In many of today’s confused evangelical churches, there are men and women who are very quick to claim “God told me” or “I received a word” or “The Lord called me to do XYZ.” They proclaim that they have experienced a “very powerful leading” and are sure that “God gave me a revelation.” There is a legitimate place for discussion about strong leadings and being called to this or that action when such things are actually found in and confirmed by the Bible. But this article is not about that. This article is about the great many who claim revelations which are clearly contrary to the Bible. This article takes issue with those who react with surprise and offense when questioned about how it is God can lead men to do things contrary to the Bible.
Indeed, the invoking of God’s ‘personal, special word to me’ is used as a trump card, a wild card, an Ace in the Hole, because in our culture, whatever is “right for you” is not to be questioned. It is intolerant to reject anything these days (except real Christianity, of course). All things are hailed as being equal in value and importance. Therefore one may not question another’s opinion. Many Christians have bought into this deadly universal relativism and have brought it with them to church. They add a little spiritualism to their opinion and it becomes a “personal revelation from God.” And no one is allowed to argue. No one can question God, after all. It’s a silver bullet. Conversation over. Comments closed.
What we have then is a modern Gnosticism that embraces the notion of secret or hidden private knowledge from God, and that leads to trouble.
This “seeking a word from God” is prevalent in our churches today. Even in church movements that have sought to return to sola scriptura, and who have resolved to re-evaluate everything they do in light of scripture, this un-biblical and un-Christian practice is hard to shake.
The problem is that these mystical words and strong callings from God often go beyond scripture or they outright contradict the Bible. The danger should be obvious: Once an authoritative, private, personally revealed “word from God” can be proclaimed by men, it can be used to justify sin or to make others do stuff.
No Ground To Stand On
There have been many examples of charismatic personalities leading large groups of people to their deaths in cultic deception. We see the words of cult leaders elevated to prophetic authority and wonder how can people follow such nut cases? Yet unless we have an objective, absolute source of unchanging truth, how can we say that Jim Jones or David Koresh are wrong? Against what measure do we evaluate their words? When a self-declared prophet prophesies on a billboard down the road that the world will end in October, how do we fact-check? How do we know these guys are speaking for God or speaking a truth from God when they claim to do so? And what makes these charlatans, the ones we point to as evil, any different from the pastor down the street who claims to have a word from God? What makes them different than the husband who wants to divorce his wife because “God is calling him to another woman?”
You see, we must have some measure of objective truth if we hope to know anything at all. We must have some standard by which we evaluate the words of men or we too will be deceived by any old opinion. If God’s Word is not objectively true and absolute, then we might as well throw the whole thing out because all opinions then are equal and we have no solid ground upon which to stand. We could never challenge maniacal cult leaders, well-doing Mormons, or humanistic academicians for leading men to their deaths without God’s objective truth.
But the Bible Says to Seek God’s Will
So why is it so bad when Christians claim a personal, private revelation from God? Technically speaking, it isn’t bad to seek revelation. It is good to desire to know God’s will, to know His plans, to know what He would have us think and do. Christians are to seek guidance and conviction from God – in the Bible. It is one of the greatest privileges given to Christians to actually be able to possess the full and complete revelation of God in written form. Further, he has given us a divine Counselor – the Holy Spirit – to help teach the will of God as we read the Bible. And further, the Christian possesses privileges that allow him to speak to God in prayer about all things, including His will. What riches the Christian has!
What is bad, however, is when we do not subject our findings to the Bible to see if they are true. Any revelation, any leading, any prompting or any conviction from God will always, forever and absolutely agree with what is already found in the Bible. Any “word from God” that contradicts the Bible or the principles found in the Bible is to be rejected outright. This goes for scandalous cult leaders as well as amicable pastors of evangelical churches. If a man proclaims a strong conviction from God, and professes it to men as a justification for his actions, that man must be humbly willing to have his proclamations held up to the Scripture for evaluation. He must be willing to listen to the questions of fellow Christians when they want to know – like good Bereans – how and where the Bible supports his conviction.
God does not contradict His Word. It was given by inspiration, protected by providence and preserved through time to be the standard, guide and rule of all life and godliness. Therefore, one who claims Christ while rejecting the Bible as the only source of objective truth cannot even argue logically for his position. His position is always mere opinion. That kind of irrational arguing may suffice for the university, the pub or the office, but it is insufficient for real life and death matters.
Christians in droves are being deceived by “words from God” handed out by pastors and national “spiritual leaders” who have insulated themselves from being questioned. These men frequently cite spiritual authority, special privilege, or some form of higher education as justification for being above questioning. When someone in their ranks has a wild notion to actually follow the Bible and question their “word from God”, they are maligned as legalists, malicious slanderers, abusers of authority, or power-seekers for daring to hold a professor of alleged truth up to the Standard of all Truth. This resistance to sola scriptura and sufficiency of scripture destroys lives. It is autonomy and a gross abuse of authority. It is man elevated above God. Sadly, entire denominations and entire para-church organizations that profess Christ operate this way as a matter of course.
What Shall We Do? Offense and Defense
Our only defense is a return to the sufficiency of scripture. This Bible alone is both our protective fortress against private revelation, and an offensive tool to illuminate falsehood.
The one who does not subject all personal revelation to the objective Word of God is refusing a great grace and a loving protection given to him by God for his own good. Psalm 19 declares to us that the Word of God is true, it makes wise, it enlightens, it warns us from error, and it keeps us back from presumptuous sin. In other words, he is a fool who does not take refuge in the Word: not primarily in defense from assaults of the world, but in defense of his own propensity to be in error, to be prideful, autonomous, and in sin.
Likewise, the only offensive weapon effective against the vain philosophies of men is the mighty Word. In 2nd Corinthians 4:4-6, Paul speaks of the weapons of our warfare: They “are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” This is battle to confront error, and to restore those in error to fullness and health. If we love our brother, we must hold his personal convictions, words from God and personal revelations up to the Bible, lest he die. To reject such loving use of the Word is to foolishly rush headlong to one’s own peril.
Men’s rejection of the Sufficiency of Scripture is foolish because it takes away both their defensive tower and their offensive sword and leaves them neutered, confused and vulnerable. It is the height of foolish pride to elevate any private conviction, any “call from God”, any “word from God” to a place of superiority to the Bible. We must subject ourselves to the Word alone, sola scriptura, if we hope to keep from error. We must be grateful when our brothers and sisters ask us to measure our conviction by the Word, for it defends us and keeps us grounded in truth. We must be bold to wield the Word with skill and lovingly admonish one another when error is found, so that we all keep to the narrow way together and do not fall to sin’s subtle whispers.