This is a guest post by Michael Coughlin who blogs at michaelcoughlin.net.
Receiving divine revelation has become so blasé that people who normally would affirm sola scriptura don’t even bat an eye when someone proposes to be hearing from God. Now I know a lot of people use various forms of language when describing their feelings or senses or intuitions, often ascribing revelatory meaning behind them unintentionally, but there are still many Christians today who believe God does, in fact, divinely reveal things to some folks apart from the Holy Scripture.
The following two anecdotes are opposite sides of the same coin which I hope will demonstrate the danger and seriousness of this kind of thinking and speaking, and show the illogic of at least some instances of people who claim spiritual gifts such as prophecy.
I want to note that the two persons I will refer to in these stories are very dear brothers in the Lord to me, and I do not hesitate to fellowship with each of them. But you will learn from the story why ministering alongside them can be difficult and requires wisdom and patience.
First let me describe the setting. I am a team leader of a group of 10 men in a city far from home. I am responsible for getting this group of men from our home for the week to a downtown area to preach Christ all day for a few days. Leaders are told repeatedly how important it is that we are where we are supposed to be on time, etc. So we gather in a circle where I give some final instructions and pray before our team is to embark to start our day when Rick asks, “Can I share a word from the Spirit?”
I could see that he did not have his Bible open. I knew this person well enough by then to know he was about to say something which was likely very good and encouraging. But do you see the quandary? I was forced to either accept a word from God or reject it! How terrible! Here I was, the team leader, appointed by God through the leaders of the mission to lead my team, and I thought it was time to get moving and get on the bus, so how could God have a different idea given to a team member?
But for me to contradict him in front of 8 other people, without time for explanation could have made things hard as well. Dear reader, you may think it is innocuous for someone else to believe they are getting a word from the Holy Spirit, particularly if the thought is usually aligned with biblical thought, but the fact is that I was forced in a moment to have to believe whether that word was from God or not and act accordingly.
The point is this, dear Christian: I should not have been put into that position at all. By claiming to have a word from God, I had to submit to that authority or be perceived as if I didn’t submit to God’s Word. How I dealt with that individual circumstance notwithstanding, that man ought to have been able to say, “May I share some wisdom?” and given me the opportunity to say, “No, not right now,” without me feeling forced to accept or reject something from God!
In another instance, a dear brother Mitchell was preparing to minister at event where I assisted in ministry. Knowing Mitchell, I informed him that, as cessationists, we would be very bothered if he were to receive a word from the Spirit during the endeavor and that it would bother a lot of people. He agreed that it would not happen, and he would basically follow our cessationist rules.
Do you see the problem? In agreeing, he admitted that he doesn’t really receive a word from the Spirit at all! For who could suppress prophecy if he were to receive it? Why would you want to? Think about it, if you thought you were receiving prophecy or a word or whatever you call it from the Holy Spirit Himself, why would you agree beforehand to quench that? I submit that the fact that Mitchell was able to make that agreement shows that very deep down inside he is aware that what he believes he receives is not inerrant, infallible, binding revelation from God.
Take This Home
- If you believe sign gifts are active, those who do not are put in tough positions because to disagree with you would mean we will be perceived as ignoring God’s words.
- Since God would never contradict himself, if you say God told you something, it’s like you played a trump card. I can’t vote for the blue carpet at church if God told you “red,” now can I? It’s not fair because it’s not true that God told you anything. I have no choice but to appear to be going against God in the matter or give into your poor theology.
- If the sign gifts were true, they would not be controlled by men. They would be controlled by the Holy Spirit and a godly, believing man would not agree to suppress them.
Ultimately, ministering alongside anyone can be fraught with difficulty for a variety of reasons such as immaturity, or if someone has an anger problem, for example. But to minister alongside someone who is open to the sign gifts requires an extra level of prudence and comes with inherent difficulties due to the nature of denying soly scriptura either in word in in practice.