Cessationism Debunked: Revisiting the Role of Miracles in the Church- Part 1

The gospel of the New Testament is incredibly impactful, enduring, and consistently accurate. Even after two millennia, it continues to hold significance, remaining constant and beyond doubt. Charles Spurgeon once remarked that he did not feel the need to defend the gospel, likening it to a lion that does not require defending. I simply open the cage and release it.

Gospel Of The Kingdom

Jesus called His message the “gospel of the Kingdom,” and He emphasised that this message remains unchanged and will never become a gospel-focused solely on the church. The Kingdom is known for its success, winning, and unbeatable nature. It remains permanent and unchanging, without requiring any excuses or absolutions.

However, the church does have its fair share of weaknesses. It may have a tendency to be divided, self-indulgent, and unreliable. The church is temporary, often trying to justify and defend its shortcomings. To address these limitations, the church has introduced a concept known as Cessationist Theology.

According to this idea, it is believed that the church no longer has access to the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit. In essence, the church asserts that it only possesses the Bible and not much else, as it believes that God has taken away its power.

Many contemporary evangelical Christians bear a resemblance to the ministry of Apollos. The content is presented straightforwardly, with clear and concise explanations of biblical truths. However, the beliefs of this group are often based on personal opinion rather than being compared to Scripture. This suggests a hesitation to directly address its own beliefs with the teachings of the Bible.

Cessation Of Miraculous Gifts of the Holy Spirit?

Cessationism is a widely held belief in that asserts the cessation of miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, Jesus Himself made it clear that His teachings would remain consistent.

Pay attention to the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:20:

Matthew 28:18-20 — Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus expected that the church would persist in upholding and imparting all of His teachings to His initial followers, even until the conclusion of the era.

Jude, the Apostle, also disagreed with the concept of cessationism. On the contrary, he presented a compelling argument in the New Testament that supports the idea that the gospel remains constant.

In Jude 3, it is stated that he felt compelled to write a message, urging the readers to strongly defend the faith that was given to the believers in the past. The term “once for all” in our English Bibles is derived from the Greek word “ἅπαξ hapax,” which holds great significance. Even though “hapax” is small, it holds significant meaning—it signifies “one, a single time, conclusively, absolutely all, everyone.”

Once For All

The term hapax is found in the Greek New Testament on at least eight occasions. It is translated as “once for all” five times in the New King James Version and three times as “once” in the New International Version. Each time, hapax highlights the unalterable essence of its subject.

Six references specifically relate to Jesus, one that pertains to the believer, and the last one that relates to Kingdom faith. There are four cases in the Greek text where the preposition “epi” (upon) is included to emphasise the significance of “once for all.”

Romans 6:10 — “For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God.”

Hebrews 7:27 — “He has no need to do every day what those priests do, to offer sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people, since he did this in offering himself once for all.”

Hebrews 9:12 — “And he entered once for all into the most holy place not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood, and so he himself secured eternal redemption.”

Hebrews 9:26-27 — “For then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the consummation of the ages to put away sin by his sacrifice.”

Hebrews 10:2-3 — “For otherwise would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers would have been purified once for all and so have no further consciousness of sin?”

Hebrews 10:10 — “By his will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

1 Peter 3:18 — “Because Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring you to God, by being put to death in the flesh but by being made alive in the spirit.”

Jude 3 — “Dear friends, although I have been eager to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel compelled instead to write to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”

Take a look at these passages, each one emphasising the concept of “once for all.” Jesus’ sacrifice, suffering, and redemption were all significant and decisive actions. They were not intended to be repeated or undone. They were absolute and immutable.

Now, if we fully embrace the concept of “once for all” in these crucial aspects of our faith, can we then apply Cessation Theology to the work of the Holy Spirit? Is it possible to argue that the gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as miracles and healing, have stopped when the Scriptures themselves highlight the lasting impact of Jesus’ actions?

Shouldn’t we recognise and appreciate the assurance and permanence of Jesus’ accomplishments, as well as the ongoing role of the Holy Spirit and the gifts He gives to the Church? It’s important to maintain consistency and integrity when it comes to the Word.

Put simply, if you believe that Jesus’ unique works hold importance, it is logical to also acknowledge the lasting impact of the Holy Spirit’s work and gifts in the Church.

One Gospel For All Generations

Some people believe that in Christianity, Jesus initially presented a gospel filled with miracles and extraordinary elements to the early church, but later adopted a more restrained version for subsequent generations. According to what we’ve been told, they received the book (canon-Bible), while the early people received the Holy Spirit baptism.

Let me explain something: Jesus has given everyone the same unwavering and everlasting faith throughout history.

The original faith that was given to the early church remains unchanged. It was a deal that would last forever, passed down through the generations. No need for any reboots or updates. That’s all.

Now, some people may argue, “I haven’t witnessed any miraculous acts performed by the Holy Spirit in my church!” That’s more focused on the church rather than God. The church is grappling with its crisis of faith, resulting in its current state of sorrow.

Take a look at Jude’s statement:

Jude 3 — “Dear friends, although I have been eager to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel compelled instead to write to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”

  • He believed it was essential.
  • He felt compelled to write it.
  • He wanted to motivate and encourage you.
  • He encouraged us to persevere and contend in our beliefs with determination.
  • Jude was strongly advocating for something.

Teach To Obey

What Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 aligns perfectly with this. He desired to instruct everyone, including those at the “end of the age,” to adhere to all of His teachings.

Matthew 28:18-20 — Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all things I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

And to emphasise the enduring nature of this gospel, He assured, “I will be with you always, even until the end of the age.” So, when He mentioned “all things,” what was His intended meaning?

According to Matthew 10:7-9, the instructions are straightforward: spread the message about the kingdom of heaven, heal the sick, cleanse lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons—essentially, generously share what you have received.

Matthew 10:7-9 — As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near!’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. Do not take gold, silver, or copper in your belts,

The message is very clear: the gospel and the faith it brings were given once and for all. This package is suitable for everyone and will last indefinitely.

The New Testament faith has remained constant since its original presentation. It is not possible to make any additions or subtractions to it. Any claim that states the opposite, such as cessationism, is incorrect. It undermines the significance of the work of the Cross and the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:21 — for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Regrettably, there is a general belief within contemporary Christianity that certain aspects of the covenant Jesus established through His sacrifice have diminished in their effectiveness. There are different opinions regarding when this event occurred. Some believe it happened after the passing of the Apostle John, or the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, while others think it took place when the New Testament was compiled into a single book in 367 AD.

However, it is important to acknowledge the reality: we have created this exaggerated concept as a way to evade accountability for our faults. Holding God responsible for removing His miraculous presence allows us to avoid acknowledging that we have grown distant from Him.

Cessationism Debunked

The view held by cessationists is that the apostolic period was the only proper time for certain spiritual gifts such as miracles, speaking in tongues, prophesy, and healing and that these gifts are no longer relevant in the modern church. These powers ceased once the apostles died, according to cessationists. However, continuationism argues that these abilities are still relevant today. Pentecostals and charismatics are part of this group.

Allow me to clarify—I do not adhere to the cessationist philosophy. On the other hand, I have my doubts about many of the behaviours that are common in charismatic congregations. But it is not our main concern at the moment. The focus here is on theory rather than practice. I will explain in detail why I believe cessationism is at odds with biblical teachings and critique their readings of the Bible verse by verse.

Historical Assertion of Miracles and Gifts Ceasing

Some people believe that there is a pattern in biblical history where miracles and extraordinary gifts of the Spirit were concentrated into specific periods, according to cessationists.

Back in the day of Moses, there were some truly mind-blowing demonstrations of God’s power, such as the mind-boggling parting of the Red Sea and many other jaw-dropping miracles.

With Elijah and Elisha, another era unfolded, characterised by extraordinary miracles like bringing the dead back to life and multiplying food.

During the time of Jesus and his apostles, there was a significant period of concentrated miracles. This period was marked by numerous healings, exorcisms, and other extraordinary deeds.

Some people also note that as time went on after the first century, there appeared to be a decrease in the number of miracles and healings in the early church. Some people believe that as time went on, particularly towards the end of Paul’s ministry, there seemed to be a decline in the number of miraculous events.

It’s interesting to note that 1 Corinthians is one of the earliest letters in the New Testament and stands out as the only epistle that delves deeply into the topic of spiritual gifts. Letters written by Paul and other apostles at a later time do not mention these gifts. Cessationists interpret this as a sign that these extraordinary gifts had already stopped by then.

In addition, cessationists point to occasions when Paul himself appeared to be unable to heal others. Take, for instance, some notable mentions.

  • He was unable to heal Timothy’s illness.

1 Timothy 5:23 — (Stop drinking just water, but use a little wine for your digestion and your frequent illnesses.)

  • He couldn’t prevent the sickness of Epaphroditus.

Philippians 2:25-27 — But for now I have considered it necessary to send Epaphroditus to you. For he is my brother, coworker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to me in my need. Indeed, he greatly missed all of you and was distressed because you heard that he had been ill. In fact he became so ill that he nearly died. But God showed mercy to him – and not to him only, but also to me – so that I would not have grief on top of grief.

These examples seem to suggest that the era of miraculous gifts was gradually diminishing, even during Paul’s lifetime.

Many cessationists believe that the era of miracles and extraordinary spiritual gifts, which were prevalent in the early church and apostolic times, gradually ended after the apostolic era.

Rebuttal to this view:

Indeed, as mentioned earlier in this post, miracles appeared to occur more frequently during the eras of Moses, Elijah/Elisha, and the early church with Jesus and the apostles.

However, guess what? There were also extraordinary events that took place during different periods, such as the time of Joshua, the judges, and prophets like Isaiah. It’s worth mentioning that although these concentrations are interesting, they don’t provide a conclusive pattern.

Spiritual Gifts Ceased After The First Century

Now, let’s talk about the view that spiritual gifts diminished after the 1st century. It’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily lead to any definitive conclusions.

Consider this: in the Dark Ages, the focus on grace in theology appeared to diminish. However, it does not mean that grace itself vanished. At times, the way things have happened in the past may not necessarily match up with what God intends or desires.

We must exercise caution when making absolute conclusions solely based on past observations. Sometimes, God’s plans and purposes can go beyond what we can grasp or comprehend solely through historical patterns. Let’s approach this with an open mind and strive to gain a deeper understanding of God’s intentions.

Did miracles start disappearing away toward the end of the apostles’ lives?

Well, according to Acts 28, the answer is a resounding no. The book of Acts has twenty-eight chapters, and in the very last chapter, we see Paul still performing remarkable miracles.

Acts 28:7-9 — Now in the region around that place were fields belonging to the chief official of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us hospitably as guests for three days. The father of Publius lay sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and after praying, placed his hands on him and healed him. After this had happened, many of the people on the island who were sick also came and were healed.

Here’s what happened: Paul encountered a man named Publius whose father was seriously ill with a fever and dysentery. What did Paul do? He went right in, prayed for the man, laid his hands on him, and guess what? The man was healed!

And that’s not all—word spread quickly. Soon, everyone else on the island who was sick came to Paul, and guess what happened? They were all healed too! So, Acts 28 paints a picture of Paul continuing to perform powerful miracles right up until the very end.

Why does 1 Corinthians stand out as the sole letter addressing healing and miracles?

Each letter in the New Testament was written with specific purposes and to address specific issues. Regarding 1 Corinthians, Paul discussed a range of matters and inquiries within the Corinthian church, which included the utilisation and awareness of spiritual gifts.

Now, this is where the cessationists encounter a slight contradiction. Some people believe that the ability to heal was present when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians around 57 AD, but they also argue that it ceased to exist shortly after.

They often cite Paul’s mention of his “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12 as evidence. However, it is important to note that Paul’s mention of this thorn refers to an experience that occurred 14 years prior, specifically around 43-44 AD, rather than a more recent event.

It appears that cessationists believe that the gifts of healing were present in 57 AD but then vanished by 44 AD. How is that possible?

Consistency and context are crucial when interpreting Scripture. To gain a comprehensive understanding of these matters, it is important to thoroughly study the Bible and avoid hasty conclusions that may not be entirely logical.

Why Paul couldn’t heal on some occasions?

It’s pretty straightforward. The gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, like healing, were considered manifestations that God would use according to His will. So, when God chose to heal someone, He often did it through one of His followers who had that gift. But here’s the key point: if God decided not to heal someone, then no amount of human effort or desire could make it happen.

In other words, it’s all about God’s sovereignty—His ultimate authority and decision-making—not about whether these gifts have ceased or not. The ability to heal or perform miracles was always subject to God’s will and timing.

The purpose of miracles was to confirm the credibility of God’s messengers.

Cessationists hold the view that miracles were primarily given by God not just to meet people’s immediate needs, but specifically to prove that His messengers were indeed sent by Him. They argue that during the early stages of the church, miracles were crucial to validating the authority of the apostles. They point out that miracles were evident in Peter’s time (as he ministered to the Jews) and then again in Paul’s time (as he focused on the Gentiles).

According to this view, once the apostles passed away, the gospel message had already been firmly established. Therefore, there was no longer a need for ongoing miracles to validate new messengers or new revelations. The original foundation had been laid, and subsequent generations were to rely on the established gospel message without requiring additional signs or wonders for validation.

What is the reality then?

In reality, the cessationist is somewhat right in stating that miracles served as a way to confirm the credibility of God’s messengers. Throughout history, God has used various signs to demonstrate His power to individuals such as Pharaoh and Ahab.

Acts highlight how Jesus was affirmed through the miracles, wonders, and signs He performed.

Acts 2:22 — “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know –

However, it would be incorrect to claim that authentication was the only or main reason for miracles. Think about the critical moment when Israel found themselves trapped at the Red Sea, with the Egyptian army getting closer. The dividing of the sea had the main purpose of ensuring the safe escape of the Israelites from a dangerous situation, rather than solely demonstrating Moses’ authority.

Just like that, Jesus didn’t do miracles just to show off signs. He frequently refused requests for signs, as mentioned in Matthew 12:39, where He made it clear that only the sign of Jonah would be given to that particular generation. This position highlights that miracles had wider purposes beyond just serving as proof.

Matthew 12:39 — But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.

Jesus performed miracles because he deeply cared for those who were in need. Although the incredible deeds did function as indications of His power and divine purpose, this element was not as important as His main driving force of compassion. Compassion is evident in many passages:

Matthew 9:36 — When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were bewildered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matthew 14:14 — As he got out he saw the large crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Matthew 15:32 — Then Jesus called the disciples and said, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have already been here with me three days and they have nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry since they may faint on the way.”

Mark 1:40-41 — Now a leper came to him and fell to his knees, asking for help. “If you are willing, you can make me clean,” he said. Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing. Be clean!”

Matthew 20:34 — Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

Luke 7:13 — When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.”

Miracles can be understood in three ways: signs, wonders, and gifts. A “sign” indicates something beyond itself, such as confirming the divine authority of the messenger. The term “wonder” describes the sense of amazement and awe experienced by those who witness a miracle. The power of miracles is bestowed with a specific intention: to bring benefit and upliftment to others.

According to 1 Corinthians 12:7, the Spirit grants various gifts, such as miracles, for the benefit of everyone. Therefore, signs and wonders play a crucial role in assisting and supporting individuals who require help.

Stay tuned for the upcoming posts—they’re going to be intriguing.

Blessings,

Godwin.


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Godwin Shon Sequeira
Godwin Shon Sequeira
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