I once had a disagreement with a pastor regarding the direction he was taking the church he shepherded. In short, I thought he was over-emphasizing the experiential aspect of Christian worship to the point of excluding serious teaching about God. It was my opinion that such an unhealthy emphasis on the experiential would result in a breakdown of the very fabric of the church. Thus, it was not surprising to eventually see key families and members of leadership leave the church as they tired of having to continually wade through the shallow waters of "experience." While the details of that disagreement are important (and will eventually be told) I would like to focus on the justification that this pastor had for continuing in the direction he so fervently believed in. A word from God. Not the Word of God, mind you, but a word from God – a still small voice, the leading of the Spirit or, quite frankly, what God was telling him to do. You see, with regards to his approach to ministry he acknowledged that he and I had differing viewpoints. Yet he justified the direction he was going as valid because, according to him, it was the direction God was telling him to go. When you stop and think about it, though, that really is a good tactic. I mean, who can argue with him? If he really is getting direct messages from God, then anyone who disagrees with him is, in effect, disagreeing with God. Game. Set. Match. Never mind that I was using the Word of God as the basis for my arguments. Never mind that God has already spoken to me, and to him, and to all Christians, through the Word of God. No, never mind all of that because, in those circles, a word from God seems to always trump the Word of God. A few words of caution*, though, for those who so casually invoke the reception of a word from God:
- Is your "word from God" infallible? If the following syllogism is true: "God cannot err. The Bible is God’s Word. Therefore, the Bible cannot err."; then it goes to follow: "God cannot err. I’ve received a Word from God. Therefore, the Word I’ve received cannot err."
- In the past, those who claimed to speak for God staked their lives upon the claim. Do you truly understand the seriousness of what you are advocating?
- Those who claim to hear from God cannot claim to have honed or, to be honing, their ability to hear from God without implying that God is trying to speak to them. God cannot try, for trying implies the possibility of failing, and God cannot fail at something He intends to do. The conclusion is that you cannot try to hear what God is telling you – for if God isn’t telling you anything, you won’t hear it; and if God is telling you something, you can’t help but hear it.
- God certainly has the power to speak extra-biblically through prophets in the past, present, and future, but we know that He has spoken objectively through His Word. Therefore, while it is possible for someone to receive a word from God, the burden of proof rests on that person to demonstrate that it is, in fact, a word from God.