Some Christians hold that the miraculous gifts (prophecy, healing, miracles) have ceased. They divide time into certain eras (dispensations) where God used miraculous gifts for a specific season and purpose. Now, having the Bible, they claim that we do not need these gifts any longer. This group are the cessationists.
I am not one of those of hold to that view. Paul says clearly:
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
Cessations have quenched the Spirit. They put him in a box that tells him what he can do or not do. If the Spirit chooses to do something not in their manual, they attribute it to the Devil. This is extremely dangerous, one that the Pharisees made in Jesus’s day. They accused Jesus of using the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons, to perform his miracles. Have some done the same today?
Paul has a message for us today. He tells us not to quench the Spirit or despise prophecies. Instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater as cessationists do, we are to test prophecies. Does it align with God’s word and character? If so, keep it. If not, discard it.
As a Methodist, I turn to John Wesley and his views towards spiritual gifts. He recorded:
By reflecting on an odd book which I had read in this journey, “The General Delusion of Christians with regard to Prophecy,” I was fully convinced of what I had long suspected,
1. That the Montanists, in the second and third centuries, were real, scriptural Christians; and,
2. That the grand reason why the miraculous gifts were so soon withdrawn, was not only that faith and holiness were well-nigh lost; but that dry, formal, orthodox men began even then to ridicule whatever gifts they had not themselves, and to decry them all as either madness or imposture.
– August 15, 1750.
Wesley believed that gifts didn’t cease because God took it away. It ceased because Christians didn’t believe God worked that way any longer. In contrast, the Montanists were like modern charismatics who lived ascetic lives. Wesley believed their lives were a true reflection of scriptural Christianity.
In Wesley’s sermon, “The More Excellent Way”, he unpacks why miraculous gifts have “disappeared” from the Church:
It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were common in the church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian; and, from a vain imagination of promoting the Christian cause thereby, heaped riches and power and honour upon the Christians in general, but in particular upon the Christian clergy.
From this time they almost totally ceased; very few instances of the kind were found. The cause of this was not, (as has been vulgarly supposed,) `because there was no more occasion for them,’ because all the world was become Christians. This is a miserable mistake; not a twentieth part of it was then nominally Christian.
The real cause was, `the love of many,’ almost of all Christians, so called, was ‘waxed cold.’ The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other heathens. The Son of Man, when he came to examine his church, could hardly `find faith upon the earth’. This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian church; because the Christians were turned heathens again, and had only a dead form left.
To summarise, Constantine’s joining of church and state sucked the Spirit out. Now everyone flocked to become a Christian, but mostly in name. Wesley notes that these nominal Christians did not have the Spirit of God. He goes on to argue that the church wasn’t even Christian but heathen! No wonder the Spirit no longer resided there.
Let us not fall into the same state today. Let us not make the same mistake of limiting the Spirit. One day, Jesus was back in his hometown and he could not do many miracles – not because he couldn’t but because the people didn’t believe he could.
And [Jesus] did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.
If we believe the miraculous gifts have ceased, the works of Jesus and the apostles have no relevance to us today. They have nothing to teach us. But if gifts have not stopped, let us read the Bible with new eyes and ask God to work in any way that he wants to. When people do not believe, the Spirit will not do anything.