"I Think God Told Me..." (Prophetic Gifts Don't Endanger the Canon)
As a Christian and pastor I've seen the gift of prophecy used to bless and strengthen many. Including myself. Yet some christians are concerned that if God speaks today, then that would challenge the authority and canon of scripture. The Bible makes clear that such fears are unwarranted. This blog addresses just one part of a much larger discussion. I hope it may spur on more dialogue in the future.
It was December of 2013. Not many people knew this, but I had been doing phone interviews with a church in Gig Harbor, Washington. I wasn’t sure if that was where God wanted me to be. My wife and I just knew that it was time to take that next step of ministry, and the Lord had been confirming this to both of us. I’d been co-pastoring a church in Seattle, WA for a little over 4 years. Jordan was the teaching & vision pastor, and I was the discipleship coordinator. We loved our Church family, the ministry, and the great job God had blessed me with in downtown Seattle. Yet, we knew it was time to leave.
Running a Church plant carries with it a lot of work. Every Sunday we had to do varying degrees of set up and tear down. We met in an old high school band rehearsal room. I don’t recall what I was doing that particular Sunday morning, but I had been praying earnestly about where God wanted me, and if this Church in Gig Harbor might be the place. That morning God answered. I was approached by Gene Tasche. He had been one of the leaders in the Church plant from the beginning and was one of “those guys”- respected by all who knew him, authentically humble, and faithful to the cause of Christ. An entire series of blogs could be written about this man and his service to the Church of Christ over the years.
It was obvious Gene wanted to tell me something, but was unsure if it had any personal meaning to me. In his mind, it seemed crazy. He said something along the lines of, “Jack, I had a dream last night. I don’t know if it means anything, or what. My dreams don’t normally make any sense. But I felt like God wanted me to say that you’re supposed to do ministry in Missouri. Does that make sense to you?” Gene was unaware of my current interview with another Church, and even less aware of the recent change of mind God had given me toward Missouri.
I spent my freshman year of college in Missouri, where I met my now wife of 11.5 years. Being a northern kid, the bible belt grated on me terribly. The experience I had that year of college put a bitter taste in my mouth toward the state. It was a place I didn’t mind visiting, but her and I both knew we would never live there, and she was fine with that. That was until our 3rd child was born and her grandparents came up to visit. For the first time in 5 years of marriage, she felt sad that her kids wouldn’t grow up knowing her family. One day she said to me, “I’m not saying we have to move to Missouri, but would you be willing to consider it as you’re searching for a church to pastor?” At the same time, God had been softening my attitude toward the state as well. Yet, up until Gene mentioned Missouri to me that day, we hadn’t talked much about it.
Long story short, about a month after this conversation with Gene, my wife was visiting her family in MO. Her grandma told her about a Church needing a pastor. It was part of a movement that traditionally held very different views than me. But I told my wife I’d send an application. I did a phone interview and laid out my beliefs clearly. They said those wouldn’t be a problem. In March, I flew down for an interview and preached a series of three sermons over the weekend. I flew back to WA and spent three days fasting and praying that if this was not what God wanted that he’d close the door. That next Sunday I got a call. For the first time in the Church’s history they voted in 100% agreement on a new pastor. We were moving.
Question: If what Gene said was from God, and I believe it was, should I write what Gene told me in the back of my Bible after the book of Revelation? What about the other examples I could give of God seeming to speak directly to me by the means of dreams, spontaneous bits of knowledge, or revelations given to others for me? Many people reject such experiences today, because they appear to be “prophetic;” the forth telling of something that God has spontaneously brought to mind. Since these people believe, and I would agree, that the canon of scripture is closed, they’d say God doesn’t spontaneously speak to people outside of scripture today (this is where we’d disagree). “If he did,” they’d say, “then every time God spoke today, we would need to be adding to the bible.” This is a clear misunderstanding of the present gift of prophecy, and scripture itself makes clear that such concerns are unwarranted. I could write volumes on this gift. For now, I just want to show that although I affirm that all scripture is prophetic, not all prophecies are scripture.
In the OT, only a few authentic prophecies were considered worthy of being included in the Bible: All 39 OT books contain words that God inspired men to write by the Spirit- Prophetically. Yet in the OT, we sea a number of different prophets who spoke by divine inspiration, but none of their prophecies were recorded. We just know they were prophets, but we know nothing of what they said.
Example: “9 As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day. 10 When he and his servant arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he joined in their prophesying. 11 When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying with the prophets, they asked each other, “What is this that has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Sam. 10:9-11)
Notice: Saul met a group of recognized prophets, yet we don’t know who these people were, or what they had prophesied in the past, what they prophesied that day, nor what they prophesied in the future. Though the scriptures make clear that they are prophets, the Holy Spirit did not see fit to have their prophecies recorded in scripture. It was authoritative and from God, but plainly not on the same level as the Bible. The same is true of whatever words Saul prophesied that day.
The NT is even more clear on this point: Of all the books written in the NT we see that they were written either by Apostles, or close associates who got their information from the Apostles. We’re not sure who wrote Hebrews, but history contends it was one of the Apostles. Jude is the only real outlier, but being a half-brother of Jesus and full brother of the Apostle James (who’s book bears his name) we can assume that Jude was likely an apostle as well. The NT gives many examples of prophets among the Churches and in the congregations who spoke words from God, but were not considered on par with scripture. Yet, they were recognized by the authors of the NT, the Apostles, as being authentically gifted by God with prophetic ministries.
In the Book of Acts: “32 Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers.” (Acts 15:32) These two men were recognized prophets in the early Church, yet none of their words are recorded for us.
The Church in Rome: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith…” (Rom. 12:6) Paul had no problem assuming there were prophets in the Church at Rome, yet we have none of their words recorded.
The Church in Corinth: All of 1 Cor. 14 deals with the gift of tongues and prophecy among the members of the church at Corinth. Read the chapter, these gifts were being used, and exercised to the extent that Paul needed to step in and help direct them in the proper function of these gifts. I feel like Paul might have some choice words for how these gifts are used in some charismatic circles today, but I digress. Either way, we see again that though there were prophets in Corinth, not a single word, not even a hint of what they were prophesying from God was recorded for us. Why? Because though authentically inspired by God, they were not on par with scripture. In the NT, God had left that authority in the hands of the Apostles. Which is what the Church has always taught and thought.
I could write much more about this gift, and in the future, I will. Recently I’ve felt compelled to put this out there, because I’ve seen well intended Christians, of whom I respect very much, wrongfully despise this gift (warning: 1 Thess. 5:19-22). Saying to me personally, and posting things on social media like, “If God spoke to you, then write it down in the bible.” This being a tongue and cheek way of rejecting any modern revelations as being from God, because they think the canon is closed. I agree the canon of scripture is closed, and is not to be added to. Scripture is our ultimate, objective, final authority. Yet, that does not exclude God from talking to us in more subjective ways. Having the objective, unchanging standard, allows us to discern better when God tells us how to obey him in ways specific to us as individuals. Like, “I want you to do ministry in Missouri.”