Saturday, November 23, 2013

Continuationists and Sola Scriptura

Someone clued me in that Steve Hays has been thrashing away over at Triablogue about the Strange Fire conference, miracles, me, Fred Butler, and how his opinion does no injury to the proven and veritable principle of Sola Scriptura. The goal of this post is to remind the reader of what we mean when we talk about the principle of Sola Scriptura and then to examine the principle of modern prophecy and revelation to determine if in fact one can hold to both principles at the same time without doing injustice to either. I think such an endeavor is besieged with copious exegetical and logical obstacles and I hope to show you why I think this way.

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men.[1]

So says the confession.

The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.[2]

Again, the confession testifies to the principle that I seek to defend.

When God speaks, men must listen. Steve Hays and other Continuationists have repeatedly made no distinction between the acts of God in Scripture and the claims about God’s actions outside of Scripture. It is as if there is nothing special, nothing purposeful beyond the acts of God in Scripture.
In other words, my dream cannot be distinguished from Joseph’s dream in Scripture. I must admit to finding such theories repugnant. Nevertheless, realizing that sinful men are given over to pursue one mad speculation after another in an attempt to carve a spot for themselves, I realize we have no alternative but to confront their madness with sound reason and Scripture.

Steve Hays holds to the view that the continuation of revelation and personal prophecy do nothing to detract from the principle of Sola Scriptura. However, I contend that Hays could not be more wrong for one very simple and easy to understand reason: God’s word, regardless of its form is always authoritative. Man is obligated to do whatever God has directed him to do without regard for the form of that direction. The principle of Sola Scriptura teaches that all that God has commanded us to do, all that he has necessitated us to do is positioned in the Sacred Scripture and no place else. All things pertaining to life, to salvation, to godliness, to spiritual growth, to exhortation are positioned and given to the Church through the Sacred Writings. We have no need of anything in addition to the divine revelation of Scripture in order grow in grace, and in sanctification, and to please the God who has called us unto Himself.

Now, the idea of additional revelation today, be it personal prophecy, or dreams or visions, is in direct conflict with the principle of Sola Scriptura. Suppose you walk into Church today and one of your elders prophecies that you are to leave your current job and accept another job, which requires relocation. The elder says that God has plans for you to do some particular work in a specific city. You walk out of church that day and discuss this “word from God” with your wife and family. You really don’t want to go. You don’t like the company or the man to whom you would report. Is it up to you? Can you inform God that you really don’t want to take that job and simply ignore His word? In so doing, have you sinned against God? Should your church family begin the disciplinary process outlined in Matthew 18? How can we hold to the position that refusing to submit to this prophecy is nothing short of an act of blatant sin? And if it is sin, then discipline must follow.

The rejoinder might be that such prophecies are not dependable. Therefore, we cannot be morally compelled to acquiesce to them. But this position impales God on the spear of obscurity. God is perceived to be unable to clearly communicate His plan to His followers. That is not the Christian view of God. Therefore, when God speaks, His speech must be deemed unquestionably reliable and therefore authoritative. That is precisely what we have in Scripture. And it is precisely what we do not have in dreams, prophecies, and inner-self talk.

Essentially, what this view does is place Continuationists in the position of being able to sin without actually violating Scripture. It also places Continuationists in the position of needing more from God to be able to walk more perfectly in His will. The more perfect will of God is the will of God that is beyond Scripture and customized specifically to you. And you are responsible for growing to a place in Christ where God can reveal this will to you so that you can be a super-Christian, walking perfectly in God’s will for your life, marrying the right person, living in the right home, and working at the right company and in the perfect field. This is why Pentecostals are obsessed with discovering God’s secret will.

If we must have dreams, revelations, and God speaking in our minds, then the principle of Sola Scriptura is completely eroded. In essence, we need more than Scripture. Moreover, Scripture is not the sole authority. Rather, God speaking is the sole authority. And that could be in Scripture or it could be outside Scripture. The fact is that it cannot be any other way. If God speaks, we are obliged to listen. The reason Scripture is the sole authority for faith and practice is not because it is written, but because it is God speaking. It does not matter if that speech takes the form of the written word, prophecy, a dream, or an inner voice. God’s word is by nature authoritative. Steve Hays has yet to offer a seriously tenable alternative to the principle of Sola Scriptura. In addition, verbal denial that one has not abandoned Sola Scriptura does not make it so. Just because one verbally affirms Sola Scriptura that does not mean they actually affirm the principle in practice.

I will now use Steve Hays’ own method against him. Hays has repeated pointed to Cornelius and even Paul and equated their experience with the modern experience of others, like Muslims for example, who claim to have been visited by God supernaturally. So let us take Moses and Jonah as our example. God spoke to Moses extra biblically and commanded him to strike the rock once. This was not a written command. Nevertheless, Moses was obligated to keep it. And when Moses failed to keep God’s command, the consequences were severe. And again, we see Jonah the Prophet who likewise never received a written command from God to go to Nineveh. When Jonah refused, God’s wrath was quite serious. Both Moses and Jonah were under obvious obligations to obey God’s spoken word. They recognized God’s word without any doubt. They had certified commands from God to do something very specific. Since Hays likes to liken our own experiences with those of divine revelation without any distinction whatever, then it follows that modern Charismatics who hear from God on such matters had better listen. If they do not, the consequences could be severe. Under that scenario, I fail to see how one could ever take the principle of Sola Scriptura seriously. After all, more is needed to carry out God’s perfect will in the earth. God must provide specific direction by way of visions, dreams, prophecies, and the inner-voice in order to carry out His divine plan. Scripture is simply not enough.

Continuationists argue that modern prophecy is different. It is not binding like prophecy was in Scripture. This is nothing less than special pleading. Hays wants to apply a stricter standard to the word of God as written or to prophecy within Scripture than he does to prophecy today. Continuationists have no exegetical or logical basis on which to base this argument. They think it can be so simply because they said it.

The principle of Sola Scriptura is constructed upon the nature of Scripture. Scripture is God speaking to His Church through the Holy Spirit. What God says is authoritative. Without equivocation we know that Scripture is God’s word.

We have not even touched on the implications of these views on the doctrine of revelation. Bavinck tells us that “Special revelation, in distinction from the above, is that conscious and free act of God by which he, in the way of a historical complex of special means (theophany, prophecy, and miracle) that are concentrated in the person of Christ, makes himself known – specifically in the attributes of his justice and grace, in the proclamation of law and gospel – to those human beings who live in the light of the special revelation in order that they may accept the grace of God by faith in Christ or, in case of impenitence, receive a more severe judgment.” [Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. I, 350] In the view of Steve Hays and others, there is nothing really any more special about Scripture than there is about modern prophecy and revelation. They are just as much the special revelation of God as is Scripture. The fact that it did not become written down is little more than an afterthought. Hays cannot have it both ways. If Jonah’s prophecy was unwritten and binding, then so are modern prophecies equally binding! How could the word of God ever not be binding?

The concept of open revelation at best gives sovereignty and Sola Scriptura nothing more than a wink and a nod. If open revelation is true, Scripture is not the only source by which we know God’s will. In fact, we know more of God’s will through dreams, and visions and personal prophecy. If God is still speaking new revelation, then men are still obligated to listen. If God is still speaking as He did in the text, then Scripture is not enough to accomplish His purposes in the Church and in His creation. Something more than Scripture is necessary.

If we hold to the principle of Sola Scriptura, and to the view that this document is the only reliable revealed will of God for His Church, then we cannot accept the principle of open revelation. If God is revealing what was heretofore unrevealed, then that revelation is special, authoritative, and binding. And if that is true, we must release our grip on the principle of Sola Scriptura and embrace this new principle. The Scripture, which we have held to be God’s once for all revelation to all humanity, is indeed not that at all. It is simply a collection of some of God’s revelation but there is much more that God has revealed supernaturally that we do not know. If modern prophecy is not special revelation, what kind is it? It certainly isn’t general revelation.

[1] The Westminster Confession of Faith (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).
[2] The Westminster Confession of Faith (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

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