I saw the light

20120927-114128There has been a good deal of talk lately about personal revelations from God. I am encouraged by such talk in general. God does indeed still speak. I want to deal with some claims specifically though. This is the latest in a trend of those who support full inclusion claiming that God has spoken (revealed) to them that homosexuality is indeed ok. I think that we need to view such claims of revelation, and all claims of revelation, with a healthy skepticism. We should do this not because we do not believe God speaks, but because we do believe He speaks and we want desperately to make certain it is indeed the voice of God we are hearing.

Divine revelations have occurred in all ages, and as I said above, certainly still do today. We see evidence in the the patriarchal age, in the times of the judges, the prophets, John the Baptist, and even the apostle Paul. (Not an exhaustive list.) I really just want to illustrate that this is nothing new and we should be open to this happening today. There are however a few simple guidelines that I think can aid us in how we are going to interpret, understand and ultimately justify these revelations from God.

First, a revelation will not reveal new truth. We have Christ, the Word made flesh, and we have the scriptures as the two primary ways that God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. Now let me be clear about my meaning here. We may find revealed a new understanding or grasp of truth. For example, I believe that women fully involved in the ministry of the church is this type of revelation. We can examine the scriptures and see the progression of the position of women in scripture from the OT to the NT and beyond. This was not a new truth, this was a new, and proper,  understanding of the truth that is eternal. It seems as if it is splitting hairs, but in reality it is not. It is in harmony with what has come before in the scriptures and the example of Christ that simply had not been properly recognized or understood. The position of the United Methodist Church may have changed, but it is not a new truth at all, just a properly understood one.

Second, a revelation may reveal guidance. I believe truly that in this world that is chaotic and complex, that God still guides His followers when they ask, and even sometimes when they do not. When looking for a new job and you pray for guidance on where to go might be a practical example. When trying to discern the proper time for a new building project may be another. God still speaks and He still guides His followers. That guidance however will never be a detriment to the church that Christ established and will conform to the above.

Finally, I believe that God provides personal revelation in the manner of calling the faithful to ministry, ordained ministry, missionary work, even martyrdom. Again this must conform to the above. God is not going to call a man to be a missionary to female exotic dancers during business hours. That does not conform to the above at all. God may indeed call people to establish a ministry geared toward exotic dancers however.

The glue that ends up holding all of this together is scripture. I say scripture, because even the teachings of Christ are recorded there. If you happen to believe that God is revealing new truth as opposed to truth that existed but has been illuminated, then there is little way to police the revelation that you have received. Pretty basically everything is on the table and you are left to your own devices to figure it out. If however the scriptures are the baseline by which revelation is judged, then we have a place to start. We can approach the matter from the same source material and work toward understanding and eventual implementation of the revelation into the life of the church. The question is really one of is God revealing something new, or rather is He continually revealing what was once and for all delivered so that we may continue on the path of sanctification.

This basic understanding of revelation by God is one of the things that separates us. No, that is not necessarily a bad thing, but we should recognize it. Those who believe that God is going to, or has, revealed something new, can not possibly explain it to one who believes that the truth already has been revealed. The views are so alien to each other that all that is possible is fundamental disagreement. Should two people with these opposing views engage each other they could possible understand why the other thinks as they do, but there can not be agreement on anything other than both think they are right and both think the other is mistaken. We need to understand that there are views that simply are not compatible. At some point it is even not about which is the right view or the wrong view, but the recognition that the views are so alien to each other that they can not exist together to figure out theology. To use an example from our history, Wesley and Whitfield could come to some sort of understanding and peace because they started from the same basic assumptions about scripture, but simply came to differing understandings of how scripture payed out.

Over the last few days I have read some disturbing thoughts of people that show how very different some of our approaches actually are. Things like the Articles of religion were written centuries ago, so they don’t matter now. Assertions that God is doing something new now (based on a badly out of context verse from Isaiah 43:19). Rejection of basic doctrines of the UMC. This does not give us a common ground for any type of discussion or understanding and certainly not for talking about revelation from God. How do we see revelation? That is one of the questions that must be answered before we go forward.

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17 Replies to “I saw the light”

  1. One question.
    “Assertions that God is doing something new now (based on a badly out of context verse from Isiah)”

    What would that verse be?
    Or reference link to someone that used it? How can anyone tell if it is out of context if we don’t know what it is?

    1. Isiah 43:19 is the verse most often cited. If you did not know it, I would assume it did not apply to you 🙂 Thank you for asking though. I meant to include the reference in the piece and simply forgot to put it in while finishing it.

      1. I don’t keep up with all the internet discussions of the UMC controversy, other than here. So I’m not that familiar with the arguments on both sides, that you seem to be so familiar with.

        The verse you mention, you are right. I don’t see that having anything to do with the discussion.

        However, I do remember reading something about that particular verse, having to do with the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Essenes. Some attributed the location of the Essenes near the Dead Sea, as picking that spot because of that particular verse. “I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”…they used the canyon location because of its water for bathing…
        Along with Isa 40:3 “The voice of one that crieth, Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of Jehovah; make level in the desert a highway for our God.”

        Their location was at the end of a creek bed at the end of a canyon leading to the Dead Sea.

        Both Essenes and Christians used the term, “The Way”, with both groups seeing themselves as fulfillment of major OT themes.
        “The men of Qumran believed they constituted the “Way” in fulfillment of Isaiah. They expected to expound the Law of God, “until there come the Prophet and the Messiahs of Aaron and of Israel.””
        From “The Dead Sea Scrolls”, Craig Evans.

        Did not work out too well for the Essenes. All men’s group, celibate, living in the desert by themselves, seeking Revelation, and reading and copying scriptures. And actually – they underwent a schism, from the other Jews.

        1. The answer from Revelation I want to see…

          1 Kg 18:21And Elijah came near unto all the people, and said, How long go ye limping between the two sides? if Jehovah be God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.

          Get both sides. Have each try to ignite a fire under a bull. The winner is God. The loser is killed. That is why the OT cannot be seriously used in an argument about moral codes today. Not without heavy duty doubt, and interpretive revision.

          1. Yes it can. You can not simply dismiss all the moral commands of God in the Old Testament because of the story of Elijah confronting the prophets of Baal…they are two separate things. Shall we revise murder? Thievery?

  2. Good thoughts. I recall reading a book given me by my Old Testament prof. in college over thirty years ago when I was discerning my call. It was called Impressions by Martin Wells Knapp, a member of the Friends. Knapp outlined four questions about any revelation (impression): Is it Scriptural? Is it Providential? Is it reasonable? Is it right (that is, ethical/moral according to Christian practice? Bonhoeffer follows much the same only adding “Is it Doctrinal?” that is, is it a matter faithful to the Confessions?
    I maybe off a bit, but most of the revelations found even in the Scripture (as doctrinal story) have some precedent somewhere else in the texts,

  3. You put your finger on the problem I have with the notion of someone receiving a new revelation. Although you do not mention it, the context within which I have often heard this is human sexuality. I was in a meeting in which a Bishop of the UMC (it was a long time and I would have to do some digging to find out whom it was) said the Holy Spirit was revealing a new possibility in acceptable behavior sexually. Lately, it has come to mean that the new revelation contradicts the vice-virtue list of Paul, the guidance of Paul for the household, or the guidance of Jesus regarding marriage. I can see some scripture in which a dialogue occurs: slavery, husband-wife relation, female preachers, and divorce. Some disagree with me on the latter, but the church increasingly had to deal with marriage and abusive situations. In any case, my puzzlement about the whole human sexuality matter is that we do not have the same type of dialogue on homosexual behavior in scripture. You are quite right. If one believes truth is already revealed, someone who speaks of new revelations that contradict that truth appears as nonsense.

    1. Right. I have tried to explain many times about women in ministry and even slavery, you see movement in scripture. With women in ministry you see Deborah, female leaders in the NT, Jesus elevating women, etc. With slavery, you see the actual OT laws that provide freedom through Paul who appeals for freedom. Even through the history of the church you see this. With sexual immorality, homosexual sex in particular, you do not see any movement until Kinsey, and God help us all if he is considered a theologian.

  4. I have heard that some people have had personal revelations about the issue of homosexuality, but I haven’t talked to them, and I don’t have any idea what their revelation was about.
    I can speak personally that I have had a revelation from Jesus about same-sex marriage. It wasn’t about the rightness or sinfulness of homosexuality, but about the nature of the state of marriage in general. And the fact that the state of marriage is a state of sin, which is ‘authorized’ by God. This is fully supported by Scripture, so it seems to fit the requirement that there’s “nothing new”. Just a different interpretation.
    Nonetheless, I don’t find many people who are open to listening to that revelation and what it can tell us about same-sex marriage.

    1. That is because it is not true Tom. It may have been a revelation, but it was not from God. You can find lots of people who will listen to the revelation though. They are called gnostics and they are just as wrong as you in this regard.

        1. Tom – I’ll bite.

          Called personal revelation, for a reason. It means something to Elaine Saunders. It means nothing to anyone else. What was revealed, was revealed to her, and it changed her mind. It is irrelevant (as in, not a revelation) to Tom, Gary, and Scott. She, in all reality, would say “go take a hike”, if asked, about our opinion. Rightfully so. She isn’t establishing creeds, doctrines, or policy for us. She is living her life. I doubt very much that any of us would dare tell her she doesn’t know what she is talking about. Her life. Her son. Her revelation.

  5. 1 John 4:1
    Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

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