“Description and not prescription”: Cleverly disguised cessationism which cripples the Church in fulfilling the Great Commission


Some evangelical servants of God will teach that certain passages of Scripture are to be interpreted today as “description” only and not a “prescription” for what we are to do in the current dispensation. This of course can apply to sections of the Old Testament, for example, the historical accounts of Israel engaging in physical battle against her enemies. Such accounts can rightly be taken by New Testament believers as “description” only and of course not meant as commands for the Church to engage her enemies in physical warfare.

A very serious problem arises for the Great Commission when certain passages from Acts are also designated as “description and not prescription.” There we can read several accounts where powerful miraculous healings resulted in multitudes of gentiles turning to Jesus Christ. If we deem such accounts of the miraculous providing evidence for the gospel as merely “description” of events which took place long ago, we are saying that today we should not expect to witness the same miracles when the gospel is preached.  We will not be encouraged to ask why the miracles recorded in Acts as confirmation of the gospel are generally not witnessed today we preach the gospel to those who never heard. We won’t ask why within a few centuries after Acts the great miracles confirming the gospel faded away.

We won’t ask why after a long two thousand years the Great Commission has not yet been fulfilled—this despite the early disciples two millennial ago believing that the Lord’s return was near (e.g., James 5:8). 

We won’t ask why in India there are now six or seven times more Muslims than Christians even though the gospel arrived there about 700 years before Islam. We can simply sweep this scandalous fact under the rug.

But if we evangelicals dare to consider that the accounts in Acts of the powerful miracles are actually “prescription” for the Church today when the gospel is preached, then we will need to ask some painful questions. Why are there relatively so few miracles today on the mission field when the gospel is preached to those who never heard? In Acts the early disciples faced the same challenge as they took the gospel beyond Jerusalem to evangelize the idolatrous Greeks and Romans who worshiped false gods.

If the Acts accounts are in fact “prescription” for us today, then who is to blame for the lack of the miraculous today when the gospel is presented to resistant Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, and those who believe in and practice witchcraft?

If indeed God is not to “blame” (as is actually implied by the teaching of cessationism), then there is only one party left to blame—the Church. We must face this painful and yes, even embarrassing conclusion.

How is the Church to blame?

If we examine how the Church today ministers to the sick—and compare it to how Jesus taught and commanded his disciples to heal the sick in the gospels and as they continued to do in Acts—we will uncover a day vs. night contrast. Jesus taught and commanded his disciples to heal the sick miraculously with the supernatural power and authority he had given them to proclaim the kingdom of God. But today if we even dare to minister to the sick when sharing the gospel, we only dare to pray and ask God to perform the healing if it’s His will—and after that of course we just leave the results up to Him. That is traditional healing prayer. The contrast between that and what Jesus taught in the gospels is disheartening when viewed in terms of its paralyzing effect on evangelism to gospel-resistant peoples. The practice of traditional healing prayer lacks support from New Testament Scripture—especially when the context involves sharing the gospel with those who never heard.

If we evangelicals are honest to admit that the miracles in Acts are not description but in fact prescription for us today, then we can begin to see a restoration of Acts today on the mission field.

Continuing to cling to the “description” excuse will only preserve the crippling of the Church in the area of missions during these last days—when the Great Commission must soon be fulfilled.

 

 

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