Gospel-Driven Prophecy: Understanding the Differences Between OT and NT Prophecy, Part 5Tuesday, October 24, 2006
2. Must NT Prophetic Experiences Today Have a Parallel Somewhere in the NT?
Another perceived necessity by cessationists is that of experience. A former cessationist, I argued that if a person had a supposed charismatic experience, especially as it related to prophecy, it had to be able to have a parallel in the Scriptures to justify it as a godly prophecy. This is related to an excellent tool in church polity known as the regulative principle, whereby a local church determines that it will only implement and utilize those practices and experiences which are found in the Bible. The opposite is the normative principle, whereby a local church determines that if the Bible does not condemn it then it may be practiced.
I once adhered to the regulative principle in most areas of local church ministry, which traditionally (though not necessarily consistent with the principle itself) excluded charismatic practices and experiences. If an experience could find no parallel in Scripture, then it must be deemed as unbiblical. This view certainly exalts the authority of Scripture over faith and practice both in our personal lives as well as in the corporate lives of believers in a local church. However, I have come to believe that the strict position of this traditional view is not logical, for there are many, many charismatic experiences and practices which are found throughout the NT. Further, it is not a very humble position, for while it seeks to submit to the authority of Scripture, it does not completely give sway to the sovereignty of God to act as freely as He wills in the local church. That said, while the Bible is not a book documenting every charismatic practice and experience, it is obviously a book filled with doctrine and teaching which ought to guide and guard all such matters.
The same argument we use in answering those who deny inerrancy is useful here also. To them we answer that the Bible was never intended to be used as a scientific encyclopedia, so that any supposed errors we uncover are not troublesome to the view. Since the Bible is not a book to which we compare modern scientific discoveries and conclusions, such arguments are no obstacles to the doctrine of inerrancy. And in like fashion, the fact that we cannot find a parallel in the NT for every prophetic word today in the church poses no real problem to the continuationist view of prophecy today. The Bible was never intended to be used as a handbook on experiences or an inspired list of legitimate and illegitimate ones.
The fact that I can’t find a person’s prophetic message or charismatic experience in any verse may mean it doesn’t originate from God. And on the other hand, it may also mean that it did. Some prophetic words can be known for sure as originating from God. We turn to the clear teaching of Scripture in passages like 1 Corinthians 14 which give an overall reflection of the gifts in the church, though the context speaks specifically to prophecy. Verse 31 teaches us that order is the primary reflection of God’s presence in the operation of the gifts in the local church. Therefore, any experience or prophetic word that promotes disorder, such as the strange phenomena manifested in some parts of the Toronto Blessing or Brownsville Revival for example, can justifiably be concluded as unbiblical. So in some instances, we may never know for sure whether it is from God, in many instances we can know for sure that a word is from the Lord, while all prophetic words can clearly be known by their fruits.
God’s sovereignty is something that is clearly taught in Scripture and is also a doctrine and application both cessationists and continuationists alike can agree upon. This doctrine necessitates His continued freedom to work out His sovereign plan in the lives of His church with prophetic experiences that we may not be able to explain with some parallel in Scripture, yet are always guided by such theology in Scripture. How foolish I will look at the judgment seat of Christ when it is revealed how many times I acted towards a believer’s prophetic experience as Job’s friends acted towards his suffering. I’ve since learned to “put my hand over my mouth to silence myself” (Job 40:4). None of us are worthy to act as judge or analyst of what God has sovereignly determined to do among His people or in His world. And cessationism is guilty of this when it comes to legitimate prophetic words by God’s people today.