This week in our study over Acts, Cody discussed some of the false teaching that has become pervasive within the Church here in America. Some of these modern day "evangelists" have amassed huge followings and built empires worth millions and even billions of dollars. Their work appears on bestseller lists, and broadcasts of their services are viewed by millions every week. What is it about these teachers that makes them so appealing, and why are they so dangerous?
The answer to both of those questions is the same. Their teaching not only appeals to what people want to hear, but also comes packaged as "special revelation" from God to his people through them. In other words, they claim to be delivering messages directly received from God, thus lending credibility to what they are saying. After all, don't all Christians believe the Bible is revelation from God written by the hands of men? How is what these men and women are claiming any different from the claims in the Bible?
The issue at hand is a fundamental difference between the divinely-inspired, authoritative, and infallible word of God; and anything else that man thinks, feels, or says about God. The Bible is God's word. It is revelation from God for his people and it contains everything that we need to know about God, his design for how we are to live, and his plan of salvation. In other words, orthodox Christians must affirm the authority, necessity, and sufficiency of scripture. Additionally, we need to have a clear understanding of how the Bible has been received and understood throughout history.
During the Old Testament period, God spoke to his people largely through the Prophets. They (and their writings) were the conduit through which God's revelation was delivered to his people. The last of the Prophets, Malachi, is dated at around 425 BC. What followed him was over 400 years of silence. That ended with the arrival of John the Baptist, who was the forerunner of Christ.
With the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the New Testament period was ushered in. The Prophets were replaced by the Apostles, who were commissioned and sent by Christ himself to begin the work of building his Church. Additionally, it was their written record of the life and ministry of Jesus (the Gospels), as well as their own instruction and teaching to the early Church that make up the books of New Testament we study today.
The thing we need to recognize about these men (both the Prophets and the Apostles) was their unique calling from God. They spoke and wrote through the power of the Holy Spirit and with the authority of God, because it was given to them, by God, to do so. As such, the revelation that they received, and in turn delivered to God's people, was given to instruct and edify all men, for our good and God's glory. In Paul's second letter to Timothy, the Apostle writes, "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." That isn't Paul's opinion of the matter, it is direct revelation from God, through the human author, by the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for us (the reader).
Here's where the rubber meets the road. With the death of the Apostle John, the age of the Apostles, much like the age of the Prophets before them, came to a close. Therefore, God completed his act of revelation to mankind (in a general sense). In other words, there is no new revelation from God that is equivalent to that which we find in the Bible. Today, we Christians affirm the canon of scripture (that means the books that make up the true word of God) to be closed/completed. Furthermore, this has been the position of the Church for over 1500 years. Does this mean that God no longer speaks to his people? Yes, and no. Let me clarify.
Have you ever felt the stirring in your heart to reach out to or pray for a fellow believer, then find out that the person did in fact have a real need to be met? I know I have experienced that. In that instance, I may say to that person, "God laid you on my heart." Now, am I speaking falsely or even heretically about God when I say that? Absolutely not! Those stirrings of concern for others or conviction of sin that we feel are the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In a sense, they are God speaking to us in a personal way.
However, we must recognize the vast difference between something like that and claiming to have seen a vision of God, or heard his voice audibly instructing us or providing some form of revelation that is meant for the masses. To make such a claim is to proclaim oneself to be a prophet or an apostle, as many of these false teachers claim to be. We must not neglect to recognize the seriousness of such a claim and all of the many ways in which it diverts from the clear teaching of scripture.
My point is simply this. Have people seen visions of heaven? Yes (for example, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and John). Have people received messages from God? Yes (all of the authors of scripture). It's not that these things don't or can't happen, it's when and why did they happen that we need to understand. Throughout redemptive history, God revealed himself to men in order that his revelation would be collected and compiled for the benefit of his creatures, that we might know him and worship him. With the revelation of Christ, and the ministry of the Apostles, that work is now and evermore completed, until Christ's return.
Does this mean that great works of the Christian faith over the last two thousand years of of no value? Of course not! Even today, great biblical teachers are creating wonderful works that edify the church and strengthen the faith of their brothers and sisters in so many ways. These too are produced by the power of the Holy Spirit working within these men and women as they themselves grow in faith and understanding. However, the truth of what they teach is rooted in the truth and authority of scripture. They don't claim to be scripture themselves. That's the difference...and recognizing that is of the greatest importance.
If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.
Part 2 - Waiting On The Promise Of The Holy Spirit
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. How did the early Christians wait on God?
2. How do you typically wait on God?
3. What criteria had to be met in order to be an Apostle?
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Nathan Radcliffe Feb 6, 2018 @ 3:44 pm