Why I Am Not a Cessationist

A Gift

Spiritual Gifts

This post came about in part as the result of a discussion in the comments of a post on Alan Knox’s blog that transferred into a post on Donald Borsch Jr.’s blog [no longer available]. Expect more to follow on the topic of spiritual gifts.

Cessationism

Cessationism is the idea that certain spiritual gifts, such as tongues and healing, though given to the church in the past, are no longer given today. I do not hold to this idea for the simple reason that I see no scriptural basis for such an assumption. We have the same Spirit inside us today that the early Christians had, and God is just as capable of giving the same gifts.

Cessationists often appeal to the apparent lack of such gifts in many mainstream churches and to the apparent abuse of such gifts in many charismatic churches. I won’t deny either of those assertions. However, that does not preclude the possibility that God is still using these gifts in places we simply are not seeing.

Regardless of whether God actually is using these gifts right now, my immediate concern is with the abuse of Scripture used to support the notion that he would not use them anymore. Here is the primary proof text used in support of cessationism.

“The Perfect”

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:8–10, NASB)

First, cessationists must assume that “the perfect” came in the past. Many will say that this was the completion of the biblical canon. However, there is absolutely no basis for this speculation. Rather, the immediate context seems to suggest that this refers to the time when Jesus Christ will return to perfect his broken creation.

Second, the arrival of “the perfect” does not mean the end of these things. Let’s take a closer look at the text. Paul wrote that we know and prophesy “in part” but that “the partial” will be done away when the perfect comes. If “the partial” aspect of knowledge and prophecy is done away, that means we will then know and prophesy “in full.”

It’s the same pattern Paul used a few verses later stating, “Now I know in part, but then I will know fully” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NASB). This is an enhancement, not a lessening. Once we are perfected, the “gift” aspect of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will no longer be needed, because we will already have full knowledge in Christ.

But right now, we have not yet been perfected. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV). Thus the need for these gifts has not yet passed. There is plenty of room for speculation as to why we don’t see the gifts being used in most mainstream churches today, but there is no reason to assert that they have ceased altogether.

Update: Michael in the comments pointed out an interesting article suggesting that “the perfect” actually refers to the maturing of individual believers. The article provides some pretty good contextual support for the idea. Check it out for yourself, and let me know what you think.

Spiritual Gifts Series

  1. Why I Am Not a Cessationist
  2. Why I Am Not a Charismatic
  3. The Gift of Tongues in Acts
  4. The Gift of Tongues in 1 Corinthians 12–13
  5. The Gift of Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14

What Do You Think?

Do you believe that certain spiritual gifts have ceased? Why or why not? Why do you think we don’t see these gifts very often?

Share your thoughts in the comments below. And if you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends.