Does ‘Cessationist’ offer a valid defense of its position? While admitting that I am by no means unbiased, I believe it does. Before it offers any substantial critique, it explains why there is solid evidence within Scripture that God meant for the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit to operate for a time, but then to cease. The film does this by showing the rarity of miracles in the Bible and the fact that they were grouped around certain crucial periods of redemptive history, by examining key passages that offer teaching about the use of gifts and the sufficiency of Scripture, and by drawing conclusions from the obvious decline of the gifts through the progressive narrative of Scripture. It makes a strong positive case for its position.
The debate about the continuation or cessation of the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit shows no signs of abating or of coming to a resolution. This is true within the wider church and true also within the narrower group who hold to Calvinistic theology. The debate began soon after the coalescing of what became known as “New Calvinism” and it extends today past its recent rupture. Some insist that the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit—prophecy, healing, and tongues—have ceased and base their view on Scriptural proof; others insist that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit are still operative and base their view on Scriptural proof. Additionally, both base their view on experience (or lack thereof). Two positions, two convictions, and two sets of experiences—yet only one can be correct.
New to the discussion is Cessationist, a two-hour documentary film directed by Les Lanphere (Calvinist, Spirit & Truth). As evidenced by the name, this film does not mean to provide arguments for competing perspectives while allowing the viewer to evaluate and choose between them. Rather, it is a defense of the cessationist position and a critique of continuationism. It makes its argument through a script written and narrated by David Lovi, interviews with those who hold to the cessationist position (e.g. Joel Beeke, Phil Johnson, Steven Lawson), and an abundance of videos by continuationist teachers and leaders.
I will tip my cards from the outset and go on record as a convinced cessationist. But as such I always feel the need to add this crucial but often misunderstood clarification: Cessationists believe that God can continue to perform miracles, and not merely that he can but that he does. And so we do pray that God would act in miraculous ways; we do follow Scriptural instructions by having elders lay hands on the sick and pray for them; we do see him work in out-of-the-ordinary ways. What we do not believe is that God continues to distribute the spiritual gift of prophecy, the spiritual gift of healing, or the spiritual gift of tongues. Hence, while there may be extraordinary actions on God’s part, he no longer distributes the extraordinary gifts.