Lord I believe that Jordan will play in the NBA! No! I declare Jordan will play in the NBA!
That was a sentence that a guy prayed over me as we were leaving a basketball camp I attended in high school. He said that sentence as he alternated between speaking in tongues and speaking in English. I wanted to say, “have you not seen me play this whole week? I’ll be lucky to start on my high school team this year!” That was the first time I was exposed to the modern version of the gift tongues. Over the years I’ve had a chance to attend quite a few pentecostal churches and events but it wasn’t until I got to seminary that I really started gaining interest in Charismatic theology.
Over the years my disdain for the “miracle workers” on tv grew as I heard of thousands of people in wheelchairs praying and hoping to be healed at Benny Hinn crusades, only to leave disappointed, questioning God and being told they simply didn’t have enough faith to be healed. These stories saddened me and made me want to make sure I understood what God said in his Word regarding the miraculous gifts. I’ve come to take the cessationist position. Immediately, one of the first things I noticed was that cessationists have been accused of limiting God.
Picture a box. Let’s call it the “can’t do miracles box.” Anyone placed inside this box, of course, can’t do miracles. For about a century now, many people in the church have accused those who would call themselves “cessationists” of putting God inside that box. Cessationists believe that God has ceased working in certain ways that He did previously. Namely, He limits the miraculous abilities that humans can do. Whether it is the ability to be able to speak in unlearned languages as in Acts 2, heal a lame man as in Acts 3 or to be able to correctly predict the future as Agabus did in Acts 21, cessationists believe that God has ceased allowing human beings to perform these miraculous gifts.
In other words, cessationists believe that God–shortly after the death of John–put human beings back into the “can’t do miracles box” as He has for most of history.
Much ink has been spilled over this subject and I don’t think I will add anything to the conversation, but I thought it would be helpful to boil some thoughts down in a simple way. Of course this will not cover every aspect of cessationism, nor will it be comprehensive in its critique of continuationism, (just search cessationism in thecripplegate.com search bar if you want to study this subject further) but I hope it will at least give you a couple thoughts to help you as you think through this incredibly important topic. An important part of cessationism is God Himself and what He has done in history. So here are three reasons God is a cessationist.
1. Biblical History
Think about it for a second, who could do miracles in the Bible?
The first person that comes to mind is Jesus of course and the disciples. The other would be Elijah and of course Elisha after him. And finally, we have Moses, as well as Joshua with a miracle or two of his own. Can you think of anyone else? Anyone between Adam and Moses? Anyone between Moses and Elijah? Even one person between Elijah and Jesus? 6000 years at least of world history and only 200 years where people could do miracles?
It’s fascinating to think through this because it would seem like God is a cessationist himself.
Typically, man is inside the “can’t do miracles box” and only gets let out for about 60-70 years at a time only to be put back into the box for centuries. Let’s say that between Adam and Moses, there are about 2500 years of history, in this time there was no human being could do miracles. Then, for about 60 years, God allowed Moses and Joshua to be able to do a dozen or so miracles. Then, between Joshua and Elijah, there were about 500 years, and, again, for about 60 years God allowed Elijah and Elisha to be outside of the box and perform about a dozen miracles. So, for about 4000 years of Old Testament history, only four men were able to do miracles for a total of 120-140 years, and only a couple dozen miracles at that. Finally, 900 years after Elijah, God Himself came to earth and did an incredible number of miracles, and then allowed His disciples to do many miracles for about 60-70 years until the apostle John passed away. And for 2000 years of church history God only allowed a few miracle workers for a minor fraction of that time. And consistent with Bible history, the Lord put man back into the box where he belongs and took over the duties of lone miracle worker.
2. The Purpose of the Sign Gifts
So, the question that follows must be, why has God only allowed a few dozen people to do miracles in world history? What is the purpose of these miracles?
Well, with Moses, it was clearly an act of validating Moses’ ministry. When He tells Moses in Exodus that He will do miracles, it’s for the purpose of showing to Pharaoh and, most importantly, the Jews that Yahweh is God and not Pharaoh nor the gods of Egypt. With Elijah, it was clearly for the purpose of showing Israel that Yahweh is God and not Baal. And with Jesus and the disciples, again, it was not only to validate their ministry but it was for the purpose of showing Israel that Jesus is the Messiah and that He had come to save people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, and not just Israelites.
God’s reasoning for letting man out of his “can’t do miracles box” was simply to show Israel that He is the Lord and that He alone deserves praise. And in every case, those who were enabled to do the miracles did incredible jobs of giving God all the glory for their miraculous powers. Their authority in speaking for God was validated through the acts that only God could enable them to do and it is important to note that none of them benefitted financially from it, nor did they seek power for it, but rather ended up being persecuted, living lives on the run, and dying.
3. Today’s “Miracles”
Most Bible-believing Christians agree so far. They all agree that, in biblical history, God typically didn’t allow men to do miracles. A quick survey of church history shows that man was incapable of doing the signs and wonders that the disciples did 2000 years ago. Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and so many of our heroes all believed in the cessation of the miraculous sign gifts.
God is not the author of chaos. And that’s the only way to describe what happened in 1914 at the Azusa street revival. For more than 1800 years of church history, God had stopped giving men sign gifts until supposedly He let man out of his box again. This produced speaking in unintelligible languages. It produced unconfirmed and unprovable healings, and, ultimately, turned prophecy into unreliable and fallible statements. It produced women preaching, and all kinds of ecclesiological problems.
And as we look around today, so many questions arise. As we hear of all the miraculous gifts that are being claimed all over the world, we have to ask ourselves a simple question. Has God taken man out of his “can’t do miracles box” after 1800 years of church history and given them back the abilities that a few people at the beginning of the church age had? If he has, why has he entrusted these TBN money-hungry charlatans with these abilities?
If God allows men and women to go to heaven, see what it’s like, and then gives them the ability to come back to life and write about it, why do they all differ on what Heaven is like? Why do they teach error? Why did Paul refuse to speak about what he saw when he went to Heaven? (2 Cor 12:2)
God simply can’t be the Author of what we see today. The gifts that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah had and that were spilled over onto a few of their disciples, were altogether different gifts. God has rarely allowed men to have miraculous abilities, and each time He had specific reasons for allowing it.
Prophecy was infallible, speaking in tongues were actual discernible languages that resulted in the salvation of souls, and miracles were instantaneous and undeniable. God must be grieved with what He sees today, and in no way would He want to be associated with them.
Ultimately, limiting humans in no way limits the God of the universe. On the contrary, it gives Him the glory He deserves. The Holy Spirit is in no way limited in what He does. He is constantly at work sanctifying the saints, bringing Scripture to bear on the lives of believers each time they read it, He listens to millions of Christians all over the world simultaneously, and ultimately does the incredible miracle of regeneration each and every time that He takes out hearts of stone and puts in hearts of flesh (Eze 36:26). The glories of Ephesians 1:3-14 are an incredible miracle that God does in the lives of every Christian, and trumps any experience that any human can experience in this life. In the words of Peter in 2 Peter 1, it doesn’t matter what we experience in this life even the transfiguration itself; “we have something more sure” that nothing in this life can compare to–the Word of the living God.
This article originally appeared on TheCripplegate.com. Used with permission.
Jordan Standridge is a pastoral associate at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA, where he leads the college ministry. He is the founder of The Foundry Bible Immersion.
Image courtesy: ©Thinkstock/filipefrazao
Publication date: March 29, 2017