There 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.