Sola Scriptura & the Gifts of the Spirit by Pastor John Samson
Question: Pastor John, How does the 'vocal' gifts of the Holy Spirit work with sola scriptura? Wouldn't the revelatory nature of those vocals gifts contradict this sola in any way? Or does it complement it?
As the lone fellow on the contributing team who can be described as being an essentially reformed, credo-baptist and charismatic, I guess I knew this question would be asked of me at some stage, especially when I write something on the subject of sola scriptura.
A whole book would need to be written to cover this question in a satisfactory way. One book that addresses this question from a similar perspective to my own would be Dr. Wayne Grudem's "The Gift of Prophecy." While pointing you to this resource, allow me to also give a very brief answer to your question by asking a further series of questions:
Question 1: Were the vocal gifts taking place in the early church a violation of sola scriptura?
I think we'd all agree that the answer would be a resounding "no." Paul would have put a stop to the use of the gifts had he viewed them as a violation of Scripture. Of course, the canon was not yet complete when Paul was writing 1 Corinthians 12-14, but certainly the functioning of the gifts did not violate Scripture - at least at that time - I am sure we'd all agree.
There were certainly abuses of the gifts going on - very much so in fact. What is interesting though is that Paul, when writing to the Corinthians, knowing of the abuse of the gifts, did not stop the use of the gifts, but instead directed their use. 1 Corinthians 14:39-40 says, "Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner."
Elsewhere he wrote: "Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil." - 1 Thess. 5:19-22
Paul allowed for the functioning of the gifts of the Spirit while still cautioning that everything should be extensively tested. What passed the test was to be accepted, but all things that did not were to be shunned.
Question 2: As quoted above, Paul wrote, "do not despise prophetic utterances." Why would there ever be a tendency to do this?
I believe the answer is because New Testament prophecy taking place in the assembly of believers was on a much lower level than Old Testament prophecy. There is a difference between the prophecy of Scripture (2 Peter 1:20) and the "normal" gift of prophecy taking place in the assembly.
One example of this concept is found in the instruction Paul gives in 1 Cor. 14:30, where he writes - "But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent."
Commenting on this verse, Dr. Grudem writes: "After giving instructions that two or three prophets could speak, Paul guarantees that an orderly pattern will be followed: "If a revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent." (RSV) This verse pictures a situation something like the following: While one prophet is speaking, another suddenly has something "revealed" (apokalypto) to him (or her). This second prophet signals in some way, perhaps by standing, that he has something to say. Then the first prophet does not finish his prophecy but immediately sits down and is silent, allowing the second one to speak."
Grudem continues: "The first thing we notice in this verse is that Paul seems to be totally unconcerned by the fact that the first prophecy might be lost forever and never heard by the church. This attitude on Paul's part seems to fit the picture of New Testament prophecy that we saw in 1 Corinthians 14:29. For if prophets had been thought to speak the very words of God, we would have expected Paul to show more concern for the preservation of these words and their proclamation. If God actually were speaking his words through a prophet to the church, it would be important for the church to hear those words!... If New Testament prophets had been thought to speak with absolute divine authority attaching to their words, this verse would be very hard to understand. How could Paul direct that God's words be lost? However, if the New Testament prophets were only thought to be speaking merely human words to report something that God had brought to mind, Paul's instructions would be quite reasonable..." Much more could be said, and is in fact said by Grudem on the matter.
Question 3: I've heard many testimonies from elders in the Body of Christ that say something like this - "As I was shaking hands with folk after a service, when one particular person shook my hand, I had a very disturbing impression that I as a shepherd of the flock was to watch this person closely. I felt it was a warning from the Lord." Would my cessationist friends allow for the fact that God can and does (at times) communicate in this way to His shepherds in our day?
I believe that there is a measure of discernment that God makes available today to His people, and in this case, His elders in our day. Of course, there is no verse in the Scripture that says, "Elder Tony, the 19th person you shake hands with in the second service on Sunday morning - you know, the guy wearing the brown suit and the yellow tie, with black pants... be on your guard, for he indeed is a wolf in sheep's clothing." Therefore, although this discernment is not drawn from a particular text of the Bible, it in no way violates what the Scripture teaches, in my opinion.
Question 4: Is this discernment as authoritative as Scripture?
In no way. This kind of discernment has to be tested, like anything else that is supposedly "revealed" to a person. In this case, the test would come probably by the passage of time, as this person is viewed by the elder/s - they will know through their observations of the person if the "warning" was of the Lord or not, by the fruit that they see in the person's life and doctrine.
Question 5: Is this "discernment" a violation of sola scriptura?
I don't believe so, no. It does not violate Scripture, nor does it add to Scripture in any way. In fact, all we "discern" needs to be safeguarded constantly by the test of conformity with the God breathed Scripture, which alone is the authoritative rule of faith.
This is getting lengthy, so let me conclude here by quoting from a helpful article produced by Sovereign Grace Ministries at this point:
"The insistence that gifts such as prophecy were limited to the apostolic age most commonly arises from entirely understandable concerns about the issue of revelation. Scripture is truly, and must remain, the only source of inspired, inerrant, authoritative revelation from God for the faith and life of the church. However, New Testament teaching regarding spiritual gifts in no way implies that the gifts necessarily endanger the role of Scripture in the church's life. Our experience with spiritual gifts confirms this. The best way to prevent the undermining of Scripture's authority is, quite simply, to maintain and teach a high view of Scripture. Scripture must be allowed to function in a way that demonstrates that it is indeed God's normative revelation for the faith and life of the church. This includes allowing Scripture to govern the use of spiritual gifts. We strongly believe that, when gifts such as prophecy and tongues are viewed in light of Scripture, and their use is tested and governed by Scripture, two things will happen: God's people will be edified by the proper functioning of the gifts in accord with God's purposes, and Scripture will be protected as the only "authoritative and normative rule and guide of all Christian life, practice, and doctrine."
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