It has been said that we ought to believe that the gifts of the Spirit continue unless the Bible states that they have ceased. One cessationist answered, “So where in the Scripture did the gift of apostleship cease? Where in the Scripture did the gift of writing Scripture cease? Where in the Scripture did the method of deciding the Lord’s will by the casting of lots cease? Unless they want to literally do those, Charismatics should stop thinking that they are just like the first century church. Charismatics do believe certain things have ceased also, and it is disingenuous for them to pretend that they are just reading the Scripture.”
“Gift” of Apostleship
One common argument for cessationism claims that the “gift” of apostleship has ceased and that the cessation of the other gifts follows from this. It has been called a “cascade” argument, or as I call it, the Loser’s Slippery Slope of Unbelief (LOSSOU).
A major reason that the poor apostles are dragged into the discussion all the time is because of the assumption that they were unique, possessed supreme authority, constant infallibility, and that their office was inseparably connected with the writing of Scripture. So if the cessationists assume that the Scripture is complete, they must terminate the apostles.
However, they have misunderstood the apostles, and have made little gods out of them. They never possessed supreme authority, so that even the believers and elders could hold them accountable, and compel them to offer a defense for their actions, as when they preached to the Gentiles. They were not constantly infallible – Peter compromised the gospel in a way that even some new believers would refuse to do today, and Paul had to scold him in front of everyone (Galatians 2:11-14).
This is no problem for the inspiration of Scripture unless we assume that the apostles – not God — were the authors of Scripture, or that they had such a decisive role that even God could not have produced an infallible Scripture through them unless the men were also infallible. The cessationist idolatry actually hurts the inspiration of Scripture. The main task of the apostles was not to write Scripture, and most of them did not write Scripture. Moreover, just as much of the Old Testament was not written by prophets, much of the New Testament was not written by apostles.
Although we make the usually harmless generalization that the apostles and prophets wrote the Bible, significant portions were not written by them, or not known to be written by them. To address this, some people invent the principle that these documents were nevertheless written by those who were closely associated with the apostles and prophets. However, they arbitrarily dictate this principle without warrant, and they also arbitrarily decide how closely associated with the apostles and prophets these other authors need to be. In addition, the relationships of these authors to the apostles, and the scribes to the prophets, are often uncertain, and offer a weak foundation for something as weighty as divine inspiration. The entire difficulty is self-inflicted due to the false assumption that every word in the Bible must be written or approved by apostles and prophets.
Once we point out that God is the author, even the only actual author, then it becomes evident that the matter of human authorship is unable to undermine the inspiration of Scripture, because it has no decisive relevance in the first place. God can write on tablets of stones, speak in a voice from heaven, cause a donkey to talk, make stones cry out, or move a man to write his words. God is the one who speaks and writes. Although he often used the apostles and prophets, he could cause anything to happen through anyone he chooses. By his Spirit, he took hold of various men and caused them to write out his words. Then, by his providence, he secured these documents and compiled them into one final volume.
The traditional evangelical theory of inspiration is flawed, and it is based on an idolatrous view of the apostles. When we throw out the whole thing and place the Bible on God, and God alone, all the problems disappear. Thus inspiration applies to all of the Bible, not because the whole thing was written or approved by apostles and prophets, but because the whole thing was written by God.
All Scripture was written by God, even breathed out directly by him (2 Timothy 3:16). It makes no difference whether he used apostles or chipmunks to write it. Therefore, to terminate the apostleship does not terminate the possibility of additions to Scripture. If the cessationists wish to accomplish what they need with their line of reasoning, it would not be enough to kill off the apostles, but they must kill God as well, because he is the real author, even the only author, and he can make apostles and chipmunks out of anything, at any time in history.
If it is enough to say that God has completed the Bible according to his providence, then it makes no difference to say that there are still apostles today. But if it is not enough to say that God has completed the Bible, then neither is it enough to say that there are no more apostles. They must destroy God himself to guarantee the completion of the Bible, and I would not be surprised if many of them are willing to do it.
Likewise, all of the miracles in the Bible came from God, not the apostles, and all the gifts of the Spirit came from God, not the apostles. For miracles to die, God must die. So the LOSSOU must begin with God, not with the apostles. As long as God is alive, apostle or no apostle, gift or no gift, “Everything is possible for him who believes” (Mark 9:23).
Even if apostleship has ceased, even if all the gifts of the Spirit have ceased, and in fact, even if no one in history has ever performed a miracle by the power of God, it would still be possible for me to experience all the things represented by the gifts of the Spirit – even if I must be the first and only one – because my faith in God has not ceased. The doctrine of the cessation of miracles is nothing other than an excuse for the cessation of faith. The debate on the “gifts” of the Spirit is a red herring and a scam.
“Gift” of Writing Scripture
By demanding an answer for “the gift of writing Scripture,” the idea is that if writing Scripture is a spiritual gift, and if it is agreed that the Scripture has been completed, then the gift has ceased, and this would be a basis for the LOSSOU.
But who says that it is a gift? Does he think that we are stupid, so that he can make this into a gift, and then trick us into saying that a gift has ceased? Or is he stupid, so that he categorizes something as a gift when there is no basis for it? His challenge is loaded. We do not have to fall for it.
Even if writing Scripture is a gift, it would be more accurate to say that it comes under prophecy, or that it is one of the many manifestations of prophecy. There is some basis for saying this (2 Peter 1:20-21), but even then we cannot know if this covers all the writing of Scripture.
If writing Scripture comes under prophecy, it would be circular to argue that a spiritual gift has ceased on the basis that the writing of Scripture has ceased, since the continuation of prophecy is one of the things debated. It would not work to say, “Prophecy has ceased because prophecy has ceased.”
Then, even if writing Scripture comes under prophecy, and even if writing Scripture has ceased, it does not follow that prophecy has ceased, because even while it was in operation, the writing of Scripture would have been only a rare manifestation of the gift, and does not cover all that the gift entails.
In any case, it is uncertain that writing Scripture is a spiritual gift, or that it comes under any spiritual gift.
Again, if the end of writing Scripture must mean the end of the gifts, or at least this one gift, then it does not go far enough, because it was not the gift that wrote Scripture, or even the men who exercised the gift, but it was God who wrote Scripture. The completion of Scripture cannot be secured by killing the gifts. Given the cessationist assumption, the end of writing Scripture must mean the end of God – he must die – but this would mean that there is no salvation for the cessationist.
Casting of Lots
Just how many times does the casting of lots appear in the Bible compared to guidance from Scripture, wise counsel, visions, dreams, circumstances, spiritual perceptions, and several other means? Even if the practice continues, it still might not be a regular part of our lives.
When the apostles cast lots to choose a replacement for Judas, they started with Scripture (Acts 1:15-20), then stated a principle (1:21-22), then narrowed the candidates down to two people (1:23), and then they prayed (1:24-25). Only after all of this, they cast lots to choose between the two men, who were both qualified anyway (1:26). They did not wholly depend on casting lots.
Still, some theologians wonder if they did the right thing, and if God had chosen Paul instead. If God’s choice was Paul, then they should not have cast lots to choose a replacement, and we wonder how many other instances of casting lots were wrong. The more times that the casting of lots were wrong, the less we are to blame if we do not adopt the practice, and the less relevance this challenge from the cessationist possesses in this debate.
Nevertheless, we are able answer head-on even if all the instances of casting lots in the Bible were appropriate.
The casting of lots, even if not the best way to receive guidance, was a form of observing providence, because the Bible says that God is the one who determines the outcome of lots: “We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall” (Proverbs 16:33, NLT). The cessationists continue to observe providence as one form of guidance. In fact, they much more readily accept circumstances as “God’s will” than the charismatics.
Some people, both cessationists and charismatics, have mentioned instances in which they opened the Bible at random and found definite guidance in time of need. Again, whether it is advisable to expect guidance this way is one thing, but it is true that some have testified of obtaining help in this manner.
Then, I wonder if this cessationist knows what casting lots means. It is like flipping a coin, and this is still done when the options are equally acceptable. For example, we might flip a coin to decide who makes the first move in an athletic competition, and we might pick names out of a hat to decide who become partners in a class project. God is the one who decides the outcome in these instances.
In any case, find out if the Christians used this method after Acts 2, that is, after God had fulfilled his promise to grant his people visions, dreams, and prophecies (2:17-18). In the past, the Spirit was given to certain people for service, such as kings and prophets, but Moses said, “I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them” (Numbers 11:29). This happened on the day of Pentecost, and Peter said, “And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39).
From then on we read: “Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God” (7:55), “The Spirit told Philip” (Acts 8:29), “The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!'” (9:10), “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (15:28), “He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied” (21:9), and numerous instances like these.
So this challenge from the cessationist in fact serves to reinforce our position.
Point of Agreement
He complains that we should not think that we are like the first century church. Indeed, it is true that the cessationists are nothing like the believers in the first century. There is barely any resemblance. Sometimes it is difficult to tell if they are even Christians. They give the impression that they have a different religion, a different gospel, even a different God. This is apparently what they aim to achieve, and they are rather happy about it. On the other hand, charismatics remain unconvinced that it is an improvement.