Pentecostal and charismatic churches are commonplace today, but in the not too distant past speaking in tongues and other manifestations of the spirit including miracles were somewhat taboo in the Christian Church. The official doctrine, which is called Cessation Doctrine, was that these spiritual manifestations were an apostolic phenomenon. As such they ended in the apostolic age which was practically defined as the first century. According to his doctrine. while some of the followers of the apostles may have manifested supernatural power this was residual and when those believers died the ability to manifest supernaturally was gone permanently. The reason for the ending of the supernatural manifestations is, according to proponents, is that the bible was given, and it, being perfect, replaced the need for supernatural manifestations.
The contrasting viewpoint to cessationism is continualism, that is, that availability of the power, gifts, and manifestations of the spirit have continued since Pentecost whether or not they were being practiced at any given time.
The Pentecostal movement began in the late nineteenth, early twentieth century. This movement is characterized by speaking in tongues and other manifestations of the spirit as a regular practice in the churches. Assemblies of God, Oneness Pentecostals, and Full Gospel churches began to grow and flourish. The movement spread to mainline churches and denominations. This spread into the mainline denominations is known as the Charismatic Movement. Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, and even Roman Catholics began to experience spiritual manifestations. By mid-2000 there were an estimated 523 million believers in Pentecostal and Charismatic movements.[i]
Despite fairly widespread acceptance, there is still strong opposition to the present day existence of at least some of the manifestations of the spirit. “Fixing its focus on historic New Testament and Baptist doctrine to guide students in the tasks of world missions and evangelism, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will not knowingly endorse contemporary charismatic practices such as a private prayer language, nor hire professors who advocate the practice, according to a statement issued by trustees.”[ii] Baptists, generally recognized as fundamentalists, are among numerous churches that teach that spiritual manifestations such as speaking in tongues, prophecy, miracles, and possibly even healings are no longer available, as they passed with the apostles.
Cessation Doctrine is not Limited to Christianity.
Christians were not the first people of God to say that prophecy and other manifestations of God were over. Jewish rabbis taught that both the spirit and prophecy had ceased in Judaism in the time after the last OT prophets. “The Jewish impact on the development of Christian prophecy needs some more consideration than the above topics of apostles and teachers. At first glance, it is impossible to find in early Judaism a functional model as a paradigm for the Christian prophets because our main Jewish sources expressed the view that, during the second Temple period, prophecy has vanished altogether. Postexilic Jews denied the possibility that God still communicated with his people by speaking directly to certain individuals. In rabbinic literature, the ability to prophesy is closely associated with the presence of the spirit, but both prophecy and the spirit are recorded to be absent from Jewish religious experience. On the other hand, the Didache, which expresses a similar close affinity between prophecy and the spirit(11:126.96.36.199), presents the prophets as practicing prophecy on a regular basis. How is this phenomenon to be accounted for?
According to a number of texts in rabbinic literature, Josephus, Apocrypha, and Pseudepigrapha, the spirit was taken from Israel after the fall of the First Temple, or alternatively, after the deaths of the last canonical prophets(Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). For the sages of the Tannaitic period onward, genuine prophecy had ceased. Revelation was no longer mediated by the inspired prophet but by a “bath qol” ( a daughter of voice ) which, however, was rather a poor compensation for a legitimate continuation of prophecy. Veritable prophecy was dead and no one could claim the title’ prophet’ until God was to fully realize the kingdom. Although some rabbis were held to be worthy of the title ‘prophet’, the iniquity of the present age made it impossible for even the holiest man, such as Hillel the elder and Rabbi Akiva, to be called so. Prophecy was limited to the period of the canonical prophets of the distinct past and was expected to return in the end time.”[iii]
Confusing the issue of whether the manifestations of the spirit have ceased today is the use of “holy laughter”, the practice of slaying in the spirit, the acceptance of prophecy with errors, and other aspects of Pentecostalism that many believe are outside the teaching of the bible. For many that accept the teaching of the bible on manifestations and gifts of the spirit to be relevant today these practices discourage teaching the scriptures concerning spiritual manifestations or participation in meetings where manifestations are exercised.
Biblical Basis of Cessation Doctrine
Those proposing that the manifestations ceased point to I Cor 13:8-10 where it says:
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will be done away with. Where there are various languages, they will cease. Where there is knowledge, it will be done away with. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is complete has come, then that which is partial will be done away with. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known. (1Co 13:8-12 WEB)
To cessationists, this verse is interpreted to say:
- Prophecy shall be done away
- Tongues shall cease
- Knowledge shall cease
- Knowledge and prophecy at that time were only partial.
- That which is complete will come and these partial manifestations will go away
- The New Testament is that which is complete
- The New Testament appeared by the end of the first century
- Therefore the tongues, and prophecy, along with other manifestations have ceased.
Cessationists advocate further that modern-day spiritual manifestations are false. Some go as far as to say that they have to be of the devil as the bible teaches against them.
Proponents advocating the manifestations agree with the points above up until point six. They say that “that which is complete” refers to the return of Christ. You can see this from the verses themselves.
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known” is also something that happens when that which is complete comes. We will know fully, we will be face to face. We won’t need tongues, or word of knowledge or prophecy because we will be in our resurrected bodies. Boy, that hasn’t happened.
Therefore the gifts and manifestations of the spirit are and have been available since Pentecost. Furthermore, for 1st Corinthians 13:8-10 to be interpreted as above leads to the conclusion that knowledge has ceased as well as prophecy, tongues, and miracles. Clearly, there is still knowledge, so the other items mentioned, prophecy and tongues, haven’t ceased either. Therefore there has been no cessation of the gifts and manifestations of the spirit.
Some Notable Spiritual Gifts and Manifestations Events Timeline
Proponents of the continued practice of the spiritual gifts and manifestations note a long history and numerous contributors who document the working of the spirit.
* Pentecost occurs, the Holy Spirit descends in a miraculous display.
* Clement and Ignatius document the continued use of prophecy.
* The Didache, Shepard of Hermas, and Barnabus indicate that prophecy is normative. They teach to discern the difference between true and false prophecy.
* Justin Martyr argues that God has transferred the gift of prophecy and miracles from Judaism to the Church.
* Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Tertullian write about various gifts and miracles including prophecy, discerning of spirits, raising people from the dead, gifts of healing, and receiving revelations.
* Tertullian writes of the prophecy in the Montanists movement and provides stories with revelations and visions.
* Origen of Alexandria writes that the gifts continue to be experienced in the church. He notes healings, exorcisms with accompanying signs and wonders.
* Gregory of Thaumaturgis is noted for incredible manifestations including prophecy, healing, and great signs and wonders.
* Athanasius describes charismatic saints in the desert.
* Augustine reports healings and miracles.
* Gregory the Great writes of healings, raising the dead to life, prophecies and other miracles.
* Symeon writes of a “baptism in the Holy Spirit” and other spiritual phenomena.
Twelfth to Fourteenth Centuries
* Hildegard of Bingen is noted for prophecy, miracles, and other spiritual manifestations.
* Athanasius of Constantinople is known for healing the sick, delivering the possessed, and other miracles.
* Gregory Palamas is known for our the laying on of hands to bring about gifts of healing, miracles, knowledge, wisdom, tongues, and interpretation of tongues.
* Bonaventure reports that Francis Assisi is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Francis manifests prophecy, casting out of doubles, healing the sick, and other miracles.
* Vincent Ferrer manifests miracles, healings, and raising the dead.
* Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, receives visions, and tongues.
* The Quakers are known for their “inner light.” They record visions, healings, and prophecy.
* The Prophets of the Cavennes in France, Protestant resistance fighters, are noted for prophecy and tongues.
* Jansenists are noted for their prophecy, healings, signs, and wonders.
* Jonathan Edwards in the first great awakening notes genuine workings of the spirit.
* John Wesley was noted to be tolerant of followers who claim to dreams, visions, healings and revelations. He calls earlier prophetic groups such as the Montanists, “real, scriptural Christians.”
* The West of Scotland revival in 1830 noted prophecy, healings, tongues, and interpretation of tongues.
* AMD Simpson, the founder of the Christian missionary alliance, considers the possible reappearance of the gift of tongues and refers to actual occurrences in India and Africa.
* Reportedly there are about 900,000 African Christians who have experienced phenomena like at Pentecost.
* Charles F. Parham travels to Shiloh, Maine, where he hears speaking in tongues taught at a school. He begins teaching and praying for the pouring out of the spirit. Students report speaking in tongues.
* William Seymour, following Charles Parham, who leads the Azusa Street Revival, which becomes a significant Pentecostal revival
* By the end of the 20th century there are numerous Pentecostal churches, and the charismatic movement in which spiritual manifestations are seen in mainline churches is widespread.
The above list is encapsulated from the international dictionary of Pentecostal charismatic movements.[iv] The list suggests that God has been communicating with men much more than was taught previously. While noting the dominant belief was that the gifts had ceased, and there was skepticism regarding spiritual manifestations the conclusion still is that spiritual manifestations were consistently in evidence at least somewhere in the world for at least most of history since the day of Pentecost in Acts 2.
In chapter 9 of the book of Acts we read that Saul of Tarsus was on his murderous course persecuting and killing Christians when there appeared a light from heaven upon which Saul fell to the ground and had a divine conversation with Jesus who converted him to Christianity. Interestingly, the verse does not say that Saul was thrown to the ground; rather it says he fell to the ground. The difference is a matter of will; when someone throws us it is their will that we go to the ground. But if we fall, sometimes, albeit not always, it is our choice. For example, the standard response to seeing yourself on fire is to stop, drop, and roll. In this case, it is an act of will to fall to the ground in a safety procedure. Therefore it not clear from this verse that this spiritual action forced Saul to fall rather than that was his chosen response.
There is the practice called being “slain in the spirit.” This practice is noted for believers following uncontrollably backward after a minister lays hands on them, usually in a healing service. The biblical documentation given for this is the record in acts nine above were Saul falls to the ground, and thus proponents argue that being “slain in the spirit” is normal. Opponents label what happened in acts chapter 9 as a phenomenon. While it is not guaranteed to anyone that a light will shine and someone will fall in response it is always within God’s prerogative to do any number of phenomenal things.
There are other practices throughout the history of the manifestations in the church which are at least dubious as to their authenticity. These include holy laughter, holy dancing, and what I term, holy writhing. Holy laughter is where a believer or believers just start laughing during a service. Holy dancing, likewise, is supposed to be where a person is set in motion dancing, usually in the midst of the service. And the last one, holy writhing, is where a believer looks like they’re having a fit of epilepsy on the floor during service. Supposedly the spirit has taken over in each of these cases, and the person laughs, dances, writhes on the floor, or some combination of these.
While it is certainly God’s sovereign prerogative to do as he sees fit, some of these practices at least appear to violate other principles that are stated in the bible.
Paul writes that all things should be done decently and in order. I have been at services were some of these practices happened and with an increasing amount of participation in these practices the events become increasingly disorderly. I remember trying to hear a sermon one time while a person a few rows in front of me was writhing on the floor and making loud noises. I had never seen this before, but the people around this person treated this practice of writhing and babbling as normal. They didn’t even pay attention to her. After a while, the person stopped and resumed a normal position. I certainly had a problem hearing the speaker while this person was making this noise which was considerable. I was also concerned that the jerky movements might not be safe, and the person might get hurt.
There is also a doctrine in Pentecostal circles that prophets can err in their prophecy. Prophets have been known to give a prophecy to believers which did not come to pass. Despite Old Testament warnings to ignore anyone whose prophecies did not come to pass these churches teach that this is the age of Grace and that this same grace has to be applied to prophets and therefore when they err we need to forgive them, and not judge them.
Many people share my concerns. I have been to Bible-based churches where the policy was that while they did not believe that the gifts had ceased, these unbiblical practices discourage the church from teaching and practicing spiritual manifestations. So besides the Cessationist groups who teach that spiritual manifestations are no longer available, and the Pentecostal/charismatic groups that teach and practice spiritual gifts and manifestations there is a third group who believe that spiritual gifts and manifestations are available, but since there is the widespread use of these unscriptural practices the church is better off staying away from these, at least for the time being.
It appears that whenever people stop experiencing the manifestations of God they rationalize that the manifestations have ceased. The Rabbis did it at the end of the old testament period. Christians theologians did it after they stopped experiencing the manifestations of the Spirit. How do you prove that something exists when others say that it doesn’t? You simply point out examples that document its existence. As the above timeline shows there have been numerous examples of spiritual manifestations, signs and wonders throughout Christian history. Augustine, Bonaventure, and Ignatius are well known names in church history, so this is not just a record of obscure, unheard of, people. These famous men as well as many others document the existence of supernatural gifts and manifestations.
The verses the Cessationists use are ambiguous at best. Their interpretation that the “perfect” in “when that which is perfect is come, then that which is imperfect will be done away” is shaky at best. Jesus Christ is the perfect one, not the canon of scriptures doctrine which points to a decision in the Roman Catholic church as to what writings are acceptable to that church.
Nevertheless, Cessationists conclude that the gifts are false, not that they don’t exist. There will always be a group that denies the working and power of the Holy Spirit. For the rest of us, we rejoice that the power of the holy spirit has never stopped.
[i] INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY OF PENTECOSTAL CHARISMATIC MOVEMENTS, Stanley Burgess, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2000, p1234
[ii] https://www.sermonaudio.com/new_details.asp?ID=22495. This web page features an article
[iii] The Didache, Hubertus Waltherus Maria van de Sandt, Huub Van de Sandt, David Flusser, Fortress Press, 2002, ISBN 0800634713, 9780800634711 p357
[iv] INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY OF PENTECOSTAL CHARISMATIC MOVEMENTS, pgs 1227-1234. This table has much more information that only more fully shows that the workings of the spirit were documented much more than many people taught previously
Bible.org discusses both the Cessationist and Continualist viewpoints at https://bible.org/article/questions-cessationists-should-ask-biblical-examination-cessationism
Mark W Smith © 2009-2022 Edited 10/4/22
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