Cessationism is a doctrine based on the idea that miracles and spiritual gifts such as prophecy and tongues ceased once men finished writing the Bible. False miracles and abuse of spiritual gifts within charismatic or Pentecostal churches have fed into this idea. This has earned the charismatic church a bad rap. However, those who question the validity of a miracle or other spiritual gift have a good point. How does anybody know those things are real?
After all, Jesus warns us in Matthew 7:15 to beware of false prophets, ravening wolves dressed like sheep.
“You’ll know them by their fruits,” he says. Have you ever asked yourself what the fruit of a wolf is?
Consider for a moment their ravenous nature, sharp claws and sharper teeth.
Does wolfish fruit nourish? Of course not! It eats away at a body. As for sheepish fruit, that’s obviously a different story. Sheep, you see, are fairly harmless. They don’t eat at people. People eat them. Sheep also produce wool, which comforts. In John 10:14 Jesus calls Himself the good shepherd.
“I know my sheep,” He says. “And my sheep know me.” His sheep are His disciples, those who know and follow Him.
In John 15:1-5 Jesus also compares Himself (the good shepherd) to a vine and his disciples (the sheep) to branches. He explains that his branches (i.e. His sheep) will bear much fruit if they abide in Him. In other words, it’s all about relationship!
His fruit a relationship with Him is divine. It tastes great, because everything God makes is very good. He speaks the Word, and the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, brings that Word to life!
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26)
Before Jesus ascended into heaven after rising from the dead, He told His disciples not to go anywhere but to wait for the Father’s promise. They were not to develop their own plans for evangelism but to simply wait for God.
“For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” (Acts 1:5).
“But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).
The Holy Spirit fell on them with power on the day of Pentecost, manifesting spiritual gifts such as tongues and prophecy. Supernatural healings and other miracles seemed to take place continually in the early church. They had no doctrine of cessationism but embraced continuationism, the idea that spiritual gifts should continue and not stop.
Some time later the Apostle Paul, writing to correct false practices and doctrines in the church at Corinth, mentioned the idea that at some point prophecy “shall fail,” tongues “shall cease” and knowledge “shall pass away.”
Keep in mind, this is the same verse (I Corinthians 13:8) where Paul states that love never fails. He is not discouraging the continual use of spiritual gifts but is reminding the Corinthians that love is the most important thing. In fact, in the very next chapter, I Corinthians 14:1, Paul exhorts them to go after love (charity), and “earnestly desire” spiritual gifts, especially prophecy.
So, let’s get back to the concept “You shall know them by their fruits.” What kind of fruits is Jesus speaking of when He warns about false prophets who go about as wolves disguised as sheep?
Well, Galatians 5:22 says that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is, first of all, love. According to I John 4:8, God is love. The one who doesn’t love doesn’t know God.
In light of such facts, how should cessationist doctrine be judged? By it’s fruit, of course!
For example, does the idea that God no longer does miracles make you feel like God loves you? Does it thrill you to think that God would never speak to you through words or knowledge, wisdom or prophecy?
How about joy, the second fruit on the list? If you experienced a car wreck with multiple injuries, would a miraculous healing from God taste like bad fruit to your soul?
As for the peace which surpasses understanding, that itself is like a miracle from God. But if God no longer does miracles, then how can one receive such awe-inspiring peace?
The idea that God still does miracles can be very encouraging. Yet most of us probably know the scripture where many who prophesied, cast out devils, and did miracles in Jesus’ name fail to enter the kingdom of heaven.
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 8:22-23)
Therefore we must take care to examine the fruit of any miracle, sign, wonder, prophecy or tongue. But hasn’t that always been the case?
Even in the old testament, we find more bad prophets than good ones. Take Ahab for example, the fleshly king who had four hundred false prophets prophesy success for him in God’s name (see I Kings chapter 22). One man, Micaiah, gave Ahab a true gift of prophecy, however. Ahab responded by throwing him in jail.
If Jehoshaphat, the godly king of Judah, had ignored Ahab and heeded that word, he wouldn’t have gone to battle with Ahab and nearly gotten himself killed like Ahab got himself killed. False prophecy in this case resulted in a fruit called “death.” Had Ahab heeded the true prophecy, it could have saved his life.
Perhaps things aren’t so different today when it comes to spiritual gifts, yet many adhere in some form to the doctrine of cessationism. The number of anti-charismatic sites on the web is astounding.
What does God’s Word say about that though?
“Now, concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.” I Corinthians 12:1
“Have all gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? but covet earnestly the best gifts.” I Corinthians 12:31
I Corinthians chapter 13 explains that God has designed these wonderful gifts to work through love.
I Corinthians 8:3 tells us that “if any man love God, the same is known of him.”
In other words, to love God is to know Him.
So, when Jesus speaks of miracle workers who never knew him, he isn’t necessarily finding fault with their spiritual gifts. He doesn’t say, “You should never have cast out devils or prophesied.” What he says is, “I never knew you.” In other words, “You didn’t love me.”
That is ti say, they cast out devils, prophesied and did miracles for the wrong reason and with wrong motives. They didn’t do those incredible things out of love for God. The truth they prophesied didn’t really help the ones who heard it. Whatever devils they cast out undoubtedly caused bigger devils to take their place.
Judas is a prime example of a disciple who went out with all the rest to heal the sick and cast out devils (see Luke chapter 9, verse 2). He got involved in wonderful works, yet he had no true love for Jesus and in the end betrayed him.
Though many may operate in false gifts or prophesy out of their own minds, that doesn’t mean all spiritual gifts have ceased.
Spiritual counterfeits cause people to be disillusioned with spiritual gifts, however. But consider this: Satan is below God, not above him. He can’t counterfeit anything of God that isn’t real. When he couldn’t stop Jesus from casting out devils, he had men accuse Jesus of doing the devil’s work. Now, it seems, he may be using the doctrine of cessationism to accuse Jesus’ followers of the same thing.
I’m not saying we should accept every tongue or prophecy that comes our way, but we need to use discernment because for every four hundred false prophets there’s liable to be at least one true one. We shouldn’t let Satan scare us away from spiritual gifts that might still be for today.