This weekend I had the privilege and challenge of discussion the modern concept of Direct Revelation with a friend. For most modern Christians this seems to be a “no brainer”…of COURSE God still speaks to people today. Well, yes He does through His Written and Preached Word. But, He spoke with finality in His Son Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-4) and which the Apostles and Luke wrote down for us in the Written Word of God.
Once again, I remind my readers that I grew up in a Holiness Pentecostal home and either at the Friday night or Sunday night meetings we would have some tongues and then interpretation given almost all the time. In fact, I remember waiting with expectancy that God would tell us something in a very personal manner. Mostly it was some new revelation about surrendering oneself more and more and that we would not receive all He had for us until we absolutely surrendered.
Today, I have to say the direct revelations from God are a bit different (as I listen to other charismatic/Pentecostal and modern evangelical sermons). They tend to try to fit the Old Testament pattern of Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah or Jeremiah (not too much of him because he usually prophesied judgment and no one wants that anymore). These modern day prophets, seers or what have you, will talk about America as if she’s the new Israel (a concept steeped in the early 1800’s) and tends to get political. I’m going to stay off that part of the topic but suffice it to say, most revelations today are warnings about dangers in the weather or society that will influence politics.
My focus in the field of Apologetics has been mostly to counter these things because 1) they come from false and bad teachings, 2) they come out of false and bad teachers and 3) they’re never correct or accurate like the OT prophets, the Apostles and Jesus were. My research for the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism and Human Rights, for my Thesis to be defended in 2020 (Lord willing) is on all of this and how it negatively effects proclaiming the Gospel. You see, if you have bad theology then you end up having bad practice as a Christian. If you follow bad leaders you’ll copy their mistakes. If you have false prophecies or warnings, then Deut. 18 kicks in and we don’t ever have to listen to you again or get nervous when doom and gloom is preached OR you get a Direct Revelatory Pep Talk from God and it ends up not coming to pass. So, I figured I would write about the history of these things and the effects as well, albeit briefly in these blog posts.
A New Word from God: Objective Truth to Subjective Revelation
For centuries the Bible has been held as the inerrant, inspired, infallible and sufficient objective truth of God. In the early 1800’s a view re-entered the realm of Christianity (neo-Montanism): new, personal and direct revelation from God. This Neo-Montanism was a rehash of ancient Montanism with their apostles and prophets along with continued revelations. Then the Reformers in the 16th and 17th Centuries dealt with the Radical Reformers, often referred to in their writings as the Enthusiasts, who also looked for continuing revelation. In these views God worked inside a person first (Intra Nos) rather than from the outside (Extra Nos) first. God talked directly to His People through visions, dreams, ecstatic speech (tongues and interpretation) as well as other charismatic gifts. Sound familiar?
The Enthusiasts were not new either for Montanus, from the middle of the 2nd Century (circa 157 A.D.), promoted continued revelation, women in the office of elder, pastor or bishop and an unwillingness to submit to recognized Church authority. Mystics of every age have believed and taught in direct revelation from God in various forms. This became another Word of God for many and created a subjective word, one which only they heard.
In the 1830’s the arrival of the forerunners of the modern Pentecostals with their visions and dreams stating that God still spoke outside of His written Word came onto the scene in Europe first and then made its way to the Americas. Teaching about the accounts of the early church in the Book of Acts as normative they insisted that Jesus could not return until the charismatic gifts and offices (Prophets and Apostles) were restored. Sound familiar?
Over and against the objective written Word of God, they sought to find hidden meanings and verified these teachings through their emotions, thoughts and experiences. Over the following decades this direct revelation became the norm and according to the early Pentecostals, was to be expected. People throughout Europe and North America began to seek out God’s Voice to them personally and distinct from the Written Scriptures. They were only doing what they were taught and because this movement had rejected Creeds and Christian history, it was easy to hear a subjective voice that may or may not agree with Holy Writ. Thus began the downward spiral to two types of God’s Word, the written Word and the one spoken to you directly or to your group and church.
The modern Pentecostal has been taught to base what they believe upon their feelings and emotions. Does it bring them joy? Do they feel a flutter in their breast or goose bumps on their arms? What does their experience tell them about God? Where they moved by the music or the speaker? Were they excited to a decision or a declaration?
Early Pentecostals instilled an “Experience is my Creed” subjective view rather than a “This is what the Bible objectively tells us is true” objective view. The test for truth for the modern Pentecostal is within them rather than the evidence given in the Scripture itself. Truth becomes subjective because in the mind and heart of a modern Pentecostal God is still speaking outside of the written Word. With a gospel predicated upon personal messages from God, visions, dreams and other subjective experiences, it is easy, then, for an insincere person to share great experiences of God and promote those even if they are counter to what God’s written Word says, and people believe them.
This makes the gospel proclamation very different for the modern Pentecostal. While they will argue that they respect and honor the written Word, in practice they promote feelings over facts and experience over evidence. They testify to others of the veracity of the Christian Gospel, not upon the evidences of the faith contained in Scripture, but upon their own feelings, interpretations and internal evidence of whether or not it is true. Instead of relying on the canon of Scripture which is the historic rule and measure of God’s Word, Pentecostals rely upon these capricious emotions to judge truth. The measuring stick of their religious life is an inward, “God told me…” The rule of faith is replaced with the rule of my heart. This results in a Gospel proclamation that is indefensible when encountering those in other religions or atheists because it is not founded upon objective truth but instead on person feelings, tastes and opinions.
When attempting to proclaim the Gospel this subjective position creates several issues which cannot be taken lightly. If the Bible is interpreted based on what someone feels it means, then who is to say the “burning in the bosom” of the Mormon faith is truth when they read The Book of Mormon? How does the Pentecostal missionary disprove the excitements of Hinduism in their worship of Shiva or the mysticism of the Islamic Sufi sect who dance themselves into a spiritual frenzy relying upon feelings and experience to verify truth? The simple answer is that they cannot because they have placed their subjective views over the objective truths of the Scripture. Also, how does one deal with the mentally ill who believe that God is giving them a personal, private and revelatory message? If feelings dictate truth then the strength of the Gospel proclamation is lost.
So, if you are in a church or group, or even if you personally think you are hearing God’s Voice (in your heart or head), you need to keep in mind that this was based upon teachings from the 1800’s, from those who longed to hear a “new word” and placed God’s Written Word aside. Of course they, and you, probably don’t do it intentionally but still you are guilty of placing the Bible secondary to your Direct Revelation from God. I’ve known many who have said, “God told me…” only to have their course reversed and say, “Well, God told me now to…” Duet. 18 is very strict for those who think God is speaking to them and they are telling others these things. It is a warning against this practice. In Revelation we have a similar warning that if anyone adds to these words the plagues will be upon them. That’s scary folks and needs to be heeded.
I will continue this blog with more history and the serious doctrinal errors that this type of Christianity brings about. It will effect your assurance placing you on the quicksand of changing revelations instead of on the Rock that is immoveable: Christ and His Written Word.
. C. Gordon Strachan, The Pentecostal Theology of Edward Irving (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1973), 173. . Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1965), 219. . Douglas Jacobsen, “Introduction,” in Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003), 5.