Does God Still Speak?

What do you think? Do you think God still speaks? Or, more or less, do you think God quit speaking when the apostles died or when the last New Testament book was written? These are the questions of Rodney Reeves in his book Spirituality according to Paul: Imitating the Apostle of Christ.

We can ask this a different way: Do you have visions? Ever have a vision?

Rodney Reeves is asking this basic question: Do you think God still speaks?

If we go to Paul, we’d have to say that Paul believed God had unleashed his Spirit in the last days – we are in the last days for Paul – and the unleashed Spirit means God is speaking through the Spirit. Here are some points Reeves makes:

1. Paul lived in an enchanted world. Our world has been dis-enchanted and Reeves would argue this has led to the dis-enchantment of our Christian life and our relation to God. An enchanted world does not come naturally to us. But it is available.

2. Paul believed God speaks to us through the Bible. Paul saw his own life in the Bible, and Reeves makes a big point of this. But there’s more here: many Christians today hear God when they read the Bible.

But Reeves argues that many scholarly-types don’t think we should claim we hear from God, but many ordinary Bible readers make just that kind of claim — and Reeves thinks they are more in tune with Paul.  Paul sees his own ministry in Isaiah as the predecessor to the Servant in Isaiah, esp 49:1-4.

1 Listen to me, you islands;
hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the LORD called me;
from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
2 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
and concealed me in his quiver.
3 He said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
4 But I said, “I have labored in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand,
and my reward is with my God.”

3. Jewish people, when they heard the Bible, heard their story and they believed it was God who was speaking when the Bible was read. Reeves contends we have to make it “relevant.”

4. Paul, his contemporaries, both Jewish and Christian, had visions and auditions — they saw God and they heard from God. Read 2 Cor 12 sometime. Theophany was a part of Paul’s spirituality. Paul saw Christ, and that is the point of Acts 8.

Do you think postmortem experiences are part of this world’s enchantment or are those explanations that see them as supernatural mistaken?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Paul W

    Never had a vision. And if the Apostle Paul is a paradigm for them then I definitely never want to have one and hope to God that I never do.

    In addition to visions and hearing God, I also understand people to have postmortem experiences. Such experiences(however important they are on an existential level) don’t strike me (in-and-of-themselves) as intrinsicly having much in the way of religious import.

    I know that some of those who have lost a loved one will sometimes speak of having some sort of experience in which a fuller postmortem departure takes place. Perhaps those involved in hospice or grief care could speak more fully on that front.

  • AT

    I find the cessationist position bizarre. I personally find it weirder theologically than the teachings of the hyper-prosperity teachers or the hardcore, zionist- end times preachers. There are truckloads of scriptures in all of the gospels, Acts, The letters – that speak of the miraculous, supernatural and prophetic intertwined with our daily lives. Not to mention the prophesies from the old testament. Yet cessationist theologians pick one scripture in 1 Corinthians 13 (taken grossly out of context)and make the claim that miraculous and prophetic acts have ceased.
    This may seem like a caricature but I just can’t read or feel cessationism anywhere in scripture.

    No one (and I repeat no one) could read the Bible and deduce that scripture (not experience) teaches cessationism – it just isn’t there.

    The other thing that I find weird is that many of these Bible teachers,imply that any physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit in a modern context (e.g. tongues, visions, prophesies) has ceased and therefore is often labelled as demonic. I personally find this teaching to border on heresy. So Demons have authority to heal, prophesy, evoke feeling of ecstasy within people but God is presently powerless in this way?

    Obviously these experiences must be ‘tested’ but many are examples of the Holy spirit’s voice ministering and speaking into the lives of real humans.

  • Warrick Farah

    I think a more pressing question is, “Is it normative for all believers in Christ to receive direct revelation from God in the form of our personal, subjective thoughts and feelings?”

    I am reading “The Holy Spirit in Mission: Prophetic Speech and Action in Christian Witness” by Gary Tyra (2011). He advocates that the story of Ananias (Acts 9) is normative and that all believers today can receive specific ministry instructions directly from the Holy Spirit.

    One issue I have is related to the spiritual gift of prophecy and how some people expereince the HS in the way described above. Since we know that not all belivers will have this gift or ability (1 Cor. 12:12-31), wouldn’t it be wrong to make this normative for EVERY believer today?

    So, Dr. McKnight, to answer your question, yes the HS still speaks today, but not in the same way to all believers. Those with the gift of prophecy will hear directly, but those without that gift or ability should not confuse the thoughts in their head with God’s voice. (And I should add the way the HS speaks through Scripture is normative for all.)

    If there is something wrong with my reasoning, please point it out to me. Thanks.

  • http://blackphi-ramblings.blogspot.com/ BlackPhi

    Faintly puzzled as to where ‘postmortem experiences’ suddenly appeared from in this. Also puzzled about Acts 8 (basically about the Spirit working through Philip) and Paul’s theophany. It would make a little more sense if it was a typo for Acts 9, but even then the link to more general ‘postmortem experiences’ appears to presume that the resurrection of Jesus didn’t happen.

    Basically, I’m just puzzled.

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    Love this and can’t wait to get my hands on my own copy of this book, at long at last.

  • http://www.wdavidphillips.com David Phillips

    Scot,

    Whether it’s normative for every Christian, is up for discussion I’m sure. But I can describe maybe 15 experiences in my 42 years of living (and 35 years of being a Christian) where there was a clear word from God outside of what I read in scripture. And in every case, it either came true or provided comfort through difficult times. The messages ranged from hearing God say “she’s been raped” while talking to a young lady while I was a camp counselor in college to “You’re done here. They get it” while pastoring a church.

    I believe God still speaks about specific situations, providing information, direction, warning, and even a word about future events. I often feel like I’m living Acts in the footsteps of Peter and Paul and Philip…

  • Bill

    It is difficult to read through the NT without coming to the conclusion that the ever present Lord is continually speaking into the world – to all who have ears to hear. Apart from miracles and spiritual gifts, the Shepherd’s voice is heard by his sheep – not audibly, but as convictions within what Paul frequently refers to as our conscience. Nothing warm and fuzzy, no epiphanies, just a ‘knowing’ – whether we have scripture in front of us or not.

  • Peter F.

    Why would God stop speaking? The better question is: Do we still hear him?

  • Susan N.

    Bill (#7) – my experiences of what I perceived to be God speaking to me, through Scripture, or through other sources (books, music, people, situations), and, very rarely, through a powerful dream or strange “vision” (post-mortem) have tended to be subtle, quiet, and very personal to me.

    Peter F (#8) – like you, I cannot imagine that the living God would suddenly stop “speaking” and interacting with his creation. I think He speaks in a variety of ways, though, not necessarily literally, as a Voice in the form of a burning bush.

    I think that the issue is our *apprehension* of what God is trying to say to us. A prayerful, quiet, centered (on God) “attitude” has, for me, usually preceded moments of illumination. I love to sing the hymn, “Open My Eyes, That I May See.”

    The majority of the time, I think, God’s communications go right over my head and fail to sink in. I need a flip-top head (remember old Reach toothbrush commercial?)

  • Norman

    The First Century cessationist position is not as bizarre as one might think. The context of the messianic coming of Christ was a time of Covenant change in which an old order of Godly relationship was interrupted to bring forth a new world order of the “spiritual Kingdom” of Christ. God entered this world once bearing “signs” and “miracles” to demonstrate the power of this change. Christ conferred this special time of “signs” through the Apostles and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit exhibiting the miraculous to firmly establish and demonstrate this Kingdom change.

    In biblical times the first century believers understood that “they” were living in the Last Day’s and times of this old Covenant and it was not going to be an ongoing forever period but was limited in scope. In fact the “sign” of the end was Christ prophecy that judgment upon the Law and the end of the last Days would be signified with judgment upon the Temple, priesthood and sacrificial system. When that occurred then it would fulfill Daniels prophecy of the breaking of the power of the Holy People. (Dan 12:7) At this point the end of Days for the Old Covenant would be closed and sealed up and the fullness of Christ eternal everlasting Kingdom would be sealed forever. The need for signs and miracles to demonstrate this happening will have been completed and no longer in need to testify to those times. The messianic coming was a special time in history and after it the manner in which God communes with us is via the Spirit demonstrated through Christ our Lord. When we put on the mind of the Spirit then we walk with God.

    There is no need for prophecy again because the message of Judgment upon the old way has been completed and the new way is in force forever. The “last Days” have come and gone for the old covenant unless one believes we are still under the old covenant of Law and works. We make the mistake of reading ourselves into the letters of the first century when we need to read them contextually.

    If one believes they have visions and revelations from God it will not be in regard to new prophecies but it might be perhaps in the Spirit inhabiting one who walks in accordance with God through Christ. Let the Spirit reveal its power in us through word and deed. That would be the Power of the living God continuing in the lives of His people.

  • http://www.brianroden.com Brian Roden

    May I suggest Christian Peoples of the Spirit: A Documentary History of Pentecostal Spirituality from the Early Church to the Present by Dr. Stanley Burgess. Using orginal documents from Church history, he shows how the Spirit has been moving and speaking in supernatural ways from the first century up to the present.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0814799981/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?ie=UTF8&m=ATVPDKIKX0DER

  • Luke Allison

    It does seem like God’s speaking is a given to the Biblical writers. We are, after all, indwelt by the Spirit of Jesus. Wouldn’t some of our interaction with Him be tangible?

    I find that most cessationists I know got there because of annoyance at abuses. However, my experience within charismatic circles (and this is where I grew up) has been pretty normal, aside from the occasional wacko acknowledged by every congregation. Cessationists paint the abuses as the rule, not the exception, and pretty soon have removed themselves from all the possibilities embraced by their charismatic non-brothers.

    So, yes, I believe God still speaks, and I believe it’s not all that big of a deal. Never had a vision, can’t remember any significant dreams, but I have had insane prompting/coincidence/providential experiences that would never have happened had I not listened to that “crazy thought” I was fighting.

    How many of us have ever had the “every verse I read and every book I open and every sermon I hear seems to be about the same thing” sequence occur? I’m convinced that when this happens, it’s time to perk up and pay closer attention. He’s breaking into my doldrums and changing things up.

    Anyway, this is all interpretation. If you believe God speaks, you will see the Bible as endorsing it. If you don’t, you will see the Bible as abrogating it. Strong “Bible marines” on both sides completely disagree. And that makes me vaguely disappointed in our inability to carry out John 17:20-23.

  • Rodney

    Scot,

    I wanted to say here how much I have appreciated your interaction with the book. Thanks so much for your insights and generosity. I’ve also enjoyed very much the honesty and vulnerability of those who have joined the conversation. This has been a great encouragement to me.

  • Amos Paul

    I, like others here, find the whole cessationist paradigm to be completely bizarre. Just recently, a friend of some people at my church called them up and asked, “Hey, you guys go to the Vineyard don’t you?” Their friend is suffering from cancer and was having people from her church come pray for her. But she called up her Vineyard friends because she “wanted to have someone pray for her who actually believed she could be healed.”

    I look at that situation and think, why would any Christian feel so possessed to pray for someone to be healed while not actually believing or expecting such a thing to be possible? Why pray for anything if God isn’t a real, active part of our lives and world? How does being ‘spiritual’ make any sense at all in this world if being ‘spirituality’ is not a thing that actually exists?

    In any case. The whole this is bizarre. And the biggest hurdle I ever got over in approaching God was realizing that He was *already* there. That He designed and created me. That communing with God does not mean having an invasive, alien experience–but an intimately natural one. That the Spirit of God works in us whether we recognize it for it is or not.

  • Fred

    I don’t want to exclude the possibility that God may speak today but the problem is knowing when and how. As Philip Yancey characterizes it, some see “an angel behind every open parking space.” (I think that was Yancey).

    Another problem I see is that people who do believe that seem to spend most of their time looking for God’s speaking to the exclusion of God’s Word.

  • http://annsphillips.wordpress.com Ann Phillips

    If God does not change and He spoke to numerous people in the bible, why would He stop? Didn’t He commend those who “walked with God?” What is that if we never hear from Him? I’m with Susan #9. Sure we talk to God more often than we hear from Him, but I contend that if you never hear anything, something is blocking your spiritual ears and you might want to look for someone who does hear, to pray for you.

  • Sherman Nobles

    I’ve heard God speak to me several times, and some times telling me what I did not want to hear, as in personal correction. God has also communicated to me through visions and dreams. I did not start experiencing such though until I came to believe that it was possible for today, that it was possible to have such a personal relationship with the Lord today, and that such did not cease with the apostles.

  • Luke Allison

    Sherman,

    I have a class with Dr. Jack Deere next Thursday and Friday on that very subject. He was one of the more popular converts from cessationism back in the 80s, I believe. He was in the Macarthur camp, and then personal experience forced him to rethink his position. Interestingly enough, personal experience tends to factor into this topic more than most. Which is okay by me.

  • T

    Norman,

    The cessationist “story” isn’t all that bad as a story. The problem is that the structure of the argument is overloaded with assumptions and strained interpretations. It’s like a house made partially of wood, a few bricks, and rolls upon rolls of duct tape. Worse, the collection ends up being assembled in such a way that the final product encourages disobedience to and/or flat contradiction of explicit teachings of scripture and of the practice of the faith the apostles set up in the first churches.

    As just one small example, you mention several purposes for signs, wonders, prophetic, etc. Where do you get the idea that signs and the prophetic gifts are *only* for these purposes, so that they obviously *must* cease when these purposes are fulfilled? Scripture won’t help anyone make that exclusive argument stick. Signs and prophecy and healing get used by God in lots and lots of ways in the scriptures, including the NT churches, and there are lots of reasons given for their use in different places. When it becomes obvious that scripture just won’t support this supposed exlusive (and now conveniently fulfilled) purpose of signs or prophecy or healing, etc., the whole argument is gutted, as it should be.

    It never ceases to amaze me how folks who are generally the proudest supporters of a sola scriptura approach to theology are okay with using an approach to scripture for this issue that they would call liberal or even heretical in any other context. “Don’t forbid speaking in tongues” Paul says. Cessationist churches do the opposite based on what exactly? A few scriptures cobbled together with loads of systematic theology and tradition for glue. James tells the sick to get prayer, and that prayers of the righteous (not of apostles, or of saints of his era) are powerful. He says Elijah the great prophet was a man just like us as an encouragement to pray for healing. Is this whole passage of scripture just a waste of space for us today? Was James uninformed about the reason healing was given in his era? Did he not know that the basis of the power was fading as he wrote?

    In my experience, most cessationists are shocked with how little scripture there is “supporting” the theology that was handed down to them, and how many scriptural teachings and examples have to be turned on their head to go along with it. It’s a shame.

  • Luke Allison

    T,
    “Cessationist churches do the opposite based on what exactly? A few scriptures cobbled together with loads of systematic theology and tradition for glue. James tells the sick to get prayer, and that prayers of the righteous (not of apostles, or of saints of his era) are powerful.”

    Having grown up in a Word of Faith family, I can see why people begin to shift away from notions of God healing. I believe a lot of cessationist positions have been born out of intense disappointment at unanswered prayer, and the subsequent bitterness is poured into finding “reasons” to cover every base.

    There is a tension at work here…there are currently extremely popular evangelicals (the Redding crew and IHOP) saying that God always heals, and if He doesn’t, it’s a fault in our technique or our faith. That’s toxic. The hope of Christians has always been the resurrection of the dead and the new heavens and new earth, not physical healing.

    BUT, God obviously still heals. I believe an old Wimber saying was: “We pray for everyone and see some healed, rather than praying for no one and seeing none healed.”

  • T

    Luke,

    Yes. Wonderful quote and approach by Wimber. I’m all for listening to everything scripture tells us about healing and not just the ones that talk about faith.

    A long time ago, I read some of a book by J. MacArthur that was attacking charismatic practice and one of the things he said was that Jesus and the apostles could heal at will. Of course, we have contrary examples where Paul tells Timothy to drink wine because he’s sick so often (why do that if Paul could heal at will?), and even Jesus, in a certain town “could” only lay his hands on a few sick people and see them healed. So, while faith clearly plays a role, not everything is a matter of having “enough” faith. I tell people when we teach this: “Lazarus was raised from the dead; but he also died again.” Healing is an important feature of being Christ’s people, but so is accepting the end of life in this body and putting our dearest hopes in the next.

  • Tom S.

    I agree that God speaks today, though I have never received a prophecy or had a vision. I have heard on more than one occasion, testimonies of adherents from a certain major world religion who have seen visions of Jesus which has led to their conversion.

    What concerns me is the seeming overuse of the phrase, “God told me…” It used to be that we sought God’s will over a matter through prayer, the Word, godly counsel, etc. Now it seems that a lot of Christians have a direct line to God over every minor detail of their lives. As a pastor it’s hard to advise someone when God has already told them explicitly and personally what his will is.

  • Elling

    Luke,

    I’ve interacted a lot with friends in Redding and never heard them say “God always heals, and if he doesn’t it’s a fault in our technique or ourfaith” . Can you document that?

  • Norman

    T, it’s all about biblical context and understanding that context. I’m not portending something that a good systematic study of scripture doesn’t back up contrary to your own personal belief.

    Also my point was concerning the explicit purpose of signs and miracles for the establishment of the church. It doesn’t infer in the least that God doesn’t intervene in healing and answering prayers just like he did prior for God’s faithful people before Christ came. The context is the point for specific needs that begin with Christ and was continued because he sent the “helper” to assist with the church establishment. The period from resurrection and Pentecost till the desolation of the old covenant through judgment can be called the 40 year New Exodus of the church. See Heb 3 & 4 and entering the Sabbath Rest and then the rest of Hebrews for that understanding. There were prophecies that pointed to this messianic time as the end of days. The destruction of the second temple was understood to be the same example of God’s earlier first Temple judgment upon Israel around 600BC. This however would be the final judgment upon God’s old covenant people as the OT systematically outlines for us would occur at the time of messiah. This was a special time in History.

  • Luke Allison

    Elling # 23:

    http://www.bjm.org/questions/2/is-it-always-gods-will-to-heal-someone.html

    From the horse’s mouth (I don’t think Bill is really a horse).

    Regardless of what he “meant” by this teaching, many of the people who follow him have taken this and run with it. My church has a “Redding enclave” who only listens to him and his friends. I’ve dealt with them quite a bit.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Well, I attribute certain things in my brain as God speaking to me, though my kids tell me I just have brain farts. It could be either one, terrible, isn’t that?

    Most of the events became increases, step changes if you will, in ability and realization. Quite stunning actually.

    But about 7 or 8 years ago I had one that was not a command or pronouncement, but a question. It said “Why?”. Now brain fart or not it was knock your socks off kind of stuff and there is no way I can ignore it. After much contemplation and discernment I determined that God was asking me why he had done the previous ones, and I concluded it was to help him. So since then I have decided that I need to figure out what I can do best to help God.

    I guess that means I am not a cessationist.

  • Luke Allison

    Norman,

    But not everybody who knows context inside and out (I don’t claim to be one of them) agrees with this stance.

    For instance, NT Wright says: “Nothing in Paul suggests that the so-called charismata would cease until the time when we shall know as we are known. The Spirit continues to blow at will, and anyone who tells you they know where it’s coming from and going to had better face John 3 and think again.”

    The theological framework you list may work for you, but the “pervasive interpretive pluralism” on this particular topic makes it pretty difficult to lay out a “cut and dried” Scriptural defense of it.

  • Elling

    Luke,

    From your link:

    “7. If someone isn’t healed, realize the problem isn’t God, and seek Him for direction as well as personal breakthrough (greater anointing for consistency in healing). Also, don’t take it personal. There are other factors involved besides great faith. That is only one element in the equation. Just learn to do your best to be faithful to His gospel, and honor Him for the results. It’s also not wise to blame the person who is sick.”

    Does that go together with your initial suggestion? i too know some people run with this stuff in a away thats not helpful. Labelling someone as toxic still demands quite clear proof on your end. I don’t think that label on Bill or his church is helpful.

  • Luke Allison

    “Labelling someone as toxic still demands quite clear proof on your end. I don’t think that label on Bill or his church is helpful”

    How does one go about proving toxicity?
    Anyway, I didn’t label Bill as toxic. I said “the Redding folks” and IHOP are saying this, and it’s toxic. And it is.

    Even the phrase “seek Him for…personal breakthrough (greater anointing for consistency in healing)” is potentially dangerous. If “there are other factors involved besides great faith” what good does saying “seek Him for greater anointing (a contentious term) for consistency in healing?”

    Listen, invevitably the charismata/cessationist discussion has to deal with gold dust, costume jewelry and oil. Eventually, if you hang out with that crowd long enough, you’ll have to deal with strange mythologies and angels and “creative glory clouds” and “toking the ghost”, and all the other inanities.

    But…. I apologize for lumping everybody from a particular place in one category. That’s unfair and not in the Spirit of Jesus. So please forgive me for doing that.

    Let’s just say, the modern charismatic movement has some reforming work to do just like any other movement. Can we agree on that point?

  • Norman

    Luke,

    Your not following me closely enough. Here is what I said … “Also my point was concerning the explicit purpose of signs and miracles for the establishment of the church. It doesn’t infer in the least that God doesn’t intervene in healing and answering prayers just like he did prior for God’s faithful people before Christ came.”

    I’m not saying in the least that God is not involved with His people through manifestations of His blessings. What I am saying is that the special time of the Messiah was one that invoked special “signs and wonders” and included the 40 year period shortly after His ascension until the church was securely established replacing the old church. I know of no one who raises people from the Dead like Christ and Paul accomplished: Do You? I also don’t know of anyone endowed with the gift of Prophecy because Christ has accomplished the Fathers will. Do you know of anyone who is prophetic with new found prophecies from God relating to our future salvation? However I do know people who are filled with the Spirit of God through Christ who speak His wisdom, in fact many of the Body of Christ exhibits this blessing. I also believe God works in people’s lives as I believe He has with me and my family over the decades. I just don’t think I nor you or anyone else since the first century has been endowed with the Laying on of Hands to impart the miraculous gifts. If you do that’s fine but I’ve never seen it demonstrated nor does the Bible teach it as an ongoing eternal attribute of the church. I do believe we have the ongoing Holy Spirit of Christ but no longer the miraculous gifts that was sent by God to establish His church.

    Here is Daniel’s prophecy that foretold the coming of the Messiah and the “Sealing up of Vision and Prophecy”. Then Daniel like Christ (who quotes Daniel) predicts the destruction of Jerusalem and the ending of “sacrifice and offering” in the Temple system. This all ties in with Dan 12:7 which confirm all these things would happen with the destruction of the Power of the Holy People which occurred at the hands of the Roman General Titus in AD70.

    Dan 9:24-27 … to your people and as to your holy city, to finish the transgression and to make an end of sins, and to make atonement for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and TO SEAL UP THE VISION AND PROPHECY, and to anoint the Most Holy. … Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself. And the people of the ruler who SHALL COME SHALL DESTROY THE CITY AND THE SANCTUARY. … he shall CAUSE THE SACRIFICE AND THE OFFERING TO CEASE,

    Paul also recognized the gifts and prophecy would end as Daniel states. Do you disbelieve Daniel and Paul concerning the ending of “Vision and Prophecy”?

    1Co 13:8 … As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

  • Amos Paul

    Norman,

    I’m sorry, but that 1Cor 13:8 quotation just seems dishonest dropped with no context like that.

    As we know, that passage is the *love* passage. And, as per 1 John 4:8 (and the rest of Scripture, for that matter)–we know that God *is* love.

    And at the conclusion of Paul’s famous exhortation about love, he says 1Cor 13:8-10

    “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”

    Of course love never ends. Because God is love. And prophecies, healing, tongues, whatever–all this is knowing God *in part*. Jesus had already (historically) arrived and done His work of death and resurrection. The ‘perfect’ that Paul is talking about is certainly not that, then, and there doesn’t seem to be any reference to him talking about the establishment of the church. Is the church ‘the perfect’?

    No, ‘the perfect’ seems pretty clearly (to me) to be whatever Paul saw as the fulfilling of the age as per Matthew 28:20.

    In this light, I see no inherent support for a cessationist view. We are as much waiting for the fulfillment of this age and complete coming of ‘the perfect’ as Paul was, who talking about knowing and prophesying in part for the time being.

    Certainly, you’re allowed to interpret an alternative meaning to the text. But to say that reading the text as I just above suggested is necessarily flying in the face of Paul and prophecy seems like quite a stretch.

  • T

    Norman,

    Yes and Amen that the first century was a very special time. Very special indeed. But as I’ve noted, the scriptures give many, many reasons and purposes for healing, prophecy and various miracles. You’re latching onto just one purpose (establish the church, but only initially) and pairing it with a questionable interpretation of a cryptic prophecy and using the combo to ignore everything else that’s said about healing, signs and prophecy, including what Paul says about how long they will continue (until we know God face to face and fully as we are known by God). The church still needs building up, God still has compassion for the sick, people still need to rest their faith on God’s power rather than human arguments, Jesus’ name and lordship over all still need to be proclaimed in the face of threats by human governments–these are just a few of the reasons the NT gives for signs, healings and prophetic work, and these reasons are with us today.

    Again, there’s an internal logical coherence to the cessationist argument; that’s what I mean by it being a good story. But it’s also a story that can’t be too careful about which scriptures about the miraculous that it lets speak. The vast bulk of the NT teachings and examples on the subject have to be left out of the equation (as in your explanations here) or given explanations or interpretations that defy reason, as your reference to I Cor 13:8. We’re still seeing in part; we’re not seeing face to face; we don’t know him fully as we are fully known.

    If you look at the larger picture, this is what cessationism has done: take a cryptic scripture or two, elevate them over and possibly to the exclusion of other scriptures on the subject, and construct a system of thought that purports to effectively render several scriptural teachings (even from the NT) meaningless or irrelevant. That pattern should give anyone with a sola or even prima scriptura approach to theology serious pause. Thankfully, cessationism is rapidly declining in the global Church, in teaching and practice.

  • Elling

    Luke,

    Yes, on that we clearly can agree. :-)

  • Norman

    Amos Paul, T, and Luke,

    Guys, I understand your faith in what you believe but Biblically I believe you are simply not aware of the context of the times. Amos Paul the context of the NT for Paul was the setting of the end of the Old “Age” and that is contextually what he is referring to in the coming “Perfect” in 1 Cor 13 where I quoted from,. He’s not referring to the end of the Christian Age because that is never at issue as it’s called the everlasting Age. The corrupt age of the old dispensation of Law and works is what was in the process of passing away not the Christian Age.

    However any of you can put an end to my notion by simply producing some empirical evidence of the ongoing miraculous gifts still being in force. If you would like why don’t you arrange a demonstration and bring in the three deadliest vipers in the world. Pick three people or volunteer yourself and let them bite three of you. Now also have on hand your choice of as many faith healers and raisers from the dead that you can find today and have them on hand. Now if the three individuals bitten by the vipers can be healed before they die by the faith healers then we have some empirical proof. Now if perhaps they do die then allow those gifted with the raising of the dead to bring them back to life after they have been certified dead for a day or so. I would be the very first to repent of my errant understanding of the scriptures in lieu of such a demonstration.

    Again I remind that I’m only talking about the miraculous gifts that we see demonstrated in the first century and I’m not at all discounting the blessed indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God that Christ imparts through our faith in Him. The manifestation of the miraculous gifts of the spirit is simply not the same as the indwelling “Holy Spirit” and yet biblical students often confuse the two.

    Actually T, it is just the opposite of taking a few isolated verses and developing the cessationist argument. It is a coherent systematic understanding of the narrative messianic story of Israel and what would occur when the messiah arrived and judgment upon those who refused Him would occur. Christians simply often don’t realize the context and keep the church still wandering in the desert never fully entering the promised land of Christ Kingdom in their mind. You may believe that the church is still wandering in the desert but that’s neither the biblical blueprint nor the reality. We have the glorified Kingdom of Christ fully perfected and with us now because that was the Plan, not putting it off for thousands of years.

  • Amos Paul

    Norman,

    I can’t say I like your tone. It sounds like the Pharisees telling Jesus to ‘show them a sign’. Of course, the Gospels are *filled* with Jesus doing just that! But still, He told them the only sign they would get with that attitude was nothing but the saving and redemptive work of His death and resurrection. Faith, as the early fathers say, seeks understanding. Not the other way around. I believe *so that* I might understand.

    Moreover, if you’re operating out of a ‘Dispensationalist’ framework, I’m afraid that such is yet *another* irreconcilable difference we have in approaching Scripture. I take the Scripture *very* seriously when it says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Like Paul, I don’t believe people were *ever* ‘saved by the Law’, but only through the identity and work of Christ. Eternally. Nor do I see some glorious age of Christian perfection right here and now. I see Christ’s power declared and kingdom come–but I also see it only coming in full at the fulfillment of this age. For this struggle and strife as we now know and see only in part.

    Peter, Paul, John–*all of them* told us to look forward to the day of the Lord. Jesus himself said that Heaven and Earth (as is) will pass away. But, hey! Since you want to (I think wrongly) assert that Paul meant prophecy to ‘cease’ in the 1 Cor 13:8–what about knowledge? In your framework, what makes that verse especially assert the passing of spiritual gifts, but *not* the passing of knowledge itself? Do we know longer know God? Or anything?

    I see no reason to expect this. Until the fulfilling of this age, I see a clear mandate in Scripture for us to do Christ’s work and declare His Kingdom in power.

    John 14:12, “Truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”

    1 Cor 4:20, “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.”

    Yet if you truly want to see people operate relying on the Spirit and see breaktrhoughs of the Kingdom–sure, come to my church. Right now, I’m a part of a Vineyard church. Feel free to visit one and ask about when they do prayer ministry. Talk to people. We don’t demand the miraculous to occur in every situation, but we see a clear call to expect God’s Spirit to move in our every day lives. And we *do* see things happen. At least, when our eyes our open to see. God’s Spirit doesn’t put on a show. He just heals, speaks, and redeems.

  • Luke Allison

    Norman,

    Again, you’re not saying anything I haven’t heard before. Your interpretation is well-documented.

    I just don’t agree with it. You’ve effectively jumped from “It’s all in the Biblical text” to “show me some proof!” within a single paragraph. Ultimately, this debate hinges on whether or not things are actually happening in this world that can be attributed to God. Like I said, almost every person I know who believes the way you believe have a very similar attitude/stance toward the miraculous: show me and I’ll believe.

    I have never seen anyone’s foot grow back, or seen a paralyzed person walk. But I’ve heard stories from Africa and the “Global South”, where Christianity is rapidly expanding, that are truly incredible. I could easily take your stance, but my study of Scripture has led me to believe otherwise.

    Your perspective on the “dispensations” of salvific events doesn’t have a very long history. Really only about 200 years old or so. You can believe it, but I’d encourage you to branch out and read other people who hold to different perspectives on the narrative flow of Scripture. There aren’t necessarily any secret codes to be unlocked, just a really compelling story that happens to be True.

  • Norman

    Amos Paul,

    I appreciate those in the Vineyard church as I have wonderful friends who attend but I disagree with some but not all of their premises.

    I’m sorry you were offended by the tone but the reality is that I have brought up an issue that you really can’t empiracally demonstrate. Jesus, the Apostles and those gifted with the miraculous gifts during the first century did provide “signs and wonders” for the doubters. That was their point to show the power of God as the New Kingdom broke in and the old passed away. I don’t doubt those signs and wonders that the Pharisees rejected when demonstrated to them. I just don’t believe that after the establishment of the church they continued for demonstrational purpose.

    I think we are going to have to agree to disagree but let me state that I don’t believe this issue should keep those who disagree from being in harmonly concerning Christ and the Kingdom.

    By the way I am about the furtherst thing from a classical dispensationalist as one can be.

  • Luke Allison

    Norman,

    I actually owe you an apology. I hate when people lump somebody into a group without thinking through what they’re saying, which is exactly what I did with you.

    I hear the word “dispensation” and I have an allergic reaction, since I grew up in a “rapture ready” family.

    Please forgive me for misrepresenting you, brother.

    This will definitely be an “agree to disagree” conversation.

  • Norman

    Luke,

    I appreciate your faith brother but we simply disagree on some aspects of the Kingdom church as it now stands.

    By the way Luke I’m an extensive student of the early church of the first century and the literature that accompanies it. So my premise is not based upon the last 200 years of the church but the formative years and the period of second temple Judaism. So I’m hardly a novice and I’m sorry I’m challenging some of your heart felt beliefs.

    Those who are of the faith through Christ can very likely attest to the miraculous in their lives but I doubt they can perform the specific signs and wonders that I have brought attention to. In fact I expect the faithful to see the work of God in their lives. Our debate is over some specific issues and doesn’t preclude our agreeing on much.

  • Amos Paul

    Norman,

    I agree that they are signs, but I don’t necessarily agree that they are plain for all to see. Christ consistently quoted the prophecy, “eyes to see and ears to hear.”

    I only believe they are signs to whomever is ready to see them. Most primarily, the recipeient of any word (or healing or whatever) from the Lord through a person. It would definitely be a sign *for them*, and any else willing.

    Not that I agree with the extent to which many make it *about the signs*. For signs are markers. For what? For seeing Jesus, and His Kingdom. But I see no reason not to *expect* and pray for these ‘signs’ and ‘wonders’–and every reason to do just that.

  • Andrew

    I’m surprised not to see mention of Garry Friesen’s popular _Decision Making and the Will of God_ in this discussion. Friesen doesn’t take the tendentious hermeneutical approach of the strict cessationist camp; he just says that hearing from God about His will for an individual shouldn’t be considered normative for Christians (see comments #3 & #6 above), and further that if God wants to speak to us, He’ll use very obvious ways of doing so. In my life, it helped me find balance, moving me away from a more charismatic approach of hearing from God after I’d followed (what I thought was) God’s will as it led me in a pointedly negative direction, and I was trying to make sense of what I’d been through. Since then I’ve been trying to strike a middle ground between Friesen’s approach — which I find to be decidedly dis-enchanted, to use Reeves’ term — and a “hyperenchanted” spirituality wherein God is constantly speaking to us, through every whisper of the conscience. I haven’t yet found a thoughtful proponent of such a middle way who can show me what it might look like to live that out; perhaps Reeves might help.

  • T

    Norman,

    The best way to get “a demonstration” if that’s what will make a difference for you isn’t to put God to the test. God does heal, but he doesn’t work on command, even for the apostles. Paul seem genuinely concerned that some of his comrades would die, and Timothy was frequently ill. But God did do wonderful miracles through Paul and the churches he founded. The gift of healing, contrary to what some teach, doesn’t mean no one around you will ever get sick and stay sick or even die. Evangelists don’t save everyone they talk to either. It’s not as simple as that for anything the Spirit does in and through us for others. And yes, I’m aware of the context you are arguing for and I understand the interpretation you have that the kingdom is fully perfected with us now, I, just like most folks, don’t buy it. I don’t think the destruction of the jewish temple and the mere beginnings of the church is at all what Jesus had in mind by teaching his disciples to pray the Lord’s prayer (for God’s kingdom to come). I still pray that prayer, like most Christians do, confident we have been given a taste of the powers of the age to come, a deposit, but not to the full extent that is promised. Not in this body. Paul’s eschatological focus was not the destruction of the temple, but the resurrection of the dead. Like most folks who study the kingdom, I am convinced that the “present evil age” is passing away even as the new age has dawned. For now we know in part and see in part, but then we will know fully even as we are fully known. Again, Paul’s focus was not the destruction of the temple, but the resurrection of the dead and the final nail in the coffin of the last of God’s enemies, death.

    I could tell you my own stories of things I’ve seen God do through me and others, but I doubt that will help. If you really do want to actually see this stuff in action, make some friends with folks that are doing it. If you can, finds some folks that are working among the poorest of the poor in the world and are doing healings as they preach. Get their stories. Go work with them if you can. Get the stories of the people converting and the people healed. The global church is doing this in spades, whatever flaws may be present as they do it. Of course, there are locals doing it as well, but we’re more easily offended by and more suspicious of fellow westerners, in my experience.

  • Amos Paul

    And a further point. When you say ‘perform’ those signs and wonders… no, *I* can’t perform them. But the Spirit can, through me. when people say *they* can perform them (assuming they are following Christ), I usually take them in good faith to say it like they might mean *they* can dance the tango or *they* can ride a horse… without the dance partner or horse, you aren’t doing much at all.

    And I have prayed for people who have claimed healing. And I have given words that helped changed people’s lives. And I see others do these things *regularly*.

    Some folks who proactively attempt to move in this sort of thing set up this website to keep testimony.

    http://keepingthetestimony.net/feed

  • Andrew

    Preemptive post-script: By “this discussion” I didn’t mean the last slew of comments by Norman/Luke/T/Amos Paul. I meant Scot’s original post. And the “tendentious” comment was not intended to draw fresh ire from cessationists in the crowd. I’m not here to argue with people; it’s just how I see things. Cessationists are of course free to believe as they do, and they will; I just happen to disagree, and my research tells me that’s not a helpful or particularly insightful view of the scriptures we both hold dear.

  • Amos Paul

    T,

    I screw up with my grammar around here frequently (no editing, blah)… but please, friend. Paragraph breaks! They’re a gift from God. Use them generously ;).

  • Norman

    Amos Paul, T, and Luke,

    Guys you are all good faithful brothers in Christ and I can see that you are commited to your understanding. I’ll not belabour the subject any longer but leave you with the thought that I actually agree with you on much concerning the power of God in the faithful. My disagreement has been presented and I’ll leave it at that.

    Blessings to you all.

  • Luke Allison

    “So my premise is not based upon the last 200 years of the church but the formative years and the period of second temple Judaism. So I’m hardly a novice and I’m sorry I’m challenging some of your heart felt beliefs.”

    Never said you’re a novice: Read comment #38 which got lost in the apocalyptic deluge.

    My point is this: plenty of high-level Biblical scholars have disagreement with you. So….we can’t say “it’s plainly seen in Scripture” or “Scripture clearly says” in order to defend our particular stance on this topic.

    I do think that if you were to lock a completely uneducated person in a room with the Bible and had them read the whole thing, they wouldn’t come away with a cecassionist position. They’re taught various systems of thought by trusted authority figures over a period of time. That’s why graduates of DTS are going to be by-and-large pre-millennialists, while graduates of WTS are most likely going to come away with an “amillennial” perspective. These things are aren’t completely unscientific.

    My point is this: You say “I’m a student of the 1st century context” and then produce a theological framework that isn’t agreed on by many experts in the 1st century context. Then, you say: “But show me a miracle and I’ll believe”. So you say: “The Scriptures plainly say this”, but then you also argue from your lack of experience.

    Which is more formative for you?

  • Norman

    Luke,

    Well I attempted to bring closure to our discussion but it seems you are still eager so I’ll respond some more.

    There are plenty of high level scholars who push the “dispensationalist” view. We can hardly solve this issue by lining up a litany of scholars that agree or disagree as they reside on both sides of this issue.

    I haven’t presented a comprehensive view on the subject but just a smattering of points to illustrate the idea is valid biblically. I don’t think we can use the consensus of the masses concerning the plain reading of the scripture either, if they haven’t been trained extensively in biblical context of the times. That issue alone is one of the major reasons error is propagated by multitudes of various denominations over the centuries is because they bought the plain reading hook line and sinker without performing their due diligence. Once misguided ideas get started in various denominations they take on a life of themselves and are like pulling teeth to get rid of.

    Again this issue is based upon a comprehensive understanding without bringing a bunch of preconceived baggage to begin with. Daniel 9 evidently presents that Prophecy would end at the time of desolation of the Temple that Christ speaks of in Matt 24. Do you believe Daniel was wrong or do you have a better interpretation of what he meant about the end of Prophecy at the time of messiah? I’ll ask again do you know of new prophecy concerning the Kingdom that has arisen since the times of the Apostles in the first century. If so whom do you ascribe with this prophetic ability and how do you validate it biblically?

  • Luke Allison

    Norman,

    The point I’m trying to make is that since there is a diversity of opinions on this topic (all Biblically and contextually informed), it’s difficult for me to hear you say a “study of context” will get us to the viewpoint you’ve espoused.

    What I’m trying to avoid is a debate using texts like bullets.

    Wayne Grudem and others have done an admirable job differentiating OT prophecy with NT prophecy, and “prophets” with the Spirit-given “gift of prophecy”.

    That’s beside the point: I’m just wondering if your perceived Biblical objectivity is more influenced by your lack of experience with the miraculous, or perhaps your witness to abuses within the church. This would be understandable.

    But the myth of Biblical objectivity can’t be propagated any longer.

  • Norman

    Luke,

    We have more biblical resources available to scholarship today than any time in history and the means to study and collaborate the issues as well.

    My objectivity is based upon what I perceive as a consistent them of biblical context which accompanies the time of Messiah and Israel’s coming judgment that is outlined consistently in the OT and reaffirmed by Christ and the Apostles. That theme is the in-breaking of the New Heavens and Earth which translates to the New Kingdom of Christ. I’ll repeat that it does not put an ongoing thousands of years duration for this in breaking of the new covenant but a short period in which the transfer from one covenant to the new one occurs. That is also the theme we see ongoing in the NT, not one that we read into it 2000 years later and counting. You are welcome to disagree and many do but I post that this was the expectation of the messianic seeking Jews and what was embraced by the earliest church. After the first century you have variation upon variation of ideas that become embedded because the church lost the ability to fully grasp some of the Hebrew background. This was in part due to the gradual Hellenization of the church and is still with us. This is an extensive study and is not one easily grasped through the medium of forum posting.

  • Luke Allison

    Your exegesis of Daniel 9 is unconvincing.

    Since other scholars have different interpretations, I’ll go with the one that is more convincing. That’s the way of these things, I suppose.

    I love you and would love to someday share a meal with you. Let’s have that be the final word on it. :)

  • Norman

    Luke,

    Thanks for the gracious offer of fellowship.

    As I have stated previously I can tell you are a committed follower of the Lord Jesus and we can definitly break bread together over that meal. :)

    Blessings

    Norm

  • Ben Rae

    God is clearly able to speak in any way he wants—and at times it seems he does—but does the Bible teach us that he will speak to us authoritatively outside the Bible? I can’t see where it does.

    Another issue is that much of this discussion assumes that we all agree what prophecy means, but prophecy in the Bible has a huge semantic range.

    For example, in the Old Testament prophecy is authoritative—you just have to obey it. Prophecy in 1 Cor 14 isn’t. Those present are NOT simply to accept it, but to weigh it.

    It seems to me that the sort of prophecy described in 1 Cor 14 is probably something that goes on pretty regularly even in the most conservative churches, they just don’t call it prophecy. It’s seen more as the expression of thoughts, ideas, epiphanies about the meaning or application of a Bible passage, or what the church or individuals ought to do. Are those ideas from God? Sometimes. Do they feel supernatural? No. Would rejecting them be sinful? No, although if they fit with the Bible and seem wise to those who weigh them then why not act on them?

    At the same time, if the Bible contains all that is needed to equip the man/woman of God for every good work (2 Tim 3:17) then we simply can’t demand that people obey something that the Bible is silent on, even of someone insists that God spoke to them.

  • Amos Paul

    Ben Rae,

    I’d challenge you to provide for me the verses which explicitly states that ‘The Bible’ *is* God’s ‘authoritative’ teaching–rather than God’s identity, nature, and Christ. And, no, being ‘God-Breathed’ and ‘useful for teaching’ doesn’t count ;).

    It seems to me that our *direct* with Christ and the Spirit is our primary source of authority. Tempered by the cloud of witnesses (church). Read in the context of Scripture.

    Jhn 14:17 –

    The Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

    Jhn 14:26 –

    But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

    Jhn 16:13 –.

    But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come

    1 Cor 2:9-13 –

    But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—

    These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

  • Wyatt

    I thought this discussion ended 30 years ago. Sure let’s keep debating it. For some people, the Holy Spirit shutup a long time ago. “We don’t need no Holy Spirit. We have have the fourth person of the Godhead and it’s the Bible. We went to bible school at Moody and the we went to DTS and they told us the same thing. They also told us when the rapture would occur.”

    God, through the Holy Spirit, speaks to the church today whether we believe it not. The problem we may have and we ought to discuss some other place and some other time is whether or not we like what we hear or why we have our fingers in our ears or heads up our rear ends.


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