Thursday, June 28, 2007

Does Scripture Support Private Revelation or "Words"?

I have been mulling this over for the last few days and have a few considerations to share. We all have seen how God brought "words" to his prophets in the O.T., "The word of the Lord came to me..." (Jer. 1:4). Yet after Abraham, almost every occurrence of this "word" is for public declaration or direction for a king (which must be viewed as a public declaration because the king holds a public office and is the head of worship for the Israelite/Judahite people. The private words to Abraham may be viewed likewise.) If we look at the outpouring of miracles in Scripture, they always are associated with God proving his glory and reputation to his people over and above other gods. Here are a couple of examples. The Exodus story shows God bringing specific plagues upon Egypt that are supposed to be under the purview of the Egyptian pantheon. Elijah/Elisha were used in God's overcoming of the reputation of Baal amongst the people in the Northern Kingdom. The miracles of Christ and the Apostles were proofs that there message was of God, overcoming the Jews' mistaken identity of God. Words, on the other hand, are meant to chastise, warn, encourage, comfort, and teach God's people. These are public statements that are in no way owned or governed by the prophet. In fact we may see a unique example of Balaam, a (possibly) pagan prophet who could not keep back the word of the Lord, "I could not do anything of my own accord, good or bad, to go beyond the command of the LORD..." So, if the word of the Lord is for public dissemination, where have we obtained the idea of "private words"?

My wheels started turning the other day when I was flipping around on television and caught the televangelist Rod Parsley as he was urging his TV congregants to sign up for a camp experience where a number of other televangelists and musicians would be speaking/performing. Pastor Parsley proclaimed that a great word was coming and it would be even greater than any word he had given before. That none must miss it and that it was needed for their growth, if only they would pay money to come and see it. Seemingly by chance, I stopped by Daniel Phillips's blog Hellenisti Ginoskeis (Do You Know Greek?), and he was dealing with the topic of the N.T. and the will of God. The gist: He wrote a short blog article asserting that there are only two forms of the will of God that are presented in the N.T. The first is the Sovereign Will of God; that is, The overarching plan for the universe and mankind in it (above human comprehension). The second is the Revealed Will of God; his will given to man through Scripture and prophet. Phillips says, "There is no third will of God referring to neither certainly decreed events, nor inerrantly and specially revealed directions, but to subjective, erring, and personal perceptions." This is a complex way of saying that God does not give each one personal words detailing what should be done in each situation. That word has already been given in Scripture.

It is a mistake that often accompanies Pentecostalism that we must"find out" the will of God. We must remember what our unchanging God said to the Israelites concerning his will through Moses, "Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, 'Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?' Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, 'Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?' No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it." (Deut. 30:11-14) The "personal words" take our attention away from Scripture and away from the Holy Spirit's affect on our conscience. If "pastor" so-and-so says something that removes our attention from Scripture or controverts Scripture, we must not obey it. Let us return, instead, to the word in which all that we really need is laid out.


Jenny said...

I would agree with you that televangelists throw "words" around way too liberally. They never seem to get far away from the bottom line, or their personal goals. I also agree with going directly to the source (the Word) to find direction for any situation that life throws our way. Where would you say the urging/direction of the Holy Spirit fits into that? Yes, the Holy Spirit pricks our conscience when we do something sinful, but what about when we talk about that conscience prick with others? I know you have no problem with people sharing what the Lord in doing in their lives with others, so I guess I would just like a clearer definition of "word". When do you think someone crosses the line between sharing what God is teaching them and personal opinion?

Steven Douglas said...

I stand in agreement with Calvin and the Puritans who believed that the Holy Spirit "accompanies" Scripture; that is, the Holy Spirit uses Scripture to illuminate, guide, reprove, and bolster us. This is why it is so important to read the Scriptures regularly and memorize them as much as possible. The Holy Spirit will use it when you need it.

I see your point; where do we draw the line between the ministry of the Holy Spirit within the individual and the use of "private revelation" for proclamation? My answer is that the Holy spirit may illuminate your mind with something from Scripture which is beneficial for you or the surrounding church body. This is the quickening that Calvin wrote of and could be viewed as a "word," but it is not such as the Pentacostals frequently use the word. What they mean, like "pastor" Parsley, is that the Holy Spirit, or Christ, has come to them in a dream, a vision, or through some other form of internal and subjective quickening and given them (and only them) some revelation about the world or about other people. This "word" is incontravertible and is considered almost as sure as Scripture. If another does not believe the word or do what it says, they are failing to follow God and are sinners. (The Holy Spirit told me last night that you are all to write out one-thousand dollar checks to me if you want to catch a blessing this month!) These Pentacostal pastors often paint themselves as modern prophets in the tradition of Elijah. Bringers of fresh revelation from God, healers, apocalyptic harbingers, etc. Unfortunately they are deceivers. Just as everyone else who has forecast the end-times has been wrong, they are also wrong. To be more specific, a person crosses the line when he or she believes that: 1) the Scriptural quickening that they received is unique to them making them a special and more important asset to the church than another; 2)when the quickening received is unbiblical or not formed biblically (i.e., a prophecy that has little or nothing to do with Scripture); 3)the quickening or prophecy takes the place of or shares an equal standing with Scripture in either the individual or the congregation.

Scripture is "God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16) It will always trump personal quickenings. We must be careful not to be deceived by charlatans and those who would carry our attention away from Scripture.

Steven Douglas said...


I should add that there is a mistake within Pentacostalism that allows for these aberrations. They do not believe that any of the gifts or offices of the New Testament have ended. While I think they may have something in regards to the gifts (prophecy being defined as forth-telling rather than fore-telling as a general rule), I think that they are wrong about the office of Apostle. Even if we were to admit believe in apostolic succession (the office handed down from one of the original apostles to another person to another person ad infinitum), we would also have to admit that the apostolic line has been broken. No one can claim the Apostolic office based on succession (not even Catholics). The only other means of attaining the office would be to see Christ in person, which no one has since Paul.