Puritan Gems

Monday, April 18, 2011

Revelational Gifts Part I

"Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3)
  • "Why do you despise Prophecy?"
  • "Why do you reject the works of the Holy Spirit today?"
  • "Why don't you want all that God has for you?"
Such are the questions that are presented to those of us who do not accept the continuing revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit (prophecy and tongues) as presented by today's Charismatics. As one who has spent most of his Christian life in the Charismatic movement, I can relate. Most of my family is Pentecostal even today, and I thank God that He placed me in a Christian household, where the Word of God was taught, revered, and lived. And yet while we are agreed on many things, there are clearly areas of doctrine that divide us since the time that God has reformed my faith.

The topic of tongues and prophecy today is a controversial one, and there is no way to avoid the personal aspects to the debate. When those of the Reformed faith uphold the teachings of the Westminster Divines that "those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people [are] now ceased" (Westminister Confession of Faith I:I), we are doing more than just making an abstract doctrinal statement. We are calling into question some of the experiential aspects of worship that many Christians hold dear. As such, appeals to emotion and experience are common in this debate, but it is an area that must be discussed. For either we of the Reformed Faith are lacking true spirituality, having at best only a partial faith, or else those of the charismatic faith are actively participating in false prophecy. Furthermore, the debate must be settled by Scripture alone, not by subjective spiritual experiences which can likely be claimed by many different religions.

Additionally at stake are two crucial principles. The first is sola scriptura. While most Pentecostals would claim to hold to sola scriptura, they deny it in both their practice and their theology of continuing prophetic revelation. Either the scriptures contain "the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life" (Westminister Confession of Faith I:IV), or else more is to be added through continuing special revelation. In many cases, some charismatics have implicitly accepted their own revelations (ie. being "led by the Spirit") as being superior to the Holy Scriptures. Consider this following quote from the introduction to a very popular work by a charismatic author from about a decade ago.

“A true God chaser is not happy with just past truth; he must have present truth. God chasers don’t want to just study from the moldy pages of what God has done; they’re anxious to see what God is doing.”
While most Pentecostals won't go quite so far as to refer to the Bible as "moldy pages", it is quite often to hear them claim that new prophetic revelations not only continue today, but are actually necessary for true holiness, power, and effective evangelism. No matter how you slice it, any claim supporting the "necessity" for continuing "fresh" prophetic revelation is nothing less than an implicit denial of the sufficiency of Scripture. If we have the Scriptures properly expounded, we are in need of nothing else in term of revelation.  The Bible IS the "full gospel".

The second principle at stake is the office of Christ as the sole mediator of the New Covenant (Hebrews 12:24). When a person claims to receive prophetic revelations today, that person is actually claiming to be a covenant mediator (Galatians 3:20), standing between God and man. He is going to the mountaintop, receiving the Word, and bringing it back down to the rest of us. Thus it is necessary to discuss whether such a mediator may exist in the New Covenant among the sons and daughters of men (Hebrews 1:1).

Some Pentecostals, seeing the dilemma that continuing revelational gifts causes in these two areas, have sought to redefine prophecy in the New Covenant era. In this series, we will focus special attention to this issue, showing that: 

  • Biblical (inspired) Prophecy is inerrant, infallible, and authoritative. This is true in both Old (Deuteronomy 18:18-22) and New (2 Peter 1:21) Testaments.
  • Biblical Tongues were a form of inspired prophecy. (Acts 2:16-18)
  • Biblical Tongues were earthly human languages (or at the very least included human languages - Acts 2:5-11).
  • The events of Pentecost were a sign of both New Covenant inauguration (Acts 4:16) and Old Covenant Judgments (1 Corinthians 14:21-22), both being fulfilled in that "crooked generation" (Acts 2:40). There is no biblical basis for a "personal pentecost".
  • All Christians have been Baptized In the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-11, Acts 2:38-39). There is no division between "Spirit-filled" Christians as opposed to just "regular" Christians (1 Corinthians 12:13).
  • The offices of Prophet (Hebrews 1:1) and Apostle (Ephesians 2:20) have ceased to exist.