REVISITING THE SO-CALLED "SIGN" OR "MIRACLE" GIFTS (Part 2)
by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA, USA)
“BAD” REASONS FOR BEING A CESSATIONIST:
The first on Storms list is when cessationists point to 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 assuming that the “perfect” mentioned is something other, or less than the “fullness of the eternal state ushered in at the second coming of Jesus Christ.” He continues to say, “The 'perfect' is that glorious state of final consummation when, as Paul says, we will see 'face to face' and 'know fully' (v.12), as over against the limitations imposed by our life now where we see as 'in a mirror dimly' and know only 'in part'” (v.12).
RESPONSE: I happen to agree with this interpretation. To me, it clearly makes the most sense. Simply put, the terms “perfect,” “face to face,” and knowing “fully” clearly have Christ's return and our eternal state in mind, at least in my opinion.
One cannot conclude from this passage that Paul had any indication that there would be a collection of works that would come to be known as the canon of Scripture after the apostles died. I don't see this referring to the close of the canon as being plausible. Paul even seems to indicate he thought he might even be alive when Christ returns (1 Thess. 4:15-16; 1 Cor. 15:51).
However, although I agree with Storms on his interpretation of this passage, just as one cannot adamantly assert this passage refers to the closed canon because the passage does not make the explicit claim, one cannot adamantly assert this passage refers to Christ's return and setting all things straight as the passage does not explicitly make that claim either.
His second “bad or illegitimate reason” for holding to cessationism is the “belief that signs and wonders, as well as certain spiritual gifts, served only to confirm or authenticate the original company of apostles, so that when the apostles passed away so also did the gifts.”
RESPONSE: Again, I can't say that I disagree. I say this for a few reasons. For one, there is no passage in Scripture that makes the claim that the miracle (or signs and wonders) gifts of any specific kind validated the apostles. What Scripture does say is that signs and wonders validated Jesus Christ and the message of the apostles concerning Jesus Christ. If they were meant to only validate the apostles, then why do we see them operate in the lives of other believers like Stephen and Philip?
Cessationists at this point may direct people to Ephesians 5:20 to show gifts like prophecy were only attached to the apostles and only until the foundation of the Church was laid. But as pointed out above, not all who operated in the miraculous, in this case, the prophetic, were apostles. How about Acts 2 where people from all walks of life seem to be allowed to exercise the gift? Or Agabus in Acts 11, or Philip's daughters in Acts 21:9, or where all believers are exhorted to desire prophecy as seen in Rom. 12 and 1 Cor. 12:7-10; 14:1, 26, 39? And how about 1 Thess. 5:19-22?
In fact, these gifts even served more purposes than attesting to Christ and the messages the apostles gave about him. They served to glorify God (Matt. 15:29-31; John 2:11; 9:3; 11:4, 40); prepare the way for evangelism to take place (Acts 9:32-43); “as an expression of compassion and love and care for the sheep – Matthew 14:14; Mark 1:40-41);” and to encourage, strengthen, and build up the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:7; 1 Cor. 14:3-5, 26).
“Signs, wonders, and miracles were attendant elements in his Paul's apostolic work. But they were not themselves the 'signs of an apostle.'” The problem with this second point of Storms is it still offers no evidence that these types of gifts are to be operative today.
Storms third “bad reason” for being a cessationist is the adherence to the view that since we now have God's Word in full via Scripture, there is no longer any need for the miraculous, or sign, gifts. To me, this cessationist observation makes logical sense. I think it may be a valid reason for one to deduce at least the possibility there is no longer a need for these gifts since we have the closed canon, the finished Word of God. But, I must concede to Storm's point for the simple fact Scripture never once makes a claim of this sort. Not a single author found within Scripture makes any sort of claim that written and recorded Scripture has, or one day will halt the need or operation of the miraculous gifts.
Storms then takes some liberty and pushes the issue to support his position by saying, “...if the glorious presence of the Son of God himself did not preclude the need for miraculous phenomena, how can we suggest that our possession of the Bible does?”
To me, this is very weak. Christ's “need” for “miraculous phenomena” was to authenticate who he was and what his mission was for. Both of these have already been firmly established. I think Storms was reaching at straws with that quote.
Fourth, another “bad” reason for being a cessationist is thinking that if you open yourself up to accepting all spiritual gifts have continued on to our time then you must also accept the Pentecostal position that one is baptized by the Spirit at a point after conversion and that the initial physical evidence of such a baptism is speaking in tongues.
RESPONSE: You can't really argue this. What Storms says here is absolutely true, although I'm not familiar with any cessationists who are a cessationist for this reason. I did include it though because there is confusion and the difference between being Pentecostal and being a continuationist does need to be addressed for at least some who are reading this.
The truth is a person can be a continuationist and believe the Spirit baptizes all believers at the point of salvation, not after. And, one can be a continuationist and strongly disagree with the idea of tongues being the initial physical evidence. Continuationism can also believe tongues are not a gift given to every believer, it's only given to some and different gifts are given to others.
The fifth “bad” reason for being a cessationist is the belief that “if one gift, such as apostleship, has ceased to be operative in the church that the other, and perhaps all, miraculous gifts have ceased to be operative in the church.”
RESPONSE: Once again I find myself in agreement. I'd ask if “apostle” is actually a spiritual gift in the first place? Or is it perhaps descriptive of an office, or position? Either way, just because one gift might cease does not necessitate that all gifts must have then ceased.