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Both the charismatics and the cessationists tend to engage the debate in terms of spiritual “gifts,” but it is unbiblical to rest the issue on the terminology of “gifts,” because the Bible almost never uses this language to address the topic. We see major passages on the topic in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14, and Ephesians 4…and that is about all of it. There is one tiny place in Hebrews and one in Peter that talks in terms of “gifts,” but Paul is practically the only one who does it.
All the other authors in the Bible and all the other instances — hundreds, and depending on what you regard as relevant, even thousands of passages — use terms like “faith,” “grace,” “power,” “the Spirit of the Lord,” “the hand of the Lord,” or they describe what happened, like “Then God said to Abraham,” “The word of the Lord came to me,” “The LORD heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him,” “Your faith has healed you,” “The Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away,” and so on. Yet so many people, including the charismatics, get stuck talking about 1 Corinthians 12 and several other passages, and then always in terms of “gifts.” This skews the entire discussion.
Then, the debate has further narrowed to the “sign” gifts, and the charismatics go along with this, when the Bible does not make this distinction. So the whole discussion is pretty much rubbish from the start. The Reformed and the cessationists are the ones who are most proud of their “redemptive-historical” approach to Scripture, but how come they do not mention this, and treat the topic this way? It is fraudulent scholarship.
Rather than engaging this foolishness, I examine what the Bible teaches about God, about faith, about healing, about prayer, and so on. If God continues, then faith continues. If faith continues, then miracles continue. Since faith is in men, miracles continue through men. Some of these instances are manifestations of what people call the “gifts,” although the Bible almost never calls them this. People think that the “gifts” have ceased — they want the gifts to have ceased — not because they have really ceased, but because these people have ceased having faith in God.
Let us talk about these things without the word “gifts” for a thousand times before we use the word “gifts” one time. Then, we will be talking about these things slightly closer to the biblical proportion. Does God continue? Does faith continue? Does prayer continue? Does God continue to fulfill his covenant — his old, old, old revelation (Luke 13:16)? It is deceitful to assume that God works miracles mainly to confirm new revelation. Again, although the Bible teaches that God confirms new revelation by miracles, it is rare in comparison. He has made promises that entail him working miracles — for men, to men, and through men — until the end of human history.
In fact, that is not when he will stop working miracles, but it will be when those acts would no longer be called miracles, because his manifestations of power would become commonplace. At this time, they are called the “powers of the coming age” (Hebrews 6:5). The manifestations of the gifts constitute a taste of the future. They would “cease” only in the sense that these powers would no longer be limited to particular instances, but there would be a constant current of wisdom and power to us and through us. That is, the gifts will “cease” only in the sense that they would increase to the extent that they can no longer be isolated (1 Corinthians 13:9, 12).
The “gifts” terminology makes this a loaded discussion from the beginning, and to refer to “sign” gifts makes it even more meaningless, since now we are debating something that the Bible does not even know about. In fact, the very topic of the “continuation” of these “gifts” makes this a loaded discussion on an even more absurd level. There is insufficient warrant for the topic to come up in the first place. Christians affirm the existence of God, and against atheism they defend the existence of God. But they do not usually need to affirm or defend the continued existence of God, that he continues to exist. Perhaps even unbelievers are smarter than to load the debate with the issue of whether an eternal being is an eternal being. Why argue about whether God continues to do special works through men, unless there is enough warrant to make this a topic? What they artificially consider special and temporary abilities have always been the way God interacts with people and through people. The matter hinges on his nature, not on dispensational peculiarities.
In fact, the “gifts” terminology is so non-essential that even if all the “gifts” have ceased, nothing would change. God can still heal people when we pray for the sick, even laying our hands on them in the name of Jesus, only we would not call it the gift of healing. God can still speak to people whenever he wants, only we would not call it prophecy. As long as God himself does not cease – as long as he does not die – there would be no practical difference whether there were ever any gifts or whether or not they have ceased.
Cessationists have not proved to me that there is sufficient reason to even make this into a topic for discussion. They must show that something has changed that makes this into a legitimate issue, one that cannot be dismissed. They have failed to show that the completion of the Bible has anything to do with whether God continues to work miracles, and continues to work miracles through men.
Most of the time, God works miracles because it follows from something that he has said in his old, old, old revelation, or simply because he shows compassion. God said that he would deliver Moses and Israel with a mighty hand because he remembered Abraham — that old, old, old revelation — not because he wished to confirm a new revelation, although he also intended the miracles to have that effect. Then, even though the miracles of Jesus indeed confirmed him (Acts 2:22), he explicitly said that he healed a woman on the basis of Abraham’s covenant (Luke 13:16). It had no necessary relationship to spiritual gifts. Healing was the children’s bread (Matthew 15:26) – their regular and rightful provision. Then, even the “crumbs” were enough to heal someone who had no apparent claim to it, except the claim of faith (Matthew 15:27-28).
The basis for miracles is old revelation. The completion of the Bible has nothing to do whether miracles continue, except a full revelation provides even more basis for more miracles. The topic itself has insufficient reason to even justify its existence. At this time, I am not aware of anyone in the history of theology who could get beyond this point to legitimize the topic. So far the very existence of the topic has been founded on fraud. If I choose to discuss it at all, it is an act of condescension.
I am a Christian. Although I will call the unbeliever a non-Christian, I will not call myself a still-Christian. And even though I sometimes encounter atheists, I do not call myself a non-atheist or my doctrine ongoing-theism. Likewise, even though I sometimes perform these feats of theological charity and tolerate the topic of cessationism, I do not call myself a continuationist or my doctrine continuationism, because I regard the terms as unnecessary concessions to this continuing loaded pile of manure. I believe in God, therefore I believe in miracles.