This past week an interesting global controversy broke out involving Florida pastor Terry Jones and his decision to burn at least 200 Korans to mark the anniversary of 9/11. Recent reports indicate he has suspended the plans, for now, pending discussions on a separate controversial issue, the moving of the mosque in New York. I haven’t really followed the Koran burning issue too much, because quite frequently radical church pastors make some outlandish claims in the name of God. But this one got me thinking. I wasn’t able to find any quotes other than one from Politics Daily that stated Jones’ plan was following out what God had told him to do, but a lot of times in instances like these that’s typically the case. Here’s the quote, ““’If God told us to do it’ — burn the Korans – ‘then I guess he could tell us to do something different.’” If that’s accurate, then it seems an assertion could be made that he indeed was following what he felt he was told. Yesterday, the announcement to suspend the burnings was due to an alleged agreement to move the mosque in New York, which Jones took as a “sign from God.” The pastor’s entire logic and therefore his theology is wrong and dangerous. This is precisely what happens when you abandoned the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
During the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers established what was known as the “5 Pillars of the Reformation” that included Sola Scriptura (Only Scripture: Our Only Foundation), Solus Christus (Only Christ: Our Only Mediator), Sola Gratia (Only Grace: Our Only Method), Sola Fide (Only Faith: Our Only Means), Sola Dei Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory: Our Only Ambition). These 5 Latin phrases were central to the protestant debate, as the Roman Catholic Church had begun to exert their own “infallibility” and diverge away from each of these Biblical areas. Such is the case within mainstream evangelical churches today. Many have no idea what these phrases are, let alone what they mean in the Biblical sense. An excellent introduction to them is Dr. Michael Horton’s article found here: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/essentials.html
Sola Scriptura was so integral to the heart of the Reformation because on the one hand, the Roman Catholics believed their teachings were infallible and asserted that their traditions were likewise the form of an infallible revelation. They simply needed “one infallible Bible and one infallible interpreter” of it. Obviously no man can be infallible and only the Lord Jesus Christ ever has been perfect, but in Catholicism, even to this day, the pope is consider as such. On the other side of the Reformation debate were the Anabaptists who believed that their leaders were in direct communication with the Holy Spirit. Instead of one infallible messenger, like the Catholics, the Anabaptists had multiple flawless messengers who staked a claim to hear the voice of God. In the middle of these two sides stood the Reformers and their assertion that the Bible was the only infallible form of communication of God with man and was therefore the final authority in all matters, such as doctrine and life.
Which brings us back to Pastor Jones and likewise all preachers/teachers who make claims that “God told them” to do or say various things, that they’ve had a divine revelation, or that they’ve heard God speak to them. These claims are “extra-biblical”, meaning it is not something that God has spoken through His Holy Word. As Michael Horton states in the article referenced above, “There can be no communication with God apart from the written and living Word. Everything in the Christian faith depends on the spoken and written Word delivered by God to us through the prophets and apostles.” Jones isn’t alone in this regard, the recently deceased Oral Roberts made numerous claims that God had told him various things to do or “prophesy”. Likewise, Pat Robertson has made multiple claims over the last 30 years that were “revelations from God”. The list of these men goes on and on and when the general public hears of these “revelations” the usual response is to scoff and mock God. It might be easy for even us Christians to look at televangelists and mock them for their claims, but what about when this idea of hearing or listening for God outside of his Word invades the local church?
Pastor John MacArthur offers the following helpful commentary on a study that teaches that very thing:
“a book….It’s called Experiencing God. There’s much in it that’s good. There really is. There’s much in it that’s very good. It gives honor to Christ. It gives honor Scripture. It gives honor to the Holy Spirit, but there’s an insidious flaw in the middle of it. The material is designed to teach a person how to listen for the voice of God and to somehow be able to hear the voice of God.
Now, this is very dangerous. If you want to hear the voice of God, read the Bible. I’ll never forget reading some years ago a book written by somebody who was into hearing the voice of God and into prophecies and all of the manifestation of that in the Church. It was a pastor of a church in the Midwest, and he said, “When somebody stands up in our church service and says, ‘Thus sayeth the Lord,’ and then rattles off something from God, we know that it’s either from God or it’s not.” And frankly, that is not helpful. That is not helpful.
God doesn’t speak in such unclear fashion. If God wants to say something, there won’t be any question about whether He said it or didn’t say it. The problem with that is you’ve got people being engulfed in this mystical thing, listening for the voice of God, and then whatever pops into their head, becomes divine as to its source. “Well, the Lord told me to do this, and the Lord told me to do that.” I have to tell you honestly folks, the Lord has never said a word to me in my entire life that didn’t come out of the Bible. They say, “Well, don’t you think he impresses things on your heart?” Yeah, but I don’t know if it’s Him. I have a strong impression. I don’t have a red light on my head that turns on and goes around and around when it’s Him. I don’t know that. There’s no way I can know that.
Sure I feel things, and so forth. You say, “Well, don’t you believe God leads you?” Of course, I look back in retrospect, and I see it. But at the time, I don’t have any sense, feeling that is clearly defined as the voice of God. And so what you’re setting people up for is serious problems, because they’re gonna follow their impressions. They’re gonna follow, who know where those impressions may be coming from, as if that’s the voice of God. And with good intentions, it takes people off the word and onto their own intuition, which is pretty dangerous. And I have a problem with that entire movement because of that.
And again, I go back and say you can read some of those books, which I have read through the years and critiqued and all, and you’re gonna find many, many things in there that are very good. They honor the word. They honor God. They honor Christ. They honor the Holy Spirit, but having done all of that, then you tell people, “Learn to listen for the voice of God, and God will tell you what to do.” You set them up for disaster, because there’s no indication in Scripture that they can ever know the voice of God, especially if it’s not audible. If it’s some kind of impression, you don’t know where that impression came from.”
This is why the Reformers were so adamant for Sola Scriptura because when the Bible is not the final authority in matters it leads to confusion, false assertions, and most importantly false presumptions placed in the mouth of God. When a person follows this internal prompting, who’s to say it’s from God or the flesh? The Apostle Paul states in Romans 7:18, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” How then can we look inward and expect to hear God’s voice, let alone discern whether it is His or an outworking of our own sinful flesh?
The danger in listening and following these internal voices and promptings instead of the Word of God is that it can lead one down a maddening trail of twists and turns. It’s a trap that we can so easily fall into or a path that we can be so easily persuaded to follow, such as in the book Experiencing God, that MacArthur referenced above. Maybe some of these promptings we get right and things work out for good. But what about the ones we get wrong, like ordering the burning of the Koran? Are we so presumptuous as to place those words in the mouth of our Lord? The question becomes if we abandon Sola Scriptura in favor of “hearing from God” how do we know who is actually hearing God’s voice and who is like Terry Jones or other preachers?
2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
Proverbs 28:26 “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”