He didn't mean that ...

You know: I have fired a couple of rounds off in the Cessationist/Continualist debate at TeamPyro, and I have been thinking long and hard over it – because good men disagree on this matter, and it deserves more than a passing consideration.

But as I think about the “other side” – that is, the “Continualist” position – here’s how I understand their reasoning. It begins, really, with the fact that God revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, (skip a few) Samuel and Nathan, (skip a few) Elijah and Elisha, etc. That is, God spoke to men and gave them His word, His testimonies, His statutes, and so on in good Ps 119 form. Nobody denies that except people who aren’t actually Christian, so that’s fine.

But, of course, there is also the issue of the apostles – God also spoke to them and their messengers (like Luke, and Mark, and whoever wrote Hebrews [not to stick a hornets’ nest with a rake]), and they got personal revelation which we get in Scripture. John Piper says that about that:
Now the point is this: Today the New Testament stands where the apostles stood. Their authority is exercised today through their writings and the writings of their close associates like Luke and Mark and James (the Lord's brother). So, in the same way Paul made apostolic teaching the final authority in those days, so we make the apostolic teaching the final authority in our day. That means the New Testament is our authority. And since the New Testament endorses the Old Testament as God's inspired word, we take the whole Bible as our rule and measuring rod, of all teachings and all prophecies about what we should believe and how we should live.
But then they also had revelations (which are recorded in Scripture) like Peter’s vision regarding the centurion and Paul’s conversion experience and his multiple visions and personal revelations – and while these are “recorded in Scripture” they are not scripture per se. By that I mean that they were inerrant communication of God, but they weren’t general revelation meant for the whole church to use as normative. In the example of Peter, we’re not all supposed to go and visit a centurion (in fact, I advise you not to do such a thing); in the case of Paul, we’re not all supposed to stay in Corinth (as one example – you may have a favorite other which I have glossed over).

So to the place where there were apostles, God was talking to men specifically – not just to enscripturate some scripture, but to tell them what they were supposed to be doing for the sake of the Cross.

And frankly, nobody disagrees with that, either. The problem, unfortunately, is in the next generation.

Dr. Piper puts it this way:

Now ask yourself this question: Did Joel and Peter and Luke think that all the men and women—old and young, menservants and maidservants—would become prophets in the same sense that Moses and Isaiah and Jeremiah were prophets, that is, people who spoke with verbal inspiration and with the very authority of God and who could write infallible Scripture? Is the prophesying of Acts 2:17 that sort of prophecy? Or is there a difference?

I believe there is a difference. I don't think the gift of prophecy today has the authority of the Old Testament prophets or the authority of Jesus and the apostles. Or, to put it more positively this sort of prophecy is prompted and sustained by the Spirit and yet does not carry intrinsic, divine authority.

One of the reasons that this kind of prophecy is so hard to get a handle on today is that most of us do not have categories in our thinking for a Spirit-prompted statement that doesn't have intrinsic, divine authority. That sounds like a contradiction. We stumble over a kind of speech that is prompted and sustained by the Holy Spirit and yet is fallible. But I am going to try to show this morning and this evening that this is what the gift of prophecy is in the New Testament and today. It is a Spirit-prompted, Spirit-sustained utterance that does not carry intrinsic, divine authority and may be mixed with error.
As I understand this, Dr. Piper (and by extension, the other cautious Charismatics who would agree with him) is saying that after the private revelation which even the Apostles experienced, we can experience the same kind of private, personal revelation of God.

Um, with two significant exceptions.

[1] The revelation we might receive privately is not infallible. That’s critical – because this is the primary distinction between whatever this revelation is and Scripture. This qualification unequivocally places Scripture above any private revelation in authority, and I say "amen" that this is true and necessary to affirm.

[2] But problematically, it is also not necessarily actionable. Here’s what I mean when I say that: if I receive one of these fallible revelations, however exciting the experience might be, it would be 100% warranted on my part to question whether or not I should do anything about that message – including following its direction if it is a command. You know: if I got a private revelation to “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me,” it would be right (and fine -- not a sin) for me to say, “huh. I think I better go check on Mars Hill in Seattle first because it was a cool experience to hear from God, but I might be mistaken about what he was telling me to do.”

When Scripture tells me, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church,” dude: that’s necessarily actionable. I better be doing that. Wouldn’t you agree – that because that word is infallible, God’s purpose is manifest in that admonition from Scripture. In so many words, thus saith the Lord, and I should be about that business.

But these private revelations don’t bear that kind of necessity. And that makes for a larger problem, but someone in the back of the room has raised their hand.

“cent,” says the person with the iPod playing Robin Mark downloads, “dude, if God tells you to go to Ninevah, it’s necessary that you do it. You won’t be happy if you don’t. I got a private revelation that I ought [insert private revelation here], and every time since then when I ignored that revelation, I haven’t really been happy.”

Yeah, that’s a big problem: I won’t be happy if ... Listen: God doesn’t reveal Himself with my happiness as the top item in His eternal daily task list – He never has, and He never will. Is His revelation for my benefit? No question: God’s revelation benefits me. But is it why He reveals Himself? Are you kidding? He didn’t make me in order to pander to me – He’s God, and I’m the grass which quickly dies.

So the objection that “I won’t be happy if” I don’t follow or consider a revelation which is not necessarily infallible doesn’t change my worldview – or my reading of Scripture – at all.

But that said, what exactly is the point of God chatting with me as if He didn’t have anything better to do – sharing with me some kind of idle spiritual conversation which He doesn’t really expect me to do anything about? You know: God expects me to do something about John 3 or Phil 2, but apparently He is only suggesting that apart-from-Scripture revelation he gave me while I was drinking coffee this morning. Can you cite any examples in Scripture of that?

For example, when God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you,” that’s not even a command – it’s just a kind of divine FYI. But look: Paul takes pretty vast comfort in that private revelation and makes it an example of how the Christian life ought to be lead. It’s a wholly-comforting statement, and a wholly-encouraging statement through which other people can also receive comfort. And it speaks, by the way, to the scope of who God is and what He does when He speaks to people.

You know: we’re considering what happens when God says something. He’s not just bored and you’re the first number on his cellphone speed dial he thought of: He’s God. He’s got better things to do than chat, and He’s actually doing those things.

I am sure this is going to kick up a lot of dust as people run this down, but this stuff has to be said -- and considered by those who want to call something fallible and not requiring some immediate action a "prophecy".