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.

One Word

The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel.
~ Isaiah 9:8

Terrible advice preachers give

It’s a new year and a great time to commit to reading the Bible every day. With a plan, you could read the entire Bible this year. But the Bible is such a big book. You’re likely to get started and then get discouraged and quit. That won’t do. Everybody is pressed for time. In our parents’ day, the preachers would suggest you read one verse and meditate on that, but we don’t have time in our modern day for such old fashioned advice. We need something much more instant.

What you need is your one word for the year. Find a word and let that be your meditation starter. Some people’s word might be grace, faith, or prayer. Those words might be a little ambitious. My word for the year is “and.” That’s right, “and.” Think about it. The word and is spread throughout the entire Bible. Open to any page and you will find it quickly. It’s versatile but also meaningful. Think about it. The word and is used to join things together, so that means adding. Each day I can be moved thinking about all the things God has added to me and my life. What a powerful word and is!

That’s my word. You need to find your word for the year. It would be counterproductive to have to spend a lot of time on it, so find something short and easy. You don’t want to pick a word you’re not sure how to spell and have to look up in a dictionary to know what it means, like propitiation or something. Pick a good word and the whole Bible is open before you. For instance, this morning I opened randomly to Acts 8:8: “And there was great joy in that city.” There’s my word. I meditated for forty-five seconds on how God is going to add joy to my life. It was rich. You should’ve been there.

Just One Verse

Yes, I’ve been exaggerating, perhaps being facetious, to make a point. I only say this because some of my esteemed colleagues occasionally remind me that many people “don’t get it.” So, let’s seriously address the matter at hand and see if I may warm to my subject.

It is common this time of year for preachers to talk about daily Bible reading, daily devotions, daily quiet time, or some other terms for daily practices. I am glad to add my voice to those encouragements, but I also want to warn you against terrible advice. I regularly hear preachers recommending that you read just one verse every day and then meditate on that verse to see what the Holy Spirit may give you from it. They usually suggest reading just one verse is better than reading by some plan or schedule where you read a few chapters and tick a box. That is just plain bad advice.

First, let’s deal with the obvious. The Bible has no command about the daily reading of the Bible. We are not commanded to read the entire Bible in one year or two years. We are not commanded to read just one verse every day. We are not commanded to read the Bible according to any particular plan. We should be able to agree that any attempt to set some rule about Bible reading that Christians must keep is legalistic. If that’s the case then, why would reading one verse to get something out of it be bad advice?

Let us Reason Together

Now let’s get to reasons reading just one verse is such terrible advice.

1) It consoles and encourages laziness in the Christian life and pursuit of holiness in sanctification. Yeah, I said it. All of the Bible is God’s breathed out word of revelation to us (2 Timothy 3:16), and all of it is profitable for us to bring us to completion for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). We are born again through that word (1 Peter 1:23) and sanctified through that word (John 17:17). Every word is true and faithful (Proverbs 30:5) and every word converts and gives wisdom (Psalm 19:7-11).

The idea of reading just one verse minimalizes the Bible’s self-testimony. If all of it is good, then 0.003% of it is good. That is the percentage of one verse out of the total number of verses in the Bible. If you think you are going to read the entire Bible by reading just one verse a day, then know that it will take you over 85 years to read the whole Bible. I’ve heard every excuse there is. You have 15 minutes. Read your Bible.

2) This advice sets a bad example for the congregation. I fear that many preachers who recommend reading just one verse to get something out of it are actually recommending their own practice of sermon preparation. They read a verse or two and rattle them around in their head to see what comes out. It’s how they come up with sermons and then blame the Holy Spirit for it, as if that is ever conveyed in the Bible. Read the Pastoral Epistles. Nowhere does Paul suggest such a scheme. Every word he gives Timothy and Titus informs them and charges them about the hard work they have to do to preach and teach (1 Timothy 1:3-4, 18-19; 3:1; 4:6-16; 5:17-18; 6:11-16; 2 Timothy 1:6, 13-14; 2:1-7, 14-18, 23-26; 3:14-17; 4:1-5; Titus 1:9-14; 2:1, 7-8, 15; 3:8-11).

3) This advice teaches you to misread, misinterpret, and overall mishandle the word of God. The Bible was not written for you to read one verse to get something out of it. The Bible was written as one book that is made up of sixty-six books. The Bible was not written in chapters and verses. The Bible began to be written down over 1,400 years before Jesus was born and was completed around 70 years after he died. It was another twelve centuries before the Bible books were divided into chapters and another three centuries before those chapters were divided into verses. That means the verse divisions have only been around a little longer than the original King James translation, which is a little over 400 years old.

Chapters and verses do provide a good reference and convenience for study, but they have also done much harm. I have to agree with Charles Spurgeon about the trouble with such divisions:

I feel vexed with the fellow who chopped the Bible up into chapters; I forget his name just now, and I am sure it is not worth recollecting. I have heard that he did the most of his carving of the new Testament, between London and Paris, and rough work he made of it. Surely he was chaptering the Gospel of Matthew while he was crossing the Channel, for he has divided it in such queer places.

(From the sermon, “Harvest Men Wanted,” preached August 17, 1873, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.)

When Paul wrote the letter to the Church at Colosse, he never intended them to read one verse and see what they could come up with. He intended the entire letter to be read in that church and other churches as well (Colossians 4:16). The Bible was given in a progressive revelation over time (Hebrews 1:1). That progression means continuity and also movement toward completion, which has come with the first advent of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:2). God has given us a complete revelation and he means for us to read it all, but more than this, one cannot interpret the Bible correctly without reading all of it.

For example: how are we to understand Daniel 9:2? There Daniel is praying for understanding of the seventy years prophecy in Jeremiah. Daniel did not read one verse and then meditate on it. He read, considered, studied, and understood the scrolls, which were the extant Old Testament Scriptures. He particularly understood the duration of the promised desolations as seventy years from Jeremiah’s prophecy. Jeremiah specifically mentions the seventy years in Jeremiah 25:11-12 and Jeremiah 29:10, but these “verses” are not all that’s being considered. He referred to the “desolations” of Jerusalem, which Jeremiah also spoke of in Jeremiah 7:34; 22:5; 25:9, 11, 18; 44:2, 6, 22; et al.

But that’s not all. Jeremiah did not originate the prophecy of desolation. When Jeremiah wrote of desolations of Israel, he was tapping into a judgment motif that runs through the Scriptures. Over 100 years before, Isaiah wrote of these desolations (Isaiah 49:19; 51:3; 52:9; 58:12; 61:4; 64:11). This motif occurs in other Prophets’ writings and in the Psalms. It actually originates in the covenant curses at Sinai in Leviticus 26:31-33 and is repeated in the covenant rehearsal with the second generation of Israel in Deuteronomy 28:15-68.

You can’t just pick up and read Daniel 9:2 and get something out of it, at least not something accurate. Daniel is connected to the books before it and after it. Everyone of those “verses” have an original context that must be understood. It is simply not possible to correctly handle the word of God without handling all of it.

Another Word

Reading one verse to get something out of it is exactly the approach and practice of Bible reading that has us in the mess of biblical illiteracy we are in today. It ought to be obvious in books like Hebrews and Romans that they are filled with Old Testament references and you cannot read just one verse and properly understand the book’s message, but that’s true of the rest of the Bible as well.

It’s a new year and a great time to commit to reading the Bible daily. Don’t take bad advice. Read the whole Bible. You can do it. You won’t regret it.

Knocking on Your Door

If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:
~ 2 John 1:10

What are we opening the door to?

I‘ve had cultists at my door. I’ve had conversations with them on the front porch. I’ve had cultists come up to me in public places, like the gas pump. Doctrine and practice varies from group to group, but nearly all seem to have certain foundations in common.

If you have talked much with cultists, you know that talking with them can be frustrating for an evangelical Christian who holds to historic orthodox Christianity. They use the same or similar terms that you do, but you soon realize those terms differ in meaning coming from them. Some claim to be a part of Christianity and can certainly sound like it in some ways. Some even use the Bible to a certain extent.

The term cult can be offensive and some have sought out other designations, but there’s no need for such quibbling. Classically, a cult is a religious group or movement whose views on the nature and being of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and consequently their views on the gospel are inconsistent or contradictory to the sixty-six books of God-inspired, written revelation. Various groups may differ in how or where they contradict the Bible, but have in common that they contradict it. They may have any number of problems beyond this, but this is the foundational error they tend to have in common.

A Question of Authority

This brings us to the crucial foundational issue we Christians have with cultic groups. The issue is authority. By authority I mean, who or what is the ultimate determiner of what we should believe, teach, and practice. For historic orthodox Christianity, the Bible is the supreme and final authority of all faith and practice. The Bible is the revelation of God written down by men who were inspired by God and complete in sixty-six books.

What does it mean for the Bible to be the supreme and final authority for all faith and practice? The Bible is God’s self-revelation, which is necessary because he is the Creator and we are the created. The distinction between Creator and creature is such that we could never come to the knowledge of God without him revealing himself to us. This means the Bible is the sole authority for the knowledge of God and not our thoughts, feelings, or experiences. This also means that nothing outside the closed canon of written Scripture informs our understanding of God in his nature and being and what he requires from the people he created.

Orthodox Christians hold the Bible as such and clash with cultists at this foundational level because, no matter how much they may refer to the Bible, cults recognize authorities outside of the closed canon of written Scripture. Most cults trace back to a founder who was a charismatic leader and self-styled prophet who claimed to receive further revelation. Their revelations may have been oral or written, but those groups are following supposed revelations beyond the closed canon of written Scripture, which also tends to reinterpret that Scripture. Cults recognize an authority beyond the true prophets and apostles who God inspired to write what we have in the sixty-six books.

Closer Than You Think

In this context, it is easy to understand why those conversations can be frustrating. Orthodox Christians reject authorities and revelations outside of the closed canon of written Scripture, and that is why it is so concerning that those same Christians will allow it in other contexts. Let me explain.

Preachers who would oppose cultists for appealing to authorities outside the closed canon of written Scripture will in turn allow it in the pulpit. Even in small, conservative Baptist churches that have orthodox confessions of faith regarding Scripture, the gospel, sovereign grace, the local church, etc. will regularly have the preacher preach “what God laid on his heart.” Preachers get in pulpits and say God gave them the sermon they are about to preach, God told them to preach this or that, God spoke to them in a dream or vision to give them a sermon, or they have a direct or inspired message from God to preach.

If a preacher is preaching a message that was given to him in some of the above such ways from God, even if he uses the Bible to support what he is saying, he is informing the doctrine and practice of the congregation by something outside the closed canon of written Scripture. You will find eerily similar proclamations from the founders of cultic groups. That same preacher would oppose a cultist for believing and teaching something outside of the closed canon of written Scripture, as he should. However, he will get in his own pulpit or the conference pulpit and bring a message that he plainly says originated outside of the closed canon of written Scripture while he was meditating, sleeping, driving, working, or doing something else.

If the Bible and history have taught us anything, it is that going beyond the closed canon of written Scripture always leads to error. It may take a generation or two to become full blown heresy, but it will get there. I don’t understand why a preacher would reject such from a cultist but allow such in the pulpit. I don’t understand why church members are allowing such in the pulpit. I don’t understand why somebody isn’t asking where in the closed canon of written Scripture are messages outside of it promised, expected, or condoned. Why is the preacher’s dreams and visions allowed, but not those of the cult prophet? Why are we opening that door?

Stand on the Rock

Christians are concerned about cultists and how to reach them, as we should be. The goal should never be to win an argument, but a soul. The problem many Christians and churches have is that while attempting to evangelize the cultist, they stand on the same shifting sand of outside authorities with them. The real need of the hour is to stand on the rock of the closed canon of written Scripture. The Bible as the sole rule of faith and practice cannot simply be an article of faith. It must be the absolute commitment of our hearts before God and the only rock on which we will stand. Don’t be satisfied to be descending into the quicksand at a slower rate than the cultist you’re trying to save.

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