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.