In Christianity, cessationism is the doctrine that spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophecy and healing ceased with the original twelve apostles. This is generally opposed to continuationism, which teaches that the Holy Spirit may bestow the spiritual gifts on persons other than the original twelve apostles at any time.


Cessationism has various forms and can be classified in different ways depending on the questions and issues on which Cessationists disagree. Cessationism can be classified in two ways: (i) with regard to the question of a reemergence of the gifts and (ii) with regard to the types of justification for cessationism.[1]

Cessationism can also be divided with regard to the question whether God still and occasionally performs miracles and healings or provides miraculous guidance. Cessationists are divided on following issues:

  1. Can we expect genuine miracles, healings and miraculous guidance from God in our churches?
  2. Is there a possibility of a reemergence of the gifts?
  3. Difference between types of justification for cessationism.

With regard to the presence of miracles and healings

With regard to the reemergence of the gifts

With regard to the possibility of reemergence (reappearance) of charismatic gifts, we can distinguish between two versions of cessationism:

  1. Strong cessationism
  2. Moderate cessationism

Strong cessationism

The majority of cessationists subscribe to strong cessationism, which denies the possibility of a reemergence of the sign and revelatory gifts.[3][4][5]

Strong cessationism denies the possibility of a reemergence of the gifts on grounds of principle appealing to the principle of Sola Scriptura, insisting on three propositions:[6]

  1. The completion of the canon of the Bible
  2. The infallible and sufficient authority of the Bible
  3. The perfection of the Scriptures to guide the Church

It has been argued by Peter Masters and John Whitcomb that the original function of the sign and revelatory gifts has therefore been fulfilled and they are therefore now defunct.[4][5] These authors also taught that the testimony of foreign tongues has been accomplished, as a warning to Jews and an invitation to Gentiles that the Kingdom of God is now accessible to all nations.[4] The Holy Scriptures are now complete and wholly sufficient for all the needs of a Christian worker.[4] The gifts were withdrawn with the death of the apostles and their immediate delegates, in their distinct function as witnesses to new revelation.[4]

According to a strong Cessationist, a person with a gift of power is also a prophet because healings and miracles were always signs associated with the divine confirmation of the genuineness of a prophet in the periods when God revealed new truths with respect to the doctrine.[7] A strong Cessationist might concede that prophecies might be useful in the guidance of the Church, but that this supernatural guidance ceased at the completion of the canon of the Bible.[8] This rationale leads to the view that the Church can be perfectly guided by the principles, teachings and examples of the Bible alone.

Moderate cessationism

A moderate Cessationist would likewise deny the possibility of gifts on the grounds of principle by appealing to the principle of Sola Scriptura. They would deny the existence of charismatic gifts in the Church no matter what, even in the event of seeing apparent miracles or healing. However, moderate cessationism allows for the possibility of a new charismatic period in the future. This openness to the possibility of a new charismatic period is motivated by premillennialist eschatological expectations, where it is assumed that Christ's Second Coming will occur before the establishment of Christ's millennial kingdom on Earth. Within this premillennialist conceptual framework, the Great Tribulation is seen as a future period immediately preceding Christ's Coming. A moderate Cessationist would insist that the new charismatic period is possible only during the Great Tribulation when the principle of Sola Scriptura will no longer be valid. Moderate cessationism is compatible with all premillennialist positions (pre-trib, post-trib, mid-trib and pre-wrath).[9]

The moderate Cessationist understanding of the principle of Sola Scriptura is almost identical to the strong one. A moderate Cessationist would agree with all three propositions pr. 1-3, but with an important qualification: all three propositions are valid only before the Great Tribulation. Thus, in practical terms, both strong and moderate cessationism are the same. They differ only in eschatological terms, whether the gifts will reemerge in the last days immediately preceding the time of Christ's Second Coming. The strong Cessationist eschatological view is not a premillennialist, and, thus, does not share the premillennialist conceptual framework.[10]

Biblical grounds for moderate cessationism is the reference to two powerful prophets of God, Revelation 11:3-11. According to a moderate Cessationist, events described in Revelation 11 are in the future, during the Great Tribulation. For this reason, a moderate cessationist has a ready answer to the question why the Bible is so vague about the cessation of the charismatic gifts: the Bible is obscure on this point precisely because the gifts will re-emerge during the Great Tribulation. A moderate cessationist concludes that they will absolutely end at the second coming of our Christ, at the end of the Great Tribulation.[11]

There is not much literature on moderate cessationism, but the view is propounded by Hopewell Mennonite Church of Reading, PA, and by certain Brethren groups of Christians, such as Free Brethren House Churches of Christ.[12]

With regard to its justification

Cessationism can be further differentiated with regard of what kind of justification is employed for its position.[13] Cessationism can be justified either on grounds of principle or on empirical grounds, i.e., on experience or empiria. Thus, we have two forms of cessationism:

  1. Principled cessationism
  2. Empirical cessationism

Both strong and moderate versions of cessationism belongs to principled cessationism because they appeal to the principle of Sola scriptura. Thus, their denial of the possibility of gifts is not on empirical evidence but rather on grounds of principle.

An empirical Cessationist denies the possibility of charismatic gifts on empirical grounds because he does not immediately discard an apparent miracle, healing or prophecy as counterfeit. He will rather first investigate the genuineness of the manifestation of the charismatic gift in question. In this view, no Christian group in modern times has genuine charismatic gifts because, if thoroughly investigated, later healings and other "miracles" would be shown to be false. In other words, an empirical cessationist denial is based on observation coupled with the probabilistic expectation that apparent miracles, healing or prophecies are mostly improbable.[14]

An example of the empirical form of cessationism is the view propounded by biblestudying.net. They have published a series of articles about charismatic gifts,[15] dealing with several issues concerning charismata. Their denial of the continuation of the gifts is based on their historical study of early Church practices: "the charismatic gifts did indeed decline and were eventually lost sometime between the second and fourth centuries AD".[16] Their empirical analysis demands incontrovertible evidence of continuation which will explain its conditions. In their view the gifts could have continued until Christ's return, but instead ended "sometime between the second and fourth centuries AD". Their conclusion is: "Thus, we must discard the doctrine that the gifts were supposed to pass away before Christ's return. Instead, we must accept the fact that the gifts were supposed to continue as a confirmation of sound doctrine until Christ's return but were lost as the Church deviated from that sound doctrine given by Christ to the apostles and by the apostles to the early Church of the first few centuries".[17]

Historical evidence

Spiritual gifts may be explained as false other than those contained in the Holy Scriptures according to conservative Presbyterian theologian and researcher Benjamin B. Warfield (1851–1921) who found no solid objective scientific reference of the working of miracles manifested within the mainstream church after the lifetime of the apostles. Warfield identified many attested miracles and spiritual gifts throughout church history associated with cults and mystics. Opponent theologians and researchers have pointed to stronger citations than those denounced by Warfield. Cited or omitted by each side are the below chronological references:[18]

Some other cessationist explanations about why gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased include:


Seeing therefore miracles now cease, we have no sign left whereby to acknowledge the pretended revelations or inspirations of any private man; nor obligation to give ear to any doctrine, farther than it is conformable to the Holy Scriptures, which since the time of our Saviour supply the place and sufficiently recompense the want of all other prophecy; and from which, by wise and learned interpretation, and careful ratiocination, all rules and precepts necessary to the knowledge of our duty both to God and man, without enthusiasm, or supernatural inspiration, may easily be deduced. And this Scripture is it out of which I am to take the principles of my discourse concerning the rights of those that are the supreme governors on earth of Christian Commonwealths, and of the duty of Christian subjects towards their sovereigns. —Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (III, xxxii)
Since the canon of the Scripture has been completed, and the Christian Church fully founded and established, these extraordinary gifts have ceased. —Jonathan Edwards, Charity & Its Fruits, 29

See also


  1. Aleksandar Katanovic, "The End of Charismatic Gifts," published at the website of Free Brethren House Churches of Christ, a group of Cessationist Christians.
  2. Articles on this view can be found here: Links on articles about Charismatic movement
  3. Strong cessationists belong to various denominations such as Conservative Baptist and Reformed Churches. Literature expounding strong cessationism are John F. MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos (Zondervan Publishing House, 1992); Robert L. Thomas, Understanding Spiritual Gifts (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, 1999); Walter J. Chandry, Signs of the Apostles (The Banner of Truth Trust Edinburgh, 1978).
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Masters, Peter; Whitcomb, John (Jun 1988). Charismatic Phenomenon(ISBN ). London: Wakeman. p. 113. ISBN 978-1-870855-01-3.
  5. 1 2 Masters, Peter; Wright, Verna (Feb 1988). Healing Epidemic. London: Wakeman. p. 227. ISBN 978-1870855006.
  6. Examples of Cessationists employing such argumentation is John F. Mac Arthur and Walter J. Chantry. John F. Mac Arthur's second chapter of his Charismatic Chaos is an appeal to the principle of Sola Scriptura and the closeness of the canon of the Bible as an argument for cessationism (Charismatic Chaos, Zondervan Publishing House, 1992). Walter J. Chandry's fourth section of Signs of the Apostles similarly devotes his attention to the cessationist implication of the closeness of the canon of the Bible (Signs of the Apostles, The Banner of Truth Trust Edinburgh, 1978).
  7. It is safe to say that all Cessationists agree with the perspective of the confirmatory gifts such as John F. MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos, pp. 134-141, 244 (Zondervan Publishing House, Michigan, 1992); Robert L. Thomas, Understanding Spiritual Gifts, pp. 31-33 (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, 1999); Richard B. Gaffin, "A Cessationist View," in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today - Four Views, p. 42 (Zondervan, Michigan, 1996); Walter J. Chandry, Signs of the Apostles, section 3 (The Banner of Truth Trust Edinburgh, 1978).
  8. Examples of strong cessationists who explicitly appeal to the closure of canon are Robert L. Thomas (Understanding Spiritual Gifts) and Walter J. Chandry (Signs of the Apostles).
  9. Katanovic, Aleksandar. "Moderate cessationism," in: "The End of Charismatic Gifts". Free Brethren House Church. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  10. Strong Cessationism is chiefly defended by Reformed Churches. Christian Reformed Church is generally amillennialist in its eschatology. See for instance "Eschatology" at the site of Christian Reformed Church in North America.
  11. Katanovic, Aleksandar. "Moderate Cessationism," in: "The End of Charismatic Gifts". Free Brethren House Church. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  12. The view is introduced by Aleksandar Katanovic in the article "The End of Charismatic Gifts," published first on the site http://www.house-church.net/, a site owned by Free Brethren House Churches of Christ. Free Brethren House Churches of Christ is a group of Cessationist Christians.
  13. Aleksandar Katanovic, "Various forms of Cessationism," in: "The End of Charismatic Gifts"
  14. An example of an empirical cessationist denial, see the seventh statement of the list of Statement of Beliefs of biblestudying.net, a group of empirical cessationist Christians
  15. http://biblestudying.net/topic_charismatic.html
  16. biblestudying.net, Preliminary Proof: When the Gifts Would Cease
  17. biblestudying.net, Preliminary Proof: Conclusions
  18. Foubister, Frost, Greer, Kelsey, Kydd, Ruthven, and Shogren
  19. "Ante Nicene Fathers", vol 1, Irenaeus Against Heresies, bk 2, ch. 32, sec. 4, p. 847.
  20. Contra Celsum, I, ii; III, xxiv; VII, iv, lxvii.
  21. "FathChrysHomXXIX". Piney.com. Retrieved 2014-02-01.
  22. "CHURCH FATHERS: Homily 6 on First John (Augustine)". Newadvent.org. Retrieved 2014-02-01.
  23. "CHURCH FATHERS: City of God, Book XXII (St. Augustine)". Newadvent.org. Retrieved 2014-02-01.

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