Yesterday I received a book as a Christmas gift. It was Volume Four of a four-volume systematic theology. One of the topics supported in the theology book is cessationism. The word cessation is the noun related to the verb “cease.” Therefore, I wold have thought that the word means that something has ceased. However, the author defines cessationism as “the view that some of the (spiritual) gifts exist today.” What a wonderful way to spin it!
The author’s deliberation goes this way:
- Since an Apostle had to be an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ, and since only persons living in the early first century could be eyewitnesses, therefore the New Testament gift of Apostleship stopped.
- And, since the gift of Apostleship ceased, and since some gifts were unique as sign gifts of Apostleship (healing, raising the dead, laying on hands for others to receive the gift of tongues), therefore tongues ceased as an Apostolic sign gift.
- And, since the gift of tongues was received exclusively through the laying on of hands by an Apostle, therefore any person speaking in tongues who has never met one of the Apostles is practicing a form of pagan religious gibberish.
While I do agree that some modern tongue-talking is not legit, I don’t agree that the Bible teaches the cessation of speaking in tongues …or loss of the Apostolic gift.
In Second Corinthians 12:12, Paul defended his apostleship by saying, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.” He did not say that the signs of an apostle were signs and wonders. He only wanted his apostleship to be seen as analogous to the hyperlian Apostles with their signs and wonders. This is not a statement of an Apostolic requisite.
Hebrews 2:3,4 says, “(This message) was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” This passage is cited as textual proof that outward signs were only needed for the establishment of the Church and then were intended to cease entirely. However, the passage doesn’t contain any indication of such a presumptive premise, the cessation of any spiritual gifts. Other passages of the New Testament indicate that the Church could expect the gifts of the Holy Spirit to continue until the return of Christ.
Acts 14:4,14 say Barnabas was an apostle. “But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles… But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd…”
2 Corinthians 8:23 says there are other apostles. “As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are apostles of the churches, the glory of Christ.”
Philippians 2:25 says Epaphroditus is an apostle. “I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your apostle and minister to my need…”
I can’t find any New Testament passage that binds apostleship to the gift of tongues. An apostle is someone sent supernaturally by the Holy Spirit through the Church. This is exactly what the modern church does by ordaining and sending missionaries. Paul’s apostolic travels are called his “missionary” journeys.
Unfortunately, there is an ugly modern view that apostles are loud-voiced people who have a special anointing giving them the right to dominate over others in the church. (Maybe they don’t get 1 Peter 5:1-6.) If these modern super-apostles are truly apostles, then I am a cessationist. This needs to stop.
Not all kinds of tongues are languages known to men. 1 Corinthians 12:10 says that there are various kinds of tongues. On the Day of Pentecost, tongues was languages naturally known to the hearers but unlearned by the speakers. 1 Corinthians 14 says that there someone may speak in tongues of men and of angels. I doubt if any human can naturally diagnose, interpret, or understand the language of angels. In both cases, it is clear that the person speaking in supernatural tongues would not naturally understand either one, tongues of men or of angels.
False tongues does not rule out genuine tongues. It has been pointed out that some pagan religions exercise speaking in tongues. The poor logic says, “…surely God is not giving a miraculous confirmation of paganism.” I say that counterfeits only exist because of the genuine nature of the original.
The promise was not only to Apostles. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter understood that the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit that was evidenced and accompanied by speaking in an unlearned language was premised upon the prophecy of Joel. Joel did not make the promise exclusively to the Apostles. He made it to sons, daughters, young, old, male and female servants.
The author states that Acts 2:7 is proof that only the Apostles spoke in tongues on the Day of Pentecost. “And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?'” Since the Apostles were the “men of Galilee”, and since other members of the 120 in the Upper Room were not from Jerusalem and Judea and not from Galilee, wouldn’t this prove that only the Apostles spoke in tongues? It would not, since the Galilean statement is a quotation of the Jews that were staying in Jerusalem for the feast. The biblical record attests that, true or false, the astonished Jews actually said it, not to the veracity of the statement. It could have easily been an overly generalized assumption about all the Christians since they were in the company of Galileans. In no way would an uninformed statement by anyone limit the scope of the promise of the Holy Spirit to specific recipients or exclude those that were not Galilean.
It has been assumed that the only way to speak in tongues is through the laying on of the apostles’ hands. Acts 8:18, “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money…” However, this passage is a statement of what Simon the Magician observed without any application upon the rest of the Church. There is no reason to extrapolate such a rule of limitation from this verse… unless you want need to perfect your eisegesis (the art of forcing a text to mean what you want it to mean).
Finally, the Bible says, “as for tongues, they will cease.” The theology book pulls these six words out of context and applies them to the end of the Apostolic age. Take a look at the passage in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” It is clearly a passage about eternity, about heaven. When we get to heaven, there will be no need to speak in tongues. They will cease.
Recently, a conference speaker said,
“If your experience is exalted above God’s Word, you are wrong.”
In my opinion, this was the most important statement that I heard at the ministers’ conference.
The conference speaker led pastors in an organized session of practicing spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, visions, laying on of hands, and other experiences of inspired speech and prayer often associated with the Pentecostal baptism in the Holy Spirit. Imagine a meeting room filled with ministers praying in unknown languages and then taking turns speaking any message that God may have placed in their heart. There were all kinds of statements being made by the participating ministers. Some offered direct quotes of Scripture. Some intended to encourage and uplift the hearers. Others intended to admonish us. However, in all that diversity, I did not hear one minister make a statement contradictory to Scripture.
The Prophetic Experiences of Two Different Groups: A Comparison
I wish this were true of other meetings in which the participants were encouraged to speak prophetically. Awhile back, in a different setting, my wife and I were eavesdropping on a class for a few minutes. The leader asked the students to listen to the Lord and then speak out what God placed in their hearts. Almost every statement was foolish. One student spoke into the microphone that God wanted her to pray to a dead saint. The leader nodded in agreement and spoke affirmation into the mic. The leader was encouraging the students to seek an experience with God that was, in fact, a revelation of God apart from Scripture.
Was there a difference between the two different groups? What led to such different outcomes?
The first group, the ministers, were all life-long students of the Bible. They were committed to daily reading of the Word. They all had practiced memorization of Scripture with the intent that God’s Word was grafted in to their hearts. Each minister had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit as prescribed and described in Scripture.
The second group, the students, were novices without any working knowledge of God’s Word. They had not committed Scripture to memory. Their hearts were filled with silly ideas or even carnal thoughts. Some just wanted to say something to make the teacher happy. The participants had not experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Some of them had never even professed salvation through Jesus Christ.
The second group was being encouraged to have an experience, a personal revelation from God. They were doing what the leader asked of them, speaking from what was in their hearts, and the contents reflected exactly what was in their hearts.
The group of ministers possessed hearts saturated daily and filled with God’s Word. They had a desire to tell forth God’s Word. (Prophecy is the forth-telling of God’s Word. We learned that back in Bible college.)
One group spoke from their Scripture-saturated hearts as the Holy Spirit led them. The other group spoke from their own unregenerate soul, human intellect and carnal imagination.
God wants to speak from hearts saturated by His Word.
I have a book written by one of those television evangelists, Charting Your Course By the Dream in Your Heart. “Inside this book is a gold mine of information that will help you develop your full potential and bring into reality your purpose in life.” Yikes. Much of the Bible is about how to stop following your own will, your own heart, because God wants us to learn how to follow His heart. (See Luke 22:42.)
In my opinion, a good way to start a cult is by teaching unfit people to act as leaders. If a person is a non-believer or a new believer (1 Timothy 5:22), don’t encourage or expect them to draw from a deep well and come up with a full bucket. Instead of encouraging them to speak out, let’s ask unfit people to listen quietly and respectfully. (Compare James 1:19 and James 1:21.)
God speaks from a heart that has been faithfully filled with His Word, from a heart that has faithfully listened to His Spirit, from a heart that is dead to sin and alive to God. (See Colossians 3:1-3.)