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Atheists and cessationists are those who hold two very different belief systems. One says that there is no God, the other believes in God and Christ as Lord, so what could they have in common?
First, let’s define our terms:
Atheist: An atheist is one that believes that there is no God. Buddhism is one of the few religions that believes that there is no God. It is atheistic.
Theist: A theist believes that there is a God or multiple gods. Most religions of the world are theistic. They believe in some sort of Supreme Being even if they disagree on who that being is.
Deist: A deist is a form of a theist, one who believes there is a God. This is usually explained as being a Creator God but one who is not concerned with His creation. In fact, the idea that this God interacts with His creation is strongly rejected.
Agnostic: An agnostic is one who just comes out and says that they have no idea. There are two main forms of agnostics. Some say that they personally do not know if there is a God. Others will say that it cannot be known that there is a God, he may be there but we will just never be sure.
Cessationism: Cessationists are Christians, normally in the Protestant tradition, who believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament have ceased and that miracles are not possible today.
Continuationism: In opposition to cessationists, continuationism is the label for those who believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit did not cease, that they have continued since Pentecost, and that miracles are possible today.
What Does Cessationism have in Common with Atheism
With our definitions in place, how could there be anything in common between atheists and cessationists when one believes that there is no God, the other professes Christ as Lord?
Worldviews in a Nutshell:
Atheists: There is no God. There is nothing outside of the natural world. It is a closed system
Deists: There is a Creator, but he doesn’t bother with us. He went away. It is a closed system not because God is not there, but because He chooses it to be.
Cessationists: There is a God and he came to save us, but he doesn’t bother with us anymore. He doesn’t speak to us. There is no prophecy today, and any claim to spiritual gifts is false and from a deceiving source. Christ is Lord, but until we get to heaven, we are living in a closed system.
While cessationists do believe in God and specifically in Christ, like atheists, the most strident cessationists argue very strongly against miracles and the possibility of God actually speaking to a person. The cessationist believes in a modified form of a closed system, not because there is no God, but because God chooses it to be so.
I recently read a polemic against a popular Bible teacher in which the author comes just short of calling the teacher a heretic. What was the teacher’s transgression? The teacher claims God speaks to them. There is another dynamic going on that inflames the invective against this particular teacher, but the argument was essentially that God doesn’t spearmint anymore and therefore this teacher is either being deliberately deceptive or seriously deluded. It would be hard to differentiate between the commentary within the article and the comments that followed on this Christian site from those that are found on any number of atheist blogs in the discussion on the possibility of God speaking.
At least atheists have the excuse that they don’t believe in any God. My question to the cessationist is . . . Who exactly is the God that you believe in?
Who is God?
The God of the Bible and the Savior in which Christians believe is not part of creation or one with the universe. The God we believe in is Creator, uncreated, and Jesus, the Logos or Word of God, through which all things are made. His essence is apart from the universe.
The God of the Bible is not disinterested, like some absent minded professor with a laboratory of discarded inventions. He is active and present. His pain at our rebellion and rejection of him is often described as the pain of a rejected lover in the Bible. The intensity of that first love is only a shadow of His love for us, it cannot begin to compare, but he uses language that we can understand.
Throughout the Bible, both Old Testament and New, He is ever present, not as simply an idea or a feeling, but as a Person and a very involved participant.
God as Friend
There is much we could say regarding the support and evidence for the continuation of the gifts of the spirit and miracles. However, I want to focus specifically on the resistance to the idea that God speaks to an individual.
Not only is the God of the Bible an active participant in the physical world, one who literally storms the gates of Hell, but those actions are to achieve a specific goal, a goal that is for our benefit. His purpose in his actions in our physical realm is to create a way for us to once more be in communion and fellowship with Him, to draw us to Himself, so that He can be in relationship with us.
Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing, but I have called you friends,” (John 15:15)
He also said, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
A friendship is a relationship. In order for a relationship to exist, there must be communication. Following Jesus is about more than simply accepting him as Lord, is about receiving direction for your life and following His will in spreading the Kingdom . . . today and every day. Jesus was in constant communion with the Father during his time on earth. He said that he only did what he saw the Father doing. (John 5:19) It was in that moment and directions for that particular situation, he was not referring to something he saw in Scripture. His example is what we are to follow. We are to do as he did and seek continuous guidance.
Did We Receive All to Have Less?
If we believe in Christ as Lord and Savior and that through his work on the cross we can be in right relationship with God, is it logical to think that relationship would be less than what those who lived prior to the Resurrection experienced?
The Old Testament is full of God speaking to people, faithful followers such as Job, Abraham, and Enoch. He spoke to those who fell away such as in Balaam and Saul. He even spoke to pagan kings such as Abimelek (Genesis 20:3) and the Pharaoh Necho (2 Chronicles 35:22). He did not just speak to kings like David and priests such as Samuel, but to the every day man and woman, such as the unnamed man of God (1 Kings 13:26) and the infertile Hannah who cried out for a son. (1 Samuel 1). He didn’t just give prophecies regarding nations, but also specific and practical advice such as strategic advice on business dealings to Jacob.
This was before the cross, when only the blood of animals was available to cover sins without cleansing the heart. (Hebrews 10:4) If God loves us so much that he came to suffer and die for us, does it make any sense at all that he is not planning on beginning that relationship with him until we die? Is it logical that his presence in our lives would be less than what the patriarchs experienced before his victory?
No. That does not make any sense at all.
Yes, God still speaks. Not only does he speak, but he speaks to individuals. He is our “Wonderful Counselor” meaning he is there to counsel every aspect in our lives.
God has spoke plainly, and I have heard it many time: Power, O God, belongs to you. (Psalm 62:11)
He is speaking to you. If you are not hearing him, ask him to open your ears.
The point of this post came to mind when I saw a critique of the worship leader (Matthew ?) who like Joshua Harris announced his departure from the faith. When the analyst began to use
a cessasionist argument I wrote a text making this point but discarded because I thought it might be uncharitable.
Thanks for your comment Troy, I totally agree with you.
I try to temper some of my comments about creationists and Calvinists, because I know they love Jesus too, but it’s really difficult sometimes because I think that doctrine is just so destructive to fullness in Christ.
We will just have to keep praying for these people that are currently in a state of doubt, because it is a spiritual stronghold.
I think they might be closer to coming to experiencing the fullness and the glory of God now … even though they are currently in the wilderness… than they were with a theology that shutters the Holy Spirit.
I watched a little clip of Mike Bickle talking about this (the recent apostates), and he said, “the story isn’t over yet.”
No it’s not. God’s not done with them yet.
There is such a Holy anger inside me of against those who refuse to allow Jesus to work the way he intended the believer to live. It is appalling to see such ‘lack of faith’ These days that people would outright, outlaw, just like the Pharisees any and all miracles from believers. I mean, look at the books of Acts, and if you happen to believe that way, you may find that the faith that Christ gives us in his Holy Spirit will happen. There was one such town where he couldn’t do hardly anything to heal people and there was a time where he says, he marveled at their unbelief. This is a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. Jesus still works miracles to those who believe.
Yes, it’s sad. For many, it’s what they’ve been taught and they don’t know anything else. But honestly, I think that part of it is fear. If a pastor or church leadership allows for the working of the Holy Spirit … and then the Holy Spirit doesn’t work through them … then where are they at?
There is one thing that one should realize. Many are called but few are chosen.
The helping verb is an assumption of the English translation. It isn’t in the original Greek. The Greek is “Many called, few chosen.” The construction of the sentence actually indicates that an accurate translation is “Many are called, few have chosen.” Which is how Irenaeus, whose native language was Greek, explains the passage. https://youtu.be/IhSZWfKF238
Everyone is allowed to know Jesus, but the God knows who’s hearts will remain hard, and for them, he can do nothing more. He knew those who gave up the world for him and he knows them all.