Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Can we accept new revelation?

Throughout the two thousand year history of the Christian church it has been widely accepted that God's revelation to man is complete, contained solely within the sixty six books of the Old and New Testaments. However there have always been those at the periphery of 'Christianity' who have held a different viewpoint, believing that God continues to speak to man outside of Scripture. The Church of Rome has in a sense taken this view, partly by adding the authority of church tradition to the authority of Scripture but also by accepting the dreams and visions of its mystics as being a revelation from God. The cults have likewise rejected the sufficiency of Scripture with Joseph Smith claiming divine revelation for the Book of Mormon. Indeed most cults include the belief that their leader has received a new 'revelation' from God. 

Generally the views held by these groups have not posed a significant threat to evangelical Christianity for most believers reject the claims of Roman Catholic mystics as well as cults such as the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. The danger today in relation to extra biblical revelation and the sufficiency of scripture (and it is a very real danger) is found elsewhere, specifically within the Charismatic Movement. The shelves of most Christian bookstores are filled with the titles of bestselling authors who claim to have received a message from God. Books such as 'Heaven is for Real' have been made into films, and have found great popularity amongst many Christians, yet they are based entirely on the belief that God continues to reveal additional truth outside the Holy Scriptures. The words which emmanate from the mouths of many preachers are no longer preceeded by 'the Word of God says', but more often it is 'God told me' which we hear.

The implications of this teaching are extremely serious, for if such revelation has truly been received from God, then it must carry the same authority as the written Word of God. This is without doubt the most dangerous feature of supposed extra biblical revelation. Those who make such a claim of divine revelation purport to have received an infallible message which by its nature can be no more challenged than any portion of scripture. If they deny the infallibility of the message they have received, then they cannot claim divine origin for it, for 'God is not a man that he should lie'. If their claim of a revelation from God is true, then to challenge their new revelation is to tantamount to challenging God himself. If we accept their claim that God has spoken to them directly, then this new revelation must surely be written down and added to the back of our bibles, for God does not speak with varying degrees of authority! Would any right thinking Christian really suggest that this is what we should do?

It is therefore an important issue for us to determine, whether such revelations have truly been received from God, and whether this is still the manner in which God speaks to his people today. Can a preacher's claim of a message from God, received either audibly or in some other fashion, be trusted to any extent? It is our belief that whenever we consider such claims logically and in the light of scripture it simply is not possible to accept any revelation outside of the Word of God with any assurance of its reliability.

In considering the issue of extra biblical revelation it is first of all necessary to confirm what we believe about the bible and how we approach its message.

A Presuppositional View of Scripture
The excavations of archaeologists in recent centuries have revealed an abundance of evidence in support of the authenticity of scripture. Yet our assurance that God's Word is true does not rest on these external sources, but simply on the authority of the Bible itself. We believe that the Bible is true primarily because it says it is true. Even if there were no evidence outside the word of God to supports its historical authenticity, we would be no less convinced that it is the infallible Word of God. The reason for this is that when we approach the Word of God we do so with certain presuppositions, that is we believe certain things to be true about God and the Bible. The presuppositions which we have when we come to the bible can be best summed up by three simple statements:

1. We believe that God exists
2. We believe that God has supernaturally revealed himself in the Holy Scriptures
3. We believe that those Scriptures are of divine origin and without error

With these three presuppositions in mind we therefore accept whatever the Bible says as being divinely revealed infallible truth. Since believe the Bible to be God's inerrant revelation to man, we therefore have complete assurance that it is true. The claim that this approach involves circular reasoning is unfounded for everyone approaches the Word of God with some form of presupposition. We all judge the scriptures by some standard which we believe to be infallible; either that standard is the Word of God itself, or it is a standard of man's invention, be it human reason, science or archaeology. Those who claim to come to the Bible with an open mind are not so open minded as they would claim, for they have established either their own or some other intellect as the infallible measure by which they will judge the Word of God. The claim that they approach the Bible without any presuppositions is simply not true, for the 'open mind' is a presupposition in itself, assuming that man is capable of determining whether the bible is true.

The presuppositional approach to scripture, believing on its own authority that it is the infallible Word of God means that we can accept its teaching without reservation. We have that 'more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed'. Believing the Word of God to be infallible give us certainty and confidence in our faith, having 'not followed cunningly devised fables'. Our faith will not be shaken by the latest scientific discoveries or by any false religion, for the bible is God's truth and abideth forever. However this certainty and assurance of the truth that we believe cannot be maintained once we begin to accept the new revelations, words of knowledge and prophecies that are claimed by so many charismatic teachers. Unless we apply the same presuppostions of infallibility to those teachers then the certainty of what we believe becomes greatly compromised.

Acceptance of New Revelation Illogical
If we are to accept a claim of new revelation as truly being from God, then we must accept it with the same certainty that we do the Word of God, yet this is impossible when we ask a number of questions:

1. Does this new revelation agree with the Word of God?
Since the Bible is the infallible Word of God, then no message received from God can contradict it. The foremost question in determining whether a revelation is from God is to ask whether it agrees with scripture. If it does not then it can and must be instantly rejected. Deuteronomy 18:21-22 gives the standard for discriminating between false and true prophets: 'And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him'. This rule is absolute; if the prophet was wrong once, then the people were to reject him as a false prophet. No revelation can accepted, much less considered divine in origin, if it contradicts the Word of God, for 'God is not the author of confusion'. Any new teaching or message, supposedly from God, which disagrees with the received revelation of Holy Scripture is clearly not of divine origin.

Yet what if the 'revelation' that a teacher professes does not contradict the Word of God; does this give reason enough for it to be accepted as a divine revelation? Again we must say no. It is possible for a preacher to make many statements which agree with God's Word, yet this does not mean that he has received them as a divine revelation from God. Man made statements can agree with the Word of God, but that does not mean that God has spoken directly to that person and revealed that particular message to them. All scriptural preaching will agree with the word of God, and whilst God may have laid that particular message on the heart of the preacher, no reputable preacher will claim his sermon or any part of it to be a new revelation from God. Citing scripture as a support for some supposed 'new revelation' that God has given us is to take God's holy word in vain, 'teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake'.

2. Is the claim to have received a revelation from God believable
The second question to be asked when considering whether new revelation can be accepted is not focused on the revelation itself, but instead on the person who has claimed it. It is here that we find quite possibly the greatest problem of all in accepting new revelation; can we believe the preacher's claim that he has received a message from God, and on what grounds can we believe him. If we do believe his claim then there are essentially two options open to us. Firstly, we can accept it on a lesser par than scripture, leaving room for it to be proven wrong. Yet a revelation which is viewed on a lower level than scripture is of no use to anyone, for what assurance and certainty does it give to our faith? The second option that we have is to accept it with the same assurance that we do the word of God. Yet how can we do this unless we apply the same presuppositions to that person and their message, as we do the scriptures?

If we are to accept their claim of divine revelation then we must assume that God has actually revealed himself directly to that person, and that the revelation which they proclaim is absolutely infallible. We must assume that they are absolutely truthful and correct in their claim that God has spoken to them. All of God's special revelation must be approached with the same presuppositions, yet we cannot apply the presuppositions of scripture to any man, no matter how learned and gifted he may be. To accept anyone's claim of supernatural revelation requires us to accept it on nothing more than their own authority and say so, a view which can only be described as foolish in the extreme. Yet ultimately this is what is required of those who will accept the claims of the Charismatic teachers who say that God has spoken directly to them. No-one can truly measure the truthfulness of their claim that God has spoken directly to them, other than by taking them at their word. Is this the level of certainty that anyone would wish to place on a message from God?

3. What does the Word of God say about further revelation 
In 1st Corinthians 13:8-10 we read the following verses: 'Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away'. The apostle Paul here speaks of a time when tongues, prophecies and the revealing of knowledge would cease, the occasion of this being 'when that which is perfect is come'. That phrase is understood by many bible scholars as referring to the completion of the New Testament canon, something which took place in the first century and put an end to the necessity of further revelation. The tongues, miracles and knowledge which was available to the apostles was for the purpose of authenticating the divine origin of their message and did not continue beyond the apostolic age, but was already dying out by the time of the later New Testament epistles.

Hebrews 12:1-2 makes it clear that Jesus Christ is the final revelation of God; for 'God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son'. The former ways by which God revealed himself to men are done away with and we are given no reason to expect that they should resume. It is important to remember that the whole purpose of the Old Testament revelation was to point to the Messiah who would come, and Christ, who is the Word become flesh, is the pinnacle of God's special revelation. The truth which God has revealed to man through the bible is sufficient for all of man's needs, and is 'profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto good works'. There is no need for new revelation today. Revelation 22:18 gives a strong warning against the desire to add to God's revelation, stating that 'If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book'. To add to God's word by claiming a new revelation or message from God, and to seek after such things is to disdain the holy scriptures, for it is to imply that the Bible is not enough, and it is to declare dissatisfaction with the truth that God has revealed to us. 

We are thoroughly convinced that God has revealed himself clearly, sufficiently, infallibly and finally in the sixty six books of the bible and in rejecting all supposed new revelation we are left with another challenge; to wholly accept and obey they word that God has revealed is us, and to take it as the rule for our life.

Sola Scriptura.

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