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A Point-by-Point Response to the Film, “Cessationist” (Part Four)


Here I continue with my response to the arguments that were put forth in the film, “Cessationist.” If you haven’t already read the first three in this series, I encourage you to go back and do so.

One point made several times in the film is that the “gift” of miracles was designed to “confirm that the individual was a spokesman and representative of God.” This was certainly true in the OT, as a quick look at 1 Kings 17:24 will demonstrate. But this is not the case in the NT. Nowhere in the NT are signs and wonders and miraculous spiritual gifts said to authenticate or validate the apostles. That they validate and confirm the message of the gospel is certainly true. Consider for example, Acts 14:3 where Luke describes the Lord “bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” To what was God bearing witness by signs and wonders? Clearly it is “the word of his grace,” not the apostles themselves.

Please listen closely. Even if it could be shown that signs, wonders, and miraculous gifts bore witness to the authenticity of the apostles, a point that I concede here only for the sake of argument, what reason would anyone have for concluding that this is the sole and exclusive purpose of such supernatural phenomena? We know that these miraculous events served several other purposes as well. For example, the miraculous served to glorify God and to draw attention to his power and compassion. This was the primary reason for the resurrection of Lazarus, as Jesus himself makes clear in John 11:4 (cf. 11:40). The doxological purpose of the miraculous is also found in John 2:11; 9:3; and Matthew 15:29-31. Miracles also served an evangelistic purpose (see Acts 9:32-43). Much of our Lord’s miraculous ministry was an expression of his compassion and love for the hurting multitudes. He healed the sick and even fed the 5,000 principally because he felt compassion for the people (Matt. 14:14; Mark 1:40-41).

There are several texts which indicate that one primary purpose of miraculous phenomena was to edify and build up the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:7; 14:3, 4, 5, 26; Eph. 4:11-13). In fact, Paul said the nine gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 were given “for the common good” (v. 7), that is, for the spiritual blessing and benefit of all God’s people. Simply stated, all the gifts of the Spirit, whether tongues or miracles, whether prophecy or mercy, whether healing or helps, were given, among other reasons, for the edification and building up and encouraging and instructing and consoling and sanctifying of the body of Christ. Therefore, even if the ministry of the miraculous gifts to attest and authenticate has ceased, a point I concede only for the sake of argument, such gifts would continue to function in the church for the other reasons cited.

A miraculous gift like prophecy is designed to build up, encourage, and console the people of God (1 Cor. 14:3). All such gifts enable us to serve one another in the body of Christ (1 Peter 4:10), and they can even be helpful in building up oneself (1 Cor. 14:4; Jude 20).

Paul continues in this vein as he describes throughout 1 Corinthians 14 that all spiritual gifts, especially prophecy, are given to build up other believers. We see this in the following texts:

“the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding [edification] and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3).

“the one who prophesies builds up the church” (1 Cor. 14:4).

Both prophecy and interpreted tongues are given “so that the church may be built up” (1 Cor. 14:5).

All Christians, in the use of their gifts, are to “strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Cor. 14:12b).

Prophecy in the gathered assembly is designed “to instruct others” (1 Cor. 14:19b).

“What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson [lit., a teaching], a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26).

Observe again that miraculous phenomena like revelatory words, tongues, and interpretation of tongues are designed to build up or edify others and not simply to confirm or authenticate the ministry and message of apostles.

The point is that we must resist the allure (and error) of reductionism. What I mean by this is thinking that simply because spiritual gift or miracle “A” serves us well in one particular capacity that it cannot serve us well in yet another. Why should the purpose of attestation be a reason why such gifts cannot function in a multitude of other capacities beyond the time of the first century and even into the 21st?

Thus, for the cessationist argument to persuade, one must demonstrate that authentication or attestation was the sole and exclusive purpose of such displays of divine power. However, nowhere in the NT is the purpose or function of the miraculous or the charismata reduced to that of attestation.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Sam, what about 2 Corinthians 12:12? Doesn’t Paul say in that text that signs, wonders, and miracles are the signs of an apostle?” No. He doesn’t. And I’ll demonstrate this in the next article.

To be continued (like the gifts!)



Apart from all the other purposes you've enumerated (which I agree with), I also think we too easily overlook the fact that many of these things are also simply demonstrations of the character of God, and are *part of* the gospel.

I realize people tend to think that sounds heretical. The "good news" certainly includes the salvation of souls from sin and death. Arguably, that's the *most important* aspect of the gospel. But Jesus didn't come to bring redemption *only* to the souls of men. He came to redeem *all of Creation*. Healing and miraculous provision and the casting out of demons consistently accompanied the preaching of the gospel in, well, the Gospels, because the message of the gospel is that the KINGDOM is at hand. And God's Kingdom is not merely redeemed souls but broken bodies and an earth that's falling down around our ears.

There's a sort of latent gnostiicsm in the idea that the physical is irrelevant and God doesn't concern Himself with it.
ISTM that the very fact that "workers of miracles" and "gifts of healings" are listed as distinct from "apostles" and "prophets" at the end of 1 Cor. 12 at least hints that such "dramatic" (or "sign") gifts were not the sole province of certain elite classes of Christians.

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