Faith in Focus

On Reflection : How does God speak to us today ?

The Church has always believed that God is out there and that He has spoken; that we are not left with our own reason only to guide us. Furthermore, we Protestants have always believed that God has spoken completely and finally and conclusively in the Bible. But while we acknowledge that what the Preacher says is true, that there is no new thing under the sun, many of the Lord's people seem not to be content these days with the old thing, the Bible, as "the most perfect and complete in all respects" (Belgic Confession, Art.7) revelation of the will of God for our lives. Granted, reason has failed us, but perhaps there is a new word from God? And so many of us are like the philosophers on Mars Hill who spent their time doing nothing but listening to every new teacher who came along.

That's a dangerous occupation. The devil has always used the outright lie or the suggestive doubt to snare us away from God and we have seen a good deal of that this century. Was it Hitler who said, "Tell a lie and tell it often enough and people will believe it"? Do any of us know the truth of the history of this century? I doubt it because the good guys are not so good and the bad guys often not so bad as the good guys make out. But those who win are always the good guys and they are the ones who write the history books. (That is why David Irving might just be worth reading!) Do we really know the the truth about Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and now again Iraq? I doubt very much you'll read it in the regular press. When our oldest daughter was in the fourth form I got her to do a project on the history of the Manawatu and suggested she work from two sources - one recently written and another older book. In the more recently written book we were told that the Rangitane tribe gradually spread throughout the Manawatu region a few centuries ago (a more precise date eludes me now). In the older source, we were told that Rangitane tribe, bit by bit, conquered the Maru-iwi (Moriori?) people who formerly lived there. Now, the more recently written book did not tell an outright lie; it just did not tell all the truth. At least, I am assuming the older source was more truthful simply because the latter falls so completely in with current Maori orthodoxy that the Moriori did not exist.

If that is how things work in the study of history, and it would not be hard to give other examples, how is it in realms where the devil has a much more directly vested interest? Whatever other conspiracies may or may not be going on in the world today, the devil is very definitely in conspiracy against God. And he will use even good men and women gradually, over time, just line upon line, to rewrite the truth - in ways none of those good men and women ever dreamed of - at least those who began the process and didn't even mean to begin a process. After all, if it happened to the Pharisees, it can happen to us. The Pharisaic movement consisted originally of the very (truly) godly in Israel. And many were, no doubt, in Jesus' day too.

Even if the devil changes truth in just the way we've often watched it happen. I suppose we've all played that game where a message is whispered along a line of people and then what comes out at the other end is compared with what was put in at the beginning and we all have a good laugh. But when it's a message from God and about salvation from sin and eternal hell, it is no laughing matter. We need to know, and be sure we know, the truth.

Proverbs 22;19ff says, "So that your trust may be in the Lord, I teach you today, even you. Have I not written thirty sayings for you, sayings of counsel and knowledge, teaching you true and reliable words?" The reason Luke wrote his Gospel is precisely the same. He did not write because the Gospel was unknown or not being well preached. Rather, "Since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught(Luke 1:3f)." Thus so we have a written Bible. So that we might know that what is preached to us is truly God's message of salvation, God has caused this final word from Christ to be written and so preserved from error, as the Westminster Confession goes on;

Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing: which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people being now ceased. (Cf. Belgic Confession, Arts 3, 4, 6)

But many today are not satisfied with the Word alone. They seem to need God to say something more or more specifically directed to their particular life situation than what the Scriptures say. Our brothers and sisters in the Australian Reformed churches are struggling with this too. They have said they believe that "God may still occasionally speak to us, particularly in situations where the written Word is unavailable" (Report to Synod, 1991). It seems as though our brethren across the Tasman are not quite united in (or sure about?) what they mean by that. Two ex-missionaries, Profs de Waard and Berends, told us RTC deputies that they meant by that something more in the realm of extra-ordinary guidance; they had heard of too many cases on the mission-field of people, particularly Muslims, claiming to have been guided to missionaries by a dream/vision to dismiss such phenomena. On the other hand, the Report itself speaks continually of a "type of occasional prophecy (that) ... has its source in God, who reveals things to men, ... Yet any such revelations are of a different character to the authoritative revelation of the Lord in Scripture" - the sort of prophecy that Agabus was supposed to have given in Acts 21 about Paul being handed over to the Romans by the Jews. That was very definitely a verbal prophecy based on a revelation from God. And Profs Berends and Voorwinde have written recently in Trowel & Sword supporting the possible continuation of that sort of thing today.*

But in our Catechism (Heidelberg Q&A.98) we confess that God wants the Gospel proclaimed and "his people instructed by the living preaching of his Word" (over against images, true; but we may also say, over against new revelations). That, not "occasional prophecies", is what God has ordained to make us wise unto salvation and that we may be thoroughly equipped unto every good work (2 Timothy 3:15ff). We can never, even as our Australian brothers confess, be sure of occasional prophecies. As Hans Luther blurted out when he heard young Martyn believed St Anne had spoken to him and commanded him to become a monk, "God grant it was not an apparition of the devil!" But the living preaching of the Word can always be tested against the written Word of which preaching must be an exposition and from which it must never deviate, even as the Bereans did; even as Luke wrote in his Gospel; thus we "may know the certainty of the things in which we have been instructed."

But what about those times when Christians might need help or comfort or some extra guidance in some difficult situation in life? That's a perfectly understandable question and we will spend some more time on it in a later article. Briefly, to put it very plainly, we have to learn to grow up. The NT church, with the Holy Spirit living in the heart of every believer in a way never experienced before except by the few prophets, priests and kings in the OT, is supposed to be an adult church. We do not need God, like a mother to her toddler, to say, "Do this; don't do that; do the other thing" at every step and turn. Since Jesus left us, we have another Comforter, another guide to come alongside us, the Holy Spirit, who takes the Word of Christ (the Scriptures) and applies it to our hearts as we apply ourselves to the Word of Christ seeking to be workmen who need not be ashamed because they know rightly how to divide the Word of Truth (1 Timothy 3:15). But what about those who are not so strong in the faith and cannot do that so well? God has provided the Church and her ministries (all believers!) to build each other up until we all grow up into a full measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, no more being swayed about by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4). It is through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures we are to have hope and guidance (Romans 15:4). As Francis Turretin said years ago;

The heavenly Father, who instructs his people as the head of a family (Deut.8:5), taught the church, when it was still young and childish, by the spoken word, the most simple form of revelation. Then, as it began to mature and was established under the law in its early youth, he taught both by the spoken word, because of continuing childishness, and by writing, because of the beginnings of maturity, unto the apostles' time. But when the church had reached adulthood, under the gospel, he wanted it to be satisfied with the most perfect form of revelation, that is, the written light.

The Doctrine of Scripture, quoted in Rowland Ward's The Westminster Confession for the Church Today.

* These articles were written some time ago. It is only fair to point out that, having discussed these matters with these brothers in May and October of this year (discussions between the RCNZ deputies to the College and the Faculty), they may not now want to express themselves in quite the same way or, however expressed, even mean what they certainly sounded to us in NZ to mean in some of their recent writings. I will say no more at this stage as a report on those discussions should be available to the Churches soon. Nevertheless, whatever our brothers and sisters in Australia are saying, or mean to say, about this matter, what I am speaking against is certainly a live issue in the Church at large today.

Rev. J. Rogers (North Shore).

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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / / revised November 96 / Copyright 1996