Pardon my bluntness, but I'm really getting tired of hearing respected evangelicals attack anyone who says, "The Lord spoke to me." A growing body of verbiage today debunks the idea that God speaks personally to people any more. Although there is value in warning against kooks, I'm disturbed. These attacks seek to ban a biblical, privileged expectation of the redeemed and also level wholesale assaults on anyone who claims a word from the Lord or that God spoke to them in the privacy of their own walk with Him.
Let me shout it: Yes, God's Word is absolute authority! I don't know any spiritually alive or reasonably alert Christian--charismatic or not--who ever thinks otherwise. Whatever demographic studies may regrettably report of "Christians" who live according to their own subjective or relativistic values, they don't represent me, and I doubt they represent you.
In the broad circles of my familiarity, I find that experienced Pentecostal-charismatic leadership consistently confronts weird and wandering opinions of spiritually muddled souls. Still, increasing criticism is blacklisting all of us who receive words of prophecy by the Holy Spirit or describe an encounter with the Lord as though He spoke with us. What can be said to set this matter to rest? What place does God's Word give to the subject?
THE VOICE OF GOD
Since critics argue that "God only speaks today through the Bible," let's turn there first and see what Scripture reveals about "the voice of God." To do so is to immediately wonder why anyone would resist the idea that God reveals Himself to humankind in many ways--including speaking directly to individuals and groups. From history's beginning, God has been and still is speaking in at least seven ways:
1. Creation. God speaks through creation's glory, artistry and majesty with such clarity that the Bible says all humankind is held accountable to believe in the Creator on these grounds alone (see Ps. 19:1-6; Rom. 1:20).
2. Human conscience. God speaks through the moral sense placed in the human conscience. A fundamental sense of right and wrong is innately present, and on these grounds God may exercise judgment (see Rom. 2:14, 15).
3. Divine providence. God speaks through the evidences of divine providence. These evidences affect our lives and speak to our souls, often causing humans to respond with wonder, wisdom, gratitude or repentance (see Gen. 28:10-17; Acts 16:7).
4. Signs, wonders and prophecies. God speaks through signs, wonders and prophecies prompted by the Holy Spirit, including tongues with interpretation, by these means edifying believers and convincing unbelievers of His power and presence (see 2 Kin. 2:15; Acts 13:12; 1 Cor.14:5, 22-26).
5. Still, small voice. God speaks by His "still, small voice," addressing people within their hearts with personal assurance, correction, insight or guidance by His own express choice to do so (see 1 Kin. 11:12; Is. 30:21; Acts 10:9-12).
6. Scripture. God speaks through His authoritative Word, the inspired and inerrant holy Scriptures (see 2 Tim. 3:14-17), which He has given through His prophets and apostles by the Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments (see 2 Pet. 1:19-21).
7. Jesus Christ. God has spoken finally and redemptively through His Son Jesus Christ, the living Word. Christ has revealed the Father's heart of love to us and has become our only way of salvation for returning to Him (see Heb. 1:1-4; John 14:1-12).
The evidence of God's Word is that He is always reaching and speaking, always seeking to touch and embrace, as well as to teach and correct. Seeing these several means, however, only reminds us again of the Bible's authority in every facet of our judgment on this issue:
First, we only know that we may believe God speaks to people in these ways, and that they are spiritually valid, because the Bible says so.
Second, we only measure what we may perceive God say in these ways by the Bible's full teaching and authority.
In other words, what God says by any means must be judged in the light of an absolute means--that absolute, of course, is the whole Bible.
These principles should settle the issue. The fear of exaggerating the relative importance of "what God said to me," or of falling into deception via any word or spirit, is dispensed as each believer resolutely avoids, and indeed rejects, any ideas of "continuing revelation." Those words address the fallacious idea that the Bible isn't the final authority concerning God's revealed will and truth.
The Bible is the final authority on all of life's foundational and ultimate issues. Anyone arguing otherwise should not be regarded; any Christian leader arguing otherwise should be confronted.
But with those points of control, nothing in the Bible justifies the position of anyone who denies the biblical grounds for God speaking to people today. Nor is there any biblical justification for anyone who declares that those of us who say things God has spoken to us are thereby embracers of error.
Two well-known anti-charismatic writers (both of whom call me a friend, for which I'm thankful) categorize everyone who says, "God spoke to me" as a person who believes in the fallacy of continuing revelation, or extrabiblical revelation (they name me as one of these, too). Of course, they are wrong about me and wrong about most charismatics I know.
And "while we're talking extrabiblical," we might assert that it's extrabiblical to teach that God doesn't speak to His people today, since the Bible is full of instances of God speaking to people!
Further, the Bible uses the word "revelation" in a dual sense, which we must clearly understand. Let the nit-picking over the use of the word revelation be stopped. In Ephesians 1:17-18, the apostle's prayer for "the spirit of wisdom and revelation" to enlighten the hearts of believers indicates that God does reveal things to His children today.
Such revelation is never to be equated with the closed canon of the Scriptures. We clearly understand that the Bible is a closed, or finished, book. But such revelation ought to be welcomed as the Holy Spirit brings the truths of His Word alive and ignites faith to embrace the Father's purposes for us (see vs.19-23).
The implications of the issue are clear:
**The revelation of Scripture is final. There are not, nor will there ever be, any other books, verses or ideas to be added to the Bible or placed beside it as equal in authority or revelation.
**All preaching, teaching and prophesying--or any other communication or revelation--is to be subject to measurement and judgment by the content in the eternal Word of God.
GOD HAS ALWAYS SPOKEN
Settling these issues, I should think the biblical doorway should be left open to expecting that God may speak to any one of us at any time. Why not? This was where we all started anyhow. Whatever testimony any of us bear, our story begins somehow, somewhere, when in some way, God spoke to us. And while it took His Word to clarify the Way, the Truth and the Life, the fact is that there have been innumerable ways God has spoken to people in drawing them to Himself--including speaking words to them.
Moreover, in asking that honesty prevail with both what Scripture says and with what the Holy Spirit has done in drawing many of us to Christ, let's admit that the expectation of "God talking with me" has been celebrated in the church for ages. His personal presence, speaking to us in our daily walk, has been unapologetically acknowledged and has found a frequent place in the hymns sung by the people of the Lord. Among classic, widely sung examples in this century:
"I come to the garden alone/ While the dew is still on the roses/ And the voice I hear falling on my ear/ The Son of God discloses/ And He walks with me/ And He talks with me/ And He tells me I am His own/ And the joy we share/ As we tarry there/ none other has ever known."
Consistent with this song, who can forget the unabashed liberty of a preceding generation, which rose to testify in song every Easter:
"He lives! He lives!/ Christ Jesus lives today/ He walks with me and talks with me/ Along life's narrow way/ He lives. He lives/ Salvation to impart/ You ask me how I know He lives/ He lives within my heart!"
So why has this current rash of criticism lifted its head? Why speak against or attempt to intimidate sincere, Bible-centered believers and accuse us of carelessness concerning God's Word, simply because we say we hear His voice?
Let it be settled: God still speaks in all the same ways He always has. He is the changeless God, and His reach to humankind continually extends by every communicative means--including His intimately speaking with His own sons and daughters in Christ, by the Holy Spirit.