Seeing Face to Face
It needs to always be emphasized that whatever the phrase means, it was not true about Paul when he wrote the letter. So for instance, saying the Bible being finished up is the line means claiming that is the point at which Paul (and others) saw face to face. Just enforcing this distinction would probably weed out a lot of poor logic.
The textual details of “face to face” are laid out here and will not be reiterated.
One objection I haven’t seen or made before, to “seeing face to face” implying cessationism, is that the Bible was, at a bare minimum, very unclear (if not ambiguous, if not pointing the other way) about this “Great Ceasing”. One could make the case that clear distinction would only be expected regarding a big change, not the lack of any.
Some Cessationist Thoughts
Despite my view, I try hard to honestly summarize cessationist views along with some of my responses.
Most Cessationist arguments seem to largely rest on the interpretation of 1 Cor 13 to say that the teleion (mature, complete, or perfect) has come and this means supernatural gifts have ceased.
This is partly based on teleion being written as a neuter and that it couldn’t be referring to Christ’s return (one would have expected the masculine
adjective in that case), so it must refer “to a perfect thing that brings full
divine revelation” per Gary Steven Shogren’s summary of their opinion. Shogren notes tongue-in-cheek that the many Greeks who read the early books might have noticed this gender problem before the second millennium.
One influential article seems to have been Benjamin Warfield’s 1918 Counterfeit Miracles which is available in whole here. I and others on this se thought this was a first peak in the philosophy of Cessationism and that it was started around 1860 through the writings of Robert Govett, 1813–1901. But, at least according to Warfield, most of the theologians of the post-Reformation era - the period of CA 1565-1725 - were Cessationist. They taught that miracles ceased completely with the Apostolic Age (not 70AD in particular). This was Warfield’s view. Then he describes the ever-advancing view toward the end of the post-Reformation era that miracles actually faded slowly, a little at a time, over very long periods of time.
Conyers Middleton in Introductory Discourse, to which one can see a short intro, in the mid-1700’s outlines this as the majority view among Protestants. "The most prevailing opinion is that they subsisted through the first three centuries, and then ceased in the beginning of the fourth, or as soon as Christianity came to be established by the civil power. This, I say, seems to be the most prevailing notion at this day among the generality of the Protestants , who think it reasonable to imagine that miracles should then cease, when the end of them was obtained and the church no longer in want of them; being now delivered from all danger, and secure of success, under the protection of the greatest power on earth."
This is a key concept. That God does not do the miraculous unnecessarily. But what really would this mean? Why would it ever mean He draws a hard line in the sand and commits to never intervening?
Returning to Warfield, he refers to “spiritual gifts in the sense of extraordinary capacities produced in the early Christian communities by direct gift of the Holy Spirit.” And emphasizes that they were abundant, in all the early churches. It is important to note that he does not claim (and that it cannot be plausibly claimed from the text) that only Christ, or only Christ and the Apostles, had these abilities. He notes that a careful reading of scripture will show that a church not widely engaged in prophecy and expelling demons would seem to be the unusual one.
“The Apostolic Church was characteristically a miracle-working church. How long did this state of things continue? It was the characterizing peculiarity of specifically the Apostolic Church, and it belonged therefore exclusively to the Apostolic age—although no doubt this designation may be taken with some latitude. These gifts were not the possession of the primitive Christian as such; nor for that matter of the Apostolic Church or the Apostolic age for themselves; they were distinctively the authentication of the Apostles. They were part of the credentials of the Apostles as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their function thus confined them to distinctively the Apostolic Church, and they necessarily passed away with it.”
He bases this on the “ground both of principle and of fact; that is to say both under the guidance of the New Testament teaching as to their origin and nature, and on the credit of the testimony of later ages as to their cessation”
So: These are the two classes of proof. There is no that much theology being put fourth about it, with the possible exception of the fruits being rooted in Christ.
Much of the skepticism in the post-Reformation period appears to have been driven by a lack of knowledge about the church fathers’ reports of miracles. It’s not clear whether this was cherry-picking and denial to fit the enlightenment gestalt (discussed below), or more likely just a lack of forensic scholarship and available resources/references. The church fathers in no way claimed miracles had ceased. In all fairness, literature searches were much more difficult for post-Reformation cessationists.
As mentioned this morphed into the majority opinion that miracles ceased slowly, championed by people like Middleton. Even in the model where extraordinary spiritual gifts must be passed on and decay randomly albeit exponentially over time, wouldn’t we expect among the many millions that somewhere would be the odd outlier. Claims of “never” are not just hard to prove, but rarely true. Unless there is some absolute promise or other universal event (the fall of man), sheer logic that we don’t seem to see it and we don’t think it’s needed should not equate to a “never” but rather to a “rarely” or even “almost never”.
Middleton’s contemporary John Wesley had issues with his take on the church fathers, and even more so with his take on the status of supernatural fruits afterward. For obvious reasons: How Miracles Helped Spread the Wesleyan Revivals. “Stories of skeptics being healed and unwillingly falling and shaking on the ground for hours were frequent” and this included an angry physician who went to challenge the fake, damaging healings, as well as critical contemporary preacher George Whitefield who attended and promptly fainted and convulsed.
John White wondered if the twentieth-century resurgence of God’s miraculous manifestations was, in itself, an expression of the necessity of God’s intervention in the current “phase of the battle.” (White, When the Spirit Comes with Power, 153.)
The concept of God ceasing miracles when unnecessary was expressed about the post WW-II period by John White in his 1988 book When the Spirit Comes with Power. “[White] extensively interviewed many people, including those from John Wimber's Vineyard Christian Fellowship. His years of work as a psychiatrist and as a missionary in the Third World qualify him in a special way to analyze the experiences described in this book. In addition he has thoroughly studied revivals of the past, highlighting the differences and the similarities to what is happening today. As always, John White remains thoroughly biblical as he handles many controversial topics.” He wonders if the resurgence in miracles came from God based on simple necessity in the current “phase of battle”.
If Cessationists use lack of necessity after the church was established, do they claim He will again intervene if necessary? Can they at least acknowledge He can? In my opinion, they should be hard pressed on the issue of why God would stop things entirety in a kind of “making a resolution” type of way. The claim that He frequently and broadly entered the minds and bodies of members of the early church, but absolutely never will under any circumstances thereafter for ~1800 years is bizarre and extreme enough to require extreme support.
New American Standard Bible
God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders, and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.
So with this summary:
- Miracles stopped being necessary.
- The Bible seems to maybe imply they would cease
- We don’t see the evidence.
- Maybe something about how the unique abilities must be transmitted, ultimately starting from Christ (my words). Fir example as quoted of Warfield: “They were part of the credentials of the Apostles as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their function thus confined them to distinctively the Apostolic Church, and they necessarily passed away with it.“
- The Canon is closed.
A lack of rigorous distinctions plagues Cessationism. Perhaps because they see themselves as inherently more reasonable and hard-nosed and logical and rigorous, and thus partially exempt. But in rigorous terms: These are the arguments I’ve seen. I also routinely see opinions expressed that in most other contexts would never be taken seriously or even made, such as the previously quoted: “..the most prevailing notion at this day among the generality of the Protestants, who think it reasonable to imagine that miracles should then cease, when the end of them was obtained..”
In what other context would, “We think it reasonable to imagine God would want..” be taken seriously?
The final one (5 above) may be mentioned as possible timing, but it can be entirely eliminated as evidence for Cessationism being true, as I describe in a subsection below.
Item 4 might easily be dismissed with a litany of Old Testament actions and of those by Christ’s contemporaries. In Matthew 17, the disciples were already on their own casting out devils, such that Christ only had to be called for a difficult case. Despite John the Baptist being referenced as performing no miracles, he was identified as a prophet and definitely prophesied about Christ. This did not come from interacting with the fleshly Jesus Christ.
What exactly has ceased traditionally included healing, tongues, casting out demons, and prophecy. More recently, certainly after 1800 and possibly after 1900, any communication that can be identified as Divine has sometimes been added.
While the reasoning is generally common among them, Cessationists can be roughly divided into believing the perfect is
- The Bible being finished up
- The church reaching the whole earth or becoming secure/official.
The former is newer. It appears to have begin in the mid-1800’s. It solidly contradicts the church fathers. Shogren covers how extensive this really is, while also noting there is more to uncover: “Not all of the texts of the different authors were analyzed, since, for example, Biblica Patristica listed 169 separate references within the extant writings of Origen... The fact that each new search method yielded fresh data suggests that there is plenty of undiscovered country, particularly in the Latin fathers.” Of course the event claimed to represent the perfect affects which time period is relevant. I would guess there are many many events and stories in various low circulation publications from every era. The problem is none are definitive.
More generally, why would we see this rising in the enlightenment era? Why would it spike again, and in more extreme form, in the mid-1800’s?
No Surprise in The Current Culture
It is not coincidence that some in the church move their theology in the same direction that secular philosophy moves. Any such parallelism should always provide an immediate reason for suspicion. For example, consider the pulpit acceptance of premarital and homosexual activities compared to what the Bible says about them, and the rarity of hearing the topic covered simply by a rigorous but loving Biblical exposition.
Any view that eluded wise Christians for a millennium, is sometimes based on new interpretation of a single passage, and exactly matches the changing philosophy of the times.. can almost be predicted. We should be surprised if someone didn’t come up with a method for trying to infect Christianity with as much scientific materialism as possible. (Ironically the quintessence of anti-scientific thought). One good way to do this is to put the Holy Spirit’s direct action in the minds of the people of God behind many layers of causality and thousands of years. This is as close as one can get to eliminating His direct guiding without becoming an atheist, and direct guidance is what physicalism explicitly denies. If God is real (or “real”) but can only act through positive attitudes and changing minds, or else 2,000 years ago, then that makes Christianity much closer to the thinking of the current age, which is everywhere strangled by the internally inconsistent philosophy of monist physicalism. No one should be surprised.
The main locus of surprise might be how difficult the Bible has made it for them. As obvious as it is, I was struck by the conscious realization that the Bible, by definition, cannot give examples of post-Biblical prophecy with which to refute. So it is a bit surprising that there really is nothing in there that can be used to say or imply God’s interventions will end.
No Surprise in The Current Church
This is not entirely unrelated as the trend in the church comes directly from the cultural one just mentioned. As I wrote before, “I see Cessationism as too compatible with the growing, very subtle view of one’s faith as tribal affiliation, or a philosophy of life, of spirits and demons and God as anthropomorphisms of fears on the one hand, and healthy behaviors and wisdom on the other. Angels and spirits and demons and the devil are all quite real. God is real. This bizarre view that He backed off so dramatically and no one noticed for so long can be viewed as being most of the way to deism.” At a minimum it is no coincidence that it grows as philosophical monist materialism does: “It looks like the view that it refers to the canon came about in the 19th century through the writing of Robert Govett, 1813–1901” per a related se response
The Christian worldview is grounded in truth and authentically knowing the existence, and to some degree personality, of the one powerful God. Any Cessationist should meditate on whether he or she believes Christianity to be a true and literal description of reality. If not, the solution is to deny Christianity, not Continuitionism.
I also have been surprised at the power of repetition. Individuals constantly show up who just say “The Perfect” means that’s all over. With no concept of what [they’re claiming]as outlined in the response I already linked above. Shrogren claims 1 Cor 13 is becoming one of the most references passages: “Overall, my searches, cross-matched and double-checked, yielded hundreds of quotations and allusions to all or part of 1 Cor. 13.8-12”.
All three are hallmarks of motivated reasoning sweeping communities: a broad conclusion rooted in a single, simple idea, specific thinking spawned from the more general flavor of the times, and simple repetition of a trite point that supposedly speaks to a larger, more complex discussion, almost like a sale’s pitch.
The concept of the Christian “Canon” should not be part of this discussion at all.
The argument here can be summarized as: “Even though no one is claiming any of their prophecy is canonical, we believe that they really believe it is canonical. And even though both the old and new Testaments contain dozens if not scores of descriptions of non-canonical prophecy, we believe all prophecy is canonical. And even though all parties to this debate acknowledge there has been no addition to the canon since the first century, and even though it is nowhere written that the canon is closed anyway, we believe that it is closed and this is about canon. So if you add up these beliefs: prophecy cannot be happening.”
Everyone involved claims either
- The prophecy happening is not canoncial
- Prophecy can’t be happening because those whom recieve it claim it’s canonical.
The holders of 2 should reread 1.
I know I’m being supercilious in this section, but I simply cannot understand the insistence that canon has anything to do with the casting out of unclean spirits, speaking in tongues, prophecy, or personally hearing the Rhema of the Almighty. (Or how Christianity is all that different from positive psychology without them).
Mention of Canon should be limited to the claim that the perfect meant the time when it was closed, not that prophecy is related to it staying closed.
1 Samuel 19:20
King James Bible
And Saul sent messengers to take David: and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as appointed over them, the Spirit of God was upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied.
Numbers 11:26 KJV
But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp.
1 Peter 1:10-12 KJV
10 Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:
As mentioned, “Does a loving God never speak directly to any with any detail at all, never let His saints cast out unclean spirits, never speak through anyone directly? Does He only act through our personalities as a vague positive influence? And why the retreat? Unbiblical per the above. Counter to all church fathers. And a serious nod to making one’s faith an intellectual exercise (Careful please: That sentence didn’t say it makes one’s faith an intellectual exercise; that said it’s a serious nod toward such.) But most of all, cessation of all supernatural gifts is directly, experientially untrue by some very wise, solid, good, Godly men now and through the ages.” Just one example: There are several ways that I am very pro- and very anti-Derek Prince, but I have never questioned his basic integrity. Heck, even if I had on some occasions, the utter sincerity, vulnerability, and disarmed honesty of this life-transforming account would still be hard to deny. (Video should start at 31:30 automatically. The prior encounter starting at 22:30 is not a supernatural fruit but is just as compelling).
It should be obvious how clear I think issue is, but also how important I believe the topic is.
The patently obvious: +That some people do indeed here from God. +That casting out unclean spirits was central to the example of Christ, central to His instruction to His disciples, and is part of the practice of Christianity. +That despite many faking to fit in, speaking with tongues is also a very real experience described in the Bible.
The final support comes from another controversial topic.
14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
Does this mean every believer will do these things? No. But some will.
Right on time a litany of disingenuous “scholarship” has been circling claiming these verses are not part of the Bible. We live in an age of atheistic, materialistic lies, inside and outside of the church, especially in the academy. It’s always interesting to watch someone find out how misleading their professors can be, even about things like the ending of Mark. (Video five minutes). Full unassailable version is here
The Deity ruling His universe found the perfect way to sort us: belief in, acceptance/rejection of, His Son. While that once seemed like a crazy fairytale to me, the wisdom of that Divine simplicity becomes more profound to me all the time. He has not abandoned His creation, and certainly not His adopted children. If He can bother to come in the flesh, He can bother to help a saint cast out an unclean spirit in his name. He can bother to tell a few people some important things. More and more I think many of those who don’t think so, don’t really believe in This at all. I don’t say that about every one. I know there are very sincere exceptions out there, but the core motivation behind the movement is the same as the one attempting to make the entire West become atheist.