Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:19-20)
You asked me how I would answer someone who uses Ephesians 2:20 to support cessationism. It is possible to do it in half a sentence, but sometimes I refute an opponent so fast that he fails to notice. The debate would be over, but he is still standing there, beating his chest and smiling like a moron, waiting for an answer. The faith of Jesus Christ is clear and perfect. One will always win if he holds fast to the gospel in its simple brilliance. Evil men complicate matters because of their unbelief and pride. Let us, therefore, make a bigger issue out of this foolishness than is necessary.
For the sake of convenience, we will say “apostles” from now on instead of the full expression in Ephesians 2:20. Putting aside cessationism for a moment, the text is often used to say that the foundation of the apostles must be the only source and measure of our doctrines. Our doctrines must come from this foundation and must agree with this foundation. This is correct, and I freely make this application in my expositions. It follows from the biblical account of the work of these men. The apostles received revelations that they established as official doctrines of Jesus Christ. Within the context of our verse, Paul writes that “the mystery of Christ…has now been revealed by the Spirit of God’s holy apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 3:4-5).
Nevertheless, although this is a legitimate inference from the text, it is not what the text directly says, and it is as far as we can take it in this direction. When it is used to demand doctrinal agreement with the apostles, it is acceptable, because this application is within the scope of its meaning, so that there is no need to enforce the exact intention of the text each time. However, when it is construed to support cessationism, then it is a false inference and application, and the text has been turned against itself. When that happens, we must return to what the text actually says.
Paul refers to Christ as a person. The cornerstone is not the teachings of Christ, but Christ himself. And Paul refers to the apostles as people. The foundation is not the teachings of the apostles, but the apostles themselves. There is no special focus on their sermons, writings, or revelations. There is no mention of Scripture. The topic is not the theology of God, but the people of God, or the “household” of God (v. 19). Upon this foundation of individuals — not doctrines and revelations, but people — other individuals are included. These people combine to form a building, or the temple of God: “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (2:21-22). The reference to the apostles as “foundation” appears as part of this metaphor. Thus the foundation does not refer to the revelational foundation of an intellectual system, but the personal foundation of a spiritual community.
Peter uses a similar metaphor when he writes, “As you come to him, the living Stone — rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him — you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5). He also conceives of individual believers — the people, not ideas, or doctrines, or revelations — as building blocks of God’s “spiritual house.” He also calls Christ the cornerstone (1 Peter 2:6). And he uses the metaphor for the same purpose that Paul uses it, that is, to describe how the Gentiles are included in Christ and joined together into one spiritual house (1 Peter 2:9-10, Ephesians 3:6). This is sufficient to neutralize the cessationist argument, because Paul is not even talking about the topic in Ephesians 2:20. Just as Paul is not talking about what revelations we possess, he is not talking about what revelations the apostles possessed. He is talking about believers as people joined together into a building, and apostles as people joined together into a foundation.
The metaphor depicts a building being added to a foundation. It does not say that the construction is finished with only the cornerstone. It does not say that the construction is finished with only the foundation. Rather, the point of the passage is that God intends to add materials to the existing foundation in order to complete a whole building that rises up to become a temple. The foundation of a building is not the only part of the building, but the place where the rest of the building is constructed.
The cessationist argument is that the apostolic revelation is the foundation, and we cannot add to the foundation, so that there cannot be any more prophetic operations. Although we do not modify or increase the foundation itself, we indeed add to it and build upon it, and the material for the building is not fundamentally different from the material for the foundation. You do not add cupcakes on a cement foundation. You add cement to cement, or some other building materials. Thus if we say that the foundation consists of revelations, even those that become Scripture, then the metaphor could mean that believers can add to Scripture, and the only restriction would be that the additions must agree with the revelations that have already been recorded. This is the exact conclusion that the cessationists claim they wish to avoid, but their interpretation of the verse is the very thing that allows this conclusion.
If the claim is that to build on the revelations of the apostles refer to preaching that agrees with them, then it is asserted by force, because the text does not say this. Moreover, if the text means that their preaching is the foundation of my preaching, then I can also say that their ministry of miracles and prophecies is the foundation of my ministry of miracles and prophecies. As long as a ministry of miracles and prophecies is patterned after the ministry of the apostles, it would be as legitimate as a ministry of preaching that is patterned after the ministry of the apostles. Try other combinations of how we interpret the foundation and the building. None can fit into the cessationist view.
Jesus Christ was the cornerstone that established the possibility and legitimacy of the apostolic ministry of preaching, healing, and prophecy. In fact, the cornerstone guaranteed the foundation. He expanded his ministry from himself to these other men. Then, the apostles formed the foundation that extended and established the possibility and legitimacy of the Christian ministry of preaching, healing, and prophecy. They expanded their ministry from themselves to all other believers and all future generations. If the text is applied to the topic at all, it endorses my doctrine of expansionism. We could say that the apostles established a foundation that guarantees a wider and stronger ministry of miracles and prophecies. They established only a foundation, but believers will build on it and reach for more!
Therefore, if we accept the cessationist interpretation of the “foundation,” the only conclusion is the exponential multiplication of all things miraculous, including the operations of healing, prophecy, visions and dreams, and various signs and wonders. The metaphor would denote a dramatic increase of miracles and prophecies, and not a cessation of anything that the apostles did. In fact, it would guarantee that we could perform miracles and prophecies that are more powerful and more numerous (John 14:12). With so many believers in the world today, the church should be producing a million times more miracles and prophecies than the early church, even a hundred million times more. The only restriction is that these operations must agree with the doctrines and patterns established by the apostles.
The apostles formed the foundation. The cessationists wish it to refer to revelations. Fine. What does the foundation say? It teaches us to have faith to perform miracles. It commands us to desire to produce prophecies. It expects us to receive visions and dreams, and various signs and wonders. On this foundation is added God’s people. Now if there are people who refuse what the foundation teaches, commands, and expects, then the only conclusion is that they do not belong to this foundation. If they are joined together into a building, it must mean that they are putting themselves on a different foundation than the one established by the apostles.
Therefore, if the Christian foundation is what the cessationists say it is, then the cessationists cannot be saved. They cannot be “fellow citizens” of God’s household with the apostles, but they must be “foreigners and aliens,” building on a different foundation. They build upon an alien religion. They remain outside of our structure. They are not Christians. It is strange that although cessationists claim superior scholarship, they constantly paint themselves into a corner in which there is no salvation for them. They force us to watch them cut their own throats. This kind of religion is grotesque and degrading. It is the depravity of unbelief and tradition. It is as if they are determined to take the path of self-damnation. It is as if they wish to burn in hell.