Monday, January 22, 2007

Does God still speak? (Part 2)

In addressing the question of whether or not God still speaks, I not only feel the need to counter the cessationist position, on the one hand, but I also feel the need to guard against the (for lack of a better term) “hyper-charismatic” position, on the other. I know that as soon as I affirm that God continues to speak or bestow certain gifts of the Spirit, there are those who take that as my validation of every kind of weird or outlandish experience or activity that is attributed to the Holy Spirit today. That is certainly not my intention. For instance, I would definitely not affirm or recommend the majority of what I’ve seen on television that claims to be Christian, including nearly everything I’ve ever seen on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). So, let me make clear that I am not endorsing a theology or practice of “anything goes”.

I am also not affirming the claims of some, both inside and outside of Christendom, to hear words and directives from God that clearly contradict what God has already said, as recorded in Scripture. God is thoroughly consistent with Himself. He doesn’t say one thing and turn around later and say something in total contradiction to what He already said. God also does not give new revelation today. I think this truth is confirmed in Scripture with serious warnings in several places:
“You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from if, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2)

“Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” (Deuteronomy 12:32)

“Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.” (Proverbs 30:5-6)

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)
So, relax, I’m not talking about receiving “fresh” words from the Lord (as I’ve heard some media preachers put it). The only “fresh” word is the word God has already given us in the Bible. We can receive a word from the Lord any time we open our Bibles and read. Everything we need to know from God He has put in a book—the Bible—available for all to read and profit from who will avail themselves of the opportunity (and for those church folk who rarely read a Bible, it could, indeed, be a “fresh” word).

My contention is simply that Scripture never teaches that, with the close of the New Testament canon, God ceased to speak. If the verse exists that teaches that view, please let me know, because I have not been able to find it. Most often, those who say that God ceased to speak when the New Testament was completed—that is, cessationists—reference 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. We’re told that “the perfect” of verse 10 is the completed canon of Scripture. Well, if that’s so, then, according to verse 12, we also now “know fully” and see “face to face”. But, clearly, that’s not true. I think most believers would affirm they neither “know fully” nor “see clearly”. (I think it is interesting, to say the least, that some “hyper-charismatics” all but imply that they do, indeed, “know fully” and “see clearly” because of the spirituals gifts of prophecy, “the utterance of wisdom”, “the utterance of knowledge” and “the ability to distinguish between spirits”, as they define these gifts. But, lest the “other side” feels smug, some of my Reformed brothers and sisters, because of their adherence to “correct” theology, speak and blog as if they also “know fully” and “see clearly”. Perhaps both “sides” need to “get a grip”. None of us, on this side of eternity, know all we should know or see all we should see. All of us have huge “blind spots” and stand, before the infinite wisdom and knowledge of God, ignorant.) We presently live in the tension between the “already” and the “not yet”. We’re still growing in grace, waiting for “the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). Additionally, “the perfect” has not yet come. One day, “the perfect” will come: Jesus Christ our Lord, in all His glory. “When he appears we shall be like him [i.e., “perfect”], because we shall see him as he is [“face to face”, no longer “in a mirror dimly”]” (1 John 3:2). So, since “the perfect” has not yet come, then it must be true that “prophecies”, “tongues”, and “knowledge” continues…and God still speaks.

What I’ve expressed above seems to me to be the clearest and most obvious understanding of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. Now, if that passage doesn’t mean this, then I think the Church needs to get rid of the doctrine of the Perspicuity of the Scriptures and go back to the Roman Catholic system of letting the clergy do all the reading and interpreting of Scripture for the laity because, obviously, the ordinary believer cannot possibly understand the Scriptures without the help of the cessationistic “experts”. In my opinion, it takes quite a feat of theological legerdemain to pull some other meaning out of this passage than this obvious one: Jesus Christ is “the perfect” who is to come. In fact, this is what I think cessationists are guilty of doing. They are wrestling a meaning out of Scripture that simply is not there.

Now, if God has not made a declaration in Scripture that He is no longer speaking to individuals except through the written word, then it follows, does it not, that God is still speaking directly to individuals.

(To be continued…)

1 comment:

Andrew Chapman said...

Matthew Henry on 1 Corinthians 13 v 10: "There will be no need of tongues, and prophecy, and inspired knowledge, in a future life, because then the church will be in a state of perfection, complete both in knowledge and holiness." What did Calvin say on this? Matthew Henry normally mentions alternative interpretations if he knows of them, but he doesn't say anything about the idea that the perfect has already come. What is the history of this idea - which is as you say, contrary to common sense and reason?