Cessationism, A Protestant Idea

An interesting thought, from Sherry Weddell at the Catherine of Siena Institute:

In 1970, only 16% of non Catholic, non-Orthodox Christians qualified as renewalists. By 2000, 60% of Reformation heritage Christians in the world were renewalists. And a significant percentage of the remaining 40%, who would not formally qualify as renewalists, have nonetheless absorbed some of their ideas and practices. The part of the world where Christianity is most obviously faltering, such as Europe, has the fewest number of renewalists while Latin America and Asia have the most. The United States is the western country with the largest number (31%). (A detailed look at the global growth of the renewal is available in the World Christian Encyclopedia, pages 19-21).

This is especially significant because cessationism – the theological conviction that the miracles of the apostolic age ceased when the full canon of Scripture become available as a source of revelation and guidance – is a Protestant idea. Cessationism never made much sense to Catholic or Orthodox Christians who continued to expect the saints to work miracles, but it was the norm among non-Pentecostal Protestants only a generation ago. As a baby Baptist in southern Mississippi, I was taught that things like speaking in tongues and miraculous healings were demonic manifestations. In the 80’s, many evangelical mission agencies still would not accept charismatic candidates.

Today, it is a rare American or Latin or Asian or African Protestant indeed who holds to strict cessationism. They aren’t necessarily going to be speaking in tongues anytime soon, but even the most cautious are usually open to the possibility of divine healing. This can’t help but strongly affect our ecumenical dialogue with our Reformed heritage brothers and sisters.

One of the things that facilitated my transition into the Church of God a quarter century ago was the fact that I came from Roman Catholicism (and originally from the Episcopal Church) rather than a Reformed church.  Although its attitude towards the charismatic gifts (to say nothing of speaking in tongues) is complicated, the RCC has never abandoned the reality of the miraculous, even while at the same time upholding Christianity’s premier intellectual tradition.

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