Christians generally accept the premise that the book of Revelation was the final work of Scripture, and consequently that the Canon is closed. Therefore, Jesus’ warning in the last chapter applies to all of the Bible:
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)
Most evangelicals today would verbally affirm this passage, but their claims that God speaks to them through thoughts, impressions, signs and/or visions calls their affirmations into question. We have to wonder why, if God revealed Himself in His Word and forbade any additions to it, professing Christians would entertain the notion that they need further communication from Him.
On one level, I sympathize with them. Spending my first 31 years as a Christian in Charismatic fellowships taught me that I needed to have at least a few experiences of hearing from God to gain credibility with my friends. I believed that hearing directly from the Lord established me as a mature believer. So I subconsciously conjured up a few experiences, which I embellished over the years. Sadly, I sincerely believed my own fabrications. Even after I began turning away from Charismatic theology, I retained some degree of openness to the idea of God speaking to my heart.
By that time, Henry Blackaby’s best-selling book, Experiencing God had taken Southern Baptists by storm, and began making its way into other non-Charismatic churches. The book relied heavily on the premise that hearing directly from God was not only normative, but necessary, to the Christian. In the book, he wrote:
If you have trouble hearing God speak, you are in trouble at the very heart of your Christian experience.Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God
Sadly, Mr. Blackaby’s understanding of how God speaks to us went beyond the idea that God speaks through the Bible. Watch this short video of Blackaby describing an instance of God speaking to him:
Blackaby has influenced evangelical culture irrevocably. making it extremely difficult to stand for the sufficiency of Scripture. At this point in time, evangelicals not only expect some sort of direct communication from God, but they look down on those of us who stand for Sola Scriptura. Now, those of us who don’t see any reason for additional revelation are pretty much considered the crazy ones.
The doctrine of Sola Scriptura developed shortly after the Protestant Reformation as a pushback against the supposed authority of Roman Catholic tradition and the authority of the pope. The 16th Century Reformers insisted that the Bible alone is how we hear God’s voice. In arguing for the sufficiency of Scripture against the mysticism evangelicals unwittingly employ in hearing from God, we have to be intellectually honest enough to admit that Sola Scriptura originally applied to Catholic practices, not the present-day assumptions rooted in Charismatic theology. In fact, ignoring the historical foundation of this doctrine only convinces people that we don’t know what we’re talking about.
That said, the Reformers actually dealt with groups that believed in revelation beyond the Word of God. This short, readable chapter in John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion actually focuses on those groups, and I strongly encourage you to take five minutes to read all of it. (Please bear in mind that he understood the word “prophecy” as preaching.” For the purposes of this article, however, I will quote just his first few sentences:
Those who, rejecting Scripture, imagine that they have some peculiar way of penetrating to God, are to be deemed not so much under the influence of error as madness. For certain giddy men have lately appeared, who, while they make a great display of the superiority of the Spirit, reject all reading of the Scriptures themselves, and deride the simplicity of those who only delight in what they call the dead and deadly letter. But I wish they would tell me what spirit it is whose inspiration raises them to such a sublime height that they dare despise the doctrine of Scripture as mean and childish.The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Chapter 9, Section 1
As you can see, then, Sola Scriptura encompasses errors beyond those of the Roman Catholic Church. It’s entirely correct to refute the current practice of hearing from God by appealing to the sufficiency of Scripture. I will even take the argument a step further by asserting that openness to personal revelations constitutes a frontal attack on the sufficiency of Scripture. Whether we admit it or not, we want those experiences because somewhere deep down we aren’t satisfied with Scripture alone. I wasn’t. And I don’t think I’m unique.
As Christians, we must avoid the temptation to seek God outside of His Word. Revelation 22:18-19 should deter us from craving personal revelations from Him. Scripture already supplies more than we need to know Him and understand His will for us. We can praise the Lord for speaking to us every time we open our Bibles, trusting that we need nothing more.
9 thoughts on “What’s The Big Deal About Hearing Personal Words From God?”
Thank you for this much needed post!
Deb—I’m curious about something. If you advertise for a new attendant and get two applicants who are equally qualified and dedicated Christians, how would you decide which one to hire? —Bob Davies
I look at how their personalities fit with ours, as well as childcare and health issues. I heavily consider their transportation situations, and the possibility of them being able to drive in a snowstorm. I also ask if they can put aside previous experience so they’ll do things my way. Checking references helps. Bottom line: John and I choose the one we’re most comfortable with.
It’s been a long time since we’ve had the luxury of choosing between two candidates, and even longer since we’ve had a Christian who did the job well.
Legally, we can’t discriminate on the basis of religion. We do ask if they’ll be okay with us talking about our faith, and we take opportunities to witness to them. But we can’t take their spiritual position into consideration. I wish we could! Several of our backups are Christians, and it’s wonderful when they come!
Basically, the answer to your question, Bob, is that we carefully interview and hire people based on how they respond to our questions. Then we trust God’s sovereignty. He provides the people He wishes, working through our interview experiences and the references we call. If things don’t work out, we know He just had someone here for a season. But His sovereignty assures us that we don’t really make mistakes. He is faithful!
Does prayer play a role in your decision making?
Certainly I pray for wisdom, which comes from studying and applying the principles taught in God’s Word. I also pray for my attitudes to line up with Scripture and that I’ll honor the Lord. Occasionally I seek counsel from my pastor or church elders, who usually direct me back to Scripture. If I have options that don’t violate Scripture, and would equally be edifying, I’m free to choose what I want. This approach has made decision making SO MUCH easier than trying to hear personal words from God!
Does God speak through my prayers? No Scripture indicates that scenario for average Christians.
Bob, are you sincerely trying to understand my position, or do you want a debate? If it’s the former, I may use your questions as the basis for future articles rather than trying to answer in these comments. If you want a debate, however, my Comment Policy clearly states that I won’t allow that.
You and I have been friends for over 40 years. I understand your emotional investment in this particular issue, and I want to be sensitive to it. It was hard for me to let go of my experiences of believing God spoke to me, and my experiences didn’t have nearly the impact on me that yours had on you. I’m not writing these essays out of malice. But I honestly believe that Scripture is sufficient for guiding decisions. It’s a hill I will die on because God’s Word supports it (2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:3-4).
I love you, brother. May God bless you!
Deb—thanks for your thoughtful answers—I really appreciate it! I am seeking more insight into how you make decisions as a believer.
In general, it sounds like you and I both make decisions in the same way although there have been a couple times in my life when I have experienced a very strong pull in my spirit (however you want to express it) to go in a certain direction.
For example, I felt a very strong leading to move to San Rafael for the LIA program and it was a life-changing decision for me.
Did God speak to me? Did the Holy Spirit nudge me? I don’t know the right words to express it but in some mysterious manner, I felt strongly guided by God. It wasn’t a certain Bible verse that showed me the way but a more subjective experience. That’s maybe where you and I part ways in explaining these types of experiences. To me they have been hugely life-altering, that’s all I know for sure.
Really, really good – couldn’t agree more.
Deb—I’m not trying to debate but simply understand how you make decisions as a believer.
In general it sounds like you and I both make decisions in a similar way but there have been a couple times in my life, such as when I moved to San Rafael in 1979, that I felt strongly “led” in a certain direction.
If I was still at Open Door, I’d probably say “God spoke to me…” about the move. Someone else might say they were led by the Holy Spirit. Others might just say they prayed for wisdom and made the decision that seemed the best. I don’t know all the answers to this but I do know that I’m very thankful for the decisions that changed my life in some very significant ways.