Here is a quote that was recently posted to Facebook by someone I have nothing but respect for:
"If private 'revelations' agree with Scripture, they are needless, and if they disagree, they are false."
I want to address this quote for a few moments. Please understand, I take no issue with the person who posted the quote. I only chose this quote because it captures the heart of yet another debate that can occasionally rage through Facebook. I seldom, if ever anymore, engage in Facebook debates because they cause nothing but trouble. I would rather articulate my thoughts here and allow you to take them or leave them.
Let me clarify that I do not have or know the context of this quote from John Owen. I am assuming this is the theologian of the 1600's. See, Facebook is a hotbed for quotes and the context is is left behind. That being said, I can only address the quote and some of the Facebook debates I have observed. The debate revolves around the issue: can you hear from God apart from Scripture?
I think that many evangelicals, such as myself, have a knee-jerk reaction to "throw the baby out with the bath water." I really don't like that expression, but fits with what I am getting at. How often do we hear people say, "God told me..." and then fill in the blank with whatever course of action they are about to under-take? This gets tricky. I mean, you can end up blaming God for all kinds of things. I have heard people living in immorality say, "God told me it was OK." Or, how about the TV preacher boldly declaring, "God just told me there is someone here who is going to give $5,000 today!"
Let me go another direction for a moment. Several years ago, I was in the car with my kids. I think we were coming home from the library. Out of nowhere, the thought comes to my mind that I need to pull my seat forward. What? I'm tall. My daughter, who was in the car seat behind me was small. Pull my seat forward? Why would I do that? Initially, I tried to brush it aside and I figured I would do it when we got home, then she will have more room the next time we were out. After all, I was in the middle of driving! The thought was so overpowering that I could not ignore it or brush it off or delay another second. While driving, I reached down to pull the lever and slid my seat up a little. Less than 90 seconds or so later, I was stopped and waiting for oncoming traffic to pass so I could make a left-hand turn. All of a sudden, I feel like a wall slammed into my back, everything went fuzzy and suddenly our car was at least 50 feet from where I had been stopped. A driver, not paying attention, had slammed into us from behind at full speed. After the initial few moments of checking on the kids and calling 9-1-1, I began to survey the damage. I noticed that the impact resulted in the back rest of my driver's seat being bent back several degrees, just out of reach of my daughters legs. Had I not moved my seat forward, her legs would have been injured. As it was, she had no serious injuries.
So, rewind a little. Where did that thought come from? Why was it so strong? Was it a coincidence? I'm not sure how John Owen would feel about this or would be explained in the Facebook debate. Have I ever said "God told me to move my seat"? Not that I can remember and not intentionally. Have I ever said, "I feel like God put it on my heart to move my seat"? Yes. That is the only way I can explain what happened that day. And I could name several other examples, but this was the most dramatic.
For those opposed to "hearing from God," I would just ask this: how many times have you been asked to do something and your response was, "Let me pray about it"? Is there chapter and verse to tell you if you should teach that 8-week Bible study? What are you hoping to gain from praying about it? Aren't you hoping to gain some clarity or direction on the issue? Is that not "hearing from God"?
Just to be clear, when I say "hearing from God' I do not mean an audible voice. I mean something happening within you through the Holy Spirit's direction. We see this happen a lot in the New Testament, but many say that this no longer happens now that we have the Bible.
The Word of the God (the Bible) is the only divine revelation from God. However, I also believe that God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit in our "hearts." But those times are not to become more important to us or take our focus off of God's Word in any way. Those "heart whispers" must always be run through the filter of Scripture and whether they result in the glory of God. God will never violate the divine revelation of His Word to give you a special "revelation." In other words, He will never privately tell you it is OK to live in immorality because His Word declares that to be sin.
We pray about decisions that we have to make. We pray for the right words to say in evangelism or when dealing with a grieving person. Is quoting chapter and verse the best thing to do in those situations. Actually, yes. But can the Spirit lead you to say something, not directly quoted from Scripture, but still being faithful to Scripture? Yes.
Recently, there has been a lot of buzz about a boy who had a vision of Jesus in heaven. It seems a separate girl had a vision of Jesus and she painted what she saw in that vision. The little boy was shown pictures of Jesus and he rejected every one of them except the one painted by the girl. Whatever someone does with that, the issue for me is that we become fixated on the vision. That becomes more important to us than Jesus. Or, as I have heard, people start saying, "Yes, I like to think of Jesus looking like that because...." and they explain how the eyes comfort them or something else. The danger is, if you start having that picture in your mind when you pray, you are dancing very look to idolatry.
Personally, I think the little boy had a very vivid dream. Did God give Him the dream? I don't know. Maybe. Was it a real vision of Jesus, similar to what Isaiah and the Apostle John experienced? No. How can I say that? Because what the boy describes in not the same as what Isaiah and John describe and is a part of the divine revelation of Scripture.
Divine revelations? Depends how you define that and what fits that definition. But I have no doubt that God speaks "to our hearts" through the Holy Spirit. Needless? Not based on how I define it. I am certainly glad I moved my car seat forward! But yes, if my "inner leadings" ever go against Scripture, they are a no-no.
So, there are my two-cents. May the debate continue...if it must.