31 January 2012

About any Word from God: basic considerations

by Dan Phillips

[You might expect something on ER2 and, eventually, I may write more about it. Meanwhile, I'd just ask you to re-read Thabiti's eloquent and moving post from October 1 of 2011, and this and this, and ask yourself where we would be today if the thoughts in posts such as those and other similar warnings, written months in advance of ER2, had been so broadly and publicly taken up that it would be impossible for MacDonald and Driscoll to ignore such concerns. Meanwhile, this.]

It is a central tenet of Christian faith that there is such a thing as a word from God (Gen. 1:1; 15:1; Jn. 1:1, 14, 18; 3:34, etc.). Without that assertion, made and affirmed, there simply and literally is no Christian faith (Rom. 10:17).

So, HSAT, let's think through some questions about words from God:
  1. Does it change anything, if there is a word from God?
  2. Does it change everything, if there is a word from God?
  3. Does the Bible ever depict the arrival of a fresh word from God as intended to be welcomed as a casual, business-as-usual affair?
  4. Is there such a thing as a word from God that is not inherently fully true, and thus inerrant?
  5. Is there such a thing as a word from God that is not instantly, inherently and absolutely morally-binding?
  6. Even in the cases of words from God that do not direct me to do something (i.e. Jer. 18:1; Jn. 1:14), are they not still inherently and instantly and universally morally-binding in that believers must affirm that they are God's words, and must believe them?
  7. Does not the very existence of tests of prophecy (i.e. Deut. 13:1ff.; 18:15ff.) underscore the fact that, if it is a word from God, all people are obliged to embrace it appropriately?
  8. If the elder(s) of a local church knew of anyone in the congregation that was in rebellion against a word from God, either by refusing to do what the word said to do, or refusing to believe that the word was God's word, would they not be obliged to confront and discipline that person, and ultimately to expel him or her as an unbeliever, absent repentance?
  9. Can a body of believers be in the regular practice of disobeying, ignoring, or being ambivalent about words from God, without disastrous spiritual consequences?
There. Now I'll ask and answer two more questions:
  1. Say... isn't that an awfully basic list of awfully easy questions? (Answer: in "evangelicalism" today? It should be, yes. Would to God that it were. But no, evidently it is not.)
  2. Are you going somewhere with this, fella? (I mean to, yes; probably Thursday.)
Dan Phillips's signature

35 comments:

Solameanie said...

Talk about building a box, nailing the lid shut and then wrapping it in steel bailing twine. Great stuff.

Daryl said...

It's the infallibility issue that I run into.

The is, yes yes, it's God's word, but not in a "the Bible is the word of God" kind of way.
I keep hearing that yes, it's God's word, yes, it's infallible, but we can't always hear it so clearly and so it's not like, you know, BIBLE or anything.

And yes, we're supposed to pay attention to it?

I seems plain to me, the logic and clarity of it seems so, well, in-your-face, and yet it's evidently not in enough faces.

People (me included at one time) don't want to down-grade their "experiences with God" and so, in most cases unwittingly, downgrading the Scripture becomes a necessary consequence.

So clear. So frustratingly clear.

DJP said...

So it's like Mormons and "becoming God." The problem is in the fundamental definition.

If you ever weren't God, you never will be God.

Likewise, if it is fallible, it isn't a word from God.

Robert said...

But what do you have to say abotu this:

http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=4960

Clearly Phil must have had a Word from God. Oh wait...no, he must have shown what most people (besides Mark Driscoll) call discernment with a bit of foresight as well.

debese said...

"If you ever weren't God, you never will be God."

That shall be tweeted post-haste.

DJP said...

From my upcoming book, "Things That Shouldn't Need To Be Said, But Do."

(c:

F Whittenburg said...

You mention prophcey and this is one of the reasons I get shunned by Charismatic / Penticostals who are into the "Lord told me to tell you" practice.

Because of Jesus Christ, we all have direct access thru the Holy Spirit to the throne of God, and do not need a human mediator( Ephesians 2:18 KJV). I believe in the priesthood of the believer.

I always understood NT prophecy, as not new revelations from God, but simply a deeper spiritual understanding of existing scripture like Paul explains in (1 Corinthians 2:1-16 KJV).

The gift of prophesy in the NT is simply a spiritual gift of understanding existing scripture (1 Corinthians 13:2 KJV) and (2 Peter 1:19-21 KJV).

Since many different pastors understanding and interpertation of scripture, in the Christian religion has fragmented the church into many different denominations, this spiritual gift of understanding the correct interpertation of scripture, this gift of prophecy is still needed in the church today.

Believe it or not but there are many pastor and teachers in the Christian religion today that are just like Apollos in Acts 18:24-28 KJV.

They are eloquent, mighty in scriptures, instructed in the way of the Lord, feverent in spirit, and even able to take the Old Testament scripture and prove that Jesus is the Christ. Yet they still missed something in their understanding of God's way, because Aqullia and Prisilla had to pull him to the side and expound the "way of God" more perfectly to him (Acts 18:24-28 KJV).

For some reason, the most intense study of scholars of the Koine Greek and Hebrew texts thru out history still has not brought a concensus to the Christian religion on the correct interpertation of scripture. Each scholar and pastor just believes they have.....

Even Jesus didn't teach his disciples everything, but left the deeper spiritual teaching to another source..... (John 16:13 KJV).

F Whittenburg

CCinTn said...

You asked where would we be if thoughts presented in the related Posts had been BROADLY and publically taken up? The answer to your rhetorical question is indicative and accusatory of how far the Church has fallen from fidelity to God and His word. I can feel the hammer hanging precipitously above and ready to fall.
Number nine on your list terrifies me in the larger sense of the Church in America giving themselves over to the lies propagated by certain who call themselves ministers of God. It also frightens me that so few stand up for the honor of God and His Word to repudiate these men. It reminds me of the Old Testament prophet lamenting the apostasy of Israel and seeing God’s judgement being unleashed. He is crushed by his love for God’s chosen nation and to see his countrymen under God’s judgement and discipline. At the same time he is wounded by the nation’s (as a whole) rejection of God’s law and ultimately of God Himself.
Elijah was reminded that God always has a remnant of those who are faithful. Thank God, but isn’t it tragic to see the vast numbers of those who have drifted from what God has said in His word to what some man has said that God has said?

DJP said...

With your main point (our focus should be deeply studying and learning the written word of God) I am in 100% agreement.

The definition of prophecy, however, is completely off. Prophecy is described and defined in Exodus 4:13-16 compared with 7:1. That fundamental meaning was never changed.

One day I should devote a post or two to the ongoing and serious misunderstanding of "prophecy." This, however, isn't that post. I think there's enough in today's post to stay with on this one.

Though (obviously) I disagree with your definition, F, I like about it that you don't invent a meaning of prophecy that makes it an errant, not-necessarily-morally-binding word from God. You remove it from the realm of revelation, and let the Word remain the Word, and you put the focus there. Well done!

So if you want to argue definition of "prophecy," hold off until a post on that subject, please.

To anyone else: I'll not allow a side-track into a redefinition of prophecy.

Tom Chantry said...

DJP,

I expect your next post on this subject to include the newly minted "GTM" shorthand.

That is all.

trogdor said...

This post has been up for over three hours and nobody's cried "AGABUS!!!" yet. How disappointing. I was really hoping for some entertainment after the last miserable week. Where's Russ the Reformed Charismatic when you need him?

DJP said...

Ohh dude. You're harshing my mellow.

Robert said...

I'm thinking that the regular continuationist commentors must have decided to stop coming by or something. Of course, it is still early...

DJP said...

The usual procedure will be to wait until everyone who's in agreement gives up and disappears. Then they pop up with their devastating non sequitur.

trogdor said...

Sorry to put such a downer on the thread. It's an excellent post and points that should be obvious, but so much havoc is caused by failure to consider how strong of a claim "God said" really is, and how severe the consequences must be for even questioning it.

#8 in particular is weighing very heavily on me right now. If the church leaders get a new "vision" or "calling", there simply cannot be "let's agree to disagree". Either it's not really a word from God (hint: it's not), or one who questions it is sinning and must be punished, even kicked out if necessary. I doubt many elders have considered that they may need to excommunicate a congregant, even a fellow elder, over a liver shiver, a voice in the pastor's head, or a gibberish exclamation in a nonsensical tongue from someone in the crowd. But if they truly believe it's from God, that's what they need to do.

They'd be dead wrong and compounding sin on sin, but is there any other way?

DJP said...

Well there you go. Yes, I've miscalculated yet again. I thought this would be a very lively discussion. Maybe folks are waiting for the second, or maybe I'm oversubtle, and folks aren't seeing the dozens of applications -- from folks like James MacDonald (in effect) accusing TGC leadership of sin to Sister Bertha "quoting" something "the Lord told" her in prayer the previous day, to "words of prophecy," to Driscoll's claims to direct revelation, and on and on and on.

David Regier said...

And here, Dan, I owe you a great deal of thanks.

Until I started becoming a regular reader of Pyro and bibchr, I identified myself as "mildly charismatic". And while I grated against your arguments for some time, I must say it was this type of brainwork that had a tremendous influence. You have had a great deal to do with changing my thinking on this and other things.

I regularly run into people who tell me "God gave me this song". And I have to wonder "Why does it disagree with everything else He said?" I'm going to absorb this line of reasoning so that I can speak to that a little better.

Keep it up, and write more books.

Robert said...

Thank you for working out the implications of the thought of somebody receiving "a Word from God". I wish more people would really work things out like this before deciding to follow every thought or feeling about how to do things right.

trogdor,

I'd take your thought even further and say that most people don't consider how strong the use of the word God is. I'm not saying we need to never say Yahweh or God, but that we need proper respect for Him and His name. If we start there, then maybe an understanding of how strong a claim that is will follow.

Robert said...

Keep it up, and write more books.

I'll second that. Have you thought about any other subjects you'd like to write a book about?

DJP said...

I appreciate that a lot, David. I remember first hitting on Phil's related posts at the original Pyromaniac. What a breath of clarity.

But I really think that's the thing: this muzzy mysticism thrives and lives in, and depends, on NOT being analyzed, NOT being thought through.

Which isn't Biblical Christianity.

DJP said...

Oh, I have lots more to write about, but I'm not sure there's any point at present. So no, not really working on any books in my head.

trogdor said...

When the time is right for another book, God will give you the words to say.

DJP said...

Yes, thank you, I...

Ohh, you're TRICKSY, you are!

CCinTn said...

Yes, you rightly pointed out on your blog that MacDonald implies that TGC committed sin by not agreeing with him in what God has ‘called’ him to do since they therefore have not agreed with God’s direction. That pastry is a little puffed up if you ask me.
And yes, if MacDonald/Driscoll or anyone else evokes the phrase “God told me” then there are serious ramifications which you point out. How can we not believe/follow/obey whatever this word from the Lord is if we are to be His obedient servants?

You point out the obligation on those who have heard ‘the word of the Lord’ and that to not obey this ‘word of the Lord’ is sin and rebellion. That argument is true as long as the ‘word from the God’ is really a word from God.

The interesting thing about the Deut 13 reference you made in point seven is that even if the prophet’s prophecy comes to pass but that prophet then says ‘hey let’s follow after other gods’, that prophet was to be put to death. Why, because they are teaching rebellion against God and causing them to walk contrary to the way the God had previously commanded them to walk (vs 5).

So turning a slightly different direction, what does the Church or a para-ministry such as TGC do with someone such as a MacDonald or Driscoll who evokes “thus saith the Lord”?

Unfortunately, I fear that the ER fallout that has and will occur partly lands at the feet of TGC and others such as the elders/leaders in their own churches because they did not rightly take the responsibility of confronting/disciplining these men. And while I’m certain that there were discussions going on behind the scenes, the fact that this was played out in such a public display demanded that the discipline also occur in a public manner. Paul did not confront Peter privately but publicly to his face because his actions were public.

Darlene said...

Dear Mr. Phillips:

I'll take a crack at responding, and in advance inform you that I am not a cessationist, nor for that matter a Pentecostal, Charismatic, or Evangelical, as the terms are understood in the current milieu.

"Does it change anything, if there is a word from God?"

How could it not? Although change in this case may not immediately be perceived or recognized outwardly. and sometimes it takes time for a "word from God" to sink in. Not all are quick to hear and do what is right, but I take heart that there are those who work in the vineyard when they initially didn't want to do so.

"Does it change everything, if there is a word from God?"

I'll have to ponder on this one for awhile.

"Does the Bible ever depict the arrival of a fresh word from God as intended to be welcomed as a casual, business-as-usual affair?"

Surely this is framed as a rhetorical question, yes?

"Is there such a thing as a word from God that is not inherently fully true, and thus inerrant?"

Not unless God lies. I think Christians know the answer to that one.

"Is there such a thing as a word from God that is not instantly, inherently and absolutely morally-binding?"

There are times when the human condition is such that we are dull, or distracted, or unfocused, or emotionally troubled, or mentally distraught, or any number of things that would cause us to be not easily disposed toward hearing the truth, to the extent that we wouldn't immediately recognize "a word from God" as originating from God. I would say that here we must take delight and comfort in the mercy of God, because we are not always up to the task of being ready to hear from God. Often we become blinded by our own passions and the truth becomes obscured. Yet, the Holy Spirit does not leave us alone and God can be quite the Hound of Heaven.

"Even in the cases of words from God that do not direct me to do something, are they not still inherently and instantly and universally morally-binding in that believers must affirm that they are God's words, and must believe them?"

Are you referring here to the words of Scripture alone or Scripture in the context of teaching, as in a sermon, or teaching a particular doctrine? I once heard of a pastor who would read Scripture followed by: "May God add His blessing to His word." Then that would be that - no explanation of the passage just read.

"Does not the very existence of tests of prophesy underscore the fact that, if it is a word from God, all people are obliged to embrace it appropriately?"

Along the same line, I could ask, does not the very existence of God require that we who are made in His image obey Him? Well yes...but how one arrives at the obeying is often quite complex - notwithstanding children and those who are pure in heart. Sadly, delusion tends to be a common side-effect of the Fall, to which we easily fall prey. Another reason I am beholden to His mercy. When we come to our right mind, and lay hold of the grace of God, then we can be convinced of the truth.

I'll grant that "words from God" can be a controversial issue depending upon the actual context and content. That is, what are the words that are actually spoken, when are they spoken, to whom are they spoken, and how are they spoken? There may be more to add to that list. You see, I've been on the receiving end of supposed words from God that turned out not to be words from God at all. I've seen many people hurt because of these words from God.

However, I'm thinking you are defining "words from God" to actually be instruction and teaching from the very God, Who created the Heavens and earth. Not some ersatz God.

I'll take a swing at the other questions when I'm able to muster up the gusto to do so. :-)

CCinTn said...

Please allow me to also say that any 'confrontation'/discipline absolutely has to be done according to scripture and in love. And that the motivation is grounded in the loving correction and restoration of the individual in error. I'm sorry that this needed to be added, but I didn't want anyone to take my earlier comment out of context. Sorry about that.

Scooter said...

I've mulled over the questions during my work day. At least one application is that Christians lose their "set apartness." Distinction from the world seems a moot point if we treat a word of the Lord like advice from our well-meaning elderly neighbor.

I had another thought, but a lack of caffination after 3 saw it shrivil up and die.

R.C. said...

I once had a telephone operator call and tell me that there was a doctor on the line that said he needed our unlisted phone number. I told her she could give it. The doctor then called and explained that the Holy Spirit had told him he must call to speak with my father. I managed not to say, "You would think the Holy Spirit would know my dad is on the golf course."

Eager to see the rest of the story, and am cheering you on. God bless

Robert said...

Darlene,

You said "but how one arrives at the obeying is often quite complex - notwithstanding children and those who are pure in heart."

I am certainly hoping that you don't think that children are born innocent and with a heart that is seeking to do what is right and obey. Children are born spiritually dead and have to be trained up in righteousness through discipline and teaching of the Word. Maybe I am misunderstanding what you meant, but that is how it sounded to me.

John Dunn said...

Most importantly, God gave us his living WORD Incarnate, enfleshed in the person of his Son. Hear him! As revealed in ALL the Scriptures and inscribed upon the tables of our hearts by His Spirit. 2 Cor 3:3

Darlene said...

Robert,

You said, "I am certainly hoping that you don't think that children are born innocent and with a heart that is seeking to do what is right and obey. Children are born spiritually dead and have to be trained up in righteousness through discipline and teaching of the Word."

I don't subscribe to the Reformed view on original sin, but that would be a subject for another day.
Children are certainly not trained in sinning as adults are. However, there is something even more unique to children (as compared to adults) - something that I have observed as a teacher and of which Christ references. Children have a humility and trust which makes it easy to teach them about God, without a resistance on their part. They do not possess pride and know nothing of self-conceit. Our Lord's words come to mind, "At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, 'Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'"

I have taught children from pre-K up to twelfth grade and have observed how open, trusting, and unpretentious young children are. This is not to say, however, that discipline is unnecessary.

Sir Aaron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
F Whittenburg said...

Ok, Dan fare enough, I will wait for a more appropriate post to discuss the NT gift of prophecy, but I can offer some advice on people claiming to be speaking new revelations from God more in line with this post. I may be the only one on this blog that has had the experience of 4 people claiming they each were “apostles of God” trying to speak “revelations from God for my life” to me at the same time. Much of it contradicted each other. You approach this problem of “new words from God” from the point of view that “how do we tell these words really are coming from God and, if so, how do we tell if they truly are or are not”. What is the litmus test? Well how is that working for ya? This is not the first post where you have addressed this problem.

The whole practice of “the Lord told me to tell you” falls on it’s face if you approach it’s premises from the standpoint of the Christian’s relationship to God the Father through the spiritual newbirth (i.e. being born again). Because of the believer’s spiritual union with God (1 Corinthians 6:17 KJV) all true Christians have access to the throne of God without the need of a human mediator, the veil of the temple has been ripped open.

The moment someone claims to be speaking prophecy (i.e. the Lord told me to tell you) even if they are well meaning, they are at that time, whether they say anything else or not, stepping directly between you and your Heavenly Father as a new mediator, because God no longer considers you worthy of His presence so He has sent them with a special “word” instead. At least that is what is inferred by this practice. What this is, is actually “soothsaying” and not “prophesying”.

The Holy Spirit thru Jesus Christ is the mode of access to God now for the believer, not a prophet (by your OT definition of prophet). (Hebrews 1:1,2 KJV) (Ephesians 2:18 KJV) (1 Timothy 2:5 KJV).

F Whittenburg

Sir Aaron said...

ok

DJP said...

In addition to all that, F, the thing is that modern fakes enjoy such a low standard of proof, and such minor consequences for their fakery.