Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A word from God...

I once had a disagreement with a pastor regarding the direction he was taking the church he shepherded. In short, I thought he was over-emphasizing the experiential aspect of Christian worship to the point of excluding serious teaching about God. It was my opinion that such an unhealthy emphasis on the experiential would result in a breakdown of the very fabric of the church. Thus, it was not surprising to eventually see key families and members of leadership leave the church as they tired of having to continually wade through the shallow waters of "experience." While the details of that disagreement are important (and will eventually be told) I would like to focus on the justification that this pastor had for continuing in the direction he so fervently believed in. A word from God. Not the Word of God, mind you, but a word from God – a still small voice, the leading of the Spirit or, quite frankly, what God was telling him to do. You see, with regards to his approach to ministry he acknowledged that he and I had differing viewpoints. Yet he justified the direction he was going as valid because, according to him, it was the direction God was telling him to go. When you stop and think about it, though, that really is a good tactic. I mean, who can argue with him? If he really is getting direct messages from God, then anyone who disagrees with him is, in effect, disagreeing with God. Game. Set. Match. Never mind that I was using the Word of God as the basis for my arguments. Never mind that God has already spoken to me, and to him, and to all Christians, through the Word of God. No, never mind all of that because, in those circles, a word from God seems to always trump the Word of God. A few words of caution*, though, for those who so casually invoke the reception of a word from God:
  • Is your "word from God" infallible? If the following syllogism is true: "God cannot err. The Bible is God’s Word. Therefore, the Bible cannot err."; then it goes to follow: "God cannot err. I’ve received a Word from God. Therefore, the Word I’ve received cannot err."
  • In the past, those who claimed to speak for God staked their lives upon the claim. Do you truly understand the seriousness of what you are advocating?
  • Those who claim to hear from God cannot claim to have honed or, to be honing, their ability to hear from God without implying that God is trying to speak to them. God cannot try, for trying implies the possibility of failing, and God cannot fail at something He intends to do. The conclusion is that you cannot try to hear what God is telling you – for if God isn’t telling you anything, you won’t hear it; and if God is telling you something, you can’t help but hear it.
  • God certainly has the power to speak extra-biblically through prophets in the past, present, and future, but we know that He has spoken objectively through His Word. Therefore, while it is possible for someone to receive a word from God, the burden of proof rests on that person to demonstrate that it is, in fact, a word from God.
* These words of caution are paraphrases of points made by Greg Koukl, of Stand to Reason. Many thanks to him for providing two very important resources on this topic: Decision Making & the Will of God, and From Truth to Experience. Update: Now that I post much less frequently, I also avoid extending a post's debate or discussion via the comments section. People are certainly welcome to leave their own comments but, due to my own time constraints, I am not likely to respond directly. However, Anon, left a comment on this post that I would like to address. Anon said,
...how does this relate to leading of the Spirit? I was asked once whether God was leading me to do this or that and I wasn't sure how to respond. And if God does lead, how do I know it's God and not my own guilt or feelings.
I would strongly recommend dropping about $20 on Greg Koukl's Decision Making and the Will of God CD set. Look up the verses in which the leading of the Spirit is referenced. You will find that, based on the context of the passages, the issue being discussed is how we are to live - not how we are to make specific decisions. In Romans 8, Paul is contrasting the differences between those who live by the flesh and those who live by the Spirit:
So then, brothers and sisters, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh (for if you live according to the flesh, you will die), but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.
The idea that, as a matter of normative practice, the Spirit leads us in our decision making process is simply not found in the Bible. The second part of your question implies that you are attempting to discern whether or not God is leading you in a particular matter. To reitierate one of the cautionary notes I learned from Greg Koukl - you cannot learn to hear from God. Put quite simply, if God intends for you to hear something, you will hear it. This is Biblically based. Read the book of Acts and note how many times God intervened and re-directed courses of action. There was no indication that the people involved were seeking for direction or that they were developing a sense of hearing from God. Yet, despite the many accounts of supernatural intervention, there are also many accounts of the apostles making decisions based purely on wisdom, desires, and opportunities, all grounded in the understanding that God's Sovereign Will was in control.


Anonymous said...

Rusty...how does this relate to leading of the Spirit? I was asked once whether God was leading me to do this or that and I wasn't sure how to respond. And if God does lead, how do I know it's God and not my own guilt or feelings.

Paul said...

It puzzled me slightly at first mention, and now you've re-iterated it: "if God intends for you to hear something, you will hear it."

So God doesn't want me to hear his message of love, faith, etc?

Rusty said...

You're confusing "hearing" with "obeying."

Matt Powell said...

Great post, Rusty. My dad (a pastor for the last 35 years) told me once that the most dangerous person to have in your church is someone who thinks God talks directly to them.

We have the word of God in the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit teaches us the meaning of the Scriptures. But I've been a Christian my whole life and I've never heard God talking to me, in a voice in my head. Does this mean I'm less spiritual? On the contrary, I've learned to be very careful of those who are always talking about what God told them to do. At best, it's just a way of saying "I felt strongly about this." At worst, it's a power play- a way of shutting down debate.

bgamall said...

I have never heard God speak to me. I have been cut to the heart by the power of the gospel. I was standing alone in a house, and the Spirit came over me and cut my to the point of my having to look toward the Savior for help. A few days later I experienced the joy of believing. That first experience was my entrance into the kingdom of God, and is consistent with what is taught in Acts 2:36-38. The guilt of law DID NOT DO THIS TO ME. It is with this background that I established this website 35 years later. See http://www.newcovenanttheology.com for a doctrinal explanation of my experience and how it applies to the religious world.

Paul said...

That seems to diminish the impact of your statement, Rusty. It's not much of a trick to say that God will make sure I hear his message when I live in a Christian country, having been born in another Christian country, and spent all but a few weeks of my life in a Judeo-Christian culture. I had assumed you meant something deeper than that.

Nonetheless, it troubles me that there are billions of people who, because of their society or culture, don't get to hear that message. Does that mean God doesn't want them to hear it?