On the farm in my childhood, when Dad wanted especially clean soybeans for seed we scooped harvested beans into a fanning mill, which shook the beans along a couple of screens to filter out dirt and chaff. Then I would hold the gunny sack while Dad shoveled in the beans for storage until planting season. Now, had I dumped a scoop of oats on the machine and the oats had gone through like the beans Dad would not have been happy that it went through the filters. He would have wondered what was wrong with my understanding of the word “bean.” The oats might have been good grain, but since he wanted beans there was no need to screen oats. Nor would I have dared to claim the oats came from bean plants and would be fine as long as they were filtered.
This post on filtering is part of a series answering challenges to the proposition that Scripture alone is sufficient guidance from God, so God is not communicating to individuals through impressions. Sensations and experiences are not self-authenticating and are not to be trusted. Another common challenge to that proposition is:
But isn’t Scripture a filter?
This challenge appears to be an appeal to Scripture. What it means is that as long as the message claimed to be from God doesn’t violate Scripture it is acceptable to attribute it to God. According to some popular female teachers, this is a key test for discerning whether you are hearing God’s voice. The logic of this argument does not follow. The message “a rose is a rose is a rose” doesn’t violate Shakespeare, but that fact provides no rational basis for attributing it to Shakespeare, nor does it make it acceptable to do so. Just because oats come through the mill screens doesn’t make the oats beans. On anygiven day I have all kinds of feelings and impressions that don’t violate Scripture; that doesn’t justify attributing them to God.
The Bible is not merely a bare minimum. We certainly should use Scripture to filter out lies we think or hear. However, the question of listening for God’s voice in your head is not about false doctrines, though it certainly leads there. The issue is the assignment of a message to God in the first place, claiming a message from God Himself, which in the Bible happened to only prophets and certain people in special cases, not everyday Jane Doe Christian. Therefore, dare we stop with merely “If it doesn’t violate…”? That’s not a screen; it’s an open door.
Apply this logic to Eve at Genesis 2:16-17 and 3:1-3. God had commanded, “…from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” However, Eve told the serpent that God had commanded to not touch as well as not eat. Not touching didn’t violate God’s words. So was her claim legitimate?
In fact, not touching would have prevented the eating. That would be good, right? The problem is, she presumed to add to the words of the holy God! Her addition demonstrated that she did not view God’s command as sufficient. Anything in addition treats the Word as insufficient.
Say someone walks up to you, saying something like, “The Lord told me I need to confess something to you” and launches into her confession. Whoa! Freeze the scene and observe. A confession? That doesn’t violate Scripture. Confession is biblical, right? So using the “Scripture as a filter” test, we could accept her (presumably sincere) claim that God told her to make that confession. But did He? Without objective criteria, how can you know?
On his blog at Grace to You, John MacArthur says,
The quest for additional revelation from God actually denigrates the sufficiency of “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). It implies that God hasn’t said enough in the Scriptures. It assumes that we need more truth from God than what we find in His written Word. But as we have repeatedly seen, the Bible itself claims absolute sufficiency to equip us for every good work. If we really embrace that truth, how can we be seeking the voice of God in subjective experiences? (Blog Post – Looking For Truth in All the Wrong Places)
Scripture is supplanted when it is supplemented. Seeking the voice of God in subjective experiences draws us away from the Word of God. For example, women base decisions on impressions instead of Bible passages. They have to “feelled” rather than take responsibility for their decisions in obedience to the Bible. They think they’re missing some spirituality if they don’t have inner sensations of closeness to God. They learn to seek and obey these supposed communications, in which case they are at some level replacing Scripture.
The filter is replaced. Once revelation beyond the objective Word is accepted no one has grounds on principle to verify the authenticity of the claims. If an idea comes to mind, the person perceives it to be from God, especially if a certain feeling accompanies it. Practically speaking, what happens is that each man’s perception, not Scripture, is the actual functional filter. That is because personal interpretation becomes the filter. Then anything goes. If you can claim that God told you to be a missionary, then church ladies can claim that God woke them at night to pray for so-and-so, and a nationally known speaker can claim that God told her to comb a stranger’s hair in the airport (just a few of many such assertions I have heard). What’s the difference?
What if I think God caused the feeling that influenced me?
Reality and perception are often two different things. Biblical prophets and authors never doubted God’s voice when they heard it. It was real. They knew with certainty, spoke with divine authority, could even write it as Scripture. They also never told of inaudible inner voices and didn’t have to learn how to hear the voice of God.
That is so different from people today. Why? No one today is receiving direct messages from God unless they are reading the Bible. Still, we know from the Bible that God influences our desires through His Word changing our thoughts, through salvation giving us new hearts, and through sanctification and providence (2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Cor. 10:6; Heb. 10:16; Ps. 37:5). And we can honestly state perceptions: “I believe my desire to be a missionary is from God,” or “I think God wants me to…” These are tentative and don’t lay claim to a special communication from God. A tentative posture allows for the possibility that we could be wrong.
It would be even better to say, for example, “Since the Bible tells me to love my neighbor, I have decided to take a meal to my sick friend” (Matt. 22:39). Or, “I don’t know if God is the source of my desire for music, but I’m going to use my talent to serve the church and thank Him for my desire, ability, and opportunity.” Taking full responsibility for one’s own choices, we can still give God praise for changing our lives so that we obey Him.
Be content with what God has already given.
The Bible is book-ended with Eve’s addition to the words of God and the warning in Revelation 22:18 to not add to the words of God. Set in that last book in the canon, it implies don’t add to all that went before. Does God short-change us? Is the written Word of God not enough? It is not right that we seek more than the abounding treasure in the Word of God. Oh dear Christian, we should be content!
This discussion is continued in the post God spoke, just less authoritatively.
God’s Will and Christian Liberty: Explaining God’s Revealed Will and God’s Providential Will, http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue75.htm
God’s Revealed Will: Understanding God’s Boundaries, http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue97.htm