Today an interesting link cropped up in my newsfeed on Facebook. It was a short blog post on the website for Central church detailing a story of a student and a recent encouragement she had. It's probably best to quickly read the post here; should only take a few minutes...
The post provides an excellent example of two of the main errors of the charismatic movement. In saying this, I don't want to be too harsh on Bethany Frank, she is only recording an event as she has been taught to think of it. Nor do I want to detract too much from what is an overly 'cute' but nevertheless broadly encouraging story of God's care for his people.
Talking about the ordinary gifts of the Spirit using the language of the extraordinary gifts
This will require some explanation. I use the term ordinary and extraordinary in their theological sense to talk about the difference between the 'general' gifts of the Holy Spirit (giving, hospitality, preaching, etc) and the 'extra special' gifts of prophecy, tongues and healing. I also want to affirm that the ordinary gifts are just as supernatural as the extraordinary and all gifts stem from God's gracious care for his people.
In the blog, Bethany talks about her experience of being prompted by the Holy Spirit to go into MacDonalds (we'll deal with the whole God speaking to her bit later) and receiving a providential encouragement in the form of a Happy Meal toy that was African. This type of event is a relatively uncommon but welcome experience for all of God's people. I can testify to three occasions when I felt very discouraged, prayed for encouragement and there was cake at work the next day. What this says about my shallowness I try not to dwell on.
God does send us encouragements via his providence. He also, by his Spirit, prompts us to do things. Such a prompting is mysterious in that it can be hard to describe or explain, but nevertheless it is part of the Christian life and the Spirit's role in convicting, illuminating and leading. While this prompting is very real it is also a silent and mysterious work.
But Bethany uses the word prophecy to describe her experience. This is not uncommon. In experiential terms what is called prophecy by charismatics is often not any different from spiritual experiences cessationists have. Take a look at my post about Piper to see another example. Only rather than prophecy we would call it a prompting or maybe a burden of the heart. Such a distinction is very important.
If we compare the picture of prophecy in the Bible to Bethany's experience then there are no similarities. Old Testament prophecy always started: "Thus says the Lord," and New Testament prophecy gives no indication it was any different. Prophecy is for the edification of the church not the individual (see 1 Corinthians 14) and for the convicting of sin and judgment (14v24). It can also be an accurate account of a future happening (see Acts 21v11). This is not at all similar to Bethany's experience of finding a toy related to Africa.
Why does it matter, you might be asking, how these experiences are described? Tomato, tomahto! But it does matter. By calling the ordinary extraordinary then the prompting of the Holy Spirit takes on a greater degree of authority than is healthy. For example, I go up to a friend and say: "I think that you'll be an excellent artist one day and glorify God with it." or I say: "I have a prophecy for you: God has told me you will be an artist one day and glorify him!" The former allows for my insight to be wrong. The latter suggests a certainty I have no right in conveying. Words are always important.
One of the most fundamental marks of biblical prophecy is that it is true; it must come to pass. One of the most fundamental marks of modern day 'prophecy' is its inherent fallibility Yet by calling it prophecy it suggests an infallibility it has no claim to. That's why it is important to describe our spiritual experiences correctly. The way God speaks has been redefined by charismatics: no longer is prophecy the direct, infallible and authoritative word of God (as found in Scripture); instead it is fallible, error-possible impressions. Such a redefining has no biblical warrant.
Additionally, by calling prompting prophecy then it puts our feelings on a level with Scripture. This is not a wise elevation. Scripture is infallible; our feelings aren't. This mix up of language allows for our experiences to be put above Scripture when the opposite should be true.
I suppose this confusion of language is a necessity for the charismatic movement. Prophecy has ceased in the biblical sense of the word. So in order to argue that it hasn't a whole new experiential side of the Christian life has to be classified as prophecy when it clearly isn't.
God speaks to us by his Word alone
In this blog post there are numerous references to Bethany hearing God speak to her. Having been taught to expect such a thing it is of no surprise if Bethany interprets her experience in such a way. But we must remember that Scripture has final authority over our experiences so is there any biblical case to be made for God speaking to us today?
As Mr Levy writes: "There are many Christian leaders who talk about God speaking to them audibly, my question is what accent does he have? Could you have recorded it? God speaks clearly, finally, definitively in the Bible. The Holy Spirit takes the Word of Scripture and speaks to us but not in an audible voice. The Holy Spirit comforts, bears witness with our Spirit, he is the revealer and enlightener of Scripture but does he speak audibly and does he do that often? I would have huge doubts."
And Mr White writes that while the church (in OT / NT times) used to operate a Scripture plus policy: "Now that God has accomplished salvation once-for-all, in Christ, He has also spoken His word, once-for-all, in Christ and in those whom Christ authorized and empowered by His Spirit (Heb. 1:1-2; 2:3, 4; Matt. 16:15-19; John 14:26; Eph. 2:19, 20). With the completion of salvation in Christ comes the cessation of revelation. Consequently, the church now lives by a "Scripture only" principle of authority. To tamper with this principle invites a host of theological and pastoral problems... Its [Scripture's] finality and complete sufficiency is, in reality, subtly assaulted by these claims to modern prophecies."
Now that the canon of Scripture is complete there is no further revelation. Thus, there is no more prophecy. God still speaks but only through his Word.
If God speaks to us outside of the Bible then we lose the great principle of the Reformation: Scripture alone. If God speaks outside of Scripture then Scripture is no longer sufficient, it is no longer our ultimate authority, instead some vague notion of hearing God's voice overtakes our priorities instead of the teaching of Scripture.
There is more to said but I'll stop here so as to not go on too long. Feel free to comment below.
This is an amusing article on God speaking. If by amusing I mean taking pleasure at someone's misfortune. http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2013/02/a-lesson-learned-from-being-du.php