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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Are All Spiritual Gifts Active Today?

Don Stewart :: What Arguments Have Been Given for the Cessation of the Sign Gifts?

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What Arguments Have Been Given for the Cessation of the Sign Gifts? (The Cessationist Position)

Question 1

There has been considerable controversy over whether or not some of the so-called sign gifts, as recorded in the New Testament, still exist in the church. These sign gifts, which include apostleship, prophecy, healing, miracles, speaking in tongues, and the interpretation of tongues, are said by some people to have ceased with the death of the apostles.

The Cessationists and Non-Cessationists

Those who hold that certain gifts were only temporary are known as cessationists. Those who believe all the spiritual gifts listed in the New Testament are still to be exercised by believers are called non-cessationists.

The Gifts Were Primarily to Confirm the Spoken Word

These sign gifts, as the argument, goes, were temporary. They were to help establish the church and to confirm the Word before written revelation–the Bible–was complete. These signs also were given to authenticate the gospel message. Once the Bible was finished, there was no more need for these miraculous gifts. This being the case, anyone who exercises these gifts today is not doing it by the power of the God of the Bible.

Some Problems with Arguing That Certain Gifts No Longer Exist

Those who believe the sign gifts are no longer given by God to the church, cessationists, admit that there are a number of immediate problems with their viewpoint.

1. There Is No Text That Distinguishes Sign Gifts from Other Gifts

First, there is no clear text in the New Testament that says there are temporary and permanent gifts – it is not certain that the Bible makes this distinction. The gifts are never distinguished from one another in this way.

2. Scripture Does Not Say Which Ones Were Withdrawn

Even if this were some temporary gifts, there is no list in Scripture to separate the temporary from the permanent. How do we know which ones are now withdrawn and which ones remain? We are never told.

3. Not Everyone Agrees Which Gifts Were Withdrawn

This leads to the third problem – not everyone agrees which gifts have disappeared. There is no consensus of opinion among cessationists as to the exact list of permanent and temporary gifts.

For example, some believe the word of knowledge and the word of wisdom were temporary gifts while other cessationists think they were permanent. In other words, there is no consensus about these gifts.

Some cessationists believe the gifts of apostle and the gift of prophet were only to be temporary while others think they were among the permanent gifts. Again, there is disagreement among those who hold that certain gifts have been withdrawn by the Lord.

Thus, if those who believe certain gifts were temporary can’t agree among themselves as to which gifts were permanent and which were not, how can anyone else know what to believe? Who decides the issue?

Therefore, how can anyone be certain as to which gifts, if any, no longer are operating. On what basis do we make these distinctions if the Bible does not clearly do it?

It Is Argued That There Are Satisfactory Answers to These Questions

Those who advocate the temporary nature of certain spiritual gifts believe there are sufficient answers to these questions. They argue that when one studies the totality of what the Bible says about spiritual gifts it will become clear that some gifts were only meant to be used by the first generation of Christians.

The Arguments as to Why the Sign Gifts Are Not Available

Are these sign gifts still to be used by the church or has God withdrawn them? The main arguments for the cessation of certain spiritual gifts can be broken down into six basic categories. They include the following.

1. The Purpose of the Sign Gifts

The original purpose of these gifts was to confirm the Word of God before the New Testament was written. Now that it has been composed there is no more need for these temporary gifts. The sign gifts have served their purpose. The written Word of God is all that is now necessary. Therefore, nobody should attempt to exercise or claim these gifts because God is not giving them to believers any longer.

2. The Plan of God in History

God’s plan in history reveals that miraculous signs are not always necessary. Miracles were only performed at certain limited times in the past. Each occurrence of miracles was for a very specific reason. Thus, we should not expect the miraculous gifts to continue throughout this present age.

3. The Evidence from the New Testament

The New Testament itself gives evidence these gifts no longer operate. Indeed, there are sufficient reasons found in Scripture that makes it clear that certain gifts were only temporary in nature.

4. The Evidence from the Book of Acts

The experiences in the Book of Acts provide proof of the transitory nature of the gifts. We find them dying out as the church progressed. This is another reason to assume they no longer operate within the body of Christ, the church.

5. The Testimony of Church History

Furthermore, church history shows that these gifts died out with the apostles. There is no example of them being used by genuine Bible-believers after the apostolic era. To the contrary, the orthodox believers admitted they no longer existed.

6. Present-day Experience

Experience testifies that when the miraculous sign gifts are brought into a congregation they only cause confusion and division. Indeed, they are not of the same nature, and power, as were the gifts in the first century.

These Arguments Have Been Convincing to Many People

These arguments have convinced many people that certain of the gifts were only meant to be temporary and not to last for the duration of the church age.

Summary – Question 1
What Arguments Are Given for the Cessation of the Sign Gifts? (The Cessationist Position)

In a number of places in the New Testament spiritual gifts are listed. These are God-given abilities to believers to do the work of the ministry.

Certain of these gifts are miraculous in nature. They include healing, speaking in tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. Among other things, they are known as “sign gifts.”

A number of Christians believe that these sign gifts were only temporary in nature. In other words, they were only to be used by the first generation of Christians.

Once Jesus’ apostles died, and the New Testament was written, these gifts were no longer needed. Those who hold this position are called “cessationists” while those who believe all of the gifts are still operating are known as “non-cessationists.”

Three immediate problems arise with the cessationist view. They are as follows.

To begin with, there is no specific passage in the Bible that says that certain spiritual gifts were only temporary in nature while other gifts are permanent. This has to be inferred from the text.

In addition, there is no list that separates the temporary from the permanent. No distinction is ever made between sign gifts and other gifts.

Add to this, there is not unanimous agreement upon those who believe these gifts have been withdrawn as to which gifts were temporary and which were permanent.

Still, there are many Christians who believe there is sufficient evidence from Scripture to demonstrate the sign gifts no longer operate in the church. There are a number of arguments that are used to deny certain sign gifts are still available today.

First, there is there is the purpose of the gifts. It is argued that the one and only purpose for them was to confirm God’s Word to the people before there was written Scripture. Once God’s Word had been put into writing, and the New Testament was complete, the gifts were withdrawn because they had served their purpose.

The plan of God in history is also appealed to. As we search the Scriptures, we find that miraculous signs were not always part of God’s plan. Indeed, there were long periods of time when miracles did not take place. Thus, the withdrawal of certain gifts is consistent with the way the Lord has worked in the past.

The evidence from the New Testament also shows these gifts no longer operate. Indeed, there are a number of passages which infer these gifts were only meant to be temporary.

The evidence from the Book of Acts makes it clear the gifts were dying out toward the end of the apostolic era. We find them being used less and less as the church grew.

Church history shows that the sign gifts did not operate after the apostles had died. Any use of these gifts was by heretics, not by orthodox believers.

Finally, present-day experience is used to support the idea that these gifts have been withdrawn. Whenever these gifts are introduced to a congregation chaos is the result. In other words, they do not unify the church, the body of Christ, but rather bring division and disharmony.

These arguments have convinced many that the sign gifts no longer exist. Thus, anyone claiming to use them is not actually exercising the supernatural gift that God had once given to the church. These gifts do no operate any longer.

The Arguments for and against the Cessation of Certain Spiritual Gifts (Introduction) ← Prior Section
What Are the Arguments That the Purpose of the Sign Gifts Indicate They Have Ceased? Next Section →
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