We saw last month that God has fully revealed the ‘good news’. The Bible is his complete and final revelation, testifying as it does to the divine nature and finished work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
It is lamentable, therefore, that there is so much ignorance of this massive theological truth. But it is this ignorance that drives the vehicle of ‘ongoing revelation’.
The last word in the Bible is ‘Amen’. Beyond that, any further ‘revelation’ is a step backwards – an anticlimax. It is regressive, taking the church back into pre-Christian modes and reversing the whole direction of biblical disclosure.
To seek such ‘revelation’ is to commit the very sin which the book of Hebrews was written to prevent, namely, the error of returning to ‘the weak and beggarly elements’ – the incomplete and elementary shadows of a former age.
The Bible has lifted us to the highest point of God’s revelation. Beyond that peak it is all downhill. Why return to signs and wonders, when the Incarnate Wonder they signify has arrived?
Why go back to prophets and mediators when the great Prophet and Mediator has come? Why go back to ‘messages from God’ when God’s Message has appeared in the flesh? ‘How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?’
The modern advocates of ongoing revelation may not embrace all the weird views of those who preceded them, but the fact remains that their core theological problem is the same – a denial of the sufficiency of Scripture.
They do not deny its inspiration or authority, but its adequacy. Despite all the good things they do say about the Bible, they do not believe the Bible is enough!
They insist on more revelation than the Bible gives. And that is the point of departure from historic orthodox Christianity.
First in that long line were the Gnostics of the Apostolic age. The early ‘church Fathers’ unanimously regarded Simon the sorcerer as the first Gnostic (Acts 8). The most famous was Valentinus (mid first century), but he stands in a long line of heretics like Menander, Saturninus, Cerinthus, Basilides, and the infamous Marcion.
Then came the Montanists – teaching the same doctrine of ongoing revelations – in the last part of the second century (from about A. D. 170). The best known of their converts was Tertullian.
In the middle ages came mysticism generally, and the ‘Quietists’ in particular. They believed that God is only pleased to work in the heart of a person whose whole being is passive or ‘quiet’.
Their key idea was to ‘let go and let God’ – to be ‘completely open to the leading of the Spirit’. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? And, of course, they started hearing voices and receiving revelations outside the Bible.
Let me refer to the Quakers (‘Society of Friends’), a movement started in the late 1640s by George Fox. ‘The Quakers stressed direct inspiration, revelations, special leadings and miracles’ (this and subsequent quotations and examples are cited from Reformation Today, No. 146 pp. 2, 27-28, for which grateful acknowledgement is made).
Michael Haykin has researched the serious damage caused by Quakerism. He writes: ‘With the Quakers … there was a deep conviction that the Spirit was speaking in them as He had spoken in the Apostles.
‘In practice, this often led to an elevation of their experience of the indwelling Spirit over the Scriptures. Thus, when some Baptists in Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire became Quakers and declared that the “light in their consciences was the rule they desire to walk by”, not the Scriptures, they were simply expressing what was implicit in the entire Quaker movement.’
Exalting ‘the Spirit’
Professor Haykin continues: ‘This desire to live by what they regarded as the dictates of the indwelling Spirit rather than by the written Word, sometimes led the early Quakers into quite bizarre patterns of behaviour.
‘Probably the oddest has to have been the practice of “going naked as a sign”! One Quaker who appears to have been something of an “expert” in this type of behaviour was Solomon Eccles (ca 1618-1683).
‘When he first went naked in 1659 he asserted that he did so because by “the same spirit [which moved Isaiah and Ezekiel] hath the Lord raised me up, to go as a sign to this dark generation”.
‘While the practice of “going naked as a sign” was a relatively infrequent occurrence after 1662 – though Eccles was still engaged in it as late as 1669 – the phenomenon well illustrates the tendency inherent in Quakerism to exalt the Spirit at the expense of the Word.’
Let a typical Quaker speak for himself! Isaac Penington (1616-1679) describes how these ongoing revelations are (to him) even more important than the Bible. ‘The Lord, in the gospel state, hath promised to be present with his people; not as a wayfaring man, for a night, but to dwell in them and walk in them.
‘Yea, if they be tempted and in danger of erring, they shall hear a voice behind them saying, “This is the way, walk in it”. Will they not grant this to be a rule, as well as the Scriptures? Nay, is not this a more full direction to the heart in that state, than it can pick to itself out of the Scriptures?
‘The Spirit, which gave forth the words is greater than the words; therefore we cannot but prize him himself and set him higher in our heart and thoughts, than the words which testify of him, though they are also very sweet and precious to our taste.’
Michael Haykin states the obvious conclusion. ‘Penington here affirmed that the Quakers esteemed the Scriptures as “sweet and precious”, but he was equally adamant that the indwelling Spirit was to be regarded as the supreme authority when it came to the direction for Christian living and thinking’.
And so the church was seduced – back into the sea of subjectivism and mysticism which has threatened the sufficiency of Scripture in every age. I have met and talked with many people who are open to inspired revelations outside the Bible.
It may be that they are not going around (like Eccles) naked in obedience to such revelation. And perhaps they are too guarded to elevate the Spirit within over the written word of the Spirit (that is, Scripture).
But they still publicise their imagined revelations, and take singular offence at those who are sensible enough to oppose them. They still take the high ground of a ‘prophet’ and expect the implicit awe and obedience of the church – to which they offer gems of guidance mined straight out of heaven’s treasury.
Let me conclude with a more recent example. A Reformed Baptist minister in England was invited to speak at a Christian Union house-party weekend. On arrival he was informed that a young lady had claimed that the Lord had appeared the previous day and told her personally that she was to be the main speaker that weekend.
When the issue was put to the vote, most of the students voted in favour of the young lady. The visiting minister did not return home, but awaited the outcome. At the first session the young lady began, but in less than three minutes dried up.
Heads turned to see if the visitor was still present and available. He was. The rest of the weekend went according to the original plan!
Here an alleged modern revelation caused people to go back on their word. They invited a man to speak to them. He prepared his messages and came. He kept his part of the bargain.
But the ‘stop-press’ intervention – allegedly from God – caused the students to break their agreement. They were prepared to violate Scripture (which insists on us keeping our word) rather than reject ‘ongoing revelation’.
Do we have all the truth in Scripture? Yes, indeed. Let us never forget it!