Friday, May 17, 2002

Prophecy and Biblical Sufficiency-As part of a good post on the essentials of Christianity, David Heddle points to both the Bible as being inerrant and sufficient, pointing out two key scriptures-
I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Rev 22:18-19, NASB) And Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. (Jude 1:3, NASB) To me (but not to everyone) these verses say: revelation ended with the apostolic age; the Word is both necessary and sufficient. This is a contentious issue. It can be very divisive between Christians who are Charismatic and those who are not. I don’t know how to deal with this division; it is very painful because it is among believers who have so much in common. I didn’t want to go there, especially with new believers -- so I italicized "and sufficient" as a way to signal my non-charismatic position. Sufficient in no way implies we don’t need the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, without His help the words would be foolishness to our ears. And it does not mean that you can squirrel yourself away in some corner with the Bible with no need of anything else. You will need instruction from godly teachers and regular fellowship with a body of believers. It means (in my mind) that no additional revelation or true prophet will be forthcoming until Christ returns.
I don’t know of too many Charismatic/Pentecostal bloggers on the loose (Spudlets, written by an Assemblies of God guy, is the only other that comes to mind), so as a proud Bapticostal, I will pick up the banner for the charismatic side. My working definition of how charismatics (for this post, consider Pentecostals a subset of charismatics) differ from other evangelicals would be as follows
(1) The Holy Spirit’s more than just a bit player in the Trinity and we need to pay more attention to Him. He’s there to instruct our thoughts and actions 24-7. The closer we draw to Him, the better off we are (2) God’s not out of the miracle business. The gifts of the Spirit mentioned in Acts and in I Corinthians are still active today.
Let’s start by making clear that the Bible is a finished product; that fact everyone can agree upon. Our Catholic and Anglican friends will put in a plug for an larger Old Testament, but everybody’s on board that the text of the Bible was done as of the first century AD. Anyone who tries to add extra books to the Bible written after Revelation or place an extra set of writings as equal to the Bible is in serious doo-doo as per John’s warning in Revelation 22. [update 11PM-Joyful Christian makes a good point as to whether John knew his line would be at the end of the Bible and thus would be read as such. I accept his critique of "overselling the passage," as I have that thought myself] In that sense the Bible is sufficient as the written Word of God. It is to be the guide by which believers live. A believer’s actions should conform to the Bible just as laws are supposed to conform to the Constitution; however, there aren’t any Biblical amendments. The believer will interpret the Word with the aid of the Holy Spirit and fellow believers, but they aren’t free to ignore something in the Bible just because it’s inconvenient or politically incorrect. As best I understand, Catholic, Reformed and Charismatic theology are all on the same page in that respect. Drawing closer to the Holy Spirit doesn’t bother Reformed followers. It’s that second differential I listed above that make Reformed people nervous. Most of the prophecy I have encountered in charismatic circles was of a personal rather than universal nature, used to guide decisions on a more mundane basis or to give confirmation to the believer that God is looking after them. That kind of prophecy is not designed to add to the Bible but to be an outlet of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. I don't think the injunction given in Revelation 22 is meant to say that God is shutting up entirely and leaving us with the Bible to figure things out for ourselves. Prophecy that comments upon Biblical truths rather than adding to them or annulling part of them seems to be Biblically appropriate. If someone says “God told me X,” the natural reaction for most people is to be very skeptical and to question the sanity of the person. However, just because many fruitcakes say that God speaks to them doesn’t mean that God doesn’t speak to people at all. First, we need to check whether what God is supposed to be saying meshes with scripture. If someone says that God told them to leave their wife and have an affair with their secretary, one can be fairly certain that the message wasn’t from God given what scripture says about marriage. However, if the message is plausibly true, then continued discernment needs to be applied. 1 John 4:1-3 comes to mind-
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
If the word spoken is true, it will resonate with other believers as being true and speaking in a tone consistent with God. We need to think things through, judging them based on what we know of scripture and what we know of the worldly situation and judge whether the speaker is hearing from God or whether he's a few fries short of a Happy Meal. To blindly say “God doesn’t speak directly to people anymore” is putting God in a box He doesn’t belong in. He may not directly speak to you or me, but that doesn’t mean He can’t be speaking directly to others. He may be doing it less than in the times of Acts and Corinthians, but to say that he can't do so anymore is heretical and to say that he doesn't do so anymore is extremely cocky, given the millions of believers out there. You will be declaring quite a few people in charismatic circles to be crazy or liars if you do, so tread very carefully if you are about to say that God's not talking to them. Also, we shouldn’t feel like second-class citizens if we don’t have all the flashy gifts of the Spirit. My dad was given very sharp spiritual antennae, being given words of knowledge and manifesting other gifts of the Spirit on a regular basis. It took me over a decade to be comfortable in charismatic settings, since my more mundane experience made me feel like a slacker compared to what my dad was experiencing. The gifts of the Spirit are gifts, not requirements; not everyone gets them. Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 12 that each part of the Body of Christ is important even if they aren't flashy. True, an overreliance on personal insight and manifestations can lead to heresy in a hurry. That's why I appreciate the Baptist (and other evangelicals) tradition of serious Bible study as a counterweight to keep one grounded in the Word. Being a good student of the Bible allows you to better test the spirits, keeping you from going off on any number of heretical tangents. However, to say that such manifestations of the Holy Spirit don't happen at all anymore seems to be heretical as well.

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