The church has long been tempted to use a canon opener since the late 2nd century. As it became clear that the great acts of redemption were complete, that God’s special revelation had ended, the Montanist movement reacted by claiming to receive new revelations and to exercise apostolic power. Since the Montanists there have been periodic claims that God was giving new, special revelations of himself and his will. The early Anabaptists claimed to receive new, direct, special revelations from God and mocked the orthodox Protestants (Lutheran and Reformed) as “ministers of the dead letter” because they rejected these claims and focused their attention on interpreting holy Scripture as God’s final, authoritative, inerrant word. The finality of Scripture was challenged by some aspects of the religious turbulence of the eighteenth-century revivals as the desire for an immediate encounter with the risen Christ came to predominate in pietism and even as it influenced the First Great Awakening. That theme became a symphony in the 19th century as claims of direct revelation came to dominate American religion, whether at Cane Ridge, in upstate New York, or in countless other ways. By the early 20th century, with the outbreak of neo-Pentecostalism in Topeka and Azusa St the notion of continuing, direct, special revelation became expected and ordinary. At the same time the, the mainline denominations where the social influence and money resided essentially capitulated to the Enlightenment assertion of human autonomy and all but abandoned Christian orthodoxy.
By the end of the first quarter of the 20th century the two principal bulwarks against the claims of continuing revelation were the old fundamentalist movement and a ragtag band of Reformed confessionalists. At that point the Christian Reformed Church was still speaking Dutch, smoking cigarettes, and shaking their heads in disbelief at what they called “enthusiastic” (not in a positive sense) “Methodists” (i.e., revivalists). The Missouri Synod had their own nineteenth-century experience with religious enthusiasm (from which C. F. W. Walther delivered them) and gave the neo-Pentecostalists a wide berth. Through the 20th century the fundamentalists tended separated from the Orthodox Presbyterians. What else could they do? The CRC learned to speak English and began to fulfill the (uninspired) prophecies of those who warned that speaking English would lead to revivalism. By the end of the century, the lines between the harder edged “Pentecostals” and the softer, neb-evangelical, post-fundamentalist “Charismatics” became virtually imperceptible and even the fundamentalists were making peace with those who craved continuing revelation. By the early years of the 21st century, revivalism had swept the field. Virtually all American evangelical worship services, even those in the confessional sideline were patterned after the Second Great Awakening. Instead of dialogical liturgies in dominated by the reading of Scripture and the singing of psalms, most American Presbyterians were singing continuously for 30 or 45 minutes before sitting down for a rousing, dramatic, emotionally powerful message about how God can transform their lives. In such a context, it is not surprising to see that even fundamentalists such as Wayne Grudem, who still opposed the ordination of women ordination to presbyterial office, had accommodated the Montanist-Anabaptist-Pentecostal desire for continuing revelation. Since the early 19th century, American region has been dominated by Anabaptist theology, piety, and practice. For more on this story see the chapter, “Magic and Noise” in Always Reformed. For more on the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (QIRE) see Recovering the Reformed Confession.
In such a context, where revivalism and Anabaptist assumptions seem almost unquestioned, it is understandable that the confessional Reformed theology of the uniqueness of Scripture (Sola Scriptura) should seem implausible to most American evangelicals. Those evangelicals, however, who are tired of the search for the next religious thrill, for a new high, a new experience should know that there is an alternative. Those who would be confessional Reformed should know that theology and piety of continuing revelation is not biblical and therefore it is not the confession of the Reformed churches. It is the QIRE. Ben Myers put it perfectly:
“Where every church service becomes the opportunity for a life-changing experience of the divine presence; where every song and sermon and prayer is designed to produce immediate emotional impact; where the whole Christian life is transformed into the pursuit of a “naked” experience of the divine – here, the final outcome can only be a profound and paralysing boredom. And for those subjected to such boredom, the only remaining spiritual desire is for a mysterious God, a God not merely naked and exposed, but clothed in ritual, sacrament, tradition.”
The confessional Reformed theology, piety, and practice is not only in antithesis to the QIRE it is the best alternative.
Where the QIRE predominates the best outcome for which one can hope is dueling interpretations of subjective experience. Stan Mitchell, pastor of GracePointe a megachurch in Franklin, TN that spells point with a terminal e—so everyone knows that it is hip. He’s also a practitioner of the QIRE and he says that a few years ago he received a direct revelation from God telling him that homosexuality is permissible, that it is not a gross sin against which, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone sinners should struggle. Rather, it is an orientation to be accepted and incorporated into the life and leadership of an ostensibly “evangelical” congregation. The folks at The Advocate (a pro-homosexual publication) love this new revelation. For them it quite trumps those nasty, obscure passages in Leviticus and 1 Corinthians. At The Advoate, Scripture is obscure and unpleasant but this new revelation is perfectly clear and pleasing.
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:3–5; ESV).
On the other side, a writer in Charisma objects to this new revelation in ways that would have stirred the blood of the old fundamentalists. She accuses Mitchell of cowardice and prays that he reverses course and all this in Charisma magazine, one of the principal organs of that movement (or those movements) agitating for continuing revelation. So, at Charisma, sola Scriptura is out until someone gets the wrong direct, special revelation. So we have dueling special revelations and dueling interpretations of those revelations.
The great irony is that Scripture is God’s direct, special, Spirit-inspired, inerrant revelation in Christ to his church and it speaks quite clearly to all sins and to all righteousness. It speaks quite clearly as to who is qualified to hold presbyterial office. We do not need continuing prophecy, fallible or otherwise. If it is fallible it is foolish to listen to it. If it is only repeating Scripture, well that’s a good thing but it isn’t exactly an apostolic gift.
We need only to attend to Holy Scripture in the Spirit. We need the Spirit to illumine his Word for us and to prepare our hearts. We need him to write his Word on our hearts in fulfillment of the promises of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 but we do not need a new Word from God and we do not need a new sexual ethic that capitulates to another spirit, that which is antichrist whether that be der Zeitgeist or just a Poltergeist.
I’ve been following this for years and it never seems to go away. A good friend of mine, once quite seemingly reformed in his view of da gifts, is touting a book called “Authentic Fire” and it saddens me.
Funny how that book was written by a Charismatic that was on Benny Hinn’s program and claimed ignorance of Hinn’s sins; I still remember his big smile as Hinn promoted his book. He ended being a kind of prophetic fulfillment for what some cessationists were saying. It was as if God set it up for him to be an example of the foolishness in some Charismatic circles; I can’t help but think of God’s providence in that situation.
I forgot to mention that it was what I think is an unrelated book that was being promoted by Hinn. For a donation to Hinn’s “ministry”, they would receive the book.
Amazing timing. A revelation from God comes at the same time the anti-Christian culture decides that being gay should no longer be socially unacceptable.