Saturday, August 30, 2014

Divine Communication - feelings and impressions

Not long ago while researching the subject of prayer I came across a paper that directed me to a November 2003 article in Christianity Today entitled "Mr. Jabez Goes to Africa." In it Bruce Wilkinson, author of "The Prayer of Jabez", relates how he came to minister in Africa. Wilkinson says he had a sort of 'burning bush' experience at a Wendy’s restaurant. He confesses he was stunned when he realized that he may have just had a conversation with God, explaining that after he asked, "God, tell me what do you want me to do," he sensed God’s reply: "I want you to keep the Great Commission." But did he really have a dialogue with God?

I’ve been thinking about this subject quite a bit lately. The puzzling thing about Bruce Wilkinson is that his conservative evangelical approach to the Bible scarcely puts him in the charismatic camp, so where did this come from? He's far from being the only one, though. I hear similar things said all the time, from pulpits and lay people alike. And certainly the amount of information and themes about God speaking to individuals today — both directly and indirectly — in Christian books and literature increases with each passing year. I imagine Christians everywhere must be asking themselves: "Could this kind of thing happen to me?" "Or does this only happen to ‘superstar’ Christians?" "And why didn’t God respond to me when I asked that question?" "Wasn’t I listening?" "Don't I have enough faith?" "Am I unworthy?"

I think Dave Swavely in his book “Decisions, Decisions” makes an excellent point when he says, "Christians...are not content to make their choices based on the principles in the revealed Word, but want God to give them some more specific information, direction, or guidance." But why do we want this? And is God giving new revelation today — even though the canon has been completed? Does He communicate with us through feelings and impressions?

The truth is, these 'experiences' cannot be supported with Scripture. The Bible never instructs or encourages us to look for, listen to, or follow inner promptings or impressions. And there are adequate examples of satanic influence in Scripture to cause us to view any we might have with suspicion. Sure we all have inner promptings and impressions. We're human after all. Good and bad desires come and go. But I don't believe they should be interpreted as signs from God — not even the good ones. Certainly an example to us would be Paul’s desire to take the gospel to Asia (Acts 16:7), and to visit the saints at Thessalonica (1 Thes 2:17-18) and Rome (Rom 1:13). That was obviously a good desire. But it didn't work out because of circumstances. Good desires are just that — good desires. The Bible, wisdom, common sense, and wise counsel, must always be the primary guides for our decisions and actions.

But certainly we should be led by the Spirit, right? Actually, there are only two references that talk about this regarding the life of the believer — Romans 8:14 and Galatians 5:18. It's because of these two verses that we use the phrase ‘led by the Spirit’ as rationale for proceeding with a course of action. And once we say "The Spirit led me" or "God led me", it automatically becomes the uncontested ‘will of God.’ I mean really, who can argue with that?

The problem with using the phrase "led by the Spirit" like this is that in context, Romans 8:14 and Galatians 5:18 have nothing to do with guidance or making decisions. When we look at these passages as a whole, we see that they are contrasting the lifestyle of the old nature with that of the new nature. Choosing to live in our new nature is the same as being led by the Spirit. Maybe if we understood spirituality as godliness, we would not so readily confuse it with mysticism.

Sadly, however, we rarely use doctrine to govern and interpret experience anymore. Rather, we use application and experience to control interpretation. In other words, we assign meanings to Scripture instead of allowing the writer to do so. We also give multiple meanings to a single passage, the key interpretive question being "What does it mean to me?" rather than "What did the author intend his readers to know or do?"

Don't get me wrong, I’m sure few of us have any intention of putting subjective mysticism on the same level with the written Word of God. It's just that it's so easy for even the best-intentioned Christian to get caught up in an emotional experience due to exposure to non-biblical philosophy. In fact, our evangelical culture has become so ingrained with such spiritual language as: "I have peace about it," "I was praying and sensed God speaking to me," "I feel like this is what God would have me do," and "I sense that the Holy Spirit is leading me," that it is difficult to break away from this way of thinking. Along these same lines, I don't think circumstances and so-called open or closed doors should be our guiding factors either. For example, Jonah found a boat going to Tarsus, but that was hardly divine guidance (Jonah 1). The major concern with all of this will always be the lack of objectivity. And because of its subjectivity, it can easily lead us into false doctrine and sinful actions.

This is why I have concluded that impressions, promptings and feelings should not be considered the voice of God or a source of truth. I know this is contrary to majority evangelical opinion today, but to me, viewing them as divine communication is a kind of counterfeit spirituality that has the potential to side-track us from letting all Scripture thoroughly equip us for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Matthew 28:16-20 - The Great Commission

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold,I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

So many believers assume this passage is written directly to us and about us.  It would be hard for them not to come to this conclusion when so many pulpits teach this very thing.  There are, of course, general principles in this passage that can be applied to us, but we must remember to check everything we hear (no matter who is saying it!) against what Scripture actually says, taking into consideration progressive revelation and to whom the passage IS directly written.

The "they saw him" in verse 17 may include the 500 of 1 Corinthians 15:6, as it is unlikely the apostles would be doubting at this point.

As Williams well says about this passage:

"These were the 'poor of the flock' (Zechariah 11) to whom in distant Galilee and far from Jerusalem the Great Shepherd connected Himself, and whom He commissioned to proclaim His rights as King and the laws of His Kingdom throughout the whole earth. He assured them of the donation of all power given to Him both in heaven and in earth, and promised to be with them until the consummation of the age. That consummation would have then come if Israel had repented; but the two tribes in Jerusalem sent Stephen (Acts 7) to say 'We will not have this Man to reign over us,' and the ten tribes in Rome, the capital of the Dispersion, committed a similar message to Paul (Acts 28). Hence this commission is now in abeyance, but will be resumed, and obeyed, when Divine relations are once more resumed with Israel. There is no Ascension in this Gospel, for all in it relates to the King and to the Kingdom which He proposed to set up upon the earth; and so He promises to be with them until the predicted hour came of the establishment of the kingdom. The interpretation of this commission belongs, therefore, to the Hebrew church, represented by the apostles and the five hundred brethren. The Church of God — the 'secret' revealed in Ephesians — does not here appear, for its home is heavenly, and its commission is to take out from both Hebrews and Gentiles an election to heavenly glory." 

That this "commission" cannot be intended for the Body of Christ, the Church of the age of grace, can be seen by its contrast with 1 Corinthians 1:17, where Paul writes: For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Rather, the "commission" intended for us today is the ministry of reconciliation:

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:11-21).