(by Lisa Robinson)
It has been five years since my ‘conversion’ from being a somewhat radical charismatic to embrace a soft-cessationist position…I think. The reason I say put that qualifier on there is because I have had to wrestle through not only some doctrinal dilemmas concerning the cessation of gifts, but also some more pragmatic concerns – that of experience. That is not to say experience is the qualifier to determine what is or is not a legitimate spiritual expression, but it does challenge some cessationist positions or rather some allegations concerning cessationism.
Most notably, it is the idea that cessationism means that God has stopped speaking. This has been a common statement I have heard, most often in the form of a question, as noted by the title of this post. The statement presumes that cessationism means God has stopped speaking, except through scripture. This is a position that hard cessationists take, but not all.
However, I have come to conclude that this question misses what cessationism espouses vs. how God communicates today. Let me explain. The premise of cessationism is that revelation is complete. We see that God has revealed himself progressively through scripture and ultimately through his Son.
“God after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of his power. When He made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high…” (Hebrews 1:1-3).
Here, God speaking and his revelation are inextricably linked, so that his final expression is found in Christ, who reveals God. The significance of the apostolic witness is related to the testimony of Christ as the ultimate revelation of God. Since the testimony of Christ is transmitted through the apostolic witness, the apostles teaching provide the same authority as the word of the Lord, which would ultimately become scripture. Thus, since God has already spoken in His Son, and Christ’s work is complete, this presumes that God has nothing further to say. While the continuation of all spiritual gifts is not the topic of this post, I do believe that certain gifts were to authenticate the apostolic message during the apostolic age. This is why scripture does not indicate that certain gifts have ceased because the apostles were still alive when the letters were penned. But let’s not go there.
So does this mean that God has stopped speaking? Yes…and no. If his speaking is related to His revelation, then yes, He has stopped speaking. He has already revealed Himself, Christ has accomplished the Father’s will and has established the faith once for all (Jude 3). The authoritative witness of scripture is the final authority concerning what God has wished to reveal concerning Himself, including apostolic instruction for the body of Christ. So cessationism negates schools of thought that proclaim new revelations from God concerning Himself.
However, I don’t think it means there is nothing further to say related to what that means for us. This is where I believe the ministry of the Holy Spirit plays a vital role, submitted to the complete canon of scripture as the final authority of faith and practice. Now while I do believe that John 14:25-26 is directed exclusively to the apostles as eyewitnesses, the fact that the same Spirit indwells every believer suggests that the Holy Spirit informs our consciousness concerning the completed revelation and what the Father wishes concerning specifics in our lives that scripture does not speak to. In other words, God still speaks through his Spirit concerning His desires, both individually and corporately.
In fact, I have heard a number of preachers, who I know hold to a cessationist position, indicate that in prayer we should listen to God. Now, I have become increasingly persuaded that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit bears upon our conscience that affects the immaterial part of us that comprises our volitional will, thoughts, and emotions. So a conscience that is influenced by the Holy Spirit will produce thoughts that speak to the will of God. Is it any wonder why Paul says in Romans 12:2 that we are transformed by the renewing of our mind to prove what the will of God is? Or in Romans 8:26 that the Spirit plays a role in identifying what we should prayer for when we don’t have a clue? So listening involves hearing, but the “small still voice” most likely it is our own voice that is being directed by the Holy Spirit. But that means God is still speaking.
Of course, this raises the question of words, thoughts or impressions that we get concerning others. Is this prophecy? I would say that it depends on how you define prophecy. The “word of the Lord” as described in the Bible is related to revelation. So if someone indicates they have a word from God, it can easily be confused with a presumed revelation. For this reason, I cringe when I hear someone say they have a word from God. It is the same with identifying one as a prophet. Ephesians 2:20 indicate that apostles and prophets provide the foundation for the church with Christ being the chief cornerstone. There are a few different interpretations, but the one I stick with is that these are New Testament prophets who are authenticating the apostolic message. There is more I can say about prophecy and might do a follow up post specifically addressing that issue.
But on the other hand, the ministry of the Holy Spirit can direct our thoughts to vocalize what the Spirit is bearing witness to related to others or a particular situation. I think it would be quite dishonest of me to suggest this means that God has stopped speaking, when in fact He is through the Holy Spirit. A show of hands of all who have expressed something through discernment concerning people or a situation OR who have been the recipient of such words. How can anyone deny that God is communicating in this instance?
So that is where I am 5 years later and obviously still wrestling with some finer points of cessationism vs. continuationism. In fact, I have said on many occasions that I went from being a crazy charismatic to a crusty cessationist and now live in a place called Tension :)