What Does a Cessationist Believe?

by Dale Partridge

I remember when I first encountered the cessationist view in a video by Dr. Tom Schreiner. While the video was very helpful, I recall the difficulty I encountered in finding a succinct, written explanation of what a cessationist really believes. It seemed like every article and video was a robust theological defense for the position and not a practical explanation.

As a Seminary graduate and pastor who is convinced of the cessationist position, I have created a brief and practical Statement of Explanation in hopes that it may benefit those, who through the careful reading of Scripture, find themselves drawn to this important theological conclusion.   

The Temporary, Miraculous Gifts

As a proponent of the classical cessationist view, I believe the possession of the revelatory and miraculous gifts of the Spirit ceased at the death of the Apostles and the completion of the Scriptures. That is, these revelatory and miraculous gifts associated with the Apostles and Prophets were given specifically for the production of the canon of Scripture, the establishing of the Church, and the authentication of their message to a fallen world.

Further, I deny there are or have been any God-ordained Apostles or Prophets since the death of the twelve Apostles and biblical Prophets seen in Scripture. The Bible says these individuals are the foundation of the Church (Christ being the cornerstone) which we are now building upon (Eph. 2:20). That is, I deny the idea of modern Apostles and Prophets which would cause a need for a re-laying of the foundation that has already been laid.

Lastly, I deny there are any individuals in the Church today who possess miraculous gifts for the ministry including the gift of Apostleship (that is, a set apart and sent individual by the risen Christ [Acts 1:21–26]), Prophecy (infallible words from God), healing (immediate healing of blindness, leprosy, paralysis, etc.), performing wonders (raising people from the dead, feeding thousands with little, changing water into wine), speaking in phonetic tongues (real languages foreign to the speaker for the proclamation of the Gospel), interpreting phonetic tongues, discerning of spirits (identifying and casting out demons), and words of supernatural wisdom or knowledge (knowing the thoughts of others or the future).

The Permanent, Ministering Gifts

However, while I believe the previous set of gifts were miraculous and temporary, I affirm the twelve, permanent, non-miraculous or revelatory spiritual gifts referred to as the “ministering gifts” of the Church. These possessive gifts include the gift of prophecy (according to the New Testament’s definition in 1 Cor. 14:3; a forth-telling of biblical truth [otherwise known as preaching], not a foretelling of the future or spiritually dictated/revealed words from God), teaching, faith, wisdom, knowledge, discernment, mercy, exhortation, giving, administration, and helps which are endowed by the Holy Spirit to Christians according to the will of God (1 Peter 4:10-11). I believe these possessive ministering gifts are continuing on today and furthering the edification of the Body of Christ according to the truth of Scripture.

I also affirm that the Lord, through the prayers of His people or according to His sovereign will, can and does bring about miraculous healing even in the present.

I also affirm that the Lord may, in a particular circumstance of evangelism, permit the isolated experience of phonetic tongues or prophetic utterance in the spiritual conversion of His children. I affirm these isolated and miraculous experiences are not possessed gifts by any individual or believer but are facilitated, sovereign actions by God, through His people for His glory according to His will. Moreover, I affirm, by definition, these miraculous experiences are not normative in our Christian experience, and I affirm they are, as seen in the Scriptures, specifically used for the proclamation of the Gospel in the conversion of His people.

Prophecy and Tongues

As for Prophecy (capital “P”) and tongues, I believe what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:8, “… As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.” In speaking first to Prophecy, I believe what the modern charismatic movement has deemed as genuine, infallible Prophecy is nothing more than valid (or invalid) spiritual promptings, discerning (or foolish) predictions, Spirit-led (or emotion-led) illumination, or sound (or heretical) preaching.

As for tongues, I believe the biblical definition of this gift was for both the preaching of the Gospel in a real phonetic foreign language a person did not know or study and as a miraculous sign to unbelievers (Acts 2:8, 12; 1 Cor. 14:22).

When used in the church, I agree with John MacArthur who says, “The foreign language [tongues] required translation so that those in the congregation who did not know the language could be edified (1 Cor. 14:5-17, 27-28).”[1] While many charismatics claim to have the gifts of tongues (generally an untranslatable, non-phonetic, extra-biblical, angelic tongue), it is clear that no one today possesses a definition of tongues like those defined in Scripture or demonstrated by the early church in the Apostolic era.[2] [See footnote for a further defense].

Conclusion

Essentially, I believe modern charismatics have either (a) fabricated false giftings and spiritual experiences or (b) confused, overestimated, or incorrectly designated the ordinary, ministerial gifts of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer with the miraculous and revelatory gifts that have ceased. I affirm that this spiritual over-credentialization has created confusion in the Church over spiritual giftedness and has generated ambiguity on the boundaries of Scriptural and spiritual authority in the Church.

Consequently, I believe that any defense of the continuation of the miraculous or revelatory gifts (a.k.a. continuationism) is not simply a statement on the nature of the charismatic status but is also an attack on the doctrine of the Sufficiency of Scripture. That is, the proponents of continuationism, most specifically those within the hyper-charismatic and Pentecostal movements, imply directly or indirectly by this position, that God’s Word and the preaching of the Gospel are not adequate and that the Church needs additional divine information and miraculous signs and wonders to further God’s mission in the world.

Not only does the continuationist’s position stand at odds with the normative Christian experience, but it is also foreign to all post-apostolic Church history (That is, we don’t see a documented history of miraculous or revelatory giftings from the second century until the present). As a result, I strongly stand against the continuationist position and believe Scripture and the ministerial gifts of the Holy Spirit are sufficient.


[1] John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 810.

[2] MacArthur and Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine, 810-811. “Some recent commentators have attempted to distance the gift of languages described in Acts 2 (which clearly consisted of actual foreign languages) from the gift of language is described in 1 Corinthians 12-14, in an effort to make room for the unintelligible utterances that characterize modern glossolalia (or tongue speech). However, the exegetic evidence indicates that the tongues speech depicted in 1 Corinthians consisted of the same basic phenomenon as that found in Acts 2. In both places, the genuine gift of tongues resulted in the supernatural ability to speak human foreign languages.

The fact that Paul noted “various kinds of tongues” in 1 Corinthians 12:10 does not imply that some are real languages and others are merely gibberish. Rather, the Greek word for “kinds” is genos, from which we derive the word “genus.” Genos refers to a family, group, race, or nation. Linguists often refer to language “families” or “groups,” and that is precisely Paul’s point: there are various families of languages in the world and this gift enabled some believers to speak in a variety of them. In Acts 2, Luke emphasized that same idea in verses 9-11 where he explained that the languages that were spoken came from at least 16 different regions.

Ultimately, that is why the person speaking in a foreign language had to have his message interpreted (translated) —so that the hearers could be edified. The gift of interpreting tongues, then, was the ability to translate a message spoken in a foreign language into the language of the audience, so they could understand and be edified. All spiritual gifts are to be exercised out of love and for the purpose of mutual edification, so such an interpretation was required (1 Cor. 14:26-27). If there was no interpreter, the speaker was instructed to keep his message to himself (1 Cor. 14:28).”

Dale Partridge is the Founder and President of Relearn.org. Dale finished his graduate studies at Western Theological Seminary and is now an M.Div candidate at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles, California. He is also the author of several Christians books, the host of the Real Christianity podcast, and an elder and teaching pastor at the local house church in which he serves. He and his wife have three children.

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