Typically we hear stories of precious missionaries who have given up everything to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth to share the gospel with those who never heard—much as the early disciples did in Acts. On the foreign mission field we then struggle to bring gospel-resistant Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and idol-worshipers to Christ as their only Lord and Savior. And then perhaps because it is so difficult to preach the gospel fruitfully to such people groups, we might also start an orphanage caring for little ones who have no hope in this life. Instead of preaching the gospel directly to the lost, we might focus on humanitarian works like feeding the poor or digging wells for their drinking water. As laudable as such works are, however, we do not see the early disciples in Acts majoring on them as a means of bringing to the lost to Jesus Christ.
In Acts rather we see the preaching of the gospel to idol-worshiping Gentiles often accompanied by powerful miraculous healings as incontrovertible evidence of the truth of the gospel—resulting in great harvests for the kingdom of God. In missions today however such miracles are not the norm—and moreover not to be expected or anticipated. Instead of preaching the gospel as the early disciples did, we are forced (unwittingly) to do good works instead as evidence of God’s love for the lost. But such good works are not convincing evidence to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and idol-worshipers that our God is the only true God and that Jesus is the only way to Him. Unbelievers can also do good works. What should the difference be? The false gods/beliefs they serve cannot do the incomparable miraculous works that the only true God did through His Son Jesus Christ as we see in the gospels and Acts.
John 14:11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.
Because of the evidence of the miracles he performed, many put their faith in Jesus in the gospels and then later in Acts as his disciples went out to preach the gospel in his name.
Sadly, foreign missionaries today struggle and do not even come near to producing fruit for the harvest as the disciples did in Acts. This very painful reality runs exactly contrary to what Jesus promised in his very next breath—that believers would be doing the same works that he did. (Astonishingly, despite this the Church is not at all surprised or even disappointed that we are NOT doing what Jesus promised.)
John 14:12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
Now later in Acts this promise was clearly fulfilled in the ministry of the early disciples. The miraculous works done through the disciples Philip, Peter and Paul resulted in impressive harvests for the kingdom of God. Why are the ministries of missionaries and disciples on the foreign mission field today so ineffective by comparison? Even after years of diligent labor such servants of God plod along seeing little in terms of the harvest.
The answer is simple: missionaries are no longer taught to expect such miracles as evidence of the gospel. Not at all surprisingly, this non-expectation is then fulfilled on the mission field.
From this point of view, the teaching of cessationism in its various permutations has done much harm to the cause of foreign missions. We are assured that what is recorded in the gospels and in Acts is not prescription for what we should be doing today. Rather it is simply description of what took place in Bible days—and no longer takes place today. There is a reasonable-sounding justification for such a teaching—a teaching which sadly has very deleterious ramifications for the gospel. The reasoning is that God sovereignly took away the supernatural power and authority which He gave to the early disciples. For those who accept this teaching, there is no other explanation.
This takes us off the hook and allows us to accept the status quo regarding what we typically experience on the foreign mission field today—struggles and sometimes frustration due to results which fall far, far short of what is recorded in Acts.
The teaching of cessationism, however, is not strongly supported by Scripture. Its eager acceptance by mainstream theologians is similar to that offered by scientists for the validity of the theory of evolution: since there is “obviously” no supernatural God who designed and created man, evolution must therefore have taken place. According to the same thinking, since there are no more miracles today as were done by the disciples in the gospels and Acts, God has obviously taken them away. Ergo, the teaching of cessationism must be valid.
The acceptance of cessationism in the Church, whether explicit or implicit, has paralyzed the Church with regard to missions especially to gospel-resistant people groups. Even among so-called charismatic groups which presume to believe in miracles we rarely if ever hear of reports from the mission field similar to what we read of in Acts. Charismatics and Pentecostals rather focus on miracle healing services in churches for saved believers conducted by servants of God who have a special gift of healing. But on the foreign mission field where the gospel is preached to the lost, missionaries with a charismatic background fare little better than their evangelical non-charismatic counterparts. There is a definite reason for this.
What then should we do in view of the Last Days when all nations must be discipled before the Second Coming of the Messiah?
We must re-examine the traditions and assumptions we have received, especially with regard to miraculous healing. When we do so in the clear light of Scripture, we discover that missionaries and disciples today have in fact been given supernatural authority and power over infirmities and demons for proclaiming the kingdom of God to the lost. When we apply this authority and power as Jesus did and taught in the gospels, incontrovertible miraculous healings actually take place as evidence to the gospel-resistant that Jesus is in fact the Messiah.
That missionaries can only expect to struggle along and witness only a pittance for the harvest even after decades of labor on the foreign mission field is in fact a proven LIE. It is a lie from the enemy who is determined to keep billions of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and idol-worshipers living in absolute darkness from ever hearing the gospel and seeing the evidence that Jesus Christ is in fact the only light of the world.