What Is Classical Cessationism?

Classical Cessationism is the position that the ‘miraculous gifts’ such as prophecy, healing, and speaking in tongues ceased with the apostles and the finishing of the canon of Scripture. These gifts served as launching pads for the spreading of the Gospel, as affirmation and credibility/validity of God’s revelation through the apostles. Classical cessationists believe that the miraculous gifts can take place where the message of salvation is being proclaimed to a tribe or nation which is unfamiliar with the Gospel. The primary example of this is when a foreigner preaches the gospel in his own language to a people group that hears his message in their language.

1) The unique role of miracles. There were only 3 primary periods in which God worked through miracles. The first was with Moses; the second was during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha; and the third was with Christ and His apostles. The primary purpose of these miracles was to establish the credibility of one who speaks the word of God — not just any teacher, but those who had been given direct words by God. Notice in Exodus 4:15-17 that for Aaron to be Moses’ prophet he could not speak for himself. He could only speak what Moses told him to. This is what it means to be a prophet. But how were the people to know if a man who claimed to be a prophet was in fact speaking God’s own words? Moses brings this dilemma up with God at the beginning of chapter 4, and God answers by giving him signs/miracles. God enabled Moses to perform miracles for one purpose only: to validate his claim to speak for God.

This continues to be the purpose of miracles throughout the Old Testament. Only those who spoke authoritatively and infallibly for God were given the power of miracles. When we come to the New Testament we discover this same pattern. The primary purpose of Jesus’ miracles was to confirm His credentials as God’s final and ultimate Messenger (John 2, 5:36; 6:14; 7:31; 10:24-26, 37-38). Jesus’ miracles were not primarily a tool for effective evangelism or about alleviating human suffering. The main reason the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus to perform miracles was to confirm that He was everything He claimed to be and that He spoke the words of God (Acts 2:22). Jesus gave this same power to the apostles, and their miracles served exactly the same purpose (Acts 14:3; cf. Hebrews 2:3-4).

2) The end of the gift of apostleship. In two places in the New Testament Paul refers to the apostles as one of the gifts Christ gave his church (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4). Although not all spiritual gifts are offices, all offices are gifts God has given to the Church. One of the gifts Christ gave his church was the apostles, but they were a temporary gift. Most people agree that there are no more men like the original apostles. No one meets the qualifications anymore, which included being an eye-witness of the life of Christ and his resurrection, being personally appointed by Christ, and be able to work miracles (Matthew 10:1-2).

According to these three qualifications, there is no one alive today who is an apostle in the sense that the original 12 were. This gift of Christ to the church disappeared after the apostolic age. Ephesians 2:19-22 also mentions that the work of the prophets of the OT and the apostles of the Gospels was to give the Church its foundation. They provided the foundation, Christ Himself is the Cornerstone, and God today continues to build up this building through the ministry of the local Church. Because the offices of prophet and apostle have ceased it indicates that there has been a change in the gifting of the Spirit between the apostolic age and today.

3) The nature of the New Testament miraculous gifts. If the Spirit was still moving as He was in the first century, then you would expect that the gifts would be of the same type. Consider the speaking of tongues. At Pentecost, the languages spoken were already existing, understandable languages. The New Testament gift was speaking in a known language and dialect, not an ecstatic language like you see people speaking in today.

4) The testimony of church history. The practice of apostolic gifts declines even during the lifetimes of the apostles. Even in the written books of the New Testament, the miraculous gifts are mentioned less as the date of their writing gets later. After the New Testament era, we see the miraculous gifts lessen as well. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine speak of their ceasing. Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and B. B. Warfield all agree that the gifts ended after the 1st century and had been given only to confirm the message when it first appeared. Though this specific argument from Church history is not water tight it does demand a bit of explanation as to why there seems to be a ceasing of miraculous gifts throughout such long periods of church history.

5) The sufficiency of Scripture. The Spirit speaks only in and through the inspired Word. He doesn’t call and direct His people through subjective messages and modern day bestsellers. His word is external to us and objective. John Owen said it best, “If personal revelations disagree with Scripture they are wrong. If they agree with Scripture they are useless.”

(Adapted from The CrippleGate)

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