Cessationism: A Failing Theology
You’ve heard God’s voice. But they say God no longer speaks. You must be listening to demons. You’ve experienced genuine moves of the Holy Spirit that have changed your life and the lives of others. But that can’t happen because God doesn’t do those things anymore. You’ve been healed. You even have the medical record to prove it. But they say any experience you’ve had as a witness for Jesus Christ is illegitimate. Sorry, it just doesn’t count. Hence, your testimony is laid waste and worthless. As for anyone who has experienced a miracle — well, they just may need to be checked into the local psych ward.
We need biblical and spiritual discretion, which we teach. We need to test and approve all things. It’s good to be careful. It’s good to be Berean. But if you’ve run into any of the above, chances are you’ve been talking with a Cessationist.
Today I spent some time answering various questions about Cessationism, which cumulated into a thorough FAQ submission. And that’s when I knew — this deserves a blog post. So here you have it: the blog post version.
In this post we’re going to explore and debunk Cessationism. By the time we’re done, you will be equipped to destroy this failing theology, which has infiltrated many mainline denominations leaving otherwise naive believers powerless and frustrated in their walk with God — and for good reason — because the cessationists are preaching a deity and doctrine that is not God at all. We’re going to define what it is, the beliefs it embraces, and why it just doesn’t hold.
So grab a cup of coffee and join me… you don’t want to miss this.
What is Cessationism?
Please understand, there are many well-meaning, good-hearted, genuine, yet naive and ignorant believers who live in the Cessationist camp. If you encounter any of them, please be kind and patient. Chances are, they are rehearsing what they’ve been told, and have never experienced the reality of Jesus Christ in a personal and powerful way that is actually life-changing. Many of them are scared (even terrified) of the Holy Spirit, and they may not understand how to biblically measure or test and approve the things of God that are biblically validated. There is a lot of garbage out there that is false. So in an effort to escape, protect, or insulate themselves, they denounce and refute any manifestation of God altogether with a very tidy and convenient doctrine called “Cessationism”.
For those who may not know, Cessationism is not a denomination. Rather, it is a fundamental theological doctrine which, when believed and practiced, becomes pervasive in the life of a believer to the degree that a fruitful and intimate walk with Jesus Christ is often no longer viable or even possible. Life becomes flat and frustrating, because scripture does not have the ability to speak specifically toward major (or minor) life decisions or circumstances such as who to marry, what job to take, where to go to college, and where to live. Scripture speaks to us in principle on these issues. It provides a compass whereby we navigate our lives with wisdom and discretion. But as for the details? That can only come through an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ whereby He speaks clearly on any given point. For those who hear God’s voice, these intense life decisions are made much easier. But for the cessationist — it’s pretty brutal. There is a lot of frustration, confusion, and well… failure.
Cessationism says the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit ceased with the death of the twelve Apostles (the apostolic age). God no longer speaks to His people, and therefore what is known as Sola Scriptura (Latin: by scripture alone), becomes the only means by which we can “hear” from God or know what He is saying to us. There is no longer communion with God in prayer which affords us the ability to hear His voice. There is no longer healing, miracles, tongues, prophecy, knowledge, or any other manifestations whatsoever. All of those things have officially ceased, hence the term “cessationism”.
Cessationists also claim that experience has no validity in the life of a believer. So your testimony in Jesus — if there is any — is worthless. And if that is true, Church history is essentially worthless, as well as the testimony of believers who are living witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ. For the cessationist — they have no legitimacy whatsoever. Experience is not scripture, and is therefore invalidated.
That is a sad life.
Those who abide in the cessationist camp are extreme. Those who believe in Cessationism are called “Cessationists”. Those who debate this camp are commonly known as the “Continuationists”, precisely because they maintain that the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit have continued. For all practical purposes, these are two opposite and incompatible poles of doctrine and theology. But they both have something in common which deserves explanation…
Sola Scriptura is necessary for every believer to understand and practice. The term, being Latin, means “by scripture alone”. The cessationists take this very literally. All you have is scripture — and that’s it. God is encapsulated in black and white. But if you understand the Word of God, it quickly becomes clear that God is not boxed into the black and white at all. His Word is living, breathing, and dynamic. He’s a full spectrum of color. He lives in “High Definition”. If you read the Word of God, scripture maintains that God is constant, stable, unchanging, and trustworthy. He’s the ROCK. Sola Scriptura validates this. It proves it. So let’s understand: for those who have not embraced Cessationism, Sola Scriptura provides the evidence and means by which all other spiritual manifestations are tested, proven, and authenticated. Instead of being a means to isolate and/or remove the things of the Spirit, it proves and validates them. And when something doesn’t stand the test, it disproves and invalidates it — and effectively reveals it for what it is — something false which is to be swiftly removed.
Sola Scriptura does have validity when properly understood and practiced, going hand-in-hand with the Berean approach (which we teach). In the broader definition, Sola Scriptura is the belief that scripture is the final and inerrant authority on all spiritual matters pertaining to doctrine and theology by which we test, approve, and measure absolute truth. Sola Scriptura, therefore, is practiced among most Christian denominations — Cessationist or not. And although God still speaks to His people clearly (rhema), even the Apostles instructed the Church to test and approve all things, and to rightly divide the word of truth (logos). No rhema word spoken by God will transgress the scriptures (logos), but rather affirm them. The scriptures, therefore, are considered the final and inerrant authority by which all believers are to live and abide — being entirely sufficient, even if God should remain silent on a matter. If ever a word is in question, the scriptures become the sieve which will sift and settle all accounts.
God cannot lie, and therefore every word God speaks has equal absolution — whether rhema (spoken) or logos (written). The key is knowing how to test and approve His Word according to biblical exegesis. And that is where Sola Scriptura becomes paramount, especially when coupled with the Berean approach.
A False and Failing Doctrine
Scripture clearly refutes and debunks the proposed theology of Cessationism time after time on numerous points, both in Old and New Covenant. There are a plethora of holes to fill in the Cessationist doctrine and theology — biblical, historical, and logical. It is biblically refuted by the fact alone that God does not — and will never change. And as if that is not enough, Cessationsim is also proven false by the legitimate work of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in the lives of individual believers throughout Church history. If what Cessationists say is true, the world we live in today would be very different indeed. Wars would not have been won. People who lived would not have been born. People who lived would have died. Nations would be destroyed. In fact, Israel would not even exist today if what Cessationists say is true. The Six-Day war? That couldn’t have been God. According to them, He doesn’t do that stuff anymore.
If you need a miracle; if you need healing; if you need answers — sorry. God is done. He’s just not into that stuff anymore.
How pathetic and sad. That is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is why cessationism is an extreme theological doctrine that debilitates believers and ultimately robs them of a fulfilling life in Jesus Christ.
Cessationism fails to hold any weight in remote areas of the world where the Gospel is limited to an oral account, where persecution unto death is prominent, where illiteracy is accepted, where written languages are non-existent, and where the Holy Spirit moves so powerfully and frequently that miracles are “the norm”. Important points worth noting with regard to believers in the global populous who do not have a written language, a Bible, or who are otherwise biblically illiterate is that Cessationism offers them no answers. There’s no work-around. How do they hear from God without the scriptures? According to Cessationists — they don’t. And they won’t — unless a human being communicates it to them verbatim. They would need a full-time interpreter. These are the unfortunate ones who would be excluded from hearing the voice of God on a daily basis, although they have a professing faith. Cessationisms says, “God can’t and won’t speak to you. You must have a Bible to know what He’s saying.”
But they do hear from God. They can’t read. They can’t write. But they can hear. They hear better and clearer than many who know the Bible. Why? The truth that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God is one they know by experience. For them it is a daily life and death issue. Christianity plays hardball. If you walked your Christian life on that kind of tight rope, were illiterate, and had no Bible — believe me, you’d be hearing from God every day — and listening for Him.
But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him,” (1 John 2:27, KJV).
These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid,” (John 14:25-27, KJV).
With that said, the witness of Jesus Christ, even in the most remote areas of the world, reveals something much different than what the Cessationists proclaim. There are thriving churches in China, Africa, and the Middle East that do exploits for God by the power of His Holy Spirit. There are Christians who live extraordinary and powerful lives — even miraculous lives — that would put most of us in the Western Hemisphere to shame.
Cessationism, according to its most base theology, sadly makes God powerless. He is no longer the God of the Bible. In fact, He’s not God at all. By all scriptural standards, He’s unrecognizable. He is deaf, dumb, and mute. He is powerless — and He has made His people powerless as well. On the contrary, some of the most powerful Christians in the world today have never read or seen a Bible. They know nothing of scripture. All they know is the indwelling presence of Jesus Christ and the abiding power of His Spirit. They know the voice of God by His Spirit who is resident within them. And they do great exploits for Him. Miracles abound in these remote areas where believers are persecuted unto death. They live, being hard-pressed into a faith by which they have an intimacy with Jesus Christ that would embarrass most of the western civilized Church.
Because Cessationists believe God no longer speaks, they are absolved of weighing any rhema word. Because they believe personal experience is illegitimate, they are absolved of any witness for Jesus Christ. When examining the cessationist doctrine and theology closely, one can clearly see that it’s fueled by fear, and embedded in ignorance. It’s much easier to say “God does not speak” than to learn how to hear His voice and obey Him. It’s much easier to say “my experience is not valid” than to be a living witness for Jesus Christ — and remain accountable for a living faith that actually produces fruit.
That is a failing theology.
Case and point: Jesus Christ does not change. The scriptures declare He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (see Hebrews 13:8). And if the Church is going to fulfill the Great Commission as He commanded, the Spirit of God must be manifest in His fullness, fully operative within believers. The Apostles demonstrated that for all who would believe on Jesus Christ and follow Him.
In closing, we believe in, and embrace, the fullness of the Holy Spirit. We believe every true disciple of Jesus Christ can and should walk in the power and authority of the Holy Spirit as Jesus Christ taught, instructed, and demonstrated. That power and authority is one we are to wholly submit toward — living a life of humility, love, servanthood, obedience, and sanctification.
Paul taught that the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. It is my hope that you now understand why. In the absence of God’s written Word, the Spirit of God is wholly sufficient for all who would believe, obey, and follow Jesus Christ. That is the power of the Gospel. It transcends all racial, socio-economic, and even linguistic boundaries. It is for everyone who would believe — every tribe, nation, and tongue. Even for those without the written (logos) Word of God.
God will always be faithful to speak to His children. He will be faithful to do and perform His work in the lives of those who believe.
Nothing has ceased. Of this, you can be absolutely sure. Scripture proves that to be true. God’s miraculous power and His ability to speak are irrefutable. Anyone who truly knows Jesus Christ is living proof of that.
Cheers & Shalom,
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