One of the blessings of being added to the Church and being baptized into Christ (1 Cor 12:13) is that every believer is given a spiritual gift (1 Cor 12:7). These gifts are sovereignly distributed to every believer to be used for the advancement of Kingdom work, and the edification of the Church for the “common good” (1 Cor 12:7, 14-26). Every believer has been given a gift and is valuable to the entire body of Christ.
The list of spiritual gifts can be discovered in four main passages: 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 28-31, Romans 12:6-8, Ephesians 4:11, and 1 Peter 4:10-11. Depending on how the gifts are categorized, there are approximately 20 gifts, excluding the gift of marriage and the gift of celibacy found in 1 Corinthians 7:7. While Peter seems to categorize his list of gifts into “speaking” and “non-speaking” gifts, theologians have also classified the gifts into permanent and temporary gifts. In most cases the majority of the gifts seem to be actively used in the current Church age. However, upon closer examination, some of the gifts are certainly not intended to be active today. Typically, the gifts under question are the following: The gift of apostleship, the gift of miracles, the gift of healing, the gift of tongues, and the gift of interpretation of tongues. Sometimes the gift of prophecy and discernment of spirits is also added to the list depending on how they are understood.
A cessationist is someone who “believes that certain miraculous spiritual gifts ceased when the Apostles died and Scripture was complete” (Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudum, pg 1237). To be clear, cessationists don’t believe that God no longer does anything miraculous or that the Spirit cannot give a miraculous ability today. What is called into question is whether or not the actual gifts are given to individuals today as a normative pattern. Cessationists believe the Holy Spirit no longer sovereignly gives individual believers the miraculous spiritual gifts that were present in the first century. Since the Apostles died, the miraculous gifts also passed away or “ceased” as being normative for the current Church age. Following are a few of the main arguments for cessationism:
1. The qualifications of Apostleship demand that the office is no longer in operation. The office of Apostle was a very unique office that could only be occupied by men who qualified. The qualifications of an Apostle were three-fold. First, to be an Apostle a man had to be an eye witness of the resurrection of Christ (Acts 1:22). Second, the man had to be personally appointed by Christ Himself (Acts 1:2, 24). Third, Apostles were given the ability to perform miracles (Matthew 10:1-2, 2 Cor 12:12). It is clear that there are no Apostles today. We should be concerned if someone claims to be an Apostle today, and should guard against false teaching and the abuse of authority.
2. Miracles have always been unique and were used to authenticate authority and introduce new eras of revelation. Thousands of years of history have proven that the gift of miracles was not common. Biblical history reveals only a few periods in which certain prophets were given the gift of miracles. Moses (and Joshua) was given the ability to do miracles in order to authenticate him before Pharaoh and the people of God (Exodus 4-17). The prophets Elijah (1 Kings 17-21) and Elisha (2 Kings 2-13) were also given the ability to do incredible miracles. While other miracles were performed sporadically (Jonah, Isaiah, Daniel), the only other major period where miracles were largely accomplished was the time of Jesus and the Apostles. It is clear that the miracles of Jesus were not simply for evangelistic reasons but to prove that Jesus was indeed God’s final and ultimate messenger (John 5:36, 6:14, 7:31, 10:24-26, 37-38). In the same way, the miracles of the Apostles authenticated them as genuine (2 Cor 12:12, Hebrews 2:4) and gave them the authority to speak on behalf of God and write Scripture. Not only did these miracles authenticate, but also were an indication of the introduction to new revelation from God by these men. Whenever God wanted to pour out His Word, He authenticated His chosen vessels through extraordinary miracles. There is certainly a major disparity between the amazing biblical miracles compared to the claims of the modern age. While God still does miracles today, it appears that the gift of performing true miracles has ceased. There is no need for further authentication of God’s men because there is no new revelation, and Jesus Himself was last messenger and final Word from God.
3. Since the foundation of the Church was laid by the Apostles and Prophets of the New Testament, no further revelation is needed. It is clear that the Apostles and the Prophets in the age of the New Covenant were given by God to the Church for the purpose of laying the foundation of the Church (Eph 2:20). By nature, when a foundation is laid no further foundation is necessary. The foundation that was laid by the Apostles and prophets was certainly the revelation that God gave to them. The foundation was the teaching of Jesus revealed to them that they passed onto the Church through the writings of the New Testament. Since that foundation is laid and Scripture is complete, no further revelation (prophecy) and no further authentication is necessary. By default, the “sign” gifts which were given to the Apostles also passed away with them. Their work was completed and their role was done.
4. Since the Scripture is complete there is no further need for “sign” gifts. This is the logical conclusion of the above arguments. God has always authenticated his chosen men through “signs” and miracles and wonders. But since the Bible is complete and sufficient there is no need for these signs. The gift of tongues was a gift of proclamation, particularly of the Gospel (Acts 2:1-11) articulated in a known tongue or language. God miraculously gave the gift of tongues in order for His good news to be proclaimed so that the nations could hear about the saving work of Christ. But once the Scripture was complete having a full written record of the Gospel, there was no need for the gift of tongues. It shouldn’t be surprising that the gift of tongues is not mentioned in any of the later epistles (every letter of Paul after 1 Corinthians) and is surprisingly missing in all of the pastoral epistles which were written as an instruction manual for “how to do church” (1 Timothy 3:15).
If you are interested, Tom Schreiner, a professor of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary writes a great article for the Gospel Coalition, “Why I am a Cessationist.” Tim Challies also summarizes Tom Pennington’s 2 part sermons at the Strange Fire Conference, “Strange Fire Conference: A Case for Cessationism.” You can also listen to Tom Pennington’s sermons here. All of these are good resources. If you would like to hear the opposing view, Sam Storms offers his article for the Gospel Coalition called, “Why I am a Continuationist.”