In the Bible, God talks in the following ways:
- Elijah heard a still small voice (1 K 19:12).
- Samuel heard a voice calling him (1 Sam 3:4, 6-8, 10).
- Ezekiel received dramatic visions (Eze 1:4-28; 10:1-22).
- Balaam heard a donkey talk (Num 22:28).
- Belshazzar saw a hand write on a wall (Dan 5:5-6, 25-28).
- Ezekiel’s hearers saw a dramatic enactment (Eze 4:1-17).
- Daniel received vivid dreams (Dan 7:1)
- Abraham had a knock at the front door (Gen 18:1)
- John touched, and saw, and heard God in the flesh (1 John 1:1)
- Peter was visited by an angel (Acts 12:7)
- The seven churches of Asia received personal letters from the risen Christ (Rev. 1:19-3:22).
- The congregation at Corinth heard ecstatic tongues translated (1 Cor 14:5)
- The Israelites heard God’s booming voice out of the fire at Horeb (Deut 4:15)
- The high priest used a special device called the Urim and Thummim (Ezra 2:63).
Some churches teach that God still uses this mixture of avenues to speak to us today. These are often called “charismatic” or “continuationist” churches. Presbyterian churches believe that God has stopped revealing himself in these ways, and now only reveals himself to us in the Scriptures. That is what the label “cessationist” means – we believe the former ways of God revealing his will have now ceased. But this position gets misunderstand in a number of ways:
- “Cessationist churches believe God has stopped talking”. No, we don’t believe that! We believe God has stopped talking through dreams and visions (etc.), but he continues to talk to us in the Bible, loud and clear and in a living way. Every Sunday at church, the Holy Spirit is speaking to us, not by adding to Scripture, but by applying it to us.
- “Cessationist churches believe God doesn’t do miracles anymore”. No, we don’t believe that! Cessationism has got nothing to do with supernaturalism. Is God still the Creator of heaven and earth today? Of course! Is Christ alive and ruling over heaven and earth today? Of course! Is the Holy Spirit at work raising people to new life who were dead in sin? Of course! Without supernaturalism, there’s no gospel. Cessationism isn’t about supernaturalism; it’s about revelation.
- “Cessationism is disappointing; God talking to me in a book doesn’t seem as exciting as a dream”. No, cessationism is more exciting. It says that with Jesus Christ and the complete Bible in our possession, everything God wants you to know for your life lies on the pages between those two covers. If you look for new revelation today, it actually means the revelatory content of the Scriptures is incomplete; it means you need more than Scripture. If you think God speaks extra stuff, outside Scripture today, it actually means Scripture is inadequate revelation. So, cessationism is really the flipside of believing in the sufficiency of Scripture. We are cessationists because we believe the Bible is completely sufficient for revealing God’s will to us.
This is why it’s good to be in a cessationist church. Cessationism is about stopping anything that will water down and interfere with the exclusive authority of the Bible in the life of a church. Cessationism protects God’s people from intruders adding to God’s perfect revelation. It means any words spoken by me, as a minister, or by anyone else, have zero authority, unless backed up by chapter and verse. Don’t wish for the old days when God’s will wasn’t completely revealed. Rejoice that with a complete Bible in our hands, God’s will for our lives is sitting there in black and white print; and pray that the Holy Spirit takes that black and white print and writes it on our hearts and the hearts of many more people in Ilford.