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.
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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.
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When someone says that the Lord told her something, it’s good to feel uncomfortable. Occasionally, but all too rarely, she means that she learned more about the Lord during her time in His Word. Usually, however, she means that she received a personal message from Him, quite separate from anything He said in the Bible. If people challenge her claim, she’ll usually counter that God spoke directly to Abraham, Moses and Paul. Since “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), it stands to reason that He would also speak to Christians now, she explains.
Well, God does speak to Christians now. He speaks every time we read His Word. Although many 21st Century evangelicals dismiss comments like that by adding that we mustn’t “put God in a box,” we should celebrate the wonderful truth that His Holy Spirit breathed His very words out through the pens of Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles so that we could hear what the Lord would say to us.
Many people would concede that the Lord does speak to us through Scripture in a general way, but would then argue that the Bible alone doesn’t address specific circumstances. Therefore, they conclude, He augments His Word with personal revelations, just as He spoke personally to people in the Bible. And we need to challenge that line of thinking.
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