The serpent still slithers. As he continues to strike at the heels of the Church, he sets his sights on the same general region: the authority and sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures.
He is a vicious viper armed with twin toxins. He uses a nasty neurotoxin that attacks the central nervous system of the Church. The strategy here is to convince Christians that we have a faulty word from God. We might just call this old-fashioned liberalism. Then there is that second poison, a horrible hemotoxin that attacks the bloodstream of the Church. The strategy here is quite subtle (as one should expect) and hopes to convince Christians that we have a fresh word from God.
For most of us, liberalism is not really a clear and present danger. Yet. But it certainly follows on the heels of unchecked, charismatic chaos. The biggest threat to the authority of the Bible is new revelation, hot off the press.
The men of the Westminster Assembly were certainly alive to this danger when they declared the ultimacy of Scripture. Not only was the Bible senior to “all creeds of councils” and “opinions of ancient writers” but it was also senior to “private spirits.” We are to accept the Bible as it is, they said, not adding anything at any time, whether by “new revelations of the Spirit” or “traditions of men.” Renegade traditions provide one temptation, but in modern evangelical circles, the most pressing problem is created by those who claim that God continues to give revelation. The concern here is not really about worship styles, but rather about the integrity of the Scriptures.
More than a few pastors have wondered whether they are being theologically dishonest in saying that the “sign gifts” are no longer operative in the Church today. True, the Charismatic movement gives us great reason to be suspicious, and it is a pleasure to be prejudiced and bigoted sometimes, especially when Benny Hinn is involved, but do we not have to admit that such charismatic goings-on were present in the Church of the New Testament? Well, no.
The question goes far beyond the fact of charismatic excess. The central issue in all of this is the preservation of the doctrine of sola Scriptura. The only ultimate and infallible authority in all matters of faith and practice is contained in the sixty-six books of the Bible. If the miraculous gifts are in any way acknowledged, then the doctrine of sola Scriptura must be necessarily abandoned. This does not mean that everyone does abandon it who should, only that logical consistency demands it.
The easiest way to illustrate this is to consider the office of prophet and the nature of prophecy. What happens when someone stands up in a church service and prophesies? He says, in effect, “Thus says the Lord,” and then a message follows. A man who hears these words and believes them is obligated to treat the words he hears as the Word of God. The only way for him to contradict this is by saying that he believes them to be words from God but for some reason he does not really have to treat them as words from God. But this is totally contradictory.
When I have offered this objection in the past, the answer has frequently been an appeal to the lost prophecies of Philip’s daughters, or something else in a similar category. In other words, the Bible tells us that some prophecies from God did not make it into Scripture, and so therefore not all prophecies from God have to be considered Scripture. But this misses the point of the objection.
Of course, the words of God can be disposed of by God. If He gave a word through one of Philip’s daughters which He did not want to be included in Scripture, then He may obviously do what He pleases with His own words. The point being made here is that we may not do as we please with His words. A man who has received these words as from God has no basis for treating them differently from other words of God (contained in Scripture).
As long as a man has in his possession words which he believes are inspired by God, then he has a moral responsibility to treat them as though they are words inspired by God. This means he has no consistent basis for treating them any differently than the words of Scripture. Furthermore, on a practical level, he has certain clear inducements to pay closer attention to them than the words of Scripture. Jeremiah lived a long time ago, in a weird place, He spoke a different language, his circumstances were very different. And now here, in this church service, God has given us a word in English, in our time, in our surroundings. Which seems more relevant of the two?
Charismatic believers can be divided into two groups, corresponding to two responses to this objection. The first group agrees with the reductio posed here, and runs with it. These are the groups which have a prophecy of the week posted on the bulletin board, and every so often they publish the Bible 2.0 and The Bible Remixed. These groups are cultic, and we need not concern ourselves with them, except for the purposes of evangelism.
But the other group does not like the dilemma when it is presented to them. Because they are genuine Christians, they know that the Bible is unique. However, because of this false and destructive doctrine of continuing revelation, they have no way of consistently maintaining that the Bible is unique. Fortunately, they are better Christians than logicians, and so they just live with the glaring contradiction. This is not hard, because it is rarely pointed out to them. But the fact that they are sincere Christians does not remove the danger they have created. A man should fear when his convictions, faithfully followed to their conclusion, might lead him to abandon the Christian faith.
But the dilemma for the charismatics is insufficient for those who want to ground their theology and practice in the plain teaching of Scripture. Can the cessation of the sign gifts, the gifts bearing or authenticating revelation, be found in the pages of the Bible? Yes. In brief, the case for the cessation of sign gifts can be made in summary fashion. In the former days, God spoke to us in various ways through the prophets, but in the last days He spoke through His Son (Heb. 1:1). This Son was laid as the cornerstone, and alongside Him were the foundation stones of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20-21). No other foundation can be laid other than the one which was laid, namely the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11). The indicators of this foundational and apostolic authority were signs, wonders, and divers miracles, all done according to the Spirit’s desire and will (2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:4).
So the issue is not whether we like this gift or that one, or whether we are to duplicate the phenomena of the first-century church. The issue is whether we really understand the nature of blueprints. No real need for doing concrete work while building the attic.