Continuationism vs. Cessationism

Continuationism vs. Cessationism

Hebrews 13:8 – Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Ephesians 4:30 – And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Continuationists believe that the sign gifts of the Spirit continue and have not ceased as the Spirit still works through gifts such as prophecy, knowledge, tongues, and healings in various ways. Sometimes continuationism is also referred to as being charismatic or Pentecostal.

Continuationists teach about and practice the supernatural gifts in a wide variety of ways. Conservative continuationists prefer order in their gathered church services and place Scripture and godly church leaders in the position to discern what is from the Holy Spirit and what is not. Others are much more open when it comes to claims of prophecies, promises, and healings so that their worship gatherings have less order and leadership in favor of individual freedom of expression with numerous people speaking in tongues without interpretation, giving personal words or prophecies, and other public actions. Continuationist tribes include Charismatics and Pentecostals, denominations like the Assemblies of God, movements like the Jesus Movement that included the Vineyard and Calvary Chapel, and Bible teachers like Jack Hayford, Gordon Fee, Wayne Grudem, R.T. Kendall, and Chuck Smith.

Cessationism often points to such thing as spiritual excesses, unfulfilled prophecies, abuses of spiritual authority, and preference for new revelation over Scripture to call into question and suspicion whether or not much of what is said to be of the Spirit is actually of the flesh or demonic. Paul rebukes the church in Corinth for this, and we will examine shortly. Their warnings are sometimes worthy of consideration as Jesus said in Matthew 12:39, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Jesus’ point is that some people get so focused on the gifts of God that they lose sight of God, and for that they will face judgment.

Continuationism often points the immutability of God and that He does not change, which would logically mean He does not change the way He works (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). Furthermore, the Bible does warn us, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30), “Do not quench the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19), and that “…stiff-necked people…always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51). Admittedly, it is possible to miss out on the fullness of what God has for us if we are not fully submitted and surrendered to the Spirit.

Cessationism sees the abuses of spiritual gifts and, in an effort to prevent error, sometimes overreact by negating the spiritual gift altogether. The abuse of a gift should not negate the use of a gift. For example, perhaps the most abused spiritual gift is teaching as the world is filled with bad instruction that is more comical than Biblical. However, the abuse of teaching should not cause us to abandon teaching the Bible but rather encourage us to teach sound doctrine and warn people about false teachers. I have pretty much always been a continuationist since the Lord saved me at age 19 in college. The first church I was on staff at was cessationist, and the seminary I graduated from leaned in that direction when I was a student. Many, if not most, of the theological councils I have served on were largely, if not mainly, cessationist. Today, most of my ministry friends and partners are continuationist. I wish that there were more conversations between these groups rather than about one another. Knowing many of the leaders in both groups, they both have concerns about excesses done in the name of the Spirit as they both are fully committed to the Scriptures as the perfect Word of God. 

Would you consider yourself more of a cessationist or continuationist? Read Ephesians 4:1-3 and remember that we can disagree on these issues and still be friends with other believers who see this issue differently.

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Mark Driscoll
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