When you think of the word ‘cessationist’ what comes to mind? Typically, I’ve seen these characterizations;
- Opposite of a continuationism
- One who no longer agrees the gifts of the Spirit are in operation
- No miracles
- Prophets and apostles no longer exist
- Not all gifts are in operation; some have ceased
- God no longer speaks beyond scripture
It’s a mixed bag that unfortunately brings some baggage in discussions involving continuationism vs. cessationism OR discussions regarding if God still speaks today. Given the above descriptions, what is that exactly? It’s a problem because when you say the word it means different things to different people. Even under the rubric of continuation of all gifts, some cessationists avow this happens but not in the manner.
Wayne Grudem is amongst the continuationists but one who adheres to the sufficiency of scripture as God’s word. In his Systematic Theology he says this about prophecy;
So prophecies in the church today should be considered merely human words, not God’s words, and not equal to God’s words in authority. But does this conclusion conflict with current charismatic teaching or practice? I think it conflicts with much charismatic practice, but not with most charismatic teaching.
Most charismatic teachers today would agree that contemporary prophecy is not equal to Scripture in authority. Though some will speak of prophecy as being the ‘word of God’ for today, there is almost uniform testimony from all sections of the charismatic movement that prophecy is imperfect and impure, and will contain elements that are not to be obeyed or trusted…
But it must be said that in actual practice much confusion results from the habit of prefacing prophecies with the common Old Testament phrase, ‘Thus says the Lord’ (a phrase nowhere spoken in the New Testament by any prophets in the New Testament churches). This is unfortunate, because it gives the impression that the words that follow are God’s very words, whereas the New Testament does not justify that position and, when pressed, most responsible charismatic spokesmen would not want to claim it for every part of their prophecies anyway. So there would be much gain and no loss if that introductory phrase were dropped. (1055-1056)
Aside from the fact that I think Grudem underestimates the “reasonable” handling of prophecy in contemporary Christianity, what strikes me with Grudem’s statement is that in some respects he could be classified as a cessationist: he doesn’t believe that prophecies are equal to God’s words as spoken in Scripture. Yet because of the way he has defined prophecy, he maintains a “continuationist” position. Now granted I don’t agree with the way he has defined prophecy but my point is that when we say the word “cessationist” it conjures up a mixed bag of what that means.
Does it mean apostles or prophets no longer exist? Miracles? Is there still a prophetic and apostolic function with regard to scripture and ministry though the offices no longer exist? Does God still speak today and what does that mean? Beyond scripture? Are prophecies less authoritative? Does God’s word exist beyond Scripture?
Aside from those who live in the extreme, “reasonable” will result in varying positions regarding these questions.But what typically happens is broad brush strokes that may not be honest to specific topics that are being addressed. (I scream whenever I hear someone say that cessationists don’t believe in miracles…ugh!). So these general categories generally result in unproductive discussions when these topics arise.
Needless to say, I wish we could either come up with other terms OR sub-categories that serve as adjectives for a continuationist vs cessationist. I think even soft or hard don’t really cut it.
What do you think?