During my years in Charismatic churches, I frequently heard that Christians possess the same Holy Spirit that worked through the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles. I quite agree. The way we applied that belief, however, now troubles me. We expected that His presence in our lives meant that we had the power to perform miracles, and certainly that God would speak to us personally. Long after we abandoned the miracle idea, we clung to the conviction that God augmented Scripture with personal words.
In the past 30 years, the idea of hearing directly from the Lord has seeped into non-Charismatiic churches. In the 90s, Henry Blackaby’s book, Experiencing God, swept through Southern Baptist churches, insisting that all believers needed to hear from God regularly. In fact, the book said, failure to hear direct and personal words from God indicated definite problems. Beth Moore introduced Blackaby’s ideas to her audience, which transcends denominational boundaries, and now it’s almost universally assumed that every Christian should hear from God independent of the Bible.
This trend disturbs me for a number of reasons, causing me to write more posts about it than I can count. I’m dumb enough to think that people will see how unbiblical this teaching is. Sadly, I periodically bump into the reality that people don’t want to surrender their perceived experiences.
A few weeks ago, while in a Twitter conversation on the topic of God speaking apart from His Word, I saw a tweet that challenged the assumption of extra-Biblical words from the Lord.
When I read that Tweet, I thought back to my teenage years as a new Christian immersed in Charismatic and Pentecostal fellowships. Like many of my friends, I believed that the Holy Spirit should display His power through us just as He did through the prophets and apostles. I’d in fact been taught that such expectations proved genuine faith. When I saw this Tweet, therefore, I couldn’t help thinking about an incident in my life that demonstrated the accuracy of the statement.
One late summer afternoon, I sat in the park of our neighborhood Community Center, waiting for my sister to finish her lifeguard shift at the pool. For some reason that I don’t remember, I was in my manual wheelchair, so I couldn’t get home without her.
I don’t know if I was reading the Bible or something else, but I definitely remember a fairly strong breeze that kept turning the pages before I could read them. After a few minutes, I became annoyed and frustrated. So, recalling a comment of someone at Bible Study earlier that week promising that we had the same power that worked through Jesus and the apostles, I decided to rebuke the wind.
Sitting as straight as I could, I summoned my most authoritative voice and commanded, “In the Name of Jesus, I command you to stop blowing!”
You can probably guess the result. Or should I say, the lack of result?
As I’ve matured — and especially as I’ve come out Charismatic teaching — I look back on that incident feeling a mixture of amusement and horror. What terrible pride I exhibited! As the person on Twitter noted, I had no shortage of self-esteem!
Even after beginning my exodus out of Charismatic teaching, I retained the belief that God had spoken directly to me on three specific occasions. Each time I recounted those stories, however, the details would become subtly more exaggerated, of course. And now that I realize that God doesn’t speak apart from Scripture, I see that only one of the three “words” actually lined up with God’s Word. Just as commanding that breeze to stop showed arrogance, so my beloved stories of God speaking to me gave me opportunities to boast about my supposed spirituality. In my puffed up little mind, those stories authenticated my spiritual stature.
Unlike Moses, Jesus and Paul, I can neither command the wind nor receive direct revelation from God. In fact, my claims of personal words from God flat out contradict Scripture, which asserts that God’s final word comes through His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus gives His final revelation to the apostle John on the isle of Patmos, instructing John to close with a severe warning:
18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. ~~Revelation 22:18-19 (NASB95)
My claims indeed added to this concluding book of Sacred Text. As Justin Peters often says, if God really speaks apart from Scripture, those words are necessarily equal to Scripture and consequently should be added to the Bible. Therefore, I violated Revelation 22:18 every time I told people those stories about God speaking to me. In essence, I elevated my experiences to the level of the Bible, and numbered myself alongside Moses, Jesus and Paul.
I regret flattering myself to such a high degree. Like it or not, I’m not Moses Jr. But how I praise the Lord for delivering me from that expression of pride and for giving me the ability to repent.