God Told Me

God Told MeThe other day on Twitter I came across a retweet by Steve Murrell of a tweet by Mark Ramsey. Steve Murrell is the Senior Pastor of the Victory churches in Manilla and a founder of Every Nation Ministries. Mark Ramsey is the senior pastor of Citipointe Church in Brisbane. Both are megachurch pastors who I have met and respect even if these days I have some theological differences with them.

The tweet was ‘Once you use the “God told me” card you isolate yourself from Godly wisdom from those who care.’

I was saved into a charasmatic church where there was a strong emphasis on experiencing God and a ‘personal’ relationship with Jesus Christ. I was introduced early on to the concept of the Holy Spirit speaking to someone and leading and guiding them.  I had people tell me that God spoke to them about everything in life right down to the particular curtains they should pick for their home.

The gift of prophecy was encouraged in the church (and rightly so according to 1 Corinthians 14) as was the belief that God would speak to you personally. I can remember many prayer meetings where people would say things like ‘I feel like God is saying….’ and many a visiting prophet saying ‘The Lord says….’ I did it myself of numerous occasions.

At some point though I began to become sceptical of anyone declaring ‘God told me’ or ‘God said’ including myself. I can remember one girl saying that even though she couldn’t afford to purchase a certain skirt, God told her that it was okay so she put it on lay by. I laughed with friends at the story of one baptism where a prophetic word was given over a baptised youth that started with “‘Wow’, says the lord”.

I was sceptical but not particularly perturbed by examples such as these as I saw them as reasonably harmless mistakes being made along the way to maturity in Christ. This changed however when terms like ‘God said’ and ‘God told me’ began to be used during some leadership team meetings I was a part of.

On one occasion we were discussing various ministry strategies and plans when a member of staff shared what they believed was a word from God with us. To be honest I cannot even remember what it was that God was meant to have said but I do remember the unease in the room as the rest of the people around the table tried to figure out how to precede.

Do we disagree and argue God has it wrong? Do we tell them they did not hear from God? How do we know if that’s true? Do we go to scripture to test the Word that they have given? What if there is nothing contrary to scripture in the Word? Do we simply have to accept it?

It was clear from the mood in the room that there were at least some reservations about acting on this supposed word from the Lord. The hardest part was that the person sharing this word genuinely believed that God had spoken to them and were offended when people did not fully believe in the same way they did. They left the meeting convinced that they were right and that God was on their side and on reflection it was another marker on the way to the division that would eventually befall this leadership group.

Despite the problems that come with the above claim, I still believe that God speaks to people today. We are under the new covenant where the promise of Joel 2:28-29 is fulfilled. God no longer speaks to us through prophets alone, he has spoken to us by his son (Hebrews 1:1) and we have received the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). I believe that some men and women have been given a prophetic gift greater than others. While their words are not the equivalent of scripture, nor are these people prophets in the sense of the Old Testament ‘office’ of a prophet, they do have words from God for people. God also gives us words of knowledge and wisdom by his Spirit that we could not received otherwise.

We must always remember though that we only ‘know and prophesy in part’ (1 Corinthians 13:9) and that the canon of scripture has closed. Any word we believe to be prophetic today must be submitted to the scriptures for testing to ensure that nothing said contradicts scripture. Beyond that we also have to weigh the words given against our own experience, wisdom and reasoning to see if they truly do apply to us.

Most of those people I know who walk in a strong anointing of the gift of prophecy are reluctant themselves to say things like ‘thus says the Lord’. They understand that any word they give should be weighed first and foremost against scripture for truthfulness. They would not advocate making rash or impulsive decisions based on the words they pass on but do so in faith that the words they give will edify the body of Christ.

Mark Ramsey is right. If we play the ‘God Told Me’ card without being willing to submit what He apparently said to others for consideration and prayer, then we cut ourselves off from the other means of understanding that God gives us. We also separate ourselves from the rest of the body of Christ because if ‘God told me’ and you don’t believe then God and I are on the side of right and you are clearly wrong.  It’s an unhealthy place for a believer to be.

Lord I pray that you would speak to your people. May we eagerly seek the gifts that you wish to give us for Your glory and honour. I pray that we would use these gifts while remembering our own fallibility. Please help us not to be deceived by ourselves or by Satan and instead be led by your Holy Spirit.

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12 responses to “God Told Me

  1. I must say James this is something that I have had mixed thoughts and feelings on in the past. Whilst on one hand we shouldn’t limit God in how He may communicate His will to us as individuals and as a church, to think He gives us “prophetic” or specific directions for every fork in the road of life, even your everyday decisions is I feel unhelpful. It’s not to say He can’t or wont strongly prompt us in one direction on everyday issues/decisions at times, but from my experience and understanding of scripture is that the Holy Spirit primarily guides us through the Word, not audible voices. God gives us His Word which we use to discern God’s will. Sometimes things are clear cut, other times we need to apply biblical principles to determine what might be best. Clearly though it’s the Holy Spirit that reveals God’s truth to us and it’s His prompting on our heart and thoughts that helps us discern God’s will.

    I think it can be very dangerous to rely primarily on “prophetic” or “audible promptings” to lead us into believing God literally told us something. It may be the case, but our hope should always fall primarily on the truth the Holy Spirit reveals to us through the Bible.

    I also don’t believe God will give us mixed messages or confusion. If someone has a prophetic message from God, then having the rest of the leadership prayerfully discern and consider it will only strengthen our understanding on God’s will on that issue, not promote confusion. If their are differing opinions, then it needs to be weighed up whether it’s coming from a God-honouring heart or someone with an unhelpful agenda. If both opinions are being driven by sound biblical teaching and God honouring and faithful people, then lack of consensus should prompt extreme caution moving forward.

  2. Soli deo gloria

    James,
    It is a remarkable thing that God gave His Church gifts that they needed when they needed them. After Pentecost, when people from many nations congregated in Jerusalem, the believers spoke in languages they had never learned, and they were understood. During those early days, whilst the New Testament was being inspired, God cared for His people by sending them prophets. God does not waste his gifts, nor does he withold them where there is need. Gifts were not exercised by loose canons in the church, but there were many counterfeits. Even Paul was accountable to the other apostles and explained his ministry to the Gentiles. With the completion of the Scripture, Gods perfect word, the need is for preachers of Gods word, not prophets. Why would God bypass His word, the Lord Jesus (who was a prophet) was prolific in his use of the old testament Scriptures, and He is our model, surely. Why would God bypass His word, when we have everything we need here. What we need are men called by God, and gifted in the understanding, explanation, and application of His Word. I can think of no ministry that honours and glorifies God more.

    Our attention should be focussed on God, but in many if not most cased, the attention given to gifts is focussed on individuals.
    This is such a controversial area, and it tends to generate more heat than light. It tends to be one of the many distractions that draws Gods people away from the need to ‘pursue holiness, without which NO-ONE shall see the Lord’ Hebrews 12:14. I am reminded of the solemn Words of the Lord Jesus: ‘many will say Lord Lord did we not prophecy in your name……And then I will declare to them ‘I never knew you, depart from me you workers of lawlessness’ Matthew 7:23 .

    Don’t get drawn away, live faithfully by the infallible and living word that you have.
    2 Pe 1:19-21

    • SDG, I have just finished writing my next blog where I highlight how by our nature we tend to find ways to glorify ourselves… to bring the attention to us and our efforts/gifts and talents. How easy it is to be seduced by our pride.

      Christ said “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). It’s perseverance in our faith and obedience to Christ by the grace and enabling of God in our lives to obey His Word, that testifies more then anything else that we are truly God’s children. It’s not based on what gifts we may be given to serve the church.

  3. Sorry, James. I have to disagree with you on this one.

    It’s my understanding that the New Covenant gift of prophesy was given to help establish the church; the writings of the Apostles who gave us the New Testament being the primary purpose.

    Today, if anyone claims to offer a new direct message from God, they are making a false claim, are deluded and in the process are deluding others. Such claims should be rejected.

    Some may argue that a God-gifted preacher has the gift of prophesy, but I suggest that identifying a person’s ability to elucidate Scripture is not prophesy, but rather the outworking of the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination.

    I like what these respected writers have said about “illumination”.

    John Piper

    The work of the Holy Spirit in the process of interpretation is not to add information, but to give to us the discipline to study and the humility to accept thetruth we find without twisting it.
    The Supremacy of God in Preaching, Baker, p. 42.

    John Piper

    The work of the Spirit is not to tell us what the (Bible) means. That we must determine by a disciplined study of the text. The Spirit inspired these writings and He does not short-circuit them by whispering in our ear what they mean. When we pray for His help we do not pray that He will spare us the hard work of rigorous reading and reflection. What we pray is that He would make us humble enough to welcome the truth. The work of the Spirit in helping us grasp the meaning of (the Bible) is not to make study unnecessary but to make us radically open to receive what our study turns up, instead of twisting the text to justify our unwillingness to accept it.
    How the Spirit Helps Us Understand, 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, May 20, 1984. http://www.DesiringGod.org.

    John MacArthur

    Only the Holy Spirit can show us spiritual truth. Anyone can hear the facts, study other people’s teaching, and gain something of an intellectual understanding about the meaning of Scripture. But apart from the Holy Spirit, the Bible will utterly fail to penetrate and transform the human heart. With the Spirit of God comes illumination – true understanding of what has been written. Every believer has the Holy Spirit, the One who inspired the writers of Scripture, and without His illuminating ministry to us, the truth of Scripture could not penetrate our hearts and minds… However, the Holy Spirit’s illuminating ministry cannot replace conscientious study. They work together. We should keep in mind that God Himself requires that we be diligent (2 Tim. 2:15). As we explore Scripture carefully and thoroughly, the Holy Spirit uses whatever tools we acquire, whatever godly wisdom we expose ourselves to, as the means to illuminate our hearts.
    Charismatic Chaos, Zondervan, © John MacArthur, 1992, p. 116

    Richard Baxter

    It is not the work of the Spirit to tell you the meaning of Scripture, and give you the knowledge of divinity, without your own study and labor, but to bless that study, and give you knowledge thereby… To reject study on the pretense of the sufficiency of the Spirit, is to reject the Scripture itself.

    Alwyn York

    The Holy Spirit enlightens a person, not by giving an added content of knowledge, but by mysteriously operating on his heart so that he can see the revelation already given. The image used in Scripture is of removing a veil (2 Cor. 3:15-16)… The truth was there before them all the time, only they were prevented from seeing it.
    The Holy Spirit’s Illumination of Scripture.

    • Hi Don,

      I don’t disagree with any of the quotes you’ve given here. None of them contradict the idea that God can still speak to people today, either to an individual personally or through a prophecy or word of knowledge from another. Anything that we believe to be given to us by God, either personally or through another must be weighed against the revelation of scripture using all the means listed above by the quotes you’ve given.

      I don’t think you can say ‘Today, if anyone claims to offer a new direct message from God, they are making a false claim, are deluded and in the process are deluding others. Such claims should be rejected.’ without giving your reasons from scripture. Especially when you consider the following passages:

      Romans 12:4-6 ‘For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;’

      1 Corinthians 12:8-11 ‘For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.’

      1 Corinthians 14:1-5 ‘Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.’

      I’m not familiar with any scripture that says that these gifts have finished but I see a lot of scripture encouraging us to use the gifts that God gives us in an orderly manner such as 1 Corinthians 11 and the above passages.

    • Don,

      I am not sure it’s as clear cut as you may suggest. I think it’s important to note that just because some people and churches have clearly abused this teaching/practice, along with other aspects of scripture, it doesn’t mean the teachings themselves become invalid. God’s truth doesn’t become invalidated by our poor application of it.

      I think what would be helpful here is to define what prophesy is meant in the NT context. Clearly in the OT, before the apostles, prophets were used to deliver the Word of God, which had absolute divine authority. The prophets were the ones that brought the truth of God to His people, and predicted the coming Saviour in Christ.

      However in the NT the term ‘apostle’ is used instead of prophet as those who God revealed His will through. The NT books were written by the apostles, not prophets. This would suggest the word ‘prophet’ or ‘prophesy’ does not have the same meaning/application in the NT, nor the same authority. Also in the early church there were thousands who were gifted with the gift of prophesy as Luke points out was to be expected by referencing Joel in Acts 2:16-18. Interesting here that both men and women would be given this gift. There are other indications in the NT that prophesising doesn’t have the same authority of the apostles or scripture.

      Wayne Grudem writes the following about prophecy:
      “Although several definitions have been given for the gift of prophecy, a fresh examination of the New Testament teaching on this gift will show that it should not be defined as ‘predicting the future’, not as ‘ proclaiming a word from the Lord’ (ie authoritative word equal to scripture), nor as “powerful preaching” – but rather as ‘telling something that God has spontaneously brought to mind.’”

      As it says in 1 Cor 14:29, and as James has pointed out, we should always weigh up what has been prophesised with scripture as it is our final authority. It can’t be added to and no other teaching or prophesy today is equal to it. Nothing surpasses the authority of scripture.

      Wayne Grudem also points out a healthy attitude to the differences in opinion on this topic:

      “ It can be argued that those in the charismatic and Pentecostal camps, and those in the cessationist camp (primarily reformed and dispensational Christians) really need each other, and they would do well to appreciate each other more. The former tend to have more practical experience in the use of spiritual gifts and in vitality in worship that cessationists could benefit from, if they were will to learn. On the other hand, Reformed and dispensational groups have traditionally been very strong in understanding of Christian doctrine and in deep and accurate understanding of the teaching of scripture. Charismatic and Pentecostal groups could learn much from them if they would be willing to do so. But it certainly is not helpful to the church as a whole for both sides to think they can learn nothing from the other, or that they can gain no benefit from fellowship with one another.”

      There will be some ‘secondary’ doctrine that people are not going to agree on, although it doesn’t mean we don’t strive to better understand, wrestle with and apply scripture to our lives. However what is more critical is that we are united on core doctrine such as Scripture being the final authority and Christ crucified. The supremacy of Christ and gospel message being core to all we believe and teach is what we must be united on and spend the most energy fighting for.

  4. Soli deo gloria

    In my view the church in the west is in a dire condition generally speaking. We have books and blogs and ministries galore all speaking about ‘my gifts’ and promoting themselves.
    Isn’t it true to say we should major on speakng to God about men before we speak to men about God. The greatest gift we have for others around us is prayer. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man achieves much. SDG

  5. Hi Everyone,

    I just want to reiterate a couple of points.

    I don’t believe any ‘word from God’ given today should be given the same authority as scripture.

    I believe that the Bible is sufficient in that it tells us everything God has chosen to reveal to us in general terms but this does not preclude speaking to specific circumstances today provided it does not contradict the general revelation of the Bible.

    I believe SCRIPTURE ITSELF encourages us to prophecy and seek spiritual gifts (1 Cor 14:1) and any claim that we should not do so is going against scripture.

    While people can pursue these gifts for the wrong reasons our duty is to point them back towards the cross and the right reasons, not to tell them to stop pursuing spiritual gifts.

    It is not straying from the Living Word that we have been given when we pursue spiritual gifts in order to minister with power from on high. It is living in accordance with the Word of Life (again 1 Cot 14:1)

  6. James and Stuart, I don’t want to be drawn onto a debate about spiritual gifts.

    I’m convinced it was never God’s intention that this subject be the stuff of endless debate, argument and division. Rather, He graciously gives to every believer grace-gifts for the specific purpose of building up the church for the purpose of taking the good news of Christ to those who haven’t heard it.

    How sad it is that from the get-go, carnal men/women have perverted what God gave for the good of the church into something that divides it. It is for this reason that I want to avoid contributing to this division.

    I have spent the past few hours re-reading most of the arguments that are put by Cessationists and Continuationists. (Oh how I hate labels!) Without repeating these arguments, for this would be redundant and there are others more qualified to do so, I suppose I would characterise my position as being ‘cautiously-cessationist’.

    Like John MacArthur, I identify myself as a ‘charismatic’, understanding that the true meaning of the word is ‘grace-gift’, for God graces every believer with specific spiritual gifts for the purpose of strengthening His Church.

    MacAurthur writes:

    But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” (Eph. 4:7). By grace Christ has given the believer certain gifts — certain divine enablements. Not one Christian is excluded. We don’t deserve it, we can’t earn it, but these gifts of Christ are measured out individually and uniquely for every Christian. You say, “Why is `gift’ singular if some of us have more than one?” I think the plurality of our gifts can be expressed as our single gift. My gift from God may be the gifts of preaching, teaching, and administration all combined into one gift. Sometimes you have opened one package and received three things in one box. But the design of the gift is to manifest His character. He gives us an aspect of His character

    Over at the Monergism website, is a series of articles on MacArthur’s Cessationalist position on spiritual gifts. For what it’s worth, I concur with most of his position; most, but with one caution. Man has always tried to put God in a box – to limit His options. I think MacArthur may be running this risk.

    Whilst I know this sounds like an escape clause, I believe we should never attempt to define the boundaries within which God operates. God is a God of surprises.  God does whatever He wills – whatever He chooses. Our clever exegetical arguments must always be tempered with the understanding that God is sovereign – bound by nothing.

    In correspondence from a friend on this subject, he raises the following very real cautions.

    The boundaries for the continuing church are pretty clear with elders and deacons. (1Tim 3, Titus 1)

    What qualifications are there for prophets? Do the OT penalties apply for false prophets?

    Who is going to exercise discernment and discipline?

    I agree with him when he comments, “This is such a distraction from the things which are much more important in the establishment of a new church.”

    It is my prayer that our church and every church that proclaims the gospel will continue to be busy about fulfilling Christ’s charge to His church;

    Go …and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19 & 20)

    • Hi Don… brother I agree that we mustn’t get bogged down in matters that can cause an unnecessary divide thus inhibiting proclaiming and equipping people with the Gospel. There will be ‘secondary’ doctrinal matters that people will probably disagree with. We mustn’t allow these things pull us away from what matters most in building up the church – that is proclaiming and teaching scripture through the paradigm of Christ crucified.

      In saying that it’s still important that we continue to try to discern and understand the scriptures as SDG wrote in his response to my blog post today on asking God for wisdom and understanding.

      But we mustn’t do this with the attitude of proving others wrong but rather building up our faith and understanding of what is required to see God’s church grow both in spiritual maturity.

    • Hi Don,

      I really appreciate your response. I think that your position here on how to approach the debate is a mature one that I have no intention of arguing with. I think that both cessationists and continuists can learn from each other and what is truly important is our agreement on the fundamental truths of our faith. This debate is clearly a secondary issue that can affect the culture a of church depending on the leaders position but not our salvation or even necessarily our mission.

      Thanks for leading us in such a mature way Don 🙂

  7. Soli Deo Gloria

    A friend of mine recently posted this. This is brother’s experience – and not intended to be controversial. By the way Don, I’m with you on the ‘labels’ score and the ‘grace-gift’ score. I thought you might find this interesting.

    Why I am not a charismatic

    Because I read my Bible…

    You see, it happened like this. I was saved in August 1973. In September that year, I went off to University – one of the oldest and most elite academic insitutions in the country (Bradford). There I met lots of other Christians and began to go to an Elim Pentecostal church. Everybody – but everybody – seemed to be speaking in tongues. It seemed like a good idea… so I began to pray for it. I got lots of guidance (apparently you can be taught this supernatural gift) and, eventually, I began to speak in gibber… er, the tongues of angels.

    Straight away I knew that I was now spiritually superior to those of my friends who didn’t gibb – er, speak in tongues. And deep down, that bothered me; if a gift was genuinely of God, I thought, it shouldn’t make me feel superior. So I began to wonder. I don’t think it took more than ten days for me to decide my own experience was spurious, and I gave up g – er, you know.

    Now I’m not daft enough (and wasn’t daft enough even then) to think that my false experience meant that everyone else’s experience was false, too. But it did open the possibility up in my mind. I read one or two books – Signs of the apostles, for example. But mostly, I read my Bible. And the gifts in the Bible just didn’t look like the gifts in the Elim church.

    I really wasn’t impressed by the ‘prophecies’. I mean, there are prophecies in the Bible, right? And they’re pretty dramatic. And they’re accurate. The prophecies I heard weren’t even interesting.

    But it was really ‘tongues’ that got me. Why was the most prolific gift the one gift that couldn’t be tested, I wondered? I mean, my friends told me that some gifts of tongues were human languages, and some were the languages of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1). But I only heard the ones that – well, weren’t human. Why? Could it be that all these people were fooling themselves?

    And anyway, I understand English. I’m pretty good at it. I know a figure of speech when I see one. ‘Though I speak in the tongues of men and of angels’ didn’t read like a prescription to me, or even a description; it read like a sarcastic comment: ‘I don’t care if you speak Latin, French, English and Klingon – or even Angelish – if you don’t have love I don’t want to know.’ But my friends were ever so, ever so excited about speaking Angelish, and I couldn’t understand it.

    And then, of course, the ‘tongues’ in the New Testament were never Angelish. They were always human languages – someone even pointed out to me, eventually, that the languages (tongues) spoken in Acts 2 were all named. Angelish wasn’t any of them. Hmmm.

    And so I kept reading my Bible, and kept watching. I realised that though the ‘gifts’ being used in the church were given the same namesas the gifts in the New Testament, that was all they had in common. I realised that I could call myself Elvis Presley, but it wouldn’t make my voice the real thing. The only problem left: where were the gifts today, then?

    It may have been as late as 1977 that I discovered the answer; Stuart Olyott explained to me what 1 Corinthians 13:10 meant, and it made sense. I know this is a controversial passage. Hey, those who are in the wrong find any Scripture passage that proves they’re wrong controversial! If you already believe that ‘the gifts’ are being exercised in the church, perhaps 1 Corinthians 13:10 might not persuade you otherwise. But when you’ve already realised the truth – well, that’s different.

    Nearly 30 years later, I’m still persuaded. There were sign gifts – foundations for the whole church. Once the foundations were laid, those gifts were no longer necessary. I’ve never – not even once – seen anything ‘enough like’ a New Testament sign gift to make me wonder if I might have got it wrong. And I watched with fascinated interest while the Pyromaniac asked for one well-attested prophecy that the Charismatics had got right. The rude people slandered him; the polite people challenged his exegesis. (You can read about it starting hereand here) None of them gave the answer he’d asked for. QED, as they never actually said in my geometry lessons.

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