How should we balance a "word from God" with God’s word in our assemblies?

Monday Musings for August 24, 2020

Good morning, Musers,

There are a lot of different ways to “do” Christianity, and there are lots of different ways to “do” worship services. I attend an evangelical Baptist church that, judging by its doctrine, style and tone, is in the middle of that genre. We sing together, have announcements, and engage with a Bible-based sermon. But nobody is jumping out of their seats sharing a “word from God.”

Now, I’m happy that people are not sharing “words from God” on-the-fly in our services. That was one of the things I looked for when we were choosing a church! However, I’m still not settled as to whether a “word from God” is a legitimate revelatory phenomenon for today’s Church. And because I’m not settled, I’m not a cecessionist.

A cecessionist is someone who is settled. He believes that the spiritual gifts God gave the embryonic Church have no purpose in its maturity; this includes the “miracles” supposedly performed by Roman Catholic saints.

John Calvin, of course, did not agree with that Roman Catholic tradition, but he also observed that the spiritual gifts that defined the early Church had fallen out of use — sort of naturally. Calvin took the leap and said that these gifts had ceased. Cecessionism might have been born at that moment, but it would be challenged in our day by the Charismatic Movement.

Now, I have never spoken in tongues... nor have I ever received a “word from God” of the type that Charismatics claim they are receiving. I occasionally receive insights while studying Scripture — which I believe to be the result of me cooperating with the Holy Spirit — and I have received overt signals and verifications that this was God’s Spirit at work! But I do not give these insights the same weight as I give the Bible — even though each had the energy of an epiphany.

A major tenet of Christianity is that the Holy Spirit indwells every believer! (Romans 8:9). So why aren’t we enraptured by his presence? In my life, the Holy Spirit is much more of a Comforter (John 14:26) than he is a revealer. Should I expect some extra visitation — because I’m open to that? I’m just not detecting anything. Is this because the Lord has nothing to say to me personally? Or is it that, as a member of the Church, I have received all the revelation I need?

I like the idea of the latter. So, why won’t I drink the Kool-Aid? Why won’t I affirm that certain spiritual gifts — including these “words from God” have ceased — and get on with my Christian life? I see that as hubris. Who am I to say that God is done revealing things to people... just because he isn’t doing that to “my” people or in “my” era?

So let me clarify: cessationism is my personal ongoing experience. It’s just that I remain open to the possibility that the spiritual gifts did not cease with the first generation of believers; I see no problem with them being imminent, legitimate and ongoing in the Body of Christ until Christ returns. Here are three reasons why.

First, Scripture doesn’t address the issue. So, people like me who no longer experience the sign gifts project their lives back upon Scripture and say, “I don’t experience certain spiritual gifts because they were no longer needed after the apostolic period. As such, they have ceased... and it is no longer possible that I might have them.” That may be true. But the Bible does not teach this.

Second, I know people who are Christians by any measure — that is, they pray, they are dedicated servants of Jesus Christ, they revere the Scripture and go out of their way to put it in action — but who also get the occasional “word from God” ... whatever that is!

Are these people deluded — meaning I am enlightened? Or does God honor their openness (and punish my closed-mindedness!) by giving them true revelations! — ones that I bat away because I have a doctrinal stance that says that type of revelation does not exist?

Third, embryotic churches still exist — and many have no Bibles. Do you think it fair or reasonable on the part of God to withhold the types of spiritual gifts that were essential for the first embryonic church? ... just because John Calvin said they missed the deadline?

I do not... and if this objection is true, then we cannot state categorically that these gifts no longer exist. All we can affirm is that we don’t have them — and perhaps — shame on us for that.

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