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Ongoing revelation?

January 2003 | by Peter Bloomfield

An occasional series on doctrinal issues today

Part 1

by Peter Bloomfield

My aim is to provide you with safe, sound responses. My object is not primarily polemical but to arm you with answers. Two factors make this matter especially urgent.

Firstly, there are many people confused and bewildered by this teaching – it is pan-denominational, pan-continental, and pan-historical. Secondly, and especially alarming, is that many of the advocates of ‘ongoing revelation’ are within the camp of evangelical, Bible-believing, Christianity.

Nothing new

It is sad that people have lost the historical perspective. The notion of ongoing revelation is nothing new. You see it in the Gnostics of the Apostolic age. You see it again in the Montanists of the late 2nd century.

It was rampant in Medieval mysticism before the 16th-century Reformation. It re-emerged in the Quietism movement and the Quakers in the 17th century. That this notion is prominent today in the thinking of many Christians, across all denominations, shows that the lessons of history have not been learned.

The greatest danger of our day does not arise from atheists and materialists. Nor even from theological liberals inside the professing church who deny the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible.

The scary thing is that people who sincerely believe that the Bible is true and fully authoritative are saying that inspired revelation is still being uttered by God. It is (they say) distinct from the Bible, yet truly inspired – and we must obey it!

What can we do to oppose this dangerous notion of ongoing revelations? We must appeal to certain principles.

Radical departure

The first of these is what I will call the ‘incongruity principle’; that is, such revelations, if true, are incongruous, for they would represent a radical departure from God’s former way of guiding his church.

In the long period from Genesis to Revelation, God’s words were written down and preserved for everyone for ever. We all have access to exactly what God told Moses, Daniel, Malachi and John, whether face to face or in visions.

What was not recorded is unnecessary. John explains this clearly: ‘Jesus did many other signs … which are not written in this book: but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name’ (John 20:30-31; see also 21:25).

But what has become of all those supposed ‘revelations’ arriving everyday all over the planet via numerous prophets, tongue-speakers, and ‘anointed ones’?

How incongruous that such vast volumes of allegedly inspired, important, and authoritative communications from God are lost to the church as soon as they are found!

They are neither preserved nor published. The church cannot study or meditate on these so-called ‘words of God’.

Mysticism

The fact is that this whole error is a return to mysticism. The true revelation of God – the Bible – is safe and sure. It stands up to rigorous rational and scientific examination.

It is visible and objective, a real ‘hands-on’ revelation. It yields blessings even in its precision and detail. Its nouns, verbs, participles and prepositions – yes, even its ‘jots and tittles’ – are vital.

Why would God set his Word in concrete for thousands of years, and then suddenly leave it blowing in the wind thereafter? Does that sound like infinite wisdom?

Complete revelation

The second principle is the ‘John 16 principle’. In that chapter Jesus indicates that his ascension to the Father will be to the advantage of the church. Why? Because, among other things, it would ensure the coming of the Holy Spirit to complete God’s revelation.

‘When the Spirit of truth comes’, said Jesus, ‘he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own initiative, but whatever he hears he will speak; and he will disclose to you what is to come’ (John 16:13).

The great majority of Bible-believing Christians down the ages have understood this promise to refer to the inspiration of the New Testament writings – completed around A. D. 90 with the book of Revelation.

There is no reason to think that this work of the Holy Spirit can be pushed beyond the Apostolic age. Paul declares that the ‘mystery of Christ … has now been revealed by the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets’ (Ephesians 3:1-7, 9-10).

Notice the perfect tense – ‘has now been revealed’ – indicating completion. We are not still in the process of being ‘guided into all the truth’.

All the truth

Jesus made his promise to a specific audience – ‘apostles’ specially chosen to be witnesses of his resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). Paul was the last person favoured in this way – ‘last of all he [the risen Christ] was seen by me also’ (1 Corinthians 15:5-9).

When Jesus made the promise, his disciples were in no fit state to hear the extra truths that he wished to teach them – ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth’ (John 16:12-13).

It was to this particular group that Jesus made the promise. They would receive the full disclosures of the Holy Spirit. They would be told everything (‘all truth’) that Christ wanted the church to know.

As a result, subsequent generations of Christians – even in New Testament times – did not have their own special revelation, but had to learn the gospel of salvation from ‘those who heard him [Christ]’ (Hebrews 2:3).

So, did Jesus keep his promise? Did the church, prior to the death of the last Apostle (John) come to possess ‘all the truth’?

Of course, and that truth is preserved in the 66 books of the Bible, Old and New Testaments.

If anyone argues that the church is still being led into ‘all the truth’ they are burdened with the conclusion that Jesus did not keep his word to his disciples, and that at no stage will the church on earth possess the whole truth.

No other good news

The third principle to apply is ‘the progressive principle’; that is, we should point to the progressive nature of God’s revelation.

It moves in an orderly way from elementary to advanced; from shadow to substance; from promise to fulfilment; from seed to full-grown tree. It never goes the opposite way – it is never regressive.

The Bible is climactic and eschatological. It moves like an arrow towards its target. Beyond dispute, it finds its goal and climax in Jesus Christ. Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms all climax in Christ (Luke 24:44).

The whole Old Testament testifies to Jesus (John 5:39) and he is God’s final word, the climax and consummation of revelation (Hebrews 1:1). Progress can progress no further!

God has fully revealed the ‘good news’. There is no other news. He has written the final chapter for us. God rests his case in the revelation of his Son.

God’s ultimate statement is essentially: ‘This is my beloved Son, listen to him’. There is nothing more to say.

Next month we shall explore the matter from a historical perspective.