Posted in theology

Cessationism vs. Continuationism

By Elizabeth Prata

I had listened to Phil Johnson lecture in the Wretched series Drive By Pneumatology. ‘Drive By’ means short lessons of 7-11 minutes that you can listen to on your driving commute. (Or anywhere else). Johnson defined cessationism and continuationism. Here is Phil’s definition- I transcribed it, that’s why it is in quotes-

Link below to the Drive By Pneumatology series for sale at Wretched Store

“The Holy Spirit is at work in us in the ordinary things of life. A lot of people have an idea that the Holy Spirit is only working if He is doing miraculous or phenomenal things. If it’s not something that takes your breath away, or amazes you, that if He is not doing things like that, that He is not at work at all. But I believe that scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit is at work in all the ordinary aspects of life. He orders every minute detail of our lives. It is He who actually gives us life. That’s what it says in Romans 8- He gives life to our mortal bodies… . Most of what He does seems ordinary but it is really extraordinary because He is the Holy Spirit.”

Phil Johnson went on to explain the difference between revelatory gifts and ministry related gifts. Revelatory ones (the Charismata) are utterance of wisdom, utterance of knowledge, prophecy, miracles, healing, tongues and interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians). This is compared to the gifts in Romans 12: preaching, service, exhortation, generosity, leadership, mercy, and teaching. These gifts are ministry related, neither supernatural in character nor revelatory. Revelatory means giving new revelation, or new information, outside of and apart from what is revealed in the Bible.

Phil again: “The distinctive claim of the Charismatic movement is that these revelatory gifts of healing, miracles, tongues knowledge/wisdom and prophecy are continuing today just as they were in Apostolic times. The Charismatic person says they continued since then and never ceased. That these gifts are available and operational just as they were since Pentecost. This is the continuationist view.

“The opposing view is cessationism. This is the belief that these revelatory gifts, these sign gifts, have ceased. That they pertained uniquely to the Apostolic age and that those gifts ceased sometime at the end of the first century upon the death of the last apostle”. (Phil is a cessationist).”

“So the question is, is the Holy Spirit doing everything exactly as He was doing as He did in the book of Acts? Has that stopped, or has that continued? And is there a proof text that shows it has stopped?”

“The miraculous gifts of the apostolic era had a specific and clearly defined purpose. I contend that it is also clear in scripture that they did diminish in frequency and importance and in fact, faded from use after the era in the Book of Acts ended.”

“However, cessationism is today a minority opinion. It was practically standard evangelical theology for many centuries until about 60-75 years ago. Prior to the 20th century, it would have been hard at any time to find any Protestant who believed that the charismata, the miraculous gifts, continued uninterrupted from the time of the apostles thru all of church history. It is a fact that the most orthodox church theologians all believed the miracle gifts ceased.”

“The reason they say this today, that the charismatic gifts continue, is that they cannot find a proof text or a verse that would support the view that the spiritual gifts of this nature have ceased. Specifically there is no verse in scripture that says the miracle gifts have stopped at a particular date or time. Bottom line there is no proof text that states that the miracle gifts would end at the conclusion of the Apostolic era. I grant you that.”

“There is no proof text to show the Jehovah’s Witness to show their flawed view of the Trinity, either. You compare scripture with scripture to show the Trinity. I would say the same method applies to cessationism.”

“Those of us who are cessationists base our conviction not on a single proof text but is a theological conclusion that is drawn from a number of biblical, historical, and doctrinal arguments.”

“Scripture does teach that the charismata had a specific, foundational and temporary purpose. They are part of a hierarchy of supernatural signs and wonders that were associated with the founding of the church. That hierarchy is listed in 1 Corinthians 12. It specifically states not all the miracle gifts were given to all in the church. (Phil goes on to explains some verses here). Scripture does not have a specific proof text that shows the Apostolic age ended, that there are no more apostles. There is no specific proof text that the canon of scripture is closed. Those arguments are the same exegetical arguments used to also say that the miraculous gifts ended too.

——————end Phil Johnson——————–

So in effect,

–tongues were for a sign to the unbeliever, fulfilling prophecy that judgment has come,
–they, as all miracle gifts, were for a sign to confirm the message and the messenger,
–we no longer need such signs because we have the Bible to compare a message and can confirm the messenger if he brings a message consistent with it,
–they were real languages,
–they were not the highest gift,
–they were to be interpreted or people were to be silent,
–they were dying out as the Apostolic Age came to an end,
–they obviously ceased for 1900 years,
–they were not the gibberish we see today.

So that is the continuationist vs. the Cessationist view. Continuationists believe the sign gifts (or the miracle gifts) continued unabated from the NT era. Cessationists believe they ceased at the end of the NT era when the last verse was written and the canon of God’s word closed.

I am a cessationist. I believe scripture shows that the sign gifts ceased. A common charge by continuationists is that they say cessationists claim that our position means the ‘Holy Spirit isn’t operating anymore’. Of course He is. He regenerates hearts every day. He draws men to the Lord every day. He brings scripture to mind every day. He does a ton. He just doesn’t dispense the sign gifts anymore because we have the sign in writing: the New Testament, which is completely profitable for all training, education, reproof.

List of the Holy Spirit’s ministries and activities, from John MacArthur Daily Bible

So that is a quick lesson on the distinctions between the two positions on the sign or miracle gifts. Here are further resources:


Is cessationism biblical? What is a cessationist?

What is continuationism?

It is finished

How would you persuade someone that the sign gifts have ceased?

Wretched Store: Drive By Pneumatology


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

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