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Is Cessationism Another Gospel?

A guest contributor to The Jesus Creed asks this question. He comes at it from the angle of just how far such a teaching would be from what is implied in the gospels, from which our definition of “Gospel” should come.

I’m not a cessationist, though I think it is important for people on the charismatic side of the spectrum to be careful in what they claim. The more false claims there are, the more likely people are to reject any and all claims. For me the most important reason to oppose cessationism is that I see no biblical warrant for suggesting that the Holy Spirit would cease to put these gifts in the church as long as there is a church.

In fact, I suspect the main reason we have for denying that the gifts can continue is that we are embarrassed, either because there are no gifts (and we feel there should be), or because there are gifts and related behavior that is embarrassing, such as false claims and sensationalism.

In the fifth comment on the Jesus Creed post, the commenter goes back to 1 Corinthians 13, and the “cease” language in that chapter. I’m not going to go into detail here, but I previously posted my notes on 1 Corinthians 12-14 (follow the links to the next post at the top right, and you can work your way through the whole series). I believe 1 Corinthians 12-14 must be seen as a unit within the larger context of 1 Corinthians, and in that context, I don’t think the expectation that the gifts would cease relates to any time while there’s still a church.

In fact, Paul is dealing here with some of the embarrassments I listed above. The Holy Spirit is active in the Corinthian church, but people are active as well, and people like exciting things. How do spiritual gifts fit in with being spiritual people? How do we relate as a body to spiritual things? Those are the questions Paul is answering.

But is cessationism another gospel? “Another gospel” is one of those epithets we use to attack those with whom we disagree strongly, ever since Paul used it in Galatians. It’s a way of setting a particular teaching outside the bounds of fellowship.

I disagree with cessationists, but I’ve met plenty of cessationists who believe in God’s present and active power, but who simply don’t believe that God works through giving gifts to individuals. For example, for them there is no active gift that would make a person a healer or miracle worker, but the church can get together and pray for someone and a miraculous healing is possible. I would note that I agree that gifts aren’t given to individuals as such, but rather to the church, but Paul clearly envisions individuals within the church exercising those gifts. So while the gift belongs to the body, the individual is the steward.

Thus I disagree with cessationists, but I don’t see where they would merit the title of teaching “another gospel.” In fact, suggesting that if one’s beliefs do not reflect the whole Gospel as taught in the four gospels one is teaching another gospel, means that we would be deciding fellowship based on our understanding of everything in the four gospels, which would surely mean that just about every doctrine would become an essential determiner of fellowship.

Any time we’re off track on one of these doctrines there is obvious danger. But I’m pretty sure all of us are in error on something, possibly many things, and somehow the church struggles on. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to correct bad doctrine. It just suggests we should do so as graciously as possible and avoid anathematizing phrases.

 

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