Category Archives: cessationism

Does God speak audibly today?

The Preaching of Knox before the Lords of the Congregation, 10th June 1559 1832 Sir David Wilkie 1785-1841 Purchased 1871 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N00894

I just watched this short video by J. D. Greear, the head of the Southern Baptists on whether God speaks audibly today. His basic answer was a reluctant “no!”. God still speaks to us in the Bible, Greear says, but we should be very wary of thinking he speaks audibly anymore.

It’s funny, because he’d describe himself as a “charismatic with a seatbelt” and I’d describe myself as a “cessationist”, yet, I would answer that same question with an emphatic “yes!”. “Yes! God does speak audibly to us today!”.

When? Where? How? Every time you hear a faithful, called and sent Christian preacher, who preaches the Scriptures to you! I really think the Bible teaches us to view the faithful preaching of Christian ministers as the word of God! That voice you hear in sermons on Sundays isn’t just my voice. It’s the voice of Christ to you. If you want some Bible verses to base that off I’d say: Matthew 23:8 & 10; John 10:3-5; Eph 2:17. If you can’t see their relevance, do ask me to unpack them more for you some time. This doesn’t mean preachers can’t get it wrong and are six feet above contradiction. But it means you should develop a reverent attitude to the Word preached as the way Christ has designed to speak to you today. Sundays aren’t just Simon teaching us some stuff from the Bible. They are Christ speaking audibly to us.

In case you think I’ve gone all heretical, let me quote John Calvin as back up:

“It is a singular privilege that he [God] deigns to consecrate to himself the mouths and tongues of men in order that his voice may resound in them”. (Christian Institutes, Book IV, chapter 1, part 5).

Now, I think the different answers that J. D. Greear and I give to the question: “Does God speak audibly today?” are actually quite significant. It shows how the historic Reformed “cessationist” position, when properly understood, actually makes us much more conscious of God’s speech to us today than a “charismatic” position. Ironically, it’s a charismatic emphasis on extra and new revelation from God that actually makes churches less conscious of God speaking to us today in the regular preaching of the Word. 

But I’m not trying to score cheap points. Rather, isn’t this good news?! God is speaking to us audibly today when the church gathers around the reading and preaching of his Word. The preacher’s voice may not sound very exciting, but remember that resounding in that human voice is another voice, the voice which spoke the heavens and earth into being! Now, you’d have to be pretty stupid to actually close your ears to God when he was talking directly to you, wouldn’t you? Yet, is that what we’re doing, when we ignore the preaching of his Word? Why not stop and ask yourself these questions:

  • how might this change my desire to be present at preaching?
  • how might this affect my desire to keep listening during preaching?
  • how might this affect my reaction to things I don’t agree with in preaching?

Does God speak audibly today? The Reformed churches want to say “Yes, yes, yes!”

Why it’s good to be in a cessationist church

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:

  1. “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.
  2. “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.
  3. “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.