Is it Possible to Speak too Much of Jesus?

The answer is, as usual, yes and no.

If we are talking about the true Jesus of Scriptures, the answer is no. You can never speak of Him too much!
However there is a problem. Everyone seems to think that they know who the “real Jesus” is. Often, when people say “I don’t like talking about theology/the apostle Paul/church tradition/the Old Testament/etc., I just want to talk about Jesus… What they REALLY mean is that they don’t like Jesus at all. What they really love worship adore and obey is a teacher, philosophy, or ideal which they got from elsewhere, but they name this ideal Jesus, and edit their so-called Christian beliefs according to it.
Let me give you several brief examples of heresies and falls teachings which overemphasize Jesus.

1. Marcionism

If I can tell you one thing about contemporary Christianity, it is that Marcian sweeping our country with great success and with virtually no opposition.
If you wish to be successful in defending the truth for your generation, go back and read the fathers (Tertullian, Against Macron) who wrote against the heretic Marcian. The tools they developed will save your church and your people for today!
Marcion taught that there is not one God, but too. There is the angry storm God of the Old Testament who was the creator, and the kind Jesus-god of the new testament defeated the creator. Because the old testament is written by and about the evil/wrathful storm god, it is corrupt and useless. But the New Testament – especially John, and most of the Gospels – which speak of the loving, kind Jesus are worth reading. Marcion had no use for Paul or Revelations.
Marcian proposed a new Canon, in which the Old Testament was mostly omitted. He didn’t include most of Paul, and cut out the “scary” sections of the Gospels. He didn’t want to talk about wrath or judgment or sin. Just love.
I’m sure you can see some contemporary parallels!

2. The Marxist Jesus

If you take a class in Christian studies from a secular university, you will encounter the Marxist Jesus. This is the Jesus who somehow, mysteriously, had the 19th-century Communist Manifesto memorized. He was intent on overthrowing the power structures of his day, and proclaiming release and equality to the lower classes of society.
Of course, he rejected or overturned or ignored most of what was written before him, and would have been scandalized by what was written after. Most of Scriptures are thus useless in understanding this Jesus.

3. The liberal Jesus

As I wrote about in my paper “the man who wrote Christianity and liberalism,” the best definition of liberalism comes from J. Gresham Machen. But the prize for being concise goes to classical H. Richard Neibour who wrote, “Liberalism taught that a god without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations (actions) of a Christ without a cross.” Therefore, the way to salvation – which all will probably attain – is found by good works. Unsurprisingly, then, the Jesus of classical liberalism is a mere human who was just another good teacher.

4. The Jewish Jesus

This is a development that has surprised me. However, both within the writings of Rob Bell and in some anecdotal cases I have heard of recently, there seems to be a resurgence of Judaism within the church. The reasoning is that Jesus was a Jewish rabbi. Therefore, he surely would have disagreed with everything Paul said. And perhaps some of the things written about him (supposedly by the later church) in the Gospels was incorrect. Therefore, Jesus must be redefined and reimagined according to a purely Jewish basis.
Again, Jesus becomes nothing more than a good teacher, who preaches salvation through works.

5. The existentialist Jesus (Sartre, Kierkegaard, Barth)

Existentialists are obsessed with finding the essential and fundamental nature of personhood. What makes us really real? What makes us exist?
Sartre came to the conclusion that it was a random and arbitrary decisions that we make – especially with me break out of the mold which society has made for us – that make us really “us” really “real.”
A waiter could spend all his life serving in serving, but be merely an autumn – a robot of culture. A machine, not a man. But the moment he chose his dishes on the floor and run screaming from the restaurant, that is the moment where he has become really “real,” he has broken free from the mold. He is “himself.”
Kierkegaard and Barth were never quite that clear. However, it seems to me that they think in the same vein.
In the existentialist vision, a person is COMPLETELY and by definition a being of free-will. That is what makes a person a person – they are unpredictable, and one never knows quite what they will do next. (I bought into something like this way of thinking for a while…then made a break with it when I wrote the post “What comes first, doctrine or life?” For my final thoughts on first philosophy, read “a theology of teaching in an african context“)
My guess is that is why Bart and Kierkegaard talk continually about the openness of God, the unknow ability of God, the darkness of God, etc. And the followers of Bart have become the greatest enemies of fundamentalism and foundationalism, and many have run amorously into the arms of Derrida and the postmodernism and relativism of our day.
Existentialism makes an EXCELLENT philosophical foundation for relativism.
Barth would go so far as to say that systematic theology is idolatry – worship of a false god. We cannot hold theology over God, but must just continually return to Scriptures to hear what new things this surprising and unpredictable “personal” (there’s the loaded word!) God may have in store for us today.
You will find these sorts of people congregated around the ethical decisions of our day. Homosexuality in the church, gender roles (should women teach? Headship and submission home?), and the like. It’s not as though they have different views, or new evidence to bring to the table. They want to avoid the discussion altogether. After all, Jesus is a real, vibrant and living “person.” How can you simply read what he wrote 2000 years ago, and base your theology on that? Maybe he changed his mind! Maybe he will change his mind tomorrow? One can never tell when a person might do. And isn’t it cold and depersonalizing to simply read, divide and apply the Biblical message into cold, hard doctrines? After all, God is a personal God. So if we understand personhood in an existential manner – that is, that people really become persons when they act spontaneously and unpredictably – then we can never speak definitively about what God thinks or commands or demands of us.
The Jesus of Existentialism becomes a method for remaining reverent towards Jesus, while ignoring most of what Scriptures actually say. (D.A. Carson has a good, short video clip along this vein…)
6. My Personal Opinion Jesus
And where would we be without mentioning those people who do not bother with any philosophical stripe or denomination. If they dislike something in Christianity, they simply say “My Jesus wouldn’t do x.” And that settles it for them! By deifying their own personal opinion, and calling it Jesus, they are able to ignore any Christian teacher, no matter how many Scriptures he brings and how convincing his argument.
7. The “God Spoke to Me” Jesus
Now don’t get me wrong – I believe in “listening prayer.” I do believe that God speaks to us today. In Biblical language, this is the gift of prophecy, and it has not ended with the apostles. HOWEVER, there are specific rules given for prophecy. We are not to believe every spirit, but to test the spirits (1 John 4:1). Ideally, prophecy should be practiced in community with others, where other godly Christians can “pass judgment” (yes, that’s what the Bible says) on whether a prophecy is correct or not (1 Cor. 14:29).
Of course, this is not at all necessary most of the time, because most prophecy is highly personal and not theologically loaded. In my experience, when we open ourselves to the voice of Jesus, He wishes to speak of our sin, His love for us, and sometimes specific instructions of compassion or evangelism for the day.
However, there is a deadly snare of the church. It is the temptation to “take a stand, based on the visions one has seen” (Col. 2:18). Paul had an experience of God where he was transported to Heaven and heard unutterable wisdom. But throughout his writings, he never appeals to this experience for authority. Rather, he patiently and thoroughly roots all his instructions in the Scriptures, and in the words of the incarnate Jesus.
We must do the same. There are more than one spirit who can speak to us in our minds: and hearing God’s voice is a notoriously subjective enterprise. We must always put the authority of Scriptures higher than some “word of knowledge” we believe God has given us in a prophetic or spiritual/super-natural experience.
For more on my opinion on listening prayer, see Does God Speak to us Today? 
SUMMARY
Let us ask, again, whether it is ever possible to speak too much of Jesus? No! I do not think that it is.
If we are going to speak of the rock of Israel, which led them out of Egypt, who gave him water in the desert and also the 10 Commandments… If we are going to speak of the flame of fire which consumed them, and the light that went ahead of them… If we are going to speak about the spirit of holiness which came upon the prophets of old and through them demanded that Israel return to their living God… If we are going to speak about the God of love and grace who continually forgave and punished and forgave and disciplined in love Israel… If we are going to speak about the Jesus who is God incarnate, who came to explain and add to his previous revelation… If we are going to speak about the Jesus who said “I am the Way, the truth and the life, no one comes the father except through me”… If we are going to speak of the Jesus who is coming to judge the living in the dad, who said “many will say to me on that the Lord Lord, but I will say to them I never knew you. Depart from me, you who practice iniquity”… If we are going to speak of the Jesus whom Paul explained is the propitiation for our sins… If we are going to speak of the Jesus whom Revelation pictures as riding on a Whitehorse to put all the world to right, taking his elect to himself, while casting Satan and sinners into hell… Then no. We can’t speak too much about the Jesus of the Bible.
But if we are going to speak about one of these other false “Jesus”es…The Jesus of Marxism, of Marcianism, of Judaism, of liberalism or existentialism, of personal opinion or of supernatural experience – then yes, we can talk far too much.
It is amazing – just astounding! I actually am starting to dislike the word Jesus! Not because I dislike him. Certainly not! But because sad experience has taught me over and over that when I hear the words, “we just need to talk more about Jesus…” I need to brace myself. I have heard the warning: bad theology is ahead!
To be quite honest, I think we would do better to speak less of Jesus, and more of the disciplines which safeguard the words and person of the true son of God.
For example, our time would be better spent defending the record of his actions and words with Israel in the old and New Testament. That is, in defending inerrancy and verbal plenary inspiration of Scriptures.
Our time would be better spent in understanding the meaning of Jesus death not through a contemporary philosophical cipher, but through the inspired commentary provided by the apostle Paul and the other apostles and prophets.
We would be better off spending our time – in the company of all the great saints of old – wrestling with theology (yes, even systematics theology!) in which we would learn about and safeguard the nature of God.
And so to conclude, let me just give you one tool. Every time that someone says “Jesus” you should include three powerful words in your mind. They are “my own personal” Jesus.
Think how a conversation to be transformed for clarity in the following cases:
(My own personal) Jesus wouldn’t condemn homosexuals…
(My own personal) Jesus wouldn’t send anyone to Hell…
(My own personal) Jesus wouldn’t assign gender roles to men and woman…
This simple tool will help you realize that when people speak of Jesus, they are usually just speaking of the idol they have erected in their own hearts and minds, and placed above the authority of the living Jesus of Scriptures. In other words, when people say “let’s just talk more about Jesus,” in reality they are often trying to talk more about their own idol (conveniently named Jesus) and they wish to speak less of the words, life and word of the real Word of God, Jesus Himself.
And be careful also of this tendency within your own heart and mind.
May the spirit of truth, and the word of power be your guide.
The Everlasting Gospel
The Vision of Christ that Thou dost see
Is my Vision’s Greatest Enemy:
Thine has a great hook nose like Thine,
Mine has a snub nose like to mine.
Thine is the friend of All Mankind.
Mine speaks in parables to the Blind.
Thine loves the same world that mine hates,
Thy Heaven doors are my Hell gates.
Socrates taught what Meletus,
Loathe’d as a Nation’s bitterest Curse,
And Caiaphus was in his own Mind
A benefactor to Mankind.Both read the Bible day and night,
But though read’st black where I read white.— William Blake 1818

The Legitimacy of a Prayer-Retreat

It is almost never a waste of time for a leader to get away, get silent, rest, wait and listen carefully before the Lord.

Months, years, even decades and whole lifetimes of frustrations, fruitlessness, “Ishmael’s” and second-bests could easily have been avoided by a few days alone, undistracted, unfettered, unhindered – enrobed by supportive prayer and naked of soul – before the Creator, Sustainer, and Lord of all.

From Doubt to Faith, Part 2

In this post, I am providing the prayer-journal entries which lead up to the post “From Doubt to Faith, Part 1.” I would recommend reading that post before reading this one.

January 30

(after a very powerful exposition of Ezekiel 7)

Lord God, I can read your Word, I can write in the quiet privacy of my journal – but how can I tell anyone of this? How can I tell the educated, self-made man that a reality which he does no see is the ultimate reality, against which he will be judged?

Lord God, if this is all really true, seal thy words on my heart. Engrave them on my heart as upon a stone with a diamond-tipped pen: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!”

If I really believed that, (believed it as surely as I believed that seat-belts save lives) I could preach it, and many would hear and believe. But how can I go unless I am sent? Here am I – send me!!

March 26

Lord, I am wrestling with 1 Timothy 1:5. I believe I have a pure heart and a good conscience – but what is this “sincere” or “unfeigned” faith? Last night my Father in Law (a Baptist Pastor) gave a simple exposition of the gospel call. I pretty much believe that. I mean, that is the simple, clear meaning of Scripture. And I do believe that the bible is Your Holy Book. So yes – the simple, true Gospel must be right (with all of the horrible implications of Hell along with it!)

But I confess to you that my faith is rather cerebral, superficial, hypocritical. I preach the Bible because it would be dishonest to preach anything else in church. But do I believe it? Finally? Unreservedly? Without hesitation or question?

Oh, how I wish I could answer “yes!” to that question!

God, how can it be expected of me to believe fully, simply, completely? I am not a simple man, and you have made me to think, and to question. My schools have honed my critical skills to a fine art, and I have studied many of the major skeptics and critics of Christianity in our day: how can I help but hear their voices in my head when Scriptures are being read?

Is not simple faith simplistic, anemic, shallow, useless, childish?

MY GOD! FAITH IS A GIFT! WHAT EVER COULD I DO TO EAR IT, TO MANUFACTURE IT, TO PERFECT IT?

….please, please, please, would you give to me a faith unfeigned?

Jesus: “Do you love me?”

(with many tears) Me: “Jesus, you know that I love you.”

Jesus: “How can you doubt the existence of one that you love?”

April 24

Today’s sermon was on false teaching. It was based upon the women who saw the empty tomb, and “preached” to the disciples that Jesus had been stolen. They saw the facts, but came to a wrong conclusion which lead to false teaching. Then, even when Mary saw Jesus, she did not understand. The pastor (my Father in Law) really emphasized the fact that even though Mary was speaking to Jesus, she spoke not as to the Son of God, but as to a Gardener. She down-graded Jesus to merely another human, just a laborer, just a gardener.

Something about this really stuck.

The Pastor said, “Then Jesus said, ‘Mary!’ One word, that’s all it took! Then real faith set in. She believed. And she responded, ‘Rabbi!’ “

I remember feeling the Spirit so strongly there was almost a light in the room before me.

“Josiah!”

“I hear you, I believe in you!”

“Would you let me be your teacher?”

I have been pondering this question all day. Let Him be my “rabbi”? What an exhilarating thought! ….yet something holds me back.

On the one hand, I wonder “If I were a disciple, with Jesus on earth, what would He have taught me?” Likely confronted my sin, taught me to love, opened my eyes to secrets of the kingdom, introduced me to the Father, commissioned me and sent me with power.

So what of this is available to me, today? All of it. I am even given an extra blessing, because I have “not seen, yet believe (John 20:29). This is all available to me through Scriptures, which were written that I may believe (John 20:31). Although I have not seen Him, I love Him, and rejoice with joy inexpressible (1 Pet. 1:8).

On the other hand, I wonder, “But can I trust Him?” How do I know He will not lead me astray?

[This latter question, which I left hanging in my journal, has gradually faded away as I have been learning to walk with increasing joy and confidence in simple obedience to Jesus these past weeks.]

Yes, Jesus, I wish you to be my teacher. Lead on, Rabbi!

RELATED POSTS

Seminary: Was it Worth It?

(see also…)

Seas of Confusion

Seven Years in Arabia (About the Author)

Frustration at Christian Academia

Taking My Education Into My Own Hands…

Reflections on the Christian and Higher Education

As I mentioned elsewhere, I believe that God does speak to us today. I believe that He often speaks to Christians through a quiet, internal voice. Of course, it is very possible to confuse His voice with my voice. Therefore, I always take conversations like these with a grain of salt, evaluating them constantly against Scriptures. I pray that you will do the same.

[Upon reading Daniel, that he was “educated in all the knowledge of the Persians” – and yet was a great man of God, I began to pray/journal:]

“So, God, you don’t want me to retreat from education? It’s okay to study all this stuff?

Jesus: “Do not shrink back. Ride forth and conquer, mighty warrior.” (cf. Judg. 6:12)

[the next day]

Jesus: “Have I not commanded you? Be bold and courageous!”

[The following day I received a card which said something to the effect of:]

“When you speak, speak with boldness and courage!”

I feel encouraged, but a little apprehensive about what is around the corner…

Does God Speak To Us Today? (or, on listening prayer)

Our church has for some time now been open to the idea that God speaks directly to people. In recent times, this belief has become more pronounced through the counseling ministry of John Regier and Merve Tupplin, and also through Brad Jursak’s book “Can You Hear Me?: Tuning In to the God Who Speaks” This whole emphasis has been linked to a term called “listening prayer,” which seems to be a new movement which some have linked to the Emergent Church.

My own journey with “listening prayer,” however, began when I was in my mid-teens. Upon reading a book called, “Help Me Remember Help Me Forget,” (an excellent read, by an ex-slave with a rough life, who learned to walk very closely with Jesus) I was exposed to the life of a person who daily lived in a conversation with God. I have sought this ever since and have, in a very small measure, achieved it – although I am continually seeking more. Along the way, I have found many pitfalls, and have found Scriptures exceedingly helpful in finding my way out of these many pits.

The purpose of this post is to first prove that the Bible promises an internal voice of the Holy Spirit, and secondly the cautions which it gives along with that.

THE HOLY SPIRIT BELONGS TO ALL CHRISTIANS

Upon preparing to leave this world, Jesus consoles His disciples by reminding them that He will send in His place, the “Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name,” (John 14:26): Jesus will not leave His followers as orphans, but will come to them personally through the Holy Spirit (John 14:18). Immediately before ascending, Jesus told His disciples that they would “receive power when the Holy spirit has come upon you,” (Acts 1:8): they were told to wait in Jerusalem for this outpouring. This outpouring they did receive and, on the day of Pentacost the Holy Spirit was given to the Apostles and the church was born. Paul later makes it clear that the Holy Spirit belongs to all Christians, not just to the Apostles, (Ephesians 1:14).

THE HOLY SPIRIT SPEAKS

Virtually all Christians agree that all who are in Christ have His Holy Spirit in them. The question at hand, however, is whether this Holy Spirit speaks to us?

It is certainly clear that God spoke “in many and diverse ways to the prophets,” (Hebrews 1:1): He identifies the normal means as through visions and dreams (Numbers 12:6). However, He is free to use other means – such as a burning bush or donkey – and He spoke to Moses “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend,” (Exodus 33:11).

We know, then, that God at times chose to speak directly to and through people. But are we living in a different time now?

THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE EARLY CHURCH

On the day of Pentacost, when the Church received the gift of the Holy Spirit, Peter explained this event by saying,

This is what was written about by the prophet Joel, “And it shall be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind, and our sons and your daughters shall prophecy, and your old men shall dream dreams…” (Acts 2:16-17). The Holy Spirit, then, continued to speak to and through His people in this new age: in fact, the very distinctive marking of this new age was that prophecy would no longer be reserved only for the kings/prophets. Rather, “Even on my bondslaves, both men and women, I will pour forth of my Spirit, and they shall prophecy,” (Acts 2:18).

This reality was lived out in the life of the early church. Cornelius sent for Peter because of a vision and Peter made the crucial decision to preach to the Gentiles based on a vision he saw (Acts 10). Likewise, during a fast, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul [Paul] for the work to which I have called them,” (Acts 13:2). The Apostles conducted a lengthy discussion on the issue of Gentile inclusion: they prefaced their final recommendations by saying, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28). Paul was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia (Acts 16:6) but, upon seeing a vision, left immediately for Macedonia (Acts 16:9-10). Paul was later instructed to stay a long time in Corinth in a night vision (Acts 18:9-10). Paul was warned of his coming trial at Rome (Acts 21:11, etc.). He was encouraged during a storm en-route to Rome (Acts 27:24) by an angel, and John, as we know, saw an incredible vision of heaven which he wrote down as the book of Revelations.

This smattering of Bible verses shows clearly that Joel’s prophecy came true – at least in the case of the Apostolic church, for whom the guidance of the Holy Spirit was at least a semi-regular occurrence.

DO WE STILL HEAR GOD’S VOICE TODAY?

We understand that there are some differences between the experience of the Apostles, and our own experience. Paul at one point mentions the “signs of an apostle” (2 Corinthians 12:12) which he performed among the Corinthians as proof of his apostleship. These signs are mentioned in Acts 2:43 and 5:12. At one point, Luke notes that even those who had Peter’s shadow pass over them were healed (Acts 5:15). In opposition to false teachers who fancied themselves “super-apostles,” Paul promised to come and show these hucksters up – not by testing their words, but their power (1 Corinthians 4:19). What exactly Paul had in mind is not stated: but it makes clear that he believed that to some extent, special miraculous power was to accompany a true Apostle.

There is, then, a difference between us and the Apostles: we do not have the so called “works of an Apostles.” The question we must ask, then, is, “Is hearing God’s voice a ‘work of an Apostle,’ or is it available to us all?”

WE ARE INSTRUCTED TO PURSUE PROPHECY, WHICH IS THE GIFT WHEREBY GOD SPEAKS TO US DIRECTLY

In 1 Corinthians 14:1, Paul says, “desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophecy.” He goes on to describe prophecy in antithesis to speaking in tongues. When someone speaks in tongues, Paul explains, they are: 1) speaking only to God (v. 2), 2) declaring mysteries (v. 2), 3) edifying only themselves, and 4) not employing his mind (v. 14). Paul teaches that people are to follow his example in speaking in tongues only in private (18-19), and not to do so in public unless there is an interpreter. When people prophecy, however, he explains that they are: 1) speaking to men (v. 3) 2) declaring the secrets of peoples’ hearts (v. 25), 3) edifying, convicting, consoling (v. 3) and calling to account (v. 24), and employing their minds (v. 12-16).

From Paul’s definition, it seems that prophecy is the spiritual gift of being able, on occasion, to hear God’s voice directly. The purpose of passing this information on to others is clearly the normal usage, but guidance such as the Apostles received for daily life does not seem to be excluded.

Thus, it is clear that Christians are supposed to be able to hear God’s voice directly. We may term this action, “Listening prayer” if we want to – but in Biblical terms, I believe that it is better called “prophecy.”

Now that we know which category it falls into, we are better able to know what cautions God also attaches to prophecy.

TEST THE SPIRITS

Prophecy is, by definition, a word from God enters the mind in some way – either by internal or external voice, by vision or dream or apparition or some other means – other than simply by reading or recollecting a passage of the Bible. Thus, prophecy is inherently a dangerous action, and we should not be surprised that Scriptures are clear in their warning about prophecy.

Concluding his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul writes, “Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22). Likewise, John instructs, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

There are at least three tests which are provided for the testing of spirits.

1. The Person of Jesus Christ

In the passage noted above, John continues, “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world,” (1 John 4:2-3). Likewise, Paul writes, “You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:2-3).

The person of Jesus, then, is the first and quickest test of any spirit. Does this spirit profess Jesus as God and Lord? Does this spirit acknowledge Jesus’ real incarnation and body? A false spirit will deny both: the Holy Spirit will always affirm both. Also, the Holy Spirit always worships the Father, while Satan comes as an angel of light, seeking people to worship him (2 Corinthians 11:14, Luke 4:7)

2. Scriptures

Peter writes that, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” (2 Peter 1:20-21). Paul further explains that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). We should not assume that only the Old Testament is to be considered “Scriptures,” for in the following verse, Peter designates both his own, and Paul’s writings as Scriptures: “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction,” (2 Peter 3:16-17). By common consent of the Church’s ancient councils, the Scriptures which we now have constitute the Scriptures of the Christian religion – for our faith is build upon the apostles and prophets, with Christ as our cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). Because these Apostles are no longer living, and because the necessary requirements for Apostleship (that is, seeing and knowing Jesus in the flesh, see 1 Corinthians 9:1) have been erased, the cannon has been closed. Parting ways with our Orthodox friends, we do not believe new prophets can write new Scriptures, but take the terrible words of Revelations 22:18 (“If anyone adds to the words of this book, God will add to him the plagues written in it…”) apply not only to Revelations, but the whole of Scriptures.

We have thus established that there is a reliable, identifiable authority for life and faith – which is the Holy Bible. This book we take to be the very words of God. Unlike the prophecies of man, which are as straw, God’s Word burns like a fire and smashes like a hammer (Jeremiah 23:28-29). It, “is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart,” (Hebrews 4:12). While all humans will come and go like the grass, God’s word will endure forever (Isaiah 40:8, Mark 13:31).

When the Bereans heard Paul, they proved themselves to be more noble not because they consulted some inner spiritual guidance, or even because they consulted right reason, but because they, “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true,” (Acts 17:11). In commending their example to us, Scriptures present themselves to us as the final authority for truth. This pattern is also exemplified in Paul, who wishes his readers “not to go beyond what is written,” (1 Corinthians 4:6), and he condemns anyone who presents a new gospel (Galatians 1).

Scriptures, then, are to be the final authority, and the normal means of testing any spiritual manifestation or revelation. If a so-called “spirit of prophecy” is indicating a non-Biblical action, we must conclude that this is a false spirit, or a spirit sent from Satan.

3. Church Authority

In the passage where Paul speaks most of prophecy, he also provides the third manner of testing: the authority of the church. In 1 Corinthians 14:29, he writes, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.” In so saying, he makes it clear that prophecies are to be at least partially a communal event. It is my belief that the elders of the church are especially in view here, although the rest of the congregation should not be excluded. All are to listen carefully to a prophecy, then “pass judgment” over whether they believe this prophecy is from God or not.

As I re-read this passage, two things seemed very clear to me: first, prophecy is linked to “judgment” here just as surely as tongues is linked to “interpreters.” Do you have no interpreters? Paul doesn’t want you speaking in tongues. Do you have no one capable of judging? It does not seem that Paul would want prophecy without judgment: the two are intrinsically linked. The second thing which seems likely to me is that the prophets don’t lead the church – that is for the elders and apostles (1 Corinthians 12:28). This simple rule would have prevented many cults from forming: it is simply BAD to have a prophet in a place where what they say cannot be questioned, since prophecy is inherently subjective, and people can be honestly or dishonestly deceived when they attempt to prophecy as a “solo-act,” without any “judgment” or secondary input into their words and thoughts.

In our context where we don’t have regular communal prophecy and judgment of it, I believe that the best way to honor this principle is to take one’s “prophetic” revelations to one’s mentors and pastors. These people will likely be able to confirm or reject a prophecy, based on their experience with you and God’s voice over you as they pray for you.

4. Prophecy of Another

In the immediately following verse, Paul writes, “But if revelation is made to another who is seated, the first prophet must keep silent.” So, if one person is standing, giving a prophecy, and another begins to prophecy, the first must sit down. What is the purpose of this? Only that in a group of people, where one person stands up and begins a prophecy, God is at liberty to use another person to either continue the prophecy, or to silence the first prophet. Thus, a person who is fully convinced that they are a prophet anointed by a message may be silenced within a few words, by another prophet who stands up to speak. The purpose of this seems to be that the first prophet may have been mistaken in thinking they were to prophecy or – since “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets,” (1 Corinthians 14:32) that person may have added something of his own to the prophecy. This verse, then, gives God the freedom to correct the first prophet through a second.

The practical application of this is that one must always remember that just because God speaks through someone, that does not make that person in any way infallible, or perfect. God is fully capable of speaking through corrupt and wicked men – or, for that matter, through their pets (see Numbers 22)! God knows our frame: he knows we are but dust (Psalm 103:14). He is very much aware that even though it should not be the case, it very often is true that out of the same spring often flows both good and evil waters, both blessings and cursings (James 3:11). We should never forget that immediately after Peter was blessed for making one of the most spectacular and important prophecies of all time (“You are the Christ, the son of God!” Matthew 16:16), he was rebuked and called Satan for setting his mind on earthly things and not heavenly (Matthew 16:23).

A literal application of this principle will not likely happen often. Since very few people prophecy, it is much less likely that two people with the gift of prophecy will be in the same time at the same place, in order to cut one another off. However, I think the practical applications of this principle is among the most important, which is that that prophets should never NEVER forget that even when they think they are speaking from God, they may be wrong. Thus, people who believe they have a prophetic utterance should always treat their prophecies with caution. Perhaps one way of doing this would be to say, “I think God wants me to say this to you….” rather than, “This is what God says!” This would be especially appropriate when a person has not tested their prophecy by submitting it to the “judgment” of others before delivering it to the recipient.

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Upon hearing the word “prophecy,” many non-Charismatic Evangelicals react negatively. However, I believe they would be surprised to see how often they do “prophetic” things without knowing it. How often, for example, has a preacher said something to the effect of, “I know I don’t have a Bible verse for this, but as I was studying this passage and praying about our church, I felt impressed to say….” Is that not prophecy? He has just admitted that this revelation comes not from Scriptures, but from The Spirit as he has been praying. Also, how many people have – at a crucial juncture of life – had a dream, or a mental image which was powerful in guiding their decision? Most commonly and perhaps most importantly, when people say, “I just don’t have peace over this decision,” or “Yes, I think this is right. I have a lot of peace about this…” aren’t they really seeking God’s will through His internal witness, or through “listening prayer”?

A church which decides, “We are not charismatic. We only read the Bible. We don’t talk about the Holy Spirit” will not in this way prevent people from using and perhaps abusing the gift of prophecy.

On the other hand, churches which utilize prophecy openly, excitedly and without the boundaries which the Bible puts in place are likely to fall into many pitfalls associated with false prophecy.

Rather, I think the best way is always the Bible’s way. Let us not despise, but rather earnestly seek after the gift of prophecy. Only, let us not forget the warnings and tests which God has put in place, to keep us safe in our use of this gift.

In this way, we may have all of the blessings which God intended for us to receive, while still retaining the security and safety which He also intended for us to have.