Many contemporary Christians would agree that God continues to speak today in a variety of different ways. Recently I read a letter from another Church in which the Pastor claimed that God continues to speak today. Not through the Word alone, but in the Pastor's words, "God communicates personally with us in a wide variety of ways, such as through the pages of the Bible (Psalm 119:24, John 6:63), in dreams and visions (Acts 10:3, 10:17-19, 11:5), in appearances (Joshua 5:13, Judges 5:12), through the promptings of the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6-10, Romans 8:14-16), in the advice of others (1 Cor. 12:8-10), through nature (Psalm 19:1-2), and even in signs and circumstances (Judges 6:36-38)."
At first glance, one might feel encouraged by the use of biblical texts to inform such a view. However, when you begin to delve into the passages used, the foundation becomes shaky. And if the foundation is shaky, then how can the building stand? In a time when biblical literacy is at an all-time low, and reliance upon these various modes of communications is at an all-time high, it is important for us to assess whether it is biblically acceptable. Let us consider the so called, 'biblical foundation' provided under the headings given by this Pastor. He names six different ways God continues to speak today outside of the Scriptures: Dreams and visions, appearances, promptings, advice of others, nature, and signs and circumstances.
The Pastor claims that God communicates to us through dreams and visions. He supports this by citing Acts 10:3, 10:17-19, 11:5. This is the story of Peter's and Cornelius' dream that God gives them. The purpose of which was to lead to including the Gentiles within the Church. Prior to the giving of the New Testament, the disciples had not understood the overall message of God's work to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. They required a message from God to help them see that the Gentiles were a part of God's kingdom. If God had not intervened, the church would have potentially remained nothing but an extension of the Jewish religion. Because there was no New Testament revelation yet, God used dreams and visions to communicate his message.
Is this a justification for the expectation that God will continue communicating through dreams and visions today? Once Peter and Cornelius had the dream, was it necessary for God to continue communicating that way? No. They recorded it via word of mouth and then via the writing of Luke in Acts. Just because one person experiences something that does not mean every person should expect it. Did all the other Apostles have this dream? Did other believers receive this dream? No, because they had received it from God's spokesman, the Apostle Peter.
The purpose of this event was not to creative a normative principle for the ongoing need of revelation via dreams and visions. God gave it to show us that his plan is to include the Gentiles within the household of God.
Consider also Paul's rebuke in Colossians 2:18, "18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind". Dreams and visions are not a sign of maturity, but of immaturity.
But what about appearances? The Pastor claims that we can expect God to communicate to us through appearances referencing Joshua 5:13, Judges 5:12 (I am assuming he means Judges 6:11-12)
In Joshua, we find the story of the angel appearing before entering war in the promised land. In Judges, the angel appearing before Gideon to call him to set the people free. Are we to understand these as normative illustrations of what we are to expect? It is interesting when you get to the New Testament and consider how we are to expect angel's to appear.
In Hebrews 13:2, we discover that angels do in fact appear, but not like this! Rather, when they come, we will be unaware. This might also explain why in the comical story of Peter's release from jail (Acts 12), when Rhoda answers the door and hears Peter, the group thinks it might be his angel.
If angels come and visit us we will not be aware, they will not come with a special message for us, but they come to join us, and test us or help us, as ministering spirits (Hebrews 1:14).
What about promptings? Many of us would have heard someone say that the Spirit prompted them to do something. The Pastor defends the idea with Acts 16:6-10 and Romans 8:14-16.
In Acts we find Paul, Silas, and Timothy being unable to travel to Bithynia. "The Spirit of Jesus did not allow them" (Acts 16:7) What is meant by this verse? The Spirit of Jesus through some means - we know not how - intervened and stopped them going forth. It could have been an internal prompting, as they talk of it today, but the point of the text is not that God will communicate the same way with us. God was sovereignly instructing the proclamation of the gospel!
Even more troubling though is the reference to Romans 8:14-16. Even a casual reading of the context will show that it has been completely twisted to speak of something unrelated to what Paul meant. Paul is arguing that the Spirit of God bears witness that we are children. It is not leading us by secret promptings; it is crying out that God is our Father.
Ah yes, but if not in those ways, what about through the advice of others. The Pastor references 1 Cor. 12:8-10 and the oft quoted 'words of wisdom and knowledge'. Advice is good, I agree. God knows we need much advice and wise counsel. Oh, for a beloved brother or sister who can counsel us in our time of need. However, it is important to remember that advice is purely that, advice. If advice is God communicating directly to you today, then that means you must obey it. What if the advice you receive is foolish? What if it is ungodly, as much advice is! Not only that, but how do you know which advice you should listen to if you get differing opinions? If God is speaking through others, then you must do whatever another advice you to do! Someone once, "spoke into my wife's life", and told her she would become the next Joyce Meyer. She was being advised to become a preacher, in direct contradiction to the Word of God.
Does God communicate to us through nature? The Pastor cites Psalm 19:1-2. Creation declares the glory of God, amen! But it doesn't reveal God's will for us. God may use creation to providentially guide the events of our life. For example, through a storm, or a pandemic! But you cannot interpret this like people do with visions and dreams. This text is about God's glory being manifested in creation; it has nothing to do with God's will being shown. In fact, in verse 7-11 of the same Psalm the psalmist says, "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward." Creation declares his majesty, but his revealed word gives what we need for salvation and life.
At this point the Pastor makes one of the oldest Biblical claims in the continuationist camp. Good enough for Gideon, good enough for me! (Judges 6:36-38) Gideon lays out a fleece to test whether God will be with him. This argument is as old as the hills, and yet horrendously flawed. Why? Because Gideon's test, rather than being normative, highlights his lack of faith and his disobedience. In 6:12-24 God told Gideon, "The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.”...14 “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?”...16 “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” God gave Gideon all the promises he needed. He even gave him a sign before the fleece incident. Gideon put out a fleece because he didn't trust God.
If we take this story as a normative practise we are encouraging people to disobey and distrust God. To make matters worse for the argument, Jesus, citing Deuteronomy 6:15, said to the devil, "Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'" Are we going to encourage people to disobey Jesus and obey the devil who incited him to do it?
The Pastor argues that most Christians consider it as normal and biblical for God to speak in a variety of different ways. Because, ‘most people hold to it’, is not a very good argument. There was a point in Church history where 99% of all believers agreed that you could buy your way into heaven. There was a time when many believers thought slavery was both normal and biblical. Popular acceptance does not necessitate truth. The question is not whether the majority believes, but whether the word of God commands it.
The Bible teaches that God has communicated in a variety of different ways, "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world." (Heb 1:1–2) God spoke in the past, but now he has spoken once and for all in his Son. The New Testament explains that event, and we need no other communication than what we have received. The New Testament has been written, and the Scriptures have been closed.
Often this view comes from a desire to have a personal interactive relationship with God. Amen, God wants a deep personal and interactive relationship with us. But how does that happen? Consider Paul's words to Timothy. Paul is at the end of his life, and he wants to spur this young minister on to faithfulness. If ever Paul was going to exhort someone to rely upon the so called "spiritual gifts" it would be now. This man needs some special interactions with God to be faithful in what God has called him to do.
2 Tim 3:14-17, "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."
Timothy has been nurtured from a young age with the word. What should he now to turn to? Revelations? Freedom diaries? Visions? Prophecies? Words of wisdom? A variety of means? No. He needs to do one simple thing, continue on in what he has learnt from God in the Scriptures. He needs to believe it and know it. The Word of God is profitable for everything so that we will be complete, equipped for God's work.
We need to read it to ourselves, discuss it with our friends, hear it preached, meditate on it day and night, love it, cherish it and feed on it like food for the soul. How do we have an interactive relationship with God? We hear him speak through his word, and then we speak back in prayer. We must be very careful not to get sucked into such ideas. Let us remember as God says, Hebrews 4:12, "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Why would we want anything else?