REVISE US AGAIN
LIVING FROM A renewed CHRISTIAN SCRIPT
By Frank Viola
David C. Cook Copyright © 2010 FRANK VIOLA
All rights reserved.
GOD'S THREE-FOLD SPEAKING
Revising the Lord's Voice
There's a very obscure passage in the Old Testament that sheds light on how God communicates His mind to His people. It's found in Jeremiah 18:18:
The teaching of the law by the priest will not be lost, nor will counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophets.
The ancient Hebrews divided the Old Testament up into three sections. The first section is called the Torah, or the Law. It includes the first five books of the Bible. The steward of the Torah is the priest.
The second section of the Old Testament is the Prophets. It includes the Major and Minor Prophets and the Historical Books. The steward of the Prophets is, of course, the prophet.
The third division of the Old Testament is called the Wisdom Literature, or "the Writings." It includes Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Job, and the Song of Solomon. The steward of the Wisdom Literature is the sage, or wise man.
These three sections of the Old Testament represent the three major ways in which God communicates His mind to His people.
Where We've Been
One of the greatest obstacles to hearing the Lord's voice is our religious background. Virtually every Christian has at some point been given a narrow lens through which he or she interprets Scripture, the Lord, and the Lord's speaking.
Therefore, it's critical that we understand that we all have been given such a lens. The following list shows how incredibly powerful our religious backgrounds are in shaping these lenses. The list is obviously tongue in cheek, but I believe the truth is not far off.
Suppose that you are traveling to work and you come to a stop sign. What do you do? Well, that depends on your religious background. For example ...
1. A fundamentalist, taking the text very literally, stops at the stop sign and waits for it to tell him to go.
2. A Christian who follows the traditions of his denomination does not bother to read the sign, but she will stop if the car in front of her does.
3. A seminary-educated evangelical preacher might look up stop in his English lexicon and discover that it can mean (1) something that prevents motion or (2) a location where a train or bus lets off passengers. The main point of his sermon the following Sunday on this text is this: When you see a stop sign, realize that it is a place where traffic is naturally clogged; therefore, it's a good place to let off passengers from your car.
4. A legalist does one of two things. She takes another route to work that does not have a stop sign so she doesn't run the risk of disobeying the law. Or she may stop at the stop sign and pray, "Thank You, oh Lord, for Your commandment to stop." She waits three seconds according to her watch and then proceeds. She also keeps a condemning eye out to see if others run the stop sign.
5. A New Testament scholar notices that there is no stop sign on Mark Street, but there is one on Matthew Street and Luke Street. He then concludes that the ones on Luke and Matthew Streets were copied from a sign on the street that no one has ever seen called "Q" Street.
6. A prophetic preacher of end-time theology notices that the square root of the sum of the numeric representations of the letters S-T-O-P (which are sigma tau omicron pi in the Greek alphabet) multiplied by 40 (the number of testing), and then divided by 4 (the number of the earth) equals 666. Therefore, she concludes that stop signs are the dreaded mark of the beast, a harbinger of divine judgment, and must be avoided at all costs.
7. A Charismatic/Pentecostal will stop only if he feels led of the Spirit and the sign is a rhema word and not a logos word.
8. A prosperity preacher will stop at the sign, make a positive confession about stopping, and offer "the prayer of Jabez," concluding that God must make her rich.
9. An Arminian believes that if he runs the stop sign he will lose his salvation. So with fear and trembling, he works hard at stopping at every stop sign.
10. A Calvinist believes that God has predestinated her reaction to the sign. If she runs the stop sign, she was never saved to begin with. If she stops, she was elected before creation.
11. A Southern Baptist believes that God wants him to stop at the sign, but he will still be saved if he does not. For if you once stopped, you have always stopped.
12. Upon seeing the stop sign, a libertine begins to sing, "Hallelujah, I'm free," pushes her foot down on the pedal, and runs the stop sign at full throttle. She then gets run over by a Mack truck.
13. A liberation theologian believes that stop signs should stop only those who are of the elitist, wealthy class. But the poor are free to run them whenever they wish.
Silly, yes, but this list makes a point. We all have a lens that we inherited from our religious background. And we are conditioned to interpret Scripture, the Lord, and His speaking through that lens.
How God Communicates His Mind
The Torah contains the foundations on which the community of God's people are built. The Torah includes God's enduring moral principles—the standards that spring from His very nature. These standards do not change, nor can they be compromised. In the Old Testament economy, the priest was the person who taught the Torah.
The Prophets section of the Bible often seems to contradict the Torah. The prophet is the person who enters the community of God's people and causes an abrasive, disruptive upheaval of what the community believes or practices.
The prophet challenges the people's response to the Torah, which is often a legalistic or libertine response.
In reality though, the prophet really doesn't contradict the Torah. He contradicts the people's response to it. We are fallen creatures, and we sometimes turn the standards of God into dead rituals. At other times we misapply or disregard them altogether. The prophet is needed at such times.
The Wisdom Literature contains something that we Christians often do not have a great abundance of—wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge gained through experience. It also includes a predictive element.
Because of his long experience, a wise person can detect patterns. And he's able to foresee outcomes (Luke 11:49; Prov. 22:3).
A wise person may make a statement like this: "What you just said sounds really good, but it's not going to work, and here's why ..."
The instrument of the Wisdom Literature is the sage, the wise old man with the gray head. The sage is sought after for his wisdom because he has the experience of life. As a result, he can peer into the future.
The priest is authorized by the authority of the Torah, which contains what God has previously spoken. The prophet is authorized by the present burden of the Lord that the Holy Spirit lays upon him. The sage is authorized by his experience and the fruit of his wisdom, which can be evaluated by the future outcome of his counsel (Luke 7:35).
Put another way, the priest looks to the past and asks, "Is this scriptural? Is this right?"
The prophet looks to the present and asks, "What is God saying to us right now? What is His present leading?"
The sage looks to the future and asks, "How will our present actions affect the future? Is this decision wise or foolish?"
To put it in the language of the Bible: The priest asks, "What do these stones mean?" (Josh. 4:6). The prophet asks, "Is there any word from the Lord?" (Jer. 37:17). And the sage asks, "Where can wisdom be found?" (Job 28:12).
The Inherent Dangers of Each
Each form of God's speaking has its own dangers if not attended to by the other forms. If a church is conditioned to recognize the Lord's will through only the form of Torah, it will become ritualistic at best or judgmental, self- righteous, and legalistic at worst. It will need the prophetic word as well as the word of wisdom to balance it.
A church that recognizes the Lord's speaking via only the lens of the prophet will be unstable and erratic at best. At worst, it will be deceived. This is because a prophet's revelation can be bogus. Thus, a prophetic word should be tested by its faithfulness to what God has already said (i.e., Torah) and by its future outcome (i.e., wisdom).
If a church recognizes the Lord's will through only the lens of wisdom, it will be given over to human reasoning and empty philosophy. True wisdom will always be faithful to what God has already said (i.e., Torah), and it will be responsive to the in-breaking of an authentic prophetic word.
Consequently, we should embrace all three forms because God speaks through each.
Unfortunately, our religious backgrounds condition us to recognize the Lord's voice through only one form. Those who have a fundamentalist background tend to recognize the Lord speaking through only the Torah. Guidance must contain a standard or principle of God, which usually has a chapter and verse attached to it. But this narrow lens blinds them from recognizing God's guidance through the other modes.
Those who come from a Charismatic/Pentecostal background tend to recognize the Lord's voice through only the prophetic word. It must be peppered with, "I sense the Lord saying" ... "I have a word from God" ... "The Lord showed me" ... "Thus saith the Lord." Appeals to Scripture or wisdom have very little registration.
Those from mainline denominations tend to recognize God speaking through whatever sounds reasonable. Wisdom is their language. What God has said in the past often carries little weight. And prophetic revelation is suspect.
Put differently, those who prefer Torah-speaking are thinkers. Those who prefer prophetic-speaking are feelers. And those who prefer wisdom-speaking are doers. Three temperaments, three denominations, and three forms of God's speaking.
It's worth noting that our temperament is connected to our religious background. We are typically drawn to the denomination or movement that matches our disposition. Doers tend to gravitate toward denominations like Baptist. Feelers tend to gravitate toward the Charismatic/Pentecostal Movement. And thinkers tend to gravitate toward fundamentalist denominations, Presbyterian, or Anglican churches. Parachurch organizations and many large movements usually combine two of these temperaments, typically thinkers and doers or feelers and doers. I admit these are generalizations; however, I believe they are very close to reality.
Whether we realize it or not, our religious background is a major hurdle that stands in the way of laying hold of the mind of Christ individually and corporately.
Accordingly, God in Christ by the Spirit discloses His will through all three modes.
The Mind of Christ
In 1 Corinthians 12:1–2 (NKJV), Paul writes:
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant: You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led.
Notice that Paul mentions "dumb idols." What exactly is a dumb idol? It's not an idol with a low IQ. A dumb idol is an idol that doesn't have the power of speech. It's a mute idol.
Before the Corinthian believers came to Christ, they were following pagan gods that didn't possess the power of speech. These gods were mute. They were dumb. Paul goes on, saying the following (this is my paraphrase of verses 3–6):
Remember how you served mute idols? Well, now you serve a God who speaks, and He speaks through you and your fellow members of the body of Christ. For example, when you say, "Jesus is Lord," God's own Spirit is speaking through you. There are varieties of spiritual gifts, but it's the same Spirit. There are varieties of ministries, but it's the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but it's the same God who is working through them all. The one true God speaks through a variety of different ways via His one body.
Notice that God communicates in a variety of ways, but it's the same God who is doing all the speaking. And God does that speaking through His body, i.e., a local assembly that allows Him to speak through its members.
Consequently, the mind of God can only be made fully known through a corporate body of believers.
Jesus Christ has the power of speech. He's not a dumb idol. And when He speaks, He reveals the mind of God. But Christ never reveals His whole mind through an individual. It takes a body of believers to lay hold of His mind together.
Hence, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:9–10:
However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"—but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
Consider the following words:
Eye has not seen. He's speaking of a single eye. A solo eye has not seen.
Ear has not heard. An individual ear has not heard.
And it has not entered into the heart of man. A single heart hasn't received.
Now listen to Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:16 (NKJV):
For "who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?"
This is an absurd question. But notice the singular: "Who has known the mind of the Lord that he [singular] may instruct him?"
The answer is obvious. No individual has God's mind. But then Paul makes this remarkable statement: "But we [plural] have the mind of Christ." We, corporately—as His body—possess the mind of Christ. Incredible.
The mind of Christ is discoverable. Jesus Christ is not a dumb idol. He has the power of speech. He desires to speak and reveal His thoughts. But the mind of Christ is a corporate discovery. It's a corporate pursuit. It's not the property of any individual. It's the property of the body of Christ working together to secure it.
As a result, all three ways of God's speaking in Christ (Torah, prophetic, and wisdom) should be held in tension. The reason? Jesus Christ incarnates all three modes.
Jesus Christ is the real Priest as well as the Torah itself.
Jesus Christ is the real Prophet as well as the Prophetic Word.
Jesus Christ is the real Sage as well as Wisdom itself.
Our Lord reveals His will to and through a local community of believers when they are seeking to lay hold of His mind together. The local assembly is the vehicle that God has chosen to disclose His mind. Through some believers, He speaks as Prophet. Through others, He speaks as Priest. Still through others, He speaks as Sage.
The speaking may sound different, but it's the same Christ working through each one.
The Lord helps us to revise our ears so that we may learn to hear the voice of the Shepherd through each one of His sheep.
THE LORD TOLD ME
In a number of movements in the Christian faith, God's people are taught by both precept and example to preface many of their decisions with the words "God told me."
"God told me to start attending Pastor Fielding's church."
"God told me to marry Felicia Norris."
"God told me to buy a Mercedes."
"God told me that I'm a prophetess."
"God told me to break up with Rotunda."
"God spoke to me and told me to rebuke my aunt Nina."
God told me ... it's central to the vocabulary of a number of Christian traditions.
Several years ago, I made a disturbing observation about this type of language. That in well over half the cases when I've heard a person use the words "God told me," what they said later turned out to be what the person wanted, and God got the rap for it.
Before you read on, please keep in mind that I believe that God speaks to His people in a variety of different ways. So this chapter doesn't question whether or not God speaks to His children. He certainly does. What I'm addressing here is the tendency of many Christians to announce that God has told them something.
A Christian woman I had known for many years represents what I've observed innumerable times with innumerable people. We'll call her Sally. Sally would routinely preface her decisions this way. "God is telling me to homeschool my kids." "God is telling me to begin giving one hundred dollars each month to Apostle Chestwald's worldwide ministry." "God told me to purchase a used Toyota Camry."
In virtually every case, Sally would end up not following through on what God told her to do. Oftentimes, it would only be a few weeks later.
She stopped homeschooling her kids. When someone asked her about this, she said, "Well, it's really not for me. I think God wants me to send them to private school."
Hmmm ... did God change His mind that quickly?
When asked why she didn't buy the car that "God told" her to buy, she said, "It has some problems with it that I don't want to inherit. Plus, we can't afford it right now anyway. I'm feeling led to lease a car instead."
Hmmm ... God changed His mind again.
Not long ago I was talking to a friend who has a network of churches he's in relationship with. In conversing over some issues, I recommended to my friend that he invite one of my coworkers to spend a weekend with his network, as I believed it would be a great help to them. His first response was, "Yes, sure."
A few days later, I thanked him for being open to inviting my coworker. He then replied, "Actually, I sense that God is telling me to wait and to take it slow."
Those words short-circuited all conversation on the matter.
If God spoke, what else could be said? That's quite the trump card.
He hasn't invited my coworker to visit his network, and I doubt he ever will.
My friend's response is very common in these circumstances. And in most cases like this, what it really means is: "I don't feel comfortable doing this. I'm afraid to expose my people to someone other than me. So I've changed my mind."
Here's another one that's a close cousin to "God told me."
"I'm so sick. I can't endure this pain. Why is God doing this to me?"
Hmmm ... God is picking on you because you are sick? Is your pain really His fault?
Or how about this one:
"Pastor Melvin announced this past Sunday that as a result of our church's vow to tithe on our gross last year, God provided the money to build our new one-hundred-million-dollar church building. Isn't God good!?"
Ummm ... really? God is good because your church tithed to buy a very expensive building?
Point: I've routinely watched God get credit for things that He never authored and blamed for things He never imagined.
I wonder how the Lord feels when this happens.
What's Really Behind It?
All of this has led me to ask a simple question: "Why do so many people feel the need to broadcast to others what they think God told them?"
I'm loathe to judge the motives of others. In fact, motive-judging is one of the most destructive things that a Christian can engage in. It destroys relationships. For this reason, the Lord had some very strong thoughts about it (Matt. 7:1–5; 1 Cor. 4:3–5). (Continues...)
Excerpted from REVISE US AGAIN by Frank Viola. Copyright © 2010 FRANK VIOLA. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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