The concept that God does not speak or lead us through the Holy Spirit today is more often than not a comfortable tradition that some grew up with, and never questioned. Such views were birthed out of our experience (or lack of it), matured into our tradition, and instituted as our doctrine—thereby becoming our lifestyle.
Much of our lifestyle, much of what we hold dear to our hearts, is cultural and traditional—things we never question. But God may be calling us to choose between our old traditions (old wine) and His way (new wine). Christ does not conform to our culture. We must conform to Him and the culture of His Kingdom.
We Evangelicals like to think that the Scriptures must make a clear statement about an issue before we can take a dogmatic, doctrinal stand on it. Here is an analogy to help explain:
Conventional wisdom often operates out of an unfounded belief system (ignorance?) rather than facts. “Belief” of this sort (in the mind of the believer) always wins out in an argument, as it requires no proof, and it is immune to disproof. Although science clearly demonstrated that the earth was round, the belief that it was flat held sway for centuries, and those who threatened to upset the status quo were often jailed and tortured
Likewise, these well-meaning Christians have reasons that sound scriptural as to why they believe that God doesn’t speak outside of the Bible today. Actually their reasons come from tradition and experience, and not from the Bible. Eventually truth won out over a long-held flat earth tradition —and so will God’s voice.
If you believe that God speaks to His own today (John 10:27) then you probably are not a cessationist, and vice-versa. A person who is not a cessationist is usually referred to as a continuationist, or non-cessationist.
The view that I am presenting here states that “the Holy Spirit era” (or church age) started on the day of Pentecost and will continue without change until the Second Coming of Jesus.
The cessationist view states that God became silent and all miracles ceased when the last apostle died, and that we are now in “the Bible era” (so to speak). This view says: “Scripture alone speaks to us today.”
I am sure that there are fine Christians on both sides of this issue. However, I feel that many have accepted the “cessationist” view simply because the “Holy Spirit era” teaching has not been presented to them as clearly as it is presented here. And, if you already believe as I do, the following presentation will arm you with a scriptural basis for your faith.
John W. Kennedy presents the cessationist view in his book on church history “The Torch of the Testimony.” This is his entire statement:
“The Church and the Scriptures developed together, and the church ultimately recognized in the truth of the written revelation her complete foundation. The Bible [I think he means the New Testament] is the expression of the divine Word, at one time spoken directly from the lips of Christ, and then through the apostles. The New Testament embodies the continuance of the apostolic ministry, the revelation of Christ that was completed with the committal to Paul of the mystery of the church (Col. 1:24-27). From this, it follows that the ministry of apostleship and prophecy as embodied in particular people was but a temporary expedient. It was vitally necessary during the transition period when the written Word was being formulated and was gaining acceptance among believers, but when the written Word was completed, the particular ministry of the apostle and the prophet became redundant, just as the observation of the Old Testament sacrifices had to give way to their fulfillment in Christ. The principle came into operation, “But when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away” (1 Cor. 13:10). The function of the apostle and the prophet still exist, but embodied in the written Word, not in any man.”
John Kennedy indicates he believes that miracles and prophecy disappeared along with the apostles and prophets. Dr. Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Th.D., Ph.D., continues this line of thought in his Bible commentary on 1 Corinthians 13:11.
“After the church began, there was a period of immaturity, during which spectacular gifts were needed for growth and authentication (Heb. 2:3-4). With the completion of the New Testament and the growing maturity of the church, the need for such gifts disappeared.”
When Dr. Ryrie speaks of a period of immaturity, he is referring to the high water mark, the glory days of the church. To refer to this period as “immature” is to insinuate that the apostles and the authors of the New Testament were immature. Dr. Ryrie catches himself in a contradiction. By this logic, he should be able to pen for us a much more mature Scripture and doctrine than the writers of the New Testament gave us.
I ask a rhetorical question: Could the mature New Testament come out of an immature church?
John W. Kennedy used the cessationists’ favorite proof text found in context at 1 Corinthians 13: 8-12, which says:
8. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.
9. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part;
10. But when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
11. When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man I did away with childish things.
12. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.
The notion that “the perfect” in verse 10 is the Bible doesn’t work because we cannot meet face to face with the Bible, or some nebulous idea or event. We can only meet a person face to face, and that person can only be Jesus—when every eye will see Him—at the Second Coming!
In the Old Testament, the expression “face to face” meant to see God personally. For example, Jacob saw God face to face as he wrestled with the angel of the Lord (the pre-incarnate Christ)
Paul implies that he is speaking of a great truth that is hard to see, or perplexing; and that it takes spiritual eyes to “see” this insight by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
There are several Greek words for the English word “glass,” but in this Scripture, it clearly means a looking glass . . . a mirror. [Strong’s: Esoptron: looking glass (1 Cor. 13:12; James 1:23)]
In the natural, we would see our own reflection when we look into a mirror, but spiritually we are to reflect Jesus because God is conforming us to His image. Yet, all we can see is a poor reflection of Jesus through our Adamic eyes, until we see Jesus face to face—beyond the veil of flesh.
Then we shall know Him fully, just as He has fully known us! This statement also can only refer to the Lord’s return. Paul is not saying that when the Lord returns, believers will be omniscient like the Lord. Rather, we will know Jesus accurately without any misinformation, or lack of information, or misconceptions because we will be mature—we will have our glorified, eternal bodies.
Perhaps our faith boils down to the simplest of issues. For instance, do you believe the Bible, or do you prefer the traditions of the elders? If God gives you a better understanding of a Scripture, are you free to bring the required change into your life, or are you in bondage?
Jim Cymbala, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle, concludes the theme of this article this way:
“Unfortunately, I have learned firsthand that many Christians who pound the Bible the hardest and most strongly defend the verbal inspiration of Scripture are the most unbelieving and cynical about God ever doing a new thing in His church. They seem so intent on preserving tradition that any spontaneity is spurned as “emotionalism.” My question is: If Jesus is the same today as He was in the Bible we defend, why shouldn’t we believe Him to do great things among us and through us, so we can touch people’s lives in powerful ways as did the first-century apostles? Peter was no perfect saint, as evidenced by his denial of Christ; many churches today would hardly allow such a failure to stand in their pulpits. But God chose him on the Day of Pentecost and used him mightily—and God can do the same with us if we look to Him with childlike faith in our hearts.”