Cessationism is the belief, once common among evangelical Christians, that what the apostle Paul called charismata — e.g., prophecy, tongues, gifts of healing — no longer operate in the Church today.
B.B. Warfield was a well-known advocate of cessationism in the early 20th century. In Counterfeit Miracles (1918), he acknowledged that the “Apostolic Church was characteristically a miracle-working church.” However, Warfield argued that those miracles were “part of the credentials of the Apostles as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their function thus confined them distinctively to the Apostolic Church, and they necessarily passed away with it.”
Today, the best-known advocates of cessationism are Richard B. Gaffin Jr. at the academic level and John MacArthur at the popular level. The details of their arguments differ from Warfield and one another, but their overall thrust is the same. Cessationists espouse evidentialism, the notion that the purpose of miracles was to accredit the supernatural ministry of the Apostles, and dispensationalism, the notion that Christian ministry today is qualitatively different from New Testament ministry, at least with regard to the charismata.
(I’m using dispensationalism broadly to describe a qualitative difference in the way God works across time. There’s a narrower sense of dispensationalism advocated by John Nelson Darby, Lewis Sperry Chafer, and their followers. Warfield was not that kind of dispensationalist. Neverhtless, like them, he argued for a fundamental distinction between Christian ministry then and now with regard to the charismata.)
Cessationism and Pentecostalism are antithetical. Pentecostalism argues that the charismata continue today, so that ministry today is not qualitatively different from ministry in the Apostolic Era. The purpose of the charismata was not to accredit the Apostles but to demonstrate the coming of the kingdom of God. Consequently, as Derek Morphew writes, “A proper understanding of the kingdom destroys the entire theory of Cessationism [sic] so that none of its parts retains any viability.”
Morphew’s sentiment pervades The Kingdom Case Against Cessationism. The book consists of 12 chapters by nine authors who are affiliated with classical Pentecostalism, the Charismatic Renewal Movement, or Third Wave Christianity. Some of the chapters were previously published in books or journals. A few are published here for the first time.
There are other ways to refute cessationism. Church history does not evince a notable break in charismatic manifestations after the close of the Apostolic Age. Further, the contemporary experience of charismata around the world cannot be dismissed as worldly or demonic in origin.
However, the best and most authoritative refutation of cessationism has always will be what the Bible itself teaches. That is where The Kingdom Case Against Cessationism focuses its energies. The Bible teaches that the Church in every age is, to borrow Warfield’s term, “characteristically a miracle-working church.”
Robert W. Graves, ed., The Kingdom Case Against Cessationism: Embracing the Power of the Kingdom (Canton, GA: The Foundation for Pentecostal Scholarship, 2022).
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