This is a big subject and it has caused a lot of disagreement in Christian circles. I will try to make this as clear and comprehensive as possible. If I fail, by all means, ask questions.
Three years ago, I sat in a church and heard the pastor list all the various ways that God speaks to us. The pastor and elders of the church topped the list (you might be able to determine the type of church this was), then came your parents and the Word of God. I think there was another one, but it would have merged into one of the other three categories.
In any case, with my pentecostal upbrining, there was one glaring omission. How does one recognize God’s voice when He speaks directly to an individual?
John MacArthur preached a great sermon in 1991, entitled “Charismatic Chaos.” He was (and continues to be) very concerned with the growing emphasis on “manifestations of the spirit,” which include direct revelation and miracles, all around the world:
An associate of mine attended a Charismatic Businessmen’s meeting in Chicago, where a Catholic Priest testified that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had given him the gift of tongues while he was saying his rosary. Then the Charismatic pastor, leading the meeting, rose and said, and I quote, “What an amazing testimony that is. Aren’t you glad that God isn’t bound by any ideas by what’s doctrinally acceptable? Some people would try to dismiss this brother’s testimony just because it doesn’t jibe with their doctrinal system, but how you get filled with the Holy Ghost doesn’t matter, as long as you know that you have got the Baptism. Even if you got it from Mary while saying your rosary, it has to be legitimate.” The audience, by the way, numbering in the hundreds, broke into wild affirmation and applause.
I was talking to a man in our church this morning who had for a number of years worshiped here and then had returned to his native Scotland, living just out of Edinburgh. And I said, “Have you found a church?” And he said, “Well, yes we have.” And I said, “Is it one of the Scottish Baptist Churches (knowing that most of the Scottish Presbyterian Churches are long gone liberal, with of course some exceptions)?” He said, “No, it is not a Baptist Church. For the most part, most of the Baptist Churches have moved into the Charismatic Movement.” Scotland.
MacArthur also adequately describes the attitude of so many in the Charistmatic movement. I’ve seen it and read it—even in biographies covering the mid- to late-1800s with men like Smith Wigglesworth.
There is the ploy they use, “Well, we would expect you to be against it since you haven’t had the experience.” That is Gnosticism. That is believing that you have been elevated to a higher level of comprehension which the uninitiated have no understanding. Rodman Williams, who has written a number of books and who was once the president of a local Charismatic school, and I quote said, “Any vital information concerning the Gifts of the Spirit, the Pneumatic Charismata, predisposes a participation in them. Without such a participation, whatever is said about the Gifts may only result in confusion and error.” If you haven’t had it, you have no right to talk about it. One pastor said to me, “You talk exactly like one who never had the experience. You are speaking out of ignorance.” I wonder if they feel that way talking about Heaven, Hell, murder, adultery, homosexuality, and numerous other subjects. Do we have to have that experience too?
And Rodman Williams, on the tape said, “Well I’ll tell you one thing, I don’t know who this man [MacArthur] is but God will never bless his life or his ministry.” And there was a moment of silence, to which Walter Martin simply replied, because he knew me and he knew the ministry, “I think you have gone too far in saying that!”
I have to agree with Walter Martin there. Someone repeated a conversation that they overheard in a book store, where one woman cautioned another that A.W. Tozer “didn’t have the annointing!”
The Mormons have had whole congregations speak in tongues at their temple dedications, and they think Jesus was just one of God’s sons (similar to Satan). They claim this gift for their missionaries as well, such that they learn new languages more easily.
As I pointed out in my post on what a “Calling” means, a claim of direct or special revelation is often a trump card. It is very difficult to discern or argue against.
Paul and the other apostles never claimed that everyone else should just “shut up” because that person did not know what they were talking about. They argued, explained, expounded. Acts 17:10-12:
And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.
This is not specifically about the “manifestations of the spirit” but they would have been a part of what Paul taught. Those who verified everything were called “noble,” and this was not an isolated incident.
Apollos had searched out what John the Baptist preached and argued forcefully for it, from the scriptures (Acts 18:24-). Aquila and Priscilla, with whom Paul had lived and worked, took him aside and expounded even more to him. None of these people took what was said without the ability to back it up in the Old Testament. Apollos lived and breathed the OT and Aquila and Priscilla used it to further his understanding. The New Testament had not been written down yet.
If Paul was not above questioning, why do people today think that they are? I have heard a recording of someone in a well-known church “speak in tongues” from behind the pulpit. Right in the middle, in plain English, the person said “come lord Satan.” I won’t name the church because I can’t find my copy of the recording right now, but shouldn’t that give you plenty of reason to pause and judge what is going on?
There is more, of course. Luke and Paul both wrote about speaking in “tongues”—languages that had not been learned. Mark even included a statement about them in his record of the Great Comission.
If everything is subject to the Scriptures, and speaking in other languages is accepted in them, what do we do with everything that claims to be spiritual but fails the Scripture test?
There are several schools of thought. MacArthur and many others are of the opinion that these spiritual gifts have ceased. The Charismatic movement refuses to allow these manifestations to be reigned in. I guess those called “Pentecostal” fit somewhere in the middle, where their guiding doctrine is not appreciated by either side. And sometimes it is wrong.
I have, I hope, already demonstrated that there must be some guiding doctrine. The question that remains is whether MacArthur is right that these manifestations have ceased.
In order to answer this question, some look to I Corinthians 13:8-10 for their proof:
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
Prophesy and knowledge will cease. When the New Testament is complete, all of the partial things that went into making it will stop.
This is bolstered by teachings that the Bible is complete and that it is unnecessary to have anything more than what is already in it. Revelation 22:19 is often taken to encompass it and the 65 books preceding it:
And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
That is a strong warning, regardless of whether you believe that John is speaking about a loss of salvation (as I do) or that the person will be a minimalist in heaven.
It is further argued that God will not give a specific mission to an individual or church because the church (as a whole) has already been given her mission—one that is focused on Jesus. Since the focus is on Jesus, it cannot be centered around us. Matthew 28:18-20:
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
The weak point of this argument is that it was given before Paul had even been converted, but he was told to specifically go to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15).
One could possibly say that Paul was told where to go in order to teach a principle to those that would come after him, but there is a problem with that claim as well. Not every instance of God speaking to someone is recorded in the Bible, which would indicate that there is personal instruction.
There are some really strange stories if all of them teach principles we are to follow without direct instruction from God. Why don’t we start with a well-known story? Acts 8:26-31:
And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.
Philip was one of the men who had been selected by the apostles to ensure that the widows of the church were taken care of (Acts 6:5). By Acts 21:8, he was called an evangelist. What principle could be taught from this passage if we cut out God’s direct intervention? Should we stand on the side of the highway all day, looking for illegal immigrants in the back of pickups?
He was directed to someone who was trying desperately to understand the writings of Isaiah. If you continue to read, you find that Philip starts to expound at the very place that the eunuch was reading. That is very impressive. Dare I ask how many Pentecostals can do that now?
Let me turn to another story. In Acts 2, we are told the events of the “Day of Pentecost.” Pentecost was the day when Israel celebrated the giving of the law to Moses—50 days after the passover. On this day, the Holy Spirit was given because of the slain passover lamb.
Peter made the claim that God’s spirit was being poured out as the prophet Joel had declared would happen in the “last days” (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:16-21). This “spirit” was poured out on 120 people that were gathered together in prayer. How many of those men and women did you hear about later? This was a sign for the people who were there. We are told about it because that was when the Holy Spirit was first given in this capacity.
The Holy Spirit did fulfill a slightly different role before this. I hope you are familiar with Hebrews 1; how God’s spirit moved on the writers of old to inspire them. It was possible for God’s spirit to leave or stay. Samson did not even know God’s spirit had left him (Judges 16:20). Saul was detained while David fled (I Samuel 19:22-24). David worried God’s spirit would be withdrawn from him as king (Psalm 51:11). Men and Women who sought God were still granted to know God better. Simeon and Anna in Luke 2 are examples of this.
Perhaps one of the greatest Biblical proofs, to my mind, that God has spoken extra-biblically (outside, not contradicting what is written) is Jonah. There is only one place in the Bible where he was spoken about in a positive way. Every other reference is, at best, neutral. II Kings 14:25:
He [Jeroboam] restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gathâhepher.
Can someone be called a prophet for one prophesy? Was Saul a prophet? Where does Anna fit in? Here is someone that was well-known for his prophesies in his day while most of them are forgotten in the Christian world. Josephus records a little more:
IN the fifteenth year of the reign of Amaziah, Jeroboam the son of Joash reigned over Israel in Samaria forty years. This king was guilty of contumely against God, and became very wicked in worshipping of idols, and in many undertakings that were absurd and foreign. He was also the cause of ten thousand misfortunes to the people of Israel. Now one Jonah, a prophet, foretold to him that he should make war with the Syrians, and conquer their army, and enlarge the bounds of his kingdom on the northern parts to the city Hamath, and on the southern to the lake Asphaltitis; for the bounds of the Canaanites originally were these, as Joshua their general had determined them. So Jeroboam made an expedition against the Syrians, and overran all their country, as Jonah had foretold.
These prophesies were very clearly for that time, yet his words were not deemed to be important enough to pass on. All we see is a quick reference to this prophet. This same thing happened in a number of other places but those passages are easy to generalize away. The tale of Jonah is very difficult to do that with.
I think a lot of people say that these “manifestations of the spirit”—including direct revelation—have stopped because they are too dangerous in the hands of the untrained. I do agree to some extent, but what of the other ways that God reveals himself?
If you are reading this, there is a very good chance that you know pastors are capable of and have abused their authority. Cults misconstrue the words of Scripture. No matter what method of revelation we feel “safe” with, there are those who abuse it. We hope that submitting every facet to the scrutiny of Scripture is enough to unbrainwash people after a while. We rely on God’s Holy Spirit to open the eyes of the blind.
How is this different from direct revelation, where God speaks something unique to an individual? Remember the story of Philip above? There was no general command. It was for that time and place.
Discernment is still a necessity. I John 4:1-3:
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
Of course, I Corinthians 14 governs any public, corporate “manifestation” (ie. verses 11-16):
Therefore if I know no
the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?
As a general rule, you should not sing or pray anything you don’t know you are singing or praying, and don’t confuse other people. If you use “tongues” publicly, interpret it too. If you don’t, there is every reason to rebuke you. Acts 2 was a slight exception because they were speaking in the native languages of the people around them.
One more story: Someone that I know and trust told about a young man who visited his church when he was younger. During the service there was someone who said something in “tongues” that no one else understood. They waited a little while for an interpretation and none was given. After the service, this person’s parents had the young man go to their house for lunch. Over the meal, the young man told what it meant—it had been in his native language.
We may not know everything that is happening. The world is bigger than any of us can completely understand (even if a few of us try). With our limitations, we really need to seek discernment. It is necessary regardless of who we listen to, and the only way that I know to learn discernment is to spend time with God. Study his Word, pray.
I’ll close with one more quote from John MacArthur:
[Paul] was explaining the Scripture, he was delineating the Scripture. He had an experience. He went to Heaven! But God said, “You are not allowed to,” what? “You’re not allowed to talk about it!” “I don’t want anybody basing anything on your interpretation, on your experience.” Paul never built his ministry on his visions, his experiences. He built it on what he knew was the revealed truth of God, and he called into question any experience that violated Scripture.
And that is exactly right.