Cessationists: Those who imagine miracles stopped.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 June 2021
CESSATIONIST sɛ'seɪ.ʃən.ist noun. One who believes divine miracles and prophecy ceased in the past. (And may happen again in future, but currently don’t.)
2. One who believes miracles and prophecy never happened; that all biblical descriptions of them are fantasies, exaggerations, misreports, or lies.
3. Having to do with a cessationist’s beliefs.
[Cessationism sɛ'seɪ.ʃən.iz.əm noun.]

When you read the bible, y’might notice there are a ton of miracles in it.

Jesus performed many. So’d the prophets of the Old Testament. Since Jesus empowers his followers with the Holy Spirit Ac 2.38-39 —same as himself Ac 10.38 and the Old Testament prophets Zc 7.12 —he told his students they’d perform miracles just like his, if not greater. Jn 14.12 Arguably his followers did exactly that, as retold in Acts.

And if his followers kept that up, certainly the world should be filled with miracles—just on the basis of pure numbers, ’cause a third of the planet identifies as Christian. Instead of one supernaturally-empowered Jesus the Nazarene, who was limited to the Galilee or Jerusalem or wherever else he traveled, what we should see is every Christian everywhere with the Spirit-empowered ability to prophesy, cure the sick, and perform Jesus-level wonders.

I could spend this article ranting why this isn’t so. (I’d mostly blame a lack of faith.) But not today; today I’m gonna discuss the Christians who believe it shouldn’t be so.

Y’see, they insist miracles ceased. God stopped doing them. He no longer empowers them. They don’t happen anymore. It’s why we call such people cessationist: They happened once, but not now.

We find them all over Christendom. I grew up in churches full of cessationists. I’ve since visited churches where the leaders, and the people actively involved in the church, for certain aren’t cessationist… but the rank-and-file attendees largely are. They have their doubts about whether God does such things anymore, and sometimes these doubts metastasize into full-on miracle-denying Spirit-blaspheming cessationism.

Yes, Spirit-blaspheming. Because whenever you tell a cessationist about a present-day miracle, most of the time their knee-jerk response is, “God doesn’t do that sort of thing anymore, so I don’t know what you saw, but it wasn’t God. Somebody tricked you. Maybe the devil.” And when certain Pharisees claimed the very same thing about Jesus’s miracles, he warned ’em against blaspheming the Spirit Lk 12.10 because it’s precisely what they were doing. It’s precisely what most cessationists do.

So yeah, it’s a problem. Not for God, ’cause the Holy Spirit is hardly hindered by these people. Not for continuationists (well, most of the time) ’cause again, the Spirit will do his thing in spite of them. It’s for newbies and pagans who don’t know what to think… and for all these Spirit-denying Christians who clearly don’t know the Spirit, who likely aren’t following him, and who might have no real relationship with Jesus at all. Which is gonna suck at the End.

So let’s look at ’em in a little more depth.

Types of cessationists.

I lump ’em into categories, based on behavior and philosophy. Some of them can be reasoned with. Some, not so much.

MATERIALISTS. First there are the folks who don’t believe God ever did miracles. Not even in the bible. He didn’t switch them off; they were never on.

What about the miracles in the bible? They figure the bible gets ’em all wrong; there are natural explanations for everything. When God parted the Red Sea, it didn’t happen supernaturally; the wind blew all night, and uncovered a shallow land bridge which the Hebrews could cross. When the Hebrews saw a pillar of cloud and fire, they were really just seeing the plume of an active volcano. When Jesus came back from the dead, he hadn’t really died; he fainted on the cross and the cold tomb revived him. (Oh, and he hadn’t really been stabbed in the heart by a Roman who was making sure he was dead.) Everything in the bible has a perfectly rational explanation.

Well… except the fact everyone was apparently lying.

Lying when they testified to miracles. Lying when they said they couldn’t help but believe, after what they’d seen. Lying when they pointed to miracles and said if you don’t trust them personally, trust the miracles. Jn 10.38 Lying or seriously self-delusional—but lying is the simpler explanation, and turns the bible into lies, top to bottom. You know, like the atheists say.

This being the case, I really don’t understand why materialists continue to consider themselves Christian. Unless they’re only bother with church because they like the trappings—but have no faith at all.

SOFT CESSATIONISTS. Or so they actually call themselves. What they mean by “soft cessationism” is they’re not wholly cessationist: They believe miracles can happen. Who are they to say God can’t perform one? God’s almighty and can do as he wishes, and that includes miracles. So they’re never gonna rule out miracles altogether. They’re not stupid.

But they are gonna equivocate all over the place: “God totally can, if he wants. But he doesn’t.”

On what basis do they say he doesn’t? Reasonable doubt.

See, too many of us continuationists totally suck at basic discernment. When we hear of a miracle, we let way too much slide. We let too many fake prophets, whose track records are lower than MLB batting averages, keep right on prophesying to our churches, and we keep going to their conferences and buying their books. Too many people shout out, “I’m healed!” but never get the miracle confirmed by actual doctors, and often turn out to be just as sick as before. We’re so thrilled about a potential miracle, we never fact-check it, or hold it up to the scrutiny the scriptures demand.

So I get why there are soft cessationists. They’ve seen so many fake miracles, they don’t trust any of ’em. It’s the very same reason there are agnostics: Too many wormy apples makes you think the whole basket is wormy.

Honestly, I’d be on this team myself if God hadn’t spoken to me. Or had prophets confirm he spoke to me. Or cured me. Or baptized me in the Spirit. I’ve personally experienced miracles. I don’t entirely know about the other miracles Christians testify to, but I know my experiences.

So I give soft cessationists some slack for their unbelief. Of course they don’t believe; they haven’t seen. It’s awesome when you don’t see, and believe anyway, Jn 20.29 but let’s not ask the impossible of ’em. That’s not our job anyway. That’s the Holy Spirit’s.

DARBYISTS. Sometimes they call themselves “premillennial dispensationalists,” but in general they follow the teachings of John Nelson Darby, an Anglican pastor who believed God didn’t do miracles and had to come up with a rational, theological explanation for his doubts. His explanation was dispensationalism, that God worked in different ways in different eras, and in this era there are no miracles. In the last era there were; during the future great tribulation there will be; but not now.

Why not? Ask a Darbyist, and nine times out of 10 they’ll tell you it’s because miracles draw way too much attention away from bible.

No, I’m not kidding. Apparently God doesn’t want a personal relationship with humans, and instead wants us to know him by proxy. This proxy would be the bible. (Not the Holy Spirit. He exists; he’s totally there; but Darbyists reduce his job to nudge us to read bible, and make us feel “aha moments” whenever we do.) God only spoke through his prophets He 1.1 until he could get the bible completed, and now that we have it—now that “when that which is perfect is come,” 1Co 13.10 KJV —God stopped speaking. No more prophecy. Nor miracles.

I know, right? And this is why Darbyists dismiss miracle stories—with one exception. Whenever missionaries share miracle stories, sometimes they let these stories slide. Y’see, they figure the natives have no bible. None was translated into their local tongue. Without a bible, how’s God to get through to them? So till they get a proper bible translation (preferably with Darby or Scofield’s notes in it), God temporarily turns the miracles back on. But once they get bibles, God switches ’em back off. There; that’s better.

I don’t see how it’s better. If it were me, much as I love the bible, I’d much rather have God cure people of AIDS from time to time. (Like he does.) Just sayin’.

HARD CESSATIONISTS. I add the “hard” label. This is the usual sort, and no they don’t make concessions for God like the soft cessationists, nor concessions for missions like the Darbyists. None of this “God could do miracles”—they insist God absolutely does no such thing. Miracles stopped, period. May not even be turned back on for the End Times; that’s how done they are.

What about miracle stories? Hard cessationists dismiss them altogether as hoaxes, internet rumors, lies, and devilry. Just like the Jerusalem scribes:

Mark 3.22 KJV
And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.

Any Christian who claims to prophesy, cure the sick, or throw out demons, is faking it. If there’s any supernatural power to be seen, it’s either the product of electronics or devils. Because God doesn’t do miracles, so it’s not God.

Like atheists, cessationists are pretty confident they’re correct. A little insanely confident, considering they’re blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

Clearly I’m not one of those Christians who waffle, “Oh, they’re coming awfully close to blaspheming the Spirit.” Nope; they’re full-on blaspheming him. The Holy Spirit does something, and their response is to claim he’s really Satan. If you don’t consider that blasphemy, man are you screwed.

On what basis do they insist miracles stopped? Usually they quote bible—out of context, of course. Darbyists borrow their proof texts from time to time. But their usual arguments don’t actually come from verses. They hit these bullet points—which are so easy to smack away like gnats, I did so after each of ’em.

NO MORE APOSTLES. “God only granted miracles to the prophets and apostles—and there are no more prophets and apostles. They only existed in the first century, to get the church started Ep 2.20-22 and write the bible. They did their job, and God appointed no replacements. So when they passed, so did the miracles.”

If you think God turned off prophecy, stands to reason you’d think Jesus stopped making apostles. Most continuationists don’t agree: Jesus still gives people missions to accomplish, so that makes ’em apostles.

“Well if they’re apostles,” argue cessationists, “they’d be able to write bible.” No; Jesus didn’t give ’em any mission to write bible. Writing bible is part of the cessationist definition of “apostle”; no one else’s. Not all the first apostles wrote bible, y’know; of the Twelve, there’s only Peter, John, and Matthew. Not every Hebrew prophet wrote scripture either; Elijah didn’t. That mission is done, and if any present-day apostle tries their hand at writing new scriptures, they won’t get far. Or they’ll found the Mormons, but they’ll be considered way more heretic than orthodox.

MIRACLES SERVE NO MORE PURPOSE. Cessationists claim the only reason God granted miracles was to confirm his guys: The Old Testament prophets, the Lord Jesus, and his apostles. They needed proof they worked for God; miracles were the proof. But with no more prophets, apostles, and Messiah, no more miracles are necessary.

I call rubbish. God does the miraculous for all sorts of reasons. Not just to validate his messengers; that’d be ridiculous. Did the LORD free the Hebrews from Egypt all for the sake of validating Moses and Aaron, or validating his relationships with Abraham, Isaac, and Israel? Absolutely not; he freed ’em to have a relationship with them! It’s like saying the only reason he saves people is to validate Jesus. Even Jesus said that’s not why: He saves us because he loves us. Jn 3.16

NEW MIRACLES? NOT COOL. A common cessationist complaint is today’s miracles don’t look like the bible’s miracles. When people pray in tongues, they’re not doing exactly as the apostles did at Pentecost. When our prophets speak, they’re not as infallible as the bible’s prophets; we should’ve stoned them to death years ago. Charismatic churches don’t bother to follow the biblical commands on miraculous gifts; therefore they doubt ’em all.

Okay, the crack about today’s prophets’ track records is fair. Still: Cessationists presume only they know what bible-times miracles looked like… and how would they know? Now we have to live up to their defective imagination?

They also claim since Christians perform miracles irresponsibly, God must not be empowering them. Forgetting the entire point of 1 Corinthians 12-14 was to correct Corinth for performing them irresponsibly. If it’s impossible to do ’em wrong, there’d have been nothing for Paul to correct!

CESSATIONIST CHURCH FATHERS. According to cessationists, certain ancient Christians—the “church fathers,” like John Chrysostom and Augustine—said the miracles stopped. So there you go.

And same as the Sadducees who denied miracles, Ac 23.8 there have always been cessationists. Including cessationist church fathers. But there are far more writings of the church fathers which testify to miracles, and cessationists are only cherry-picking which of them to quote. For that matter they’re cherry-picking Augustine: He has an entire chapter in his City of God about the miracles of his day. Augustine was no cessationist!

Well. Just because I can easily dismiss cessationist arguments, don’t get the idea you can easily flip ’em and get ’em to believe in miracles. Hard cessationists believe as they do for other reasons:

  • Some grew up cessationist, and think that’s what Christians have to believe.
  • Some spent tens of thousands of dollars on a cessationist seminary, and don’t want it to be money wasted.
  • Some have their entire reputation entangled with cessationism, and have far too much pride to renounce anything they’ve ever taught.
  • Some would like to believe… but they’re afraid that means they’d have to turn charismatic. And charismatics are just too weird for them.
  • Some are terrified of the very idea of a present and active God. It’d mean they actually have to deal with him—and they were hoping to put that off till death or the End Times. Cessationism is a way more comfortable idea.
  • Some aren’t Christian. Same as materialists, they can’t swallow the bible’s miracles either. But if they dare rip on the bible’s miracles, their churches would kick ’em out… so they rip on the miracles they can get away with mocking.
  • Some used to believe in miracles, but got burned by frauds. Now they trust none of them.

Much easier for them to believe God stopped doing miracles altogether, and abandoned his people.

No, cessationists would never describe it as abandonment. After all, God left us with one another! And bibles.

But imagine a baby, abandoned on the doorstep of a loving family, with a note attached to it. Imagine that baby grows up, finds her birth mother, and asks, “Why’d you abandon me” Birth mom replies, “I didn’t! I left you with a family. I left you with a note.” Yeah… but she left. Doesn’t matter how she spins the story; it’s still abandonment.

Same with cessationists. God said he’d never abandon us. He 13.5 They say he has. But they’ll never use the A-word… and don’t have to, because they can call it cessationism, which isn’t really abandonment in their minds. Not so long that we have bibles and fellow Christians.


Dealing with cessationists.

Since cessationists come at miracles from the very same angle nontheists come at God, I find it easiest to lump ’em together. As I said above: The reason they don’t believe, is either ’cause they used to believe but got burned, or ’cause they lack experiences. They never saw a miracle. Or think they never saw a miracle; they figured out how to rationalize it away.

The solution to their problem? You don’t need to argue ’em into believing in miracles. Arguments won’t work anyway. They’re usually dead-set in their convictions. What we gotta do is give ’em miracles.

You’ve seen miracles. You’ve got testimonies. Share them. You’ve heard God; talk about what he told you. If the Holy Spirit drops something in you at that time, go right ahead and prophesy over them. They’ve got doubts; we gotta kill those doubts.

Nothing discombobulates a cessationist like hearing a prophecy about them that’s totally true—and made up of information the prophet can’t possibly know. Fun to watch, too. But be kind; they’re gonna freak out a little.

Now I’ve been told we shouldn’t do this. ’Cause, they claim, Jesus didn’t do it: When people demanded a miraculous sign from him, he didn’t waste his time with them. Mk 8.12 And yes that’s true—but it’s not true of every situation. When Jesus dealt with those people, he knew he was dealing with critics who wouldn’t change their minds, no matter what he showed them. Who were braced for him to do something mindblowing, which they’d then dismiss.

What I’m talking about is blindsiding cessationists. They won’t see it coming. ’Cause sometimes Jesus did that too.

Luke 5.24-26 KJV
24 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. 25 And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. 26 And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things to day.

Don’t do it if the Spirit tells you not to, but otherwise don’t hesitate to introduce a cessationist to their God. They really need to meet him!

I also remind you: Jesus’s student Thomas insisted he wouldn’t believe in Jesus’s resurrection till he saw Jesus for himself. And Jesus did come though on that one. Jn 20.24-29 God doesn’t mind verifying himself through further miracles—when he knows it’s not gonna fall upon deaf ears and blind eyes. When the Holy Spirit empowers us to go for it, do. What’s the harm in taking the shot?

Still, don’t be surprised when you show ’em something really impressive, and it doesn’t faze them whatsoever. Your cessationist may nonetheless stubbornly insist on not believing. Lots of cessationists are that kind of stubborn. Remember, they’ve been blaspheming the Spirit for years. Perform any miracle in front of ’em, and most of the time cessationists are just gonna do blaspheme him again: They’ll claim the devil was behind it. Yes, even exorcisms. That’s how stiff-necked they get.

I suspect that’s most of the reason people say don’t try out a miracle: They’re afraid cessationists will blaspheme the Spirit some more, and it’ll send ’em to hell. I already explained why blasphemy doesn’t work that way: It’s only permanent with the persistently unrepentant. Paul almost certainly blasphemed the Spirit 1Ti 1.13 before Jesus turned him around. Here’s a chance for him to turn them around too, so I say take the shot.