Thanksgiving for Deliverance

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary. (Ps 107:1-2)

Those who have been delivered from sin’s penalty, oh how many reasons we have to give thanks to the Lord! Hebrews 2:14-15 says that Jesus “likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” The redeemed have been saved from the ultimate adversary and from the fear of death, a tool God allows him to wield. For the redeemed, death does not lead to eternal torment but to eternal life. For the Lord is good and His kind and merciful love is everlasting. Thanks be to the Lord!

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God spoke, just less authoritatively.

I used to believe that I could sense God talking to me. I could hear privately from God in my heart. While I no longer subscribe to that belief, I can still enjoy fellowship with friends who do because we agree on the central tenets of Christianity, such as the identity of Christ and the Trinity, and the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Still, I have strong concerns about this whole idea of hearing from God extra-biblically. In today’s practice, many use the term “hearing” God in reference to inaudible impressions and thoughts. Taking a challenge and answer approach, this series (beginning here) has so far dealt with the sufficiency of Scripture. Now we’ll shift the view a bit. Hearing extra-biblically also bears on the issue of authority.

How is authority an aspect? What a person hears privately from God is inherently and necessarily authoritative to all people, not just that individual. How can that be? If what the person hears is divine in origin, then we are all obligated to it in at least one respect–belief.

A popular protest goes something like, “I believe God spoke to [insert name] but I don’t consider his/her message or words to be as authoritative as Scripture.” In other words, God’s words given privately to this person have some authority, but not as much as what God’s words given elsewhere. The difference is in degree of authority, not in source of authority.

That cake won’t bake. Isn’t the message from God Himself? Is God less of an authority than God?

Consider, is there any verse in the Bible that is less authoritative than any others? Divine words carry divine authority, period. In the Bible, God’s words spoken through human speech were just as authoritative as His words in written form. The red letters aren’t more authoritative than the black. So also, words from God given privately to individuals today, being from God, cannot be less authoritative than His words in written form given in the Bible. The source is the same, and that source is divine.

People inherently know this. That is one reason they make the claim, “God told me…” Who dare argue? It is why people do what others tell them when they say, “God told me that you should…”

Recall the freeze-frame I used in “But isn’t Scripture a filter?” Someone says to you, “The Lord told me I need to confess something to you.” Assuming that you agree that what she is about to say came from God, the speaker continues talking. But do you accept the claim? It affects how you receive the rest of what she says because, in essence, she has brought to bear on you authorization direct from God. Dare you challenge it? Are you not obligated to cooperate with “God’s” agenda for the conversation?

As R.C. Sproul says,

“One of the most powerful devices of manipulation we’ve ever designed is to claim that we have experienced the Spirit’s approval of our actions. How can anyone dare contradict us if we claim divine authority for what we want to do? The result is that we end up silencing any questions about our behavior.” (“The Role of Experience,” TableTalk, August 2017, p. 5)

Inherent awareness of the power of a claim to divine authority is at work in women who say things like these actual quotes: “God prompted me to…” “I was impressed [by God] to…” “God woke me last night to pray for my husband’s workmate.” “This morning after reading [this devotional] I was nudged to share it with you.” I think that many women who use these feeling-based catch phrases are unaware of how manipulative it is and are sincerely seeking to be sensitive to God, which is commendable. But, do you think it would sit well with any of them if someone answered, “How do you know that impression came from God rather than just something on your mind?” Or, “How do you know this isn’t just a feeling you had that prompted a thought”? Or, “I don’t believe that you can know it was God who woke you to pray.” No, those women expect their hearers to believe, to accept, and even to affirm their claims and accept that they, therefore, have God’s backing to whatever action was required.

And, if God really spoke, they are right. We must believe. Why? Because we must believe whatever God says no matter to whom He says it. If God told Samuel a message for Eli then we must believe Samuel’s message and that God gave it even if no action is required by us (1 Samuel 3). If your friend heard from God, you must believe her.

So, do you believe that your friend’s feelings are a reliable source of divine revelation?

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But the impression was to do something good.

This summer, raccoons were unusually destructive in our neighborhood, stripping several peach trees. Suddenly one morning, all we saw of our ripening peach crop was hundreds of pits lying on the ground under the tree. Raccoons also ate all of both crops of our sweet corn. We didn’t get a kernel! Usually, the corn and peaches we preserve last us all year until the next harvest so the ‘coons looted a lot of food from our table. In response, some of us started trapping them. Naturally, we didn’t bait with something unappealing, but with something tasty, something “good”–in this case, peanut butter (seeing as we had no peaches left).

The last post on subjective means of hearing from God (mysticism) countered the challenge, “But isn’t Scripture a filter?” In answer, metaphorically speaking, if the fruit didn’t come from a peach tree then I don’t need a test (or “filter”) to see if it’s a peach. Today’s post looks at a rationalization baited with something appealing. It answers the challenge, But the impression was to do something good, implying that if the idea is good then it must be from God.

Good? That almost goes without saying. Christians don’t say God prompted them to theft or lying. They ascribe to God only their “good” promptings. “God prompted me to phone her.” “I had a ‘God Nudge’ to buy a gift card for that homeless man.”

Good content doesn’t necessitate a divine source. Parents tell us to do good. Civil laws tell us to do good. Habit urges us to do good. Even the consciences of the unregenerate tell them to do good. It isn’t unusual that people do good because it makes us feel good about ourselves. Just because a proposed action is good doesn’t mean the idea came from God.

Good content can enhance deception. Peanut butter is a good, nutritious food, whether on a sandwich or in a trap. The person who believes the faulty reasoning that because an idea is good it must be from God is taking bait to ascribe such sensations to God. She labels feelings “God impressed me…” Notice the trap: her claim takes God’s name in vain by using His name to elevate the credibility of what she will say next.

Satan disguises himself with light (2 Cor. 11:14-15). Why? Light and goodness deceive. In the dark, can you see the person pointing a bright flashlight at you? Satan’s cloak of light and goodness blinds to the darkness or evil on the back side of that light.

The enticement of “good” is working. Just read the testimonials on blogs about “God Nudges.” Just look at the thousands who follow highly popular women’s speakers who promote “feeling led” and “God spoke to me,” never realizing the mysticism they are being taught.

I am concerned on two counts. One is the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture in sola scriptura. The moment we listen for God inside we are, by definition, not listening for Him in His Word. Then, no matter what we profess, we are not behaving by sola scriptura. Whoever it is we’re listening to, it isn’t God and, therefore, God isn’t being honored.

My other concern is for the women who are unwittingly led farther away from the Word than they realize. Over several decades I’ve observed a curious inconsistency. That is, many women in Bible studies, sincerely professing and practicing a love for the Word, also practice subjective listening for words from God apart from the Word. Everyone has blind spots and I believe that this inconsistency is a blindspot of epidemic proportions in the church in America. Compartmentalizing, in one context they attend a Bible study and consider themselves students of the Word. But when it comes to prayer time they listen to feelings as words from God. When it comes to decision-making, they go with their gut and felt peace instead of doing the hard work of studying the Word for God’s guidance. Dear Christian ladies, we must give God glory by listening to Him where He is speaking–His Word and only His Word–sola scriptura.

But the impression was to do something good. Like peanut butter in a trap, “there is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 16:25). There is a way of supposedly hearing from God which seems right to many women, but it leads away from the life-giving written Word.

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But isn’t Scripture a filter?

Unknown-1.jpegOn 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 But the impression was to do something good.

Resources:

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

The Cripplegate: Spurgeon, Impressions, and Prophecy (Reprise) | The Cripplegate   http://thecripplegate.com/spurgeon-impressions-and-prophecy-reprise/

What about Spurgeon? http://phillipjohnson.blogspot.com/2005/11/spurgeon-on-private-prophecies-and-new.html

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On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church


Of all the public places in the world, a child ought to be safe from harm in a church building. As news headlines have indicated, it isn’t always so. In fact, many sexual predators deliberately target churches. Christians who take God’s Word seriously want to protect the children in their midst, but they often don’t know the best ways to do so. Deepak Reju has written On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church to teach how.

Informing the reader of the nature of the problem, Reju describes the techniques of a sexual predator. How does he gain access to children? How does he groom them for his goals? What makes church people so vulnerable to accepting sexual predators in their midst?

He describes how churches tend to be vulnerable. Feeling the need for more children’s workers, churches sometimes fail to screen the volunteers and fail to practice policies that increase the safety of children. Smaller church assume they are immune because they know everyone in their congregation. Predators perceive Christians as naive and manipulable. The offender counts on impunity, that if caught he won’t be reported to the police but will be quickly forgiven if he just shows tears and contrition.

After alerting us to the problem, Reju outlines eight strategies for protecting children from abuse.  He explains the general idea of a Child Protection Policy, the need for a process of checking children in and out, processes of membership, screening, and training. Churches should remember two general principles for child safety: “the risk of abuse increases when a child is isolated with an adult” and “the risk of abuse increases as accountability decreases” (p. 51).

What about when abuse has already occurred? Reju provides guidance to church leaders and members on reporting the abuse and on how to respond to victims and to the molester. Do you know whether you are a mandated reporter? If you aren’t, what is your responsibility? Or, if you are suspicious that a child is being abused, to whom do you report it? If you tell your pastor and he doesn’t report it, could the law hold you accountable for not reporting? What should the church do if a convicted child molester attends its services?

The book is stuffed with good counsel. One point I appreciated is the recommendation to appoint an advocate for the victim/s. The advocate would stay in contact with the victim for at least a year to listen, help provide resources of the church, advocate for the victim and keep church leadership current.

The appendices cover these topics: How to write a child protection policy, child-on-child sexual abuse, how to talk to children about sexual abuse, a sample screening application for children’s ministry workers, and a training guide. The last appendix provides training scenarios–short-paragraph cases followed by questions to consider. There are eighteen for prevention and ten for responding to abuse situations.

Pastors, staff, leaders, volunteers, parents, members–this book is a must-read.

New Growth Press
Amazon

Other reviews:
Challies:  https://www.challies.com/book-reviews/on-guard/
9Marks:  https://www.9marks.org/review/book-review-on-guard-by-deepak-reju/

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So if my impression isn’t from God, then where is it from?

Back in the late 70’s, I joined the increasing waves of people who believed that Christians receive daily guidance from God through impressions, independent of Scripture. I was taught that this was essential to personal intimacy with God. Wanting to be spiritual like those around me seemed to be, I followed their example. As I practiced listening “in my heart,” I became more sensitized to feelings and intuition and believed that God was “talking” personally to me.

Later, someone challenged my practice. I didn’t like that. I knew could hear God in my mind! It felt warm, exciting, spiritual. I was one of those who have real intimacy with God. It felt so right that it must be biblical! I thought, “But I know it’s true because I experience it. I can’t deny my experience.” In essence, I was unwittingly basing my defense not on the Bible but on my own interpretation of my personal, subjective experiences. (The post “But I have impressions (nudges, dreams, and amazing coincidences)” makes the point that personal experience is unreliable as evidence for the claim. It is impossible to unerringly know that an impression of personal guidance is from God.)

What was my surprise when my friend reasoned against my practice from the Bible. Through continued study I saw that the Bible opposed my position. Written truth contradicted personal experience. Which would I believe? If I chose the Bible, then I would have to deny my experience, or at least my interpretation of my experience, and that probably without an alternate explanation.

One of my next questions was,

So if my impression isn’t from God, then where is it from?

Before we consider options it is important to emphasize that while understanding is desirable and of interest, in the end it is not necessary to make sense of an amazing experience in order to live a joyous life with Christ and have intimate fellowship with Him. What matters is that we believe and obey the Bible whether or not we have explanations. Believing the Bible, even if we can’t explain a particular experience, is what faith does. That said, here are some possibilities.

Sensations, impressions, and dreams can be influenced or generated by medications, foods, amount of sleep, what we have been listening to or watching, and what we have been mulling over either intensely or for a long period of time. A woman once insisted to me that she could hear God speak to her most clearly when under the influence of peyote.

Expectations play a role; we tend to find what we expect to find. Trends and fads affect cultural expectations, similar to the way group dynamics can influence mob behavior or individuals in group counseling. For example, the ancient Eastern practice of contemplative prayer has become a modern trend. So if a book tells you to practice contemplative prayer or sit pen in hand listening to God and you follow this advice, then in your anticipation of the predicted results you will likely feel impressions or have words come to mind that seem like “hearing” God.

Habit is a strong factor. Situations, locations, smells, sights–all can be habitually tied to certain feelings and thoughts. Feeling-oriented people who have practiced responding to impressions will probably notice more impressions and the “feel led” sensation than command-oriented people (those who practice ignoring senses in order to obey Bible verses regardless of what their feelings tell them).

The Word of God trumps experience.

It is true that experience can teach us. But, as R.C. Sproul writes, “Sound argument trumps experience. This is particularly true when the debate concerns personal experience versus a sound understanding of the Word of God” (“The Role of Experience,” TableTalk, August 2017, p. 5).

Our hearts are deceitful (Jer. 17:9). Therefore, our impressions are not trustworthy messages. The Word of God is absolutely trustworthy.

This discussion continues in Divine guidance by impressions is not Christian.

Resources:

Are Mental impressions Divine Revelation? (One of a series on hearing from God and discerning the will of God)
When Fancy Is Mistaken for Faith
Subjectivity and the Will of God
Regulating Special Revelation

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