If you want to create a lively-and sometimes ungodly-conversation among believers, ask the simple question, “Does God speak to people today?” It is like tossing a hand grenade into a busy mess hall during boot camp and watching the soldiers rush for the door. Depending upon one’s background and theological bent, the answers will range from ‘of course He still speaks’ to ‘not since the canon of Scriptures has been completed.’ This is a frequent question among young believers, especially in light of the fact they wish to walk free from a dead and lifeless form of Christianity.
Theologians of previous generations must be read carefully, as they were combating errors and heresy unique to their time. This is why we have to be very careful not to ‘over-judge’ the statements from previous generations unless we know with reasonable certainty the layers to the theological battles that raged during their life of ministry. Equally so, we must be careful when using their quotes in our generation, as they may not be bringing out the essential issues we face.
It is easy for us to read famous quotes from writers and theologians and turn them into false dilemmas by using them and presenting an either/or option when more than two options are available. One such case can be illustrated with this quote I ran across some time back while reading puritan writer, John Owen. It is similar to some quotes I’ve read in various systematic theology books that were written during times when the church was battling the dangers of mysticism that is not grounded in sound doctrine.
“If private ‘revelations’ agree with scripture, they are needless, and if they disagree, they are false.” (John Owen)
At first glimpse, one is tempted to say, “Amen.” However, upon close examination, and understanding the battle against unbiblical mysticism of the day, we see that Owen’s statement, though very relevant to the disputes of his day, is over-simplified and creates a false dilemma in our day. How? Because when the first option is clarified we discover that a third option springs up. If we embrace Owen’s quote as the gold standard on revelation, then we would end with a belief that God only speaks through the Scriptures, and that would be untrue.
To keep from making an unnecessarily long post, let me succinctly say, “Yes, the Lord still speaks, and He gives us ways to verify and authenticate the genuineness of His voice.” The greatest authenticity to God’s voice is that it does not violate the teachings of Scripture. Therefore, some ‘revelations’ agree with Scripture, some ‘revelations’ disagree with Scripture, and some revelations do not violate Scripture.
A private revelation will be the Holy Spirit’s leading for our life, in directions and decisions that are not addressed in the Bible, but that do not contradict the teachings of the Bible. They are supported by the Scripture even though they are not in ‘agreement’ because the issue may not be addressed at all in the Bible. For instance, suppose a Pastor is offered a ministry in two different countries and only one can be performed. Which one does he accept? The Bible does not tell the Pastor which country and therefore, neither job offer agrees with the Bible. And yet, the Bible does not disagree with the offer, and so neither job offer violates the Scripture. Therefore, the Pastor needs a private revelation from the Holy Spirit to know which direction the Father desires for him in ministry.
Sometimes, like the above example, a revelation neither agrees or disagrees. When that happens, we need to search out whether it violates or does not violate the parameters of the Scripture.
The Lord gives His children the person of the Holy Spirit at salvation, and He is the member of the Trinity that will teach and guide us into all truth. Yes, the Lord still speaks, and He has given us ways to verify and discern His voice. When we use wisdom and biblical principles, we can gladly follow the Lord’s voice and avoid the voices of self foolishness or the voice of the god of this world.
Let us read with joy the writings of the godly men and women who have gone before us. Let us glean from their wisdom and insight. However, whenever we come across a famous quote from them, or an adamant statement about a spiritual topic, let us be sure to investigate in order to understand the conflicts of their day.
As long as we hold God’s Word tight to our heart and mind, and give ourselves to understanding its narrative and message, we have a safety net to prevent us from deception and false revelations. Because of God’s Word, we can move out with confidence in hearing our great Shepherd speak to us. We need not fear from the various impressions which come our way. Instead, we simply evaluate and discern them; keeping the good and dismissing the bad.
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.” ~ 1 Thess. 5:19-21