My Answer to a College Student in Plain English: Is Cessationsim Biblical?

I opened up my fb page today, and had a message from the daughter of a long time friend, and here was her question, and my response.

Unnamed College Student:

What is a historical/confessional understanding of Sola Scriptura? And how does that relate to the charismatic movement and what they teach?

Me:

Ok, that’s a great question!

How are the gifts of the Spirit and the Biblical offices of Apostle and Prophet related to Sola Scriptura?  That is the real question we are asking.

Here is the way the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 1 answers this question:

“Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation.  Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.”

Here is, generally speaking of course, the way the Reformers of the 16th and 17th centuries understood the relationship between the miraculous works of the Spirit and the recording of sacred Scripture.

Let me use Moses as an example.  There is Moses, out in the middle of no where, and then bang, there is a burning bush, and a call to speak for God (as a prophet) to His people. Moses has his doubts and says, listen God, “what do I do if they say, ‘why should we believe you?’ God says, “put you hand in your cloak”, it becomes leprous, “put it back in your coat”, it’s clean again. “Throw your rod down”, it’s a snake, “grab the snake by the tail”, it’s a rod again.  When you get there Moses, if there is any doubt, do these things for them. These signs were to authenticate Moses as the messenger. This is the norm for how messengers from God, especially those messengers tasked with new Biblical revelation, were to come on the scene. The miracles were always a much more common experience whenever God was moving the plan of redemption forward.

When we come into the New Testament, we see a normal culture, where the miraculous was a rare occurrence, go into over drive when Jesus arrives and begins doing and saying things that nobody else had ever done or said. How would they know that Jesus was the Savior unless the miraculous gifts, (think healings, power over nature, the resurrection) were present to authenticate His word.  And so it works with all the prophets and apostles. The ministry of their word was to be validated by either signs and wonders.

Where do we first find miraculous works of the Spirit after Jesus’ earthly ministry? In the apostolic ministry, where God was affirming the change from Moses to Jesus as THE Prophet, with signs.  The signs were particularly associated with Gospel proclamation.  Think about Acts 2 and the first Gospel sermon, or Acts 10 with the first Gospel sermon to the Gentiles. The apostles were the men that would write the New Testament thus completing the Scriptures.  When the last Apostle passed away, the church moved from an extraordinary state to an ordinary one.  Once the completed written Word was placed in the hands of ordained elders the church moved into an ordinary state of governance. Let me give you an example to illustrate this point.

Corinth was busy taking the Lord’s Table and then someone noticed that “George”, was slumped over in his chair. They checked for a pulse, George was dead!   He had taken the Lord’s table in a unworthy manner.  But when was the last time you, or anyone you know, was taking the Lord’s Table, and someone died by being miraculously struck dead. Maybe your experience has been different from mine, but I’ve never seen, nor heard about it happening. Why? Could it be that once Paul wrote the passages on how to handle these things in an ordinary way (ie Church Discipline in the hands of elders), and they were accepted across the body as God’s Word, the church passed from an extraordinary government to an ordinary one.  It would take a little time to research, but the early church had these discussions pretty early in the 2nd century because after the late 90’s AD, the miraculous gifts had curtailed significantly and people were asking questions.  Why had this happened

If you’ll look closely at the Bible, or really just give some thought to this, I think you’ll readily see the pattern.  The miracles, tongues, and gifts, were given to affirm and authenticate the fledgling actions of the newly formed Church.  The validated both the messengers and the message.

So, if Jesus has come, and, if the Gospel has been given, and if the Canon is complete that detailed these facts, and if Jesus is the final Word (Hebrews 1:1) what exactly are the continuing miraculous works of the Spirit (not the only works, just a part of His work) verifying us?  Why would the message of the Gospel need further validation, it is the theme around which the Christian Church has been organized for 2000 years.  When the New Testament was being written it was radical change to the practice and understanding of God’s people on how men are to relate to God.  You see, at night, when it’s dark, you use a lamp or some other artificial light to light your way. But when the sun comes up outside, I wise homeowner turns out the artificial light, because it is no longer needed, it has lost it’s reason for being. This is EXACTLY how Sola Scripture is to be understood.

Let’s bring it all home here. So…… I know the question you are asking in your heart. Jeremy, are you saying, “that God no longer does miracles?”  Nope. We Cessationists are just a tad smarter than that, God can do, and will do, as He wishes.  Let’s ask a new question.  Where are we most likely to hear about the miraculous works of the Holy Spirit in action today? The mission field, especially in places where the name of Jesus has never been named, places where the Scriptures are not known. So when the people ask, “Why should we believe you?” Bam, miraculous work! That’s why! It’s called Cessation with an “extraordinary clause”.  Where ever there is a need for God’s men and God’s message to be verified, you will likely see the miraculous gifts in operation.

A great story we reformed folks like to point to, happened at the burning of John Huss.  Just before they lit the pyre, Huss told them that “today they were roasting a duck but a swan was coming”.  About a hundred years later in the same general region Martin Luther arose and the reformation was sparked.  Now, here is evidence that us “Cessationsts” believe in miraculous prophecy.  We just think it is uncommon and reserved for special places where God needs to authenticate his message and messengers.  Think about it, if miracles were common, it would obscure their use, they wouldn’t be miracles, and they would have no effect upon the audience hearing the Word of God.

The Charismatic position is actually the old Roman position that said that the gifts of the Spirit were still open.  Which, left the Canon of Scripture open too, and allowed them to add books to the Canon at the Council of Trent in the 16th Century.  Rome still claims the use of these gifts in their oral tradition. It’s the argument they use to exalt their oral claims in canons up to the Biblical claim of authority and inerrancy. If the gifts are associated with revelation, and biblically they are, and if men still possess them, then by extension, they would be morally binding upon us.  Charismatic pastors have used this argument to tyrannize their flock, “by the Spirit” of course. It’s only a matter of time before someone says, just like Rome did, “man, that was good, I better write write that down”.

The link between special revelation (how the Bible was written and received) and miracles is so misunderstood in our day, it’s hard to imagine it can get any worse. So thanks Mark Driscoll and John MacArthur. Thanks a lot! Ignorance with love and knowledge with arrogance on full display. I pray that God would send us charitable and knowledgeable men, it’d be very refreshing. Good news though, men like Joel Beeke and Sinclair Ferguson are still out there.

Here is a great article the young lady I was conversing with sent to me later in the day on this subject.   For those desiring to go a little deeper even still, I would encourage you to read O. Palmer Robertson’s, “The Final Word”.  The link will take you to Amazon where you can purchase it for a measly 8 bucks.  It’s a good read and it helped me greatly as a young man studying my way through these difficult matters.

The Puritans, Strange Fire, Cessationism, and the Westminster Confession

Some historical perspective on the question of cessationism


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