1/04/2006

The Voice of God

Shane, over at MrCheevus has an interesting response to a post written by Phil over at Pyromaniac. The topic is prophecy and the ability to hear from God. Because of my background, I feel I can add something to this discussion. I hope it is useful to anyone reading.
Before I begin, I would like to make a few comment on the nature of prophecy and tongues. Prophecy is not solely hearing God's voice. It is not only seeing the future either. The idea of a prophet is one who acts as the mouthpiece of God. They speak for Him. Because God is outside of time, a prophet may speak to the past, present or the future. In the strictest sense, all Christians should be considered prophets because the great commission gave us an evangelical task. Evangelism presents both the mercy of God and also His judgment. In the Old Testmanent, only prophets performed this function. In the Old Testament, there was also a specific mode of behaviour associated with prophets (ex: 1 Samuel 10:9-11, note the comments on Saul's behaviour). The specifics of this behaviour are not given.
Speaking in tongues is distinct from prophecy. It is a spiritual language. In his discussion of tongues in I Corinthians 12 and 14, in the Greek Paul uses the word "tongues" to describe babbling similar to what the pagans did and "a tongue" to describe the spiritual language used in prayer. "A tongue" can have one of two purposes: to speak to the church, in which case there must be an interpretation given by someone else, or to speak directly to God about what Paul refers to as mysteries.
The chief argument against the use of tongues in the modern church often comes from a misuse of I Corinthians 13:9,10 which says For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. The argument usually states that Christ, that is the perfect, has come and therefore tongues must disappear. It is a very poor argument, since tongues did not arrive until after the Ascension of Christ.
On the flip side, an over-emphasis on tongues leads to the belief that they are the chief manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Without the infilling of the Holy Spirit, one cannot be a Christian. Such a position on the preeminence of tongues is entirely without Scriptural support. In fact, there are many spiritual gifts and in any of the lists Paul gives in I Corinthians, tongues are nearly always somewhere at the bottom.
Prophecy does happen. God does speak to individuals directly and individuals do act as the mouthpiece of God. I can give two instances in the life of my family where this has occurred, and both involved my father. The first surrounded the birth of my brother. One day my dad came home and told my mother that God had spoken to him. He said that he would have a father son relationship. Shortly thereafter, my mom became pregnant and Zack was born. The second instance occurred when my dad developed cancer. I was about 11. Our pastor at the time said he knew my dad would not die. God had told him he'd have a father son relation ship and, given that my brother was only about 3, this hadn't happened yet. When my dad was at his sickest, he told my mom he knew he would not die. God had told him he had not yet run the race set before him. Sure enough, my dad recovered. He is now 60 (and had his second bout of cancer this fall, which he also survived).
As a child I was raised in predominantly Pentecostal churches. I have also been to my fair share of Charismatic churches. I have seen real expressions of tongues and I have seen false ones... and you can tell the difference. Several years ago, I began attending a more conservative Baptist church. Now I attend a Reformed church. From Charismatic to Reformed, I don't think you can find two greater extremes and still remain within the Christian church. I agree with Phil when he says that an overemphasis on gifts, prophecy and tongues can lead to catastrophic errors on the part of the church. I also agree with Phil in his challenge against the likes of Benny Hinn. I must confess, I doubt the authenticity of his work, especially because he appears to be getting rich off it. To individuals like Benny Hinn, we must apply the test God gave Israel in Deuteronomy: if a prophet speaks and it does not come to past, then he has not spoken on behalf of God and should be ignored.
However, to say that absolutely no one ever hears God's voice directly is an error. It is as much an error as the overemphasis on gifts and such. It is as much an error as the belief that without us, God will not move or advance His kingdom. To prescribe a specific set of behaviour to a God that one also professes to be omnipotent logically makes no sense. Is God all powerful, or isn't He?
I have only this to say: God does whatever He wants.
That's why He is God and you are not.
I've not been alive as long as some people, but I have seen enough to know that you cannot force God's hand and when He does choose to move, there is nothing you can do to stop it. He uses our prayers in a way that continues to boggle my mind. Why?
Because He's God and because He can.

7 comments:

Shane said...

It is funny... the comments that Phil has are predominantly hypercalvinist MacArthur followers like himself. I have many sympathies for the solid teaching that John MacArthur has offered over the years, but I can't agree with his cessationism. I even bought his study Bible - it is excellent so far, but is coloured by that cessationist viewpoint, and I just disregard it.

Colin Broughton said...

Clearly, the *quality* of prophesy peaked in Old Testament times.
The key to improving the quality of prophesy is to return to stoning the false prophets.

Also, just what is a "hypercalvinist"?
Once a person has achieved a full measure of self-rightiousness, what comes next?
Am I missing the point?

Ruth said...

A hypercalvinist is an extreme Calvinst who believes that a person has no control over their life. It is like fatalism.
Think of it this way: on the free will versus predestination argument, there is quite a spectrum of beliefs. Some believe that God is not involved in any decision made by man and others believe that God has absolute control over absolutely every aspect of your life, including whether or not you sin. Most people are somewhere in between this range.

Please note, I would not consider MacArthur to be a hypercalvinist.

Shane said...

Nor would I... and for the record, I consider myself a perspectivo-calvinist (my own word - I believe that God is in control, and we are held responsible for our actions by virtue of perspective... ask me about it sometime...)

Anonymous said...

One of the ideas presented by Wayne Grudem is that the manifestation of the sign gifts has never been normative, but has ALWAYS been present (to some limited extent) within the church.

He says this in response to the cessationist idea that the sign gifts were normative at one time but are not now. He supports this by pointing out that tongues is only mentioned a few times in the book of Acts. If it were normative, references might have been made to it as a custom; but, in fact, the occurrence was rare and thus fairly detailed in Luke's account. Prophecies, too, are noted specifically - and therefore, were obviously somewhat rare. But they occurred, and not usually from the apostles!

Shane said...

I would agree with Mr. Grudem on that score.

Ruth said...

As would I.
Interestingly, we were talking about tongues this morning in the ladies Bible study I go to. Of the very conservative group (in Reformed churches, you don't tend to get a lot of speaking in tounges... if any), there was only one who was outright willing to say that tongues no longer happen and all of it is gibberish. Most were willing to agree that some is real and some is not.
We had a good talk about the separation of emotion from worship and te separation of the intellect from worship that can sometimes happen in either extreme. It was a good talk.

Too bad I didn't think to mention that there is this conversation going on here as well.

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