Cessationism and Continuationism: 5 Simple Meaningful Pointers to Consider

Cessationism and Continuationism: 5 Simple Meaningful Pointers to Consider

The debate about cessationism and continuationism is one that has plagued the Christian church for a long time in the modern era. I was drawn to a related discussion recently on Facebook with an ex-classmate over the hunger for supernatural and thought that the time was nigh to reflect upon this topic.

However, as cessationism and continuationism are two theologically loaded terms, let’s define them first before we carry on with our thoughts on these two schools of thought on the nature of supernatural manifestations in the church.

Definition of Cessationism and Continuationism

In general, a cessationist is someone (generally within the Christian church) who thinks that certain miraculous spiritual gifts, such as divine healing, speaking in tongues, and prophecy, ceased when the apostles died and the canon of the Scripture was completed. They would argue that these gifts were only given during the time of the apostles, as signs to authenticate the apostles during the early preaching of the gospel.

cessationism and continuationism

On the other hand, a continuationist would believe otherwise. In general, most Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians would believe in continuationism – that the so-called miraculous spiritual gifts are still active today and God continues to use them to build up the church. And this is the theological background that I have grown up in. I have in fact written about tongues in this blog here.

However, there is no need for me to push my conviction across in this post. Volumes of literature have been written on such subjects. This topic will generally be adequately addressed in good systematic theology books such as Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. My aim is to bring across some thoughts and reflections that provide some balance into the discussion, with continuationism as the basic assumption of my reflections.

1. The ministering of miraculous spiritual gifts is to edify the church

It is clear from the outset that the practice of spiritual gifts in the church, miraculous or non-miraculous, is to build up and edify the church. In the treatment of spiritual gifts in his epistles, Paul has always discussed these spiritual gifts in the context of the church being the body of Christ (Rom 12:3-8, 1 Cor 12:12-31, Eph 4:11-14).

Without going into too many details and exegesis into these passages, these passages suggest that the person who is given a particular spiritual gift by God is meant to use the gift to build up the brothers and sisters around him in the church. It is not used for personal gain/purpose, nor in a context outside of God’s household. Consequentially, it also does not mean that having a miraculous spiritual gift such as healing or prophecy is a sign of maturity.

In fact, if one reads the three references carefully, you will find that discussion about loving the people in the church proceeds from the discussion about spiritual gifts. There is thus a sense that the exercise of these gifts cannot be a self-motivated one.

2. The experience of miraculous spiritual gifts should point the person to Jesus Christ

In the debate between cessationism and continuation, one concern is that a church that emphasizes too much on the miraculous spiritual gifts will result in becoming imbalanced. In fact, one fear is that people will begin seeking after the supernatural experiences without knowing that they are seeking them as an end by itself.

I have personally seen this happening to people who were attending conferences after conferences seeking after prophecies. There was one brother whom I was close to and he used to blog frequently that he was not receiving enough prophecies. And a sister who left the church many years back claimed that our church was imbalanced for “not emphasizing on the supernatural” – the irony is that we are a Pentecostal church.

But my senior pastor, who is the one who taught the church to be open to the miraculous spiritual gifts, has shared that we could experience the supernatural for all we want but if these experiences do not point us to the person of Christ, then they simply remain an experience.


I found this advice a sound one for those who are embroiled in the debate between cessationism and continuationism. In fact, I will expand it further to say that it should point us towards the Trinitarian God of Christianity. As Paul has exhorted the Corinthians, there are different kinds of gifts but they originate from the same God (1 Cor 12:4-6). Furthermore, if the spiritual gifts are to build up the church, then what is the church supposed to be built up to become?

And I will posit that the answer is that the church is being built up to become more Christ-like – to bear the reflection of the Trinitarian God in our ministries and personal lives. Thus, the experience of miraculous spiritual gifts should eventually point us to God and lead to a desire to grow more Christ-like.

3. The ministering of miraculous spiritual gifts should be in accordance with the Scripture

Another point in the debate between cessationism and continuationism is that the canon and perfection of the Scripture mark the end of the miraculous outworking within the church. Without going deep into the details, I will posit that the heart of the argument places a strong emphasis on the sufficiency of Scripture on the believers’ spirituality.

And the ministering of miraculous spiritual gifts, or non-miraculous ones, must be benchmarked against the Scripture. In other words, the revelations of the Scripture should be the main reference to whatever revelations that one might receive from the ministering of the miraculous spiritual gifts. For example, if one receives a “prophetic revelation” that asks him to divorce his wife, he should be careful and assess the revelation. Likewise, those who administer these gifts should also be equipped with a strong foundation of Scripture.

Another aspect of this is in the exercise of such gifts in the church setting. This is being spelt out in Paul’s words in 1 Cor 12-14, where he was admonishing the church on the haphazard use of the spiritual gifts within the church. Suffice to say that we need to be careful and not let the administering of such gifts overtake the order of service proceeding – to the point that the service becomes just about the miracles and nothing else.

That being said, we also need to be careful about taking “proof text” and claim that certain miraculous workings are based on the Scripture. For example, I heard of one ministry which claimed that the Holy Spirit helped them to find lost things, because Jesus came to “seek the lost.” This is inaccurate use of the text and definitely not in accordance to the Scripture.

4. We are called to be faithful with the spiritual gifts

The second last reflection is that we need to be faithful with our spiritual gifts, miraculous or not. The point is simple – if all the gifts originate from God, then why should we place special emphasis on certain gifts and downplay the importance. After all, we are called to become members of the body of Christ.

The implication is this, that whatever gifts we are given, we need to steward them well. The person who stewards the gift of administration 100% is certainly more faithful than the person who stewards the gift of divine healing at 10% capacity. We learn this from the parable of the bags of gold (Matt 25:14-30).

5. The strengths of cessationism and continuationism can go hand in hand

Coming to our last point, it must be said that we need to learn to appreciate the strengths of cessationism and continuationism. The former, who are usually of Reformed and Dispensational persuasion, tend to be traditionally stronger in their regard for Christian doctrines and accurate understanding of the Word. That is the reason why we tend to find more authors from this camp writing books on systematic theology (think B.B Warfield and Norman Giesler).

However, it is generally acknowledged that the latter, who are generally the Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians, tend to have more practical experience in the use of spiritual gifts (especially the miraculous ones), which cessationists could benefit from. Hence, drawing from the strengths of both camps, the church could gain a more holistic trinitarian spirituality. As the Singaporean Pentecostal theologian, Simon Chan, argued, the Christian spirituality has to be trinitarian to be holistic and this spirituality is open to “the powerful workings of God the Spirit in signs and wonders as well as in holy familiarity.”

This thus concludes my reflection on cessationism and continuationism. Let me know in the comment below on your thoughts regarding the miraculous spiritual gifts of God.


I graduated from the National University of Singapore where I came to know Christ during his undergraduate days after studying the historicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. My personal mission is to lead adult Christ disciples to engage the world with sound and biblical reasoning. And I am married to my pretty wife Angelina.

4 Comments on “Cessationism and Continuationism: 5 Simple Meaningful Pointers to Consider

  1. Huanyan – Agreed and appreciative of your comments.
    I have now over the last couple of decades emphasized the unity we need in the Body and suggestions for how to bridge the chasms.
    I wrote a book in 2006 that I am in the process of revising for re-publishing in early 2022 – “Soul Baptism.” It addresses these issues in a manner you may find of interest!

  2. Excellent article; you found a way to get right to the important points ‘succinctly’–which is hard to do. If the Lord leads you to write a book I’ll be sure to buy it.

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