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Jon Ruthven

This paper was written by Jon Ruthven.

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Jon Ruthven is a Professor of Systematic Theology at Regent University School of Divinity, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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Articles > Charismatic Theology > On the Cessation of Charismata

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    3. Still another Pauline principle is that no one member, i.e. , charismatic function, of the body of Christ can say to another, "I have no need of you" (1 Cor 12:21). Cessationism says precisely that. Similarly, no one who is gifted in a specific way may demand that all the body become as he, say, a tongue! The point of I Cor 12 is that for a body to be a body at all it must have all its functions working reciprocally for the good of the whole, each recognizing not only its own value, but also the crucial importance of the others' as well. By its very nature, cessationism thwarts this key biblical command.

    4. The cessationist schema that miracles cluster around great revelatory events to establish the truth of that revelation does not bear scrutiny. Jeremiah lays down an explicit principle about the distribution of divine signs and wonders in 32:20, "You performed signs and wonders in Egypt and have continued them to this day, both in Israel and among all mankind!" Moreover, while new, enscripturated revelation abounded during and just after the Exodus, there was relatively little new doctrinal content added during the miracle working time of Elijah and Elisha, and certainly no more new revelation in Daniel than, say, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel or the other prophets whose miracle working is less manifest.

    Moreover, the greatest new revelation of all was announced by John the Baptist, who "did no Miracle" (Jn 10:41). The contention that miracles faded as one moves toward the end of Acts thus indicating the onset of the cessation of miracles is misleading. Much of the last part of Acts relates to an imprisoned Paul, who, when released for normal ministry at the end of the book practically empties the island of Malta of its sick (Acts 28:9)! Further, to argue that because "Jews seek signs and Greeks seek wisdom" (1Cor 1:22), that Christian evangelism moved from an evangelism characterized by miracles to one characterized by reasoned discourse (and remained there for the rest of Church history) flies in the face of Paul's own characterization of. his highly charismatic gospel among the Gentiles (Acts 15:12; Rom 15:19; 2 Cor 12: 12; 1 Thess 1:5). More importantly, following the tradition of Jesus who refused signs to those who demanded them for evidential proof (Mk 8:11-11; Mt 12:38-39; Lk 11:16, 29) Paul insists his reaction to the unbelieving demand for a sign (or wisdom) is not to willingly provide them, as this argument would have it, but to preach the "wisdom and power of God" Christ crucified only to those who could receive it.

    5. Finally, the essence of cessationism--the limitation of miracles to new revelation and its bearers-contradicts another biblical principle, namely, the biblical desire to see the Spirit of prophecy and miracle to be as broadly spread as possible. The classic case is Num 11:26-29 where Joshua is threatened by the loss of Moses' "accreditation" by the prophetic Spirit. Moses replies, "Are you jealous for my sake? I wish all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!" The subsequent OT prophets foresaw an ideal time when the Spirit would be bestowed broadly upon all categories of humanity (Joel 2:28-29, cf. Acts 2:17-18, 21, 39). Similarly, Jesus refused to stop those who cast out demons in his name, though not directly associated with him (Mk 9:38-40//Lk 9:49-50). No doubt this logion was recorded for the Church in response to exorcists, or perhaps those exercising spiritual gifts generally, who were not only not apostles, but not even church members! At that point the "accrediting" function of miracles becomes a little thin. Paul prays for "all the saints [Jew and Gentile]" that they might experience gifts of revelation, knowledge and power [dunamis] at the level of resurrection power that Jesus experienced (so also, 1 Cor 12:6; 14:1, 5, 24, 39; Gal 3:5, 14; Eph 5:18; Col 1:9-14, etc.). Against cessationism, then, this brief sketch shows the biblical (and divine) impulse to offer the power of the Spirit to all who would respond to it, rather than limit it to a few founders of the Christian community whose status must be enhanced.

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