We gathered around the table with our Bibles open at the end of our small group with some Skyline dip and Fritos (I always exegete better with some Skyline dip at the ready). The issue of how we hear God today had come up over the last few weeks as the result of the Strange Fire conference held by Dr. John MacArthur. The discussion was edifying and we agreed on almost everything as we looked to Scripture. I have been having similar discussions with others, so I decided to take some time to think through what I see as the core issues.
Matt Chandler is a pastor in Texas who doubted the continuation of the charismatic giftsuntil he had an experience which he describes in a video (video from Matt Chandler and an additional perspective on the same incident from Bob Hamp). Basically, he believes God told him to go to a certain place and meet a certain person at a certain time. His conclusion is that he must be living his life in this “radical” way as a normative practice.
What if he would have gone to the restaurant and the person described wasn’t there? What if one of the details would have been off? What if two details would have been off? Would any of these circumstances prove or disprove the gift of prophecy being active today? Absolutely not. Experience cannot be allowed to determine doctrine (in the Bob Hamp video, he seems to say we should separate reality from theology). The only guide we have for doctrine is the faith once delivered for all the saints. The Bible is the standard by which we must judge every belief we have. This is known as the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture and is derived from passages like:
But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14–17)
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:2–4)
And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19–21)
Avoiding Flammable Arguments
Let’s define some terms. Continuationists believe the Bible teaches that the charismatic gifts (described in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12–14, and other various passages) continue today as they did in the past. Cessationists believe that certain gifts have ceased, particularly the “sign gifts” which include prophecy, tongues, healings, and miracles, with the closing of the canon and the death of the Apostles. Cessationists tend to straw-man continuationists by saying they believe anything goes and they are receiving new revelation which should be tacked onto the Bible. Continuationists tend to straw-man cessationists by saying that they deny the Holy Spirit can do miracles today. Those are broad terms, but a basic point from which to begin our discussion. There is a spectrum from Benny Hinn to Mark Driscoll to John Macarthur. I will let you tell me where you fit rather than assuming to tell you where you are. I would appreciate that same courtesy.
You Read My Mind
Thanks to YouTube’s ability to read my mind and tell me what else I should watch, a video where Doug Wilson (a self-affirmed cessationist) interviews Mark Driscoll (a self-affirmed continuationist) on the nature of prophecy today. Driscoll affirms sola scriptura and yet demands that God gives him special visions which allow him to know how to minister to his church members better. Wilson presses him on the issues and brings up points that I would have also pressed on. This video does a good job of framing the issues that I am interested in discussing. If you think the whacky charismatic stuff is allowed by or taught in the Bible, we have a different issue to discuss. If you want to watch the Chandler videos above, go for it, but this one is worth watching so that we can get to the heart of the matter about what is called the gift of prophecy in these videos.
I would like to frame the discussion on two fronts: 1-What is prophecy and are there two different forms of it? 2-If you believe the modern practice of speaking a “word from the Lord” or receiving extrabiblical revelation, why do you not conform your practices to the biblical prescription given by Paul? While I am using Driscoll as an example here, my goal is not to denigrate him, but to evaluate his public teaching in a public forum (even though his forum is a bit bigger than mine). I ask you to weigh his words, and mine, against Scripture. He is not a heretic based on the views he presents here. (If you want my views on Driscoll, take me out for sushi and we can talk.)
Driscoll introduces 1 Corinthians 14 into the conversation, so I trust he is either talking about speaking in tongues or prophecy. Since there is no mention of tongues, let’s go with the prophecy angle and trust that is what he meant by receiving revelation, making a declaration, and prophesying. Stop and take a minute to read 1 Corinthians 14 before you proceed.
No, really…read it! God’s Word is the standard, so don’t go from your fallible memory on this one. If you have it memorized, recite it to yourself.
As Wilson asks Driscoll about the gifts, Driscoll makes an interesting statement at the 5:40 mark, “1 Corinthians 14 says ‘If you think God gave you a word, run it by the leaders.’” Did you see that in 1 Corinthians? I couldn’t find it. Paul did say that the prophecy should be spoken before the church and that the prophets should judge one another (14:26–33), but there is nothing about the elders (leaders) in that passage. The context is clearly a gathering of the saints (vv. 4, 5, 26, 28), not a private meeting with the elders.
At the 16:00 mark, Driscoll says that he would not allow people to offer prophecies in his church service because it would turn into the Jerry Springer show. That was exactly Paul’s concern about the Corinthian church. Paul offers a prescription to deal with this concern and he expected the Corinthians to follow his commands. 1 Corinthians 14 is a prescription for how the church was to operate, not simply a description of what was happening—it is a command.
If the prophets are to judge the prophets, and Driscoll says the “prophet” should bring his prophecy to the elders to be judged, then the “prophet” must be an elder. But this is not the language Paul used.
Driscoll has described an extrabiblical process to evaluate “prophecies” because he believes the Bible allows for prophecies to be delivered today. If He is looking to the Bible, he should judge the prophecies the way 1 Cor. 14 prescribes. He must submit himself to Scripture rather than creating a system that is contrary to Scripture.
In his effort to be biblical, he has developed an unbiblical test of prophecies rather than submitting to the biblical test already given. His argument for adopting a different test is pragmatic—we can’t allow people to prophesy like Paul describes because that would interfere with our service schedule and the 11:15 people would be left waiting in the lobby. In fact, that is the very intent of Paul’s instructions—that there would be order (14:26–33). Driscoll’s concerns are met by following Paul’s instructions, not creating a new system that eliminates prophesying in the gathering. Pragmatism cannot govern the prescriptions of Scripture.
But if prophecy has ceased, as I believe it has, there is no need to invent a system to regulate it to replace the biblical system that regulated it when it was in operation. If you begin a thought with “thus says the Lord,” “God gave me a word,” or “God told me,” you are acting as a prophet and you should be more than willing to subject yourself to the biblical prescription for delivering and adjudicating prophecies: delivering them to the church and letting the other prophets decide. (Acts 11:27–30 gives a good example of this practice in the early church under the direction of the Holy Spirit.)
A consistent continuationist would allow for, and supposedly encourage, the speaking of tongues and the delivery of prophecies in a church service for the edification and exhortation of the church. If a pastor denies his church this opportunity, he is not being as biblical as he might think he is, at least by the clear prescription given in 1 Corinthians 14.
The issue of what prophecy is was sandwiched in the middle of the video. Throughout Scripture, the main role of a prophet was to declare the words of the Lord. “Thus says the Lord” or some variation is the constant refrain of the prophets. They were not to speak presumptuously (Deuteronomy 18:20) or falsely (Jeremiah 14:14–15) but to proclaim and declare God’s words to man. This was done in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God and God does not lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18).
God’s standard for a prophet is a most frightening one, and those who violated those standards claiming to be from God were to be put to death (Deuteronomy 13:1–5, 18:17–22). When did that standard change? Where is there another definition for prophecy apart from surely delivering the true words of God? Why do some demand that those with the gift of prophecy can be wrong? Which passage answers any of these questions?
I can find none. If you can demonstrate these things to me from Scripture, I would be interested in examining them. I truly desire to be teaching truth from God’s Word and submitting myself to it.
Chalk It up to Experience
What did Matt Chandler experience that night? Does Mark Driscoll get visions of the abuse of his church members? I don’t know. I can’t exegete experience. I have no reason to doubt the truthfulness of what they relayed. I would love to ask them if they have ever had a vision that was wrong or did not come to pass. I do know that if that is prophecy, it was not handled in the way the Bible prescribes. Was it a word of knowledge? Was it a leading of the Spirit? I have experienced similar impressions and leadings, but I don’t think that makes me a prophet—it makes me a Spirit-filled Christian (as if there were another kind). Any experience must be evaluated by Scripture, not the other way around.
I don’t know what you want to call it, but if you are going to call it prophecy, submit it to the Word of God.
God the Holy Spirit is active in the lives of every believer. He brings to our minds truths that we have learned from the words He inspired to be written. He convicts us of our sin. He empowers us to live lives of holiness. He heals in miraculous ways. He changes stony hearts to hearts of flesh in the miraculous regeneration of the dead. He is awesome and I love Him and worship Him as a member of the Godhead.
And no, He didn’t tell me to say that.
I would love to interact with you on this topic. If you choose to comment, please watch the videos and read the relevant biblical texts. If you have an experience to share, maybe that would be better discussed over a cup of coffee (my treat) rather than on this forum. Please let the Bible be your argument, not your experiences.