Grow Up

But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.
~ Isaiah 28:13

Winds can blow strong.

I recently read an article from a preacher about interpreting dreams. The article was peppered with some Bible verses, but, of course, there were no contextual explanations or expositional applications of those verses. The writer didn’t go to great lengths to prove from the Bible that God would speak to us in dreams today. He mostly referred to a few examples from Bible times, like Daniel and Joseph. The logic he apparently wants us to follow is that something happened in the past, so it will continue to happen.

Being quite light on scriptural support, the article couldn’t be thought to be making a biblical defense of its premise. I suppose we are supposed to accept the idea that God gave Joseph dreams, so he can give us dreams today too. We might even be tempted to treat the article as stream-of-consciousness opinion, but the fact the writer imposes on us readers an enumerated list of rules for judging dreams shows he’s perfectly serious. Add in the explicit affirmation of dreams as a means of God speaking to us today and I must do the only courteous and respectful thing a reader can do with such prosaic exhortations and believe that the writer wrote what he meant and meant what he wrote.

Early on the writer felt it necessary to urge caution upon us when considering our dreams. After all, he acknowledges that dreams can come to us from sources other than God. He refers us readers to 1 John 4:1 about testing the spirits. This means we cannot accept whatever dreams may come, but must test them to see if they’re from God. One means of testing such dreams is found in the writer’s foremost rule. He says that dreams must always be tested against the Bible. If a dream or the meaning thereof contradicts the Bible, then it cannot be from God.

Another rule the writer gives has positive and negative instructions to it. It seems we can’t be confident that we ourselves can always figure out the message of our own dreams. This puts us in a dilemma of where we should seek help. We have to be careful not to go to those outside the church in the world, because the dream is not for them. We must go to a trusted and spiritually minded counselor and guide to help us with our dreams. This lends us more confidence and adds another who can rejoice with us in the Divine communication.

The article goes on after this fashion, though it couldn’t be considered a long article by any measure. The underlying worldview and rationale of this article is typical Charismatic reasoning. We can’t put God in a box or limit God. We have record of God doing this in the past and he can still do this today. These are not Apostolic gifts, but rather lesser gifts. God speaking today is not equal to revelation, so it’s not authoritative or binding on others. This is just a sample of the standard arguments for such continuation, especially from the Reformed Charismatics whose open but cautious stance seems to be more open all the time.

Is there anything God can’t do?

Most of these arguments are deflections from the real issues. To say that God can do anything doesn’t mean that he does, or will do, anything. To say that God has done something in the past doesn’t mean he will do it again. This diverts the discussion as though it is about God’s ability, but the issue is not hypothetical theories about what God is capable of doing. The don’t-put-God-in-a-box argument completely ignores God’s self-revelation of what he will do and why. God doesn’t do just anything. He only and always does what he is pleased to do (Psalm 115:3), meaning that everything he does is according to his own unchanging will and purpose (Ephesians 1:11). So, God is not reacting to anything, but always acting according to his own purpose and in his own time (Acts 1:7).

God has spoken in the past through dreams and other means (Hebrews 1:1), but now in this age he has spoken finally through his Son (Hebrews 1:2). This finality means God is not speaking in those various ways in this age. The writer of Hebrews clearly indicates two different epochs of time and the coming of God’s Son to earth marked a change or turning point in history. When we read the biblical account of signs and wonders, we realize these were primarily concentrated at important points of unfolding redemptive history, like at the exodus from Egypt, and they were given to authenticate and confirm what God was doing in that crucial time.

The birth, life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ formed a major turning point in redemptive history where the Old Covenant was fulfilled and the New Covenant was inaugurated and the revelation of God was completed. We should expect exactly what we see in the first century with signs and wonders authenticating and confirming the work and word of God, particularly through the Apostles. Twenty-first century American Christians probably don’t appreciate how massive this shift was, and the letter to the Hebrews was written to Jews who had professed faith in Jesus Christ but were tempted to return to the Old Covenant law and temple worship. The keyword of Hebrews is better, and what believers have in Jesus Christ is better.

The New Testament not only gives us an account of the first century signs and wonders, but also explains why God gave them at that time in redemptive history. The writer of Hebrews referred to the prior revelation being attested by angels (Hebrews 2:1-2), and how the completion of that revelation was attested by signs and wonders (Hebrews 2:3-4). So this giving of the gospel was accompanied by signs and wonders. Paul also referred to these signs as being foretold in the Old Testament as prophetic judgment speech for Israel (1 Corinthians 14:21-22) during the time of witness to that generation of Israel to whom Christ came.

When I say that God is not speaking to us in dreams or visions today, I am not saying that God doesn’t have the ability to do so, nor that we are limiting God from doing so because we lack faith. I am saying God is not doing so because that is not according to his purpose revealed in his word. God is not speaking to us in dreams and visions and giving signs today because that generation of Israel is passed and their descendants remain in judgment until this age, or the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled (Romans 11:25). Furthermore, God is not giving us such signs today because he is not giving us another gospel (Galatians 1:6-9). There is not going to be some new move of God or new move of the Spirit in this age like the revivalists have lusted after since the nineteenth century. To expect such is to ignore God’s revealed purpose in his word.

Don’t be children

So if you think God is speaking to you, or will speak to you, in dreams and visions today, you are deceived. There is no purpose for such in this age. If you are reading and listening to this preacher or supporting this ministry, you need to stop because you are being led astray by false teaching. This preacher and others preaching this message are not faithful ministers of God’s word and not servants of the flock of God, who they would have remain as little children in understanding.

Seeking such signs is not a mark of strong faith, but rather of unbelief (Luke 11:29; John 6:30-31; 1 Corinthians 1:22). It is not a mark of mature Christianity but childishness. Paul said that such signs were childish, things passing away and to be put away (1 Corinthians 13:10-11). God’s purpose is not for us to be children but mature in his word (1 Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 4:13-16). At the very best, listening to such teaching is keeping you locked in childish foolishness, chasing after experiences when the written word of God is far better than any experiences we might seek (2 Peter 1:16-21).

If you want to read the article I am referring to, you can find it here.

A Unicorn in a Patio Chair

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
~ 2 Timothy 3:16

Why a book?

As of 2016, around one million books are published annually in the United States. Is this thing on? One million. Every year. I cannot make sense of that, but there it is. The term glut hardly covers it. The majority of ebooks I own were either free or less than $1.99. Many of the books I have in my humble home library were either given to me or purchased for less than $10. Rumors of the printed book’s death have grown and spread like kudzu for years, though Samuel Clemens might suggest they’re exaggerated.

People now perceive little value for a book. I’ve heard people question why anyone would read a book when you can always Google anything you need to know. Though the Bible is still the best selling book, it may also be the least read. Lifeway Research conducted a survey designed to be representative of the United States and found 10% of people had never read the Bible at all. Only 11% had actually read the entire Bible and only 9% had read it more than once. The largest group was 30% of those surveyed who answered they had read several passages or stories from the Bible. Despite not reading it, 87% percent of households own a Bible and more than half have a positive view of it and think it’s valuable.

You might think I’m going to bewail biblical illiteracy, and it is tempting. I have quite a different track in mind. With facts staring us in the face, I ask, is it reasonable that the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present Creator of everything would give us a book about himself? Books are about as abundant as dirt on the earth and probably only slightly more valuable to the average earthling. Many people will say the Bible is valuable, but it’s obviously not valuable enough to read. Why would God give us a book about himself that few would pay any attention to?

To Know or Not to Know?

We first must think, not about a book, but about knowledge. We bring nothing into this world with us. Though we are designed to breathe and transition naturally from fluid to breathing air, we don’t know what air is. We don’t know what breathing is, nor why it is so important? We are born knowing nothing. Everything we have come to know by the time we die, we have learned from somewhere. The knowledge we gain will have much to do with the nature and form of the information available to us.

Some things we find out through observation and exploration, but many things we have to be told. We can observe the creation around us and infer a powerful and wise Creator (Romans 1:19-20). Creation is a form of revelation, but it leaves much unknown. What sort of Creator has made everything? Is he holy, righteous, just? Does he have wrath and love? How can we creatures serve and please him? Does he even care or notice whether we do? What about heaven, hell, life after death? Why do we die at all? Having a conscience, we know guilt, but can guilt ever be removed? Is the Creator changing or unchanging? So revelation of some kind is necessary. We cannot find out such things by merely watching the sun rise or staring at stars in the night sky.

Says Who?

I hope we can agree that some form of revelation is necessary for us to know truth about our souls, life, death, and judgment to come. But, what form should necessary revelation take? God could give immediate revelation to each individual. The problem is obvious. The party of the first part has received revelation A, while the party of the second part has received revelation B. When A and B are not equal, and may even be in direct opposition, where does that leave us? How could we possibly know which is right when one says one thing and another something else?

Alternatively, God could give revelation to a few different ones and that revelation be handed down through oral tradition. This still ends up with the same problem. There is no fixed standard, so how could differences be resolved? When one claimed to speak revelation, how could it be verified? Another obvious problem would be how to deal with charlatans and deceivers. Without a fixed standard, we are ten-year-olds shoving each other on the playground.
“Oh, yeah?”
“Yeah!”
“Says who?”
“Says me!”
“Oh yeah?”
“Yeah!”

A fixed standard of revelation is then necessary. How are we to know and be assured of truth? God has given us a written word that is sufficient for everything we need (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3-4, 16-21). A fixed, written standard is not only necessary, but reasonable and indispensable.

Some would object: if there is an infallible, inerrant, fixed, written standard, then why are there so many different sects, denominations, and groups who all claim to be following the Bible? Why so many interpretations that vary widely and even contradict each other? Let’s consider a couple of things here.

First, finding fault with the Bible because different people think it says different things is kind of like finding fault with genuine currency because of the existence of counterfeit bills. Do we doubt the validity and worth of a real Ben Franklin because of a plethora of fake C-notes? Let’s look at it another way.

Say you have a sealed room with one way in and out. In the room you have placed a book and you have selected a dozen people at random. You send the people into the room one at a time to read the book. Afterward you quiz the participants about what the book said, and you get six or eight different interpretations of what was written in the book. Is it more reasonable to think the difference is in the book or in the people? That brings us to the next consideration of why so many different interpretations exist.

Second, the diversity of interpretations is due to the noetic effects of the fall and man’s imaginative capacity. The term noetic refers to the intellect and the fall refers to the fall into sin and the damage of depravity because of it. Man’s intellect is affected by the fall and one proof is that it is possible for a man to think of a lie and possible for a man to believe a lie. Why, it’s not only possible, but I’ve seen it done. So man has the capacity to conceive of lies and to believe lies.

Man also has an imaginative capacity that is capable of thinking of the impossible. He can imagine something in his mind that does not exist, and maybe could not exist for various reasons. Not only can he imagine unreality, but he can hold true, untrue, real, and unreal thoughts in his mind simultaneously. Let me illustrate.

Imagine a wrought-iron patio chair. It’s not hard. Maybe you have one, or your grandmother did. You can think of the white lacquer paint and the rust stains. You can envision the cracks in the paint and the places where the metal is exposed and smooth from wear. You can think of the heft of the chair and how solid it feels to sit in. Also imagine a purple unicorn. The beast can be solid, striped, spotted, piebald, or whatever you like. Think of the mane, tail, and the horn protruding between the ears atop its gallant head. Imagine the hoofbeats as it trots around the yard, or the crunch of the apples it eats off the tree. Now imagine the unicorn sitting in that wrought-iron patio chair. Silly image, isn’t it. A unicorn sitting in a chair is funny, but you did it. You saw it in your mind.

You just illustrated to yourself why there are so many different interpretations of the Bible. You just simultaneously imagined something real, the patio chair, and something not real, the purple unicorn, and brought them both together, the unicorn sitting in the chair. That scene does not exist, has never existed, and will not exist, but you saw it. The fact that you put a unicorn in a patio chair does not mean there is something wrong with the chair, or that patio chairs are not real.

Remember, Remember

I’ve gone long, so I hope the roast won’t be tough by the time you get home to it. I think I have demonstrated somewhat the reasonableness and necessity of a fixed, written standard. Our thinking doesn’t always go straight and we need something to inform and correct us. A written word is also necessary because we need something to go back to because we are so prone to forgetfulness. We need reminding and we need to remember. So, God has given us his word (1 Timothy 4:6; 2 Timothy 2:14; Hebrews 10:32; 2 Peter 1:12-13, 15; 3:1). God has given us a book, so read it and then read it again.