Secret And Sinister Messages From God: Does God Speak Outside Of His Word? (1)

Sadly, married couples resort to many tactics when they argue and spar verbally but on occasion I have heard that they can resort to giving each other “the silent treatment.” Instead of talking through the issues and communicating properly, they simply do not talk. The silence in this case is truly deafening.

After the fall of Adam, God could have given sinful and rebellious humans the “silent treatment,” but thankfully, because he is good and gracious, he did not. God  speaks to his sinful creatures.

By contrast, though false idols have weight, form and mass, they are as mute as a piece of lava rock or cold marble. Silence is their mode of existence. Man-made idols, since they are nothing, can offer nothing but silence. As humans, however, we want to hear from God. “God, speak to us” should be every image bearer’s desire. Every thinking person, given one wish from God, should request, “God, please speak to me so that I can know how to be right in your sight.”

Thankfully, God tells us what He thinks and how we are to think. To modify Francis Schaeffer’s 1972 book title, God is there and he is not silent. Though God silently teaches us about his power and wisdom through his creation (natural revelation), there are many things that the sun, moon, and stars cannot communicate. God must speak specially, supernaturally so that we might understand things like Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and soon return. We need a speaking God to know how to worship properly and grasp what God requires as a response to his work. We must have a “Thus says the LORD” God.

Secret Messages?

Speaking is one thing, but whispering and still small voices today are another matter altogether. Does God regularly whisper special messages to His followers? Are they simply sweet nothings or are they real revelations? Should they be communicated? Written down? Added to Scripture? Inserted after the Book of Revelation? Does God walk with people and talk with people along life’s narrow way? Does God still speak outside of His written Word?

Before we address the current evangelical trend of hearing from God outside of His Word, the story of a song will help us gain insight into the modern evangelical climate that desires more from God than His written Word.

C. Austin Miles wrote the hymn, “In the Garden,” around 1912. Developing some film in his dark room, Miles imagined Mary Magdalene going to the empty tomb of Jesus. Furthermore, Miles claims he even “saw” Mary walk into a garden where he heard Jesus say, “Mary.” After this experience, Miles immediately wrote the lyrics and then he later scored the music. “In the Garden” has been wildly popular ever since. Billy Sunday used the song at his crusades and Perry Como even recorded it in 1950. Miles relates the story:

One day in April, 1912, I was seated in the dark room where I kept my photographic equipment, and also my organ. I drew my Bible toward me and it opened at my favorite book and chapter, John chapter twenty. I don’t know if this was by chance or by the work of the Holy Spirit. I will let you the reader decide. That story of Jesus and Mary in John 20 had lost none of its power and charm.

It was though I was in a trance, as I read it that day, I seemed to be part of the scene. I became a silent witness to that dramatic moment in Mary’s life, when she knelt before her Lord and cried, “Rabboni.” I rested my hands on the open Bible, as I stared at the light blue wall. As the light faded, I seemed to be standing at the entrance of a garden, looking down a gently winding path, shaded by olive branches. A woman in white, with head bowed, hand clasping her throat, as if to choke back her sobs, walked slowly into the shadows. It was Mary. As she came unto the tomb, upon which she placed her hand, she bent over to look in, and ran away.

John, in a flowing robe, appeared looking at the tomb. Then came Peter, who entered the tomb, followed slowly by John. As they departed, Mary reappeared leaning her head upon her arm at the tomb, she wept. Turning herself, she saw Jesus standing there, so did I. I knew it was He. She knelt before Him, with arms outstretched, and looking into His face cried, “Rabboni.”

I awakened in sunlight, gripping my Bible with my muscles tense, and nerves vibrating, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I wrote as quickly as the words could be formed the lyrics exactly as it is sung today. That same evening, I wrote the tune. It is sung today as it was written in 1912.1

As we say in No Compromise Radio land, “Henno!” (how my Grandmother pronounced, “hello”) Did you notice how experience-driven the account was portrayed? When I first read the account, I thought the only thing missing was some weird organ Muzak for accompaniment. I was “tolerant” of the dream until he said, “Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?” Then my muscles tensed and my nerves vibrated!

At least the story behind the song gives me new insight into the lyrics of the song. Now, “In the Garden” make “perfect” sense, even though it does not make biblical sense. It is biblical nonsense (“non” “sense”).

I come to the garden alone

While the dew is still on the roses

And the voice I hear falling on my ear

The Son of God discloses.

Refrain

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,

And He tells me I am His own;

And the joy we share as we tarry there,

None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,

Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,

And the melody that He gave to me

Within my heart is ringing.

Refrain

I’d stay in the garden with Him

Though the night around me be falling,

But He bids me go; through the voice of woe

His voice to me is calling.2

If Mr. Miles really walked and actually talked with the real (and glorified) Jesus in a real garden, I am pretty sure that he would have fallen to his face in worship. Think of Isaiah 6—prostration, undone, woe is me! At best, the lyrics are sloppy and not well nuanced. At worst, Miles is actually alleging new revelation. Strike that. He does not allege it, he claims it. Either way, Hebrews 1:1–4 is forgotten. A closed canon is opened. What does the Bible say about ongoing revelation? Hebrews 1 speaks clearly and concisely:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs (Hebrews 1:1–4).

According to Hebrews 1, God has stopped giving new revelation. Though songwriters might “feel” inspired or claim to hear God, when they make such claims they are denying the sufficiency of Scripture and the first chapter of Hebrews. God used to speak through many ways. Now, however, in light of the fulfillment of redemption brought by Christ, dreams, audible voices and other subjective means of divine communication have ceased. Why? We are in “the last days,” which is Biblical way of speaking of the time period between Christ’s first and second advent.

Can you spot the “white lie” in the following syllogism (syllogisms use propositional statements deductively to come to a reasoned conclusion):

  1. God is immutable and does not change.
  2. God has spoken in the past.
  3. Therefore, God speaks to us today.

Let us analyze the syllogism. God is a speaking God (so far so good). God is immutable and unchangeable (true). Then comes the conclusion that should even make a Star Wars Wookiee yelp, “Therefore, God still speaks today.” Game. Set. Match. Winner, winner—or maybe not. What is the problem with such logic? “What are the problems?” might be a more accurate question. The major problem is that Hebrews 1:1–4 is not considered. The logical problem is that the conclusion does not follow from the premises. It assumes what it must prove, that for God to stop giving special revelation would constitute a change in God. This implies a change in God when he spoke creation into existence. The argument proves more than it intends.

The theology of God’s whispering today is everywhere. If you listen carefully to Charles Stanley you will spot the wrong thinking. Stanley says:

Many people do not fully believe that God speaks today. If we think we get direction only through Scripture, then we miss out on much of what God has to share, because He will speak so often through His Spirit, circumstances, and other people. We must make absolutely certain that we are fully convinced and persuaded that God does speak to us personally . . . .3

Miss out? Speak personally? Haves, meet the Have-nots? Though Stanley certainly knows how to play on people’s heartstrings, he tragically equates circumstances and other people with the Scriptures. Charles effectually elevates circumstances to the level of God’s Word. David F. Wells encapsulates the argument:

Granting the status of revelation to anything other than the Word of God inevitably has the effect of removing that status from the Word of God. What may start out as an additional authority alongside the Word of God will eventually supplant its authority altogether.4

Like it or not, God is done giving special revelation. Case closed. Canon closed.

©Mike Abendroth. All Rights Reserved.

NOTES

1. From The Gaffney Ledger (May 25, 2012).

2. Cyber Hymnal.

3. Charles Stanley, How to Listen to God (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1985), 128.

4. David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1994), 109.

©Mike Abendroth. All Rights Reserved.  Part 2

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  • Mike Abendroth
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    Mike Abendroth (MDiv, DMin) is Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Bible Church (West Boyleston, MA), where he has served since 1997. He is host of No Compromise Radio and author of Jesus Christ: The Prince of Preachers (2007), The Sovereignty and Supremacy of King Jesus (2011), Things that Go Bump in the Church (2014), Discovering Romans (2014), Sexual Fidelity (2015) and Evangelical White Lies (2016). He is married with with four children. When not enjoying his family he is often found on a bicycle.

    More by Mike Abendroth ›

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10 comments

  1. Thank you for taking the time to write this article, Mike. It’ll be a saved resource for my family and I as we navigate future conversations with others – conversations needing much gentleness and discernment.

  2. My pastor often talks about being “led” to do something. Wouldn’t this fall into the same category of “revelation”? The problem is that when church leaders speak as if they’ve heard from God, how does one oppose them if it sounds like a half-baked idea? I believe it is a rhetorical device which is used to stifle debate.

  3. Will wait for part 2, but I hope prayers are addressed. I agree and understand God speaks to us through and by His Word, yet what is happening in prayers? We are not deists after all.

    • Chris: My understanding is that God answers our prayers by providence not by infallible words, impressions or feelings.

    • Chris,

      Mike can answer for himself but it seems as though you may be conflating two questions: 1) continuing revelation; 2) God’s ongoing providential work in the world. The Reformed certainly teach that God is active in the world. See Resources On The Heidelberg Catechism (1563) questions 26-28. We confess that Scripture teaches that God actively governs and upholds all things. We further confess that he hears our prayers. See questions 116-18. We understand Scripture to teach that God not only hears our prayers but that he answers them according to his good pleasure, indeed that he gives good things to those who ask.

      Sola scriptura isn’t deism. God is not absent from the world but rather in his marvelous and mysterious providence, he uses our prayers to accomplish his purposes. For more on a Reformed approach to prayer see these resources.

  4. Would it be fair or appropriate to say His providence is the revelation of His will for us? I guess what I’m driving at is does He speak to us by providence?

  5. Chris: Maybe you are asking the wrong questions. Is there anything you *need* to know to live your life that God has not provided in his word?

  6. Bob, no *needs,* Certainly all I need to know concerning God and duties required of me are taught in the scriptures.

    What I’m wrestling with is whether God “speaks” to us now through providence or not. Are prayers answered or not? Do actions “speak” louder than words?

    Honestly, I’m not intending these questions as being contentious. I sometimes feel as though we say we are not deist but act as if we were.
    C’est la vie.

    • Chris,

      It’s important to distinguish between God’s decree and his moral will. God’s secret decree is his business. We know what is is after the fact but not before (Deut 29:29). Of course that does not stop Christians from asking to know before the fact.

      His moral will is revealed in Scripture. That is fully revealed but it’s a lot if work to get Christians to pay attention to it.

      You worry about practical Deism but I worry about practical superstition and paganism—hankering after secret knowledge and direct, extra-biblical special revelation, which presently dominates Christianity across much of the globe.

      Where are the best-selling books advocating the practical Deism about which you worry?

      Can you characterize or define it?

  7. “does god speak to us through providence or not,”
    Providence certainly speaks of the glory of God’s work in creation, in us, and our Christian journey. Similarly, Sanctification is a witness and proof regarding the work of God’s free grace, whereby they whom God has before the foundation of the world, chosen to to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of His Spirit, applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto us . . . and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life.” (lc 75 , q32 hc)
    In this manner both Providence and Sanctification do speak of the work of God’s grace and are a means for true believers to offer up to God (prayer) thankful acknowledgements of his mercies; and our desires for things agreeable to His will . . . (lc 178)

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