1 – 12

John 5:19 – 20

John 14: 12 – 14

I Cor. 12, 14


I just listed a few as the exhaustive list would take up too much room.  I want those who question the supernatural to understand that God is a supernatural God and moves in Supernatural ways and that the Kingdom of Heaven is the supernatural work of God on this earth and in His children.  These verses above speak of this and if Cessationism is right then we must negate the supernatural ideas from Christianity and make it no different that many of the cults.


Sources: "Quenching the Spirit - Discover the REAL Spirit Behind the Charismatic Controversy" by William DeArteaga and "The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts" by Max Turner and some articles from Pheuma Review.