T. A. McMahon
The Berean Call
Let’s say I were to voice the question, “Heard from God lately?” to a very large crowd that had a mix of Christians and non-Christians. Among the crowd would be professing Christians, biblical Christians, cessationist Christians, charismatic Christians, pentecostal Christians, contemplative Christians, progressive Christians, conservative Christians, as well as a few agnostics, skeptics, and atheists.
Their first thoughts related to a response to my question, no doubt, would be as diverse as their religious perspectives. For example, atheists and skeptics would think I was delusionary. Agnostics wouldn’t think much about it nor probably even care. Contemplative Christians would react to my question as supportive of their intuitive feelings-oriented approach to hearing from God. Some of the charismatic and pentecostal Christians might respond in the same way. Conservative Christians and those with a cessationist bent might worry that I had bailed on the written Word of God in favor of personal subjective communication with Jesus. All biblical Christians, I would hope, would restrain themselves from thinking ill of me doctrinally for at least a few minutes. They would give me the opportunity to explain what I meant by my question and then would search the Scriptures to see whether or not it was true.
Let me make a seemingly controversial statement before I start explaining myself. If someone who calls himself a Christian is not hearing from God, he’s in trouble—not potential trouble, but serious trouble—guaranteed. His situation is like that of a man in the middle of a minefield without a map or any device to guide him and keep him out of harm’s way. That said, what do I mean by “hearing from God?”
I need to begin with what I believe is the Lord’s responsibility: God has to communicate with those whom He created. Why? Because there are only a limited number of things we can know about Him without His communicating to us directly. Everyone who recognizes that the universe and everything in it must have had a Creator/Designer would also understand that the Creator must be infinitely intelligent and powerful. That awareness, however, doesn’t supply necessary details about the Creator that only He can provide. Furthermore, He is infinite, and we are finite; our own efforts to figure out an infinite God cannot go beyond mere guesswork. That same ignorance applies to knowledge about ourselves.
Let us reason for a moment. What are some of the things that only God can supply? Well, for one thing, knowledge of who He is! Then there are His characteristics and attributes, as well as His reasons for creating us. What about humanity’s condition right after its creation and its later rebellion and separation from Him? Then we learn of His plan for reconciliation between Himself and those very creatures!
Without God communicating such information to us, we’re left in a quagmire of speculations, conjectures, theories, and unsubstantiated opinions. Therefore, not only must God communicate with us, but He must do it in a way that we finite and fallen beings can understand. This He has already done through His direct communication to us, which is—His Word. His Scriptures. His Bible!
What then of the question: “Heard from God lately?” If what we’ve heard isn’t grounded in the written Word of God, we’re more than likely in that minefield mentioned earlier. Each step is precarious, even though the first one may not blow our feet off. But as National Park rangers instruct and warn hikers, it’s the first step off the marked trail that leads to their becoming lost.
The Bible is filled with instructions, exhortations, and warnings regarding the necessity of carefully adhering to what it says. Hebrews chapter 2 begins, “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” Is “slippage” something to be concerned about? Second Timothy 4:3-4 declares, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.” Jesus, in Matthew:24:4, warns, “Take heed that no man deceive you.” Not earnestly heeding the instructions of God’s written Word is the basis for one’s drifting away, or, as noted, stepping off the “marked trail” that God, in His mercy, has laid out before us.
What the Bible supplies is “sound doctrine,” meaning those teachings that were given to and faithfully recorded by God’s prophets through the Holy Spirit. They are objective teachings from God, bereft of the subjective input of men. They are God’s words, not man’s (Galatians:1:11-12). Yet we are told prophetically that a time will come among professing and true Christians that they will not endure (continue steadfastly) in God’s instructions. False teachers will seduce them through their doctrines. That fact is confirmed in the warning given by Jesus in answer to His disciples concerning the last days prior to His return, which He characterized as being a time of great deception (Matthew:24:4,24). Although that time is certainly upon us, the antidote for individual believers is found in the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to Timothy that he “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy:4:2). “Enduring” sound doctrine means reading it, believing it, and living it out.
Going back to the question, “Heard from God lately?”—how lately is “lately”? I’m hoping the response is overwhelmingly “daily!” There is no better habit for the believer in Jesus Christ than to read the Bible daily—at least none of which I am aware. Here are just some of the reasons. Those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ, believing that He paid the full penalty for their sins, have been born again. They have received the free gift of eternal life and have begun a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus their Savior. Of course, that includes loving Him.
For any relationship to develop, an increase in the knowledge that individuals have of one another is key. Everyone knows that’s the way it is when it comes to people with whom they physically interact, whether they be newlyweds, or in a relationship with new friends or new co-workers, etc. What about someone we want to personally befriend but whom we can’t physically be with? We might consider becoming pen pals or “email pals,” which may satisfy the desire to get to know them better.
Well, then what about developing a relationship with Jesus? That takes place through the reading of His Word. It’s through the Scriptures that we learn who He is, what He has done for us, what He wants for our lives, and how much He loves us. We’re told, “We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John:4:19). The more we learn of all He has done for us, the more our relationship with Him grows. That’s at the heart of my question, “Heard from God lately?” If we’re not hearing from Jesus daily through the reading of His Word (He is the Word! [Revelation:19:13]), our relationship with Him will suffer—at best. The circumstances that occurred with those in the Ephesian church, who, we are told, had “left their first love,” Jesus Himself (Revelation:2:4), happened because of their allowance for things—some of them even good—to hinder their love relationship with Him. So, too, will our love for Him be strangled by our own negligence to connect with Him through the Scriptures.
Why does this happen to many believers who are, or should be, aware of the horrendous price He paid in order to save them from their sins? The reasons, among many, include worldly distractions, backsliding, laziness, loving self more than Him, and, for increasing numbers of folks, being deceived regarding how we are to communicate with Him.
The first means of growing in our relationship with Jesus must be through the written words of Scripture, which is God’s objective communication to humanity. This is critical, because our interpretation of the Word can be tested on an objective basis, according to principles of hermeneutics. The major deception of our day, which began in the Garden of Eden with Satan’s ploy of subtly undermining God’s command to Adam and Eve, is to replace what God has indeed said with man’s false interpretations. Such interpretations are too often formulated through emotions, impressions, personal sensitivities, intuitions, and so forth. Those who take such an approach rely on their feelings for their understanding. This may also lead to the error of eisegesis, i.e., introducing one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto a biblical text. When the experiential dominates a person’s life, God’s truth is lost.
Next we are going to look at some of the meanings regarding the question “Heard from God lately?” that are understood in ways that are seriously at odds with what’s been presented above in this article. Of late, there has been a rush away from the objective interpretation of Scripture. Now, many insist that they are hearing from God personally with little or no regard to His Word at all! This is not new in church history. In the third century ad, the Catholic Desert Fathers were all about hearing from God mystically. That precedent continued into the Catholic monastic and cloistered period and through mystical nuns such as Teresa of Avila and Anne Catherine Emmerich, then into the 20th century via priests and monks such as Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen. The latter deceased priest has become a particular favorite of many influential evangelicals, including Rick and Kay Warren. Quaker Richard Foster and his Renovaré organization have been instrumental in influencing the Contemplative Movement, with its mystical methods (meditation techniques and spiritual rituals drawn from Eastern mysticism), to spread throughout evangelicalism today.
What has taken place in a greater way among Pentecostals and Charismatics is the very same spiritual subjectivism, albeit cloaked in biblical terminology. Some of their leaders give the impression (intentionally) that they are in a continual conversation with God. One of the false doctrines they conjure up to support their heresies is the teaching that God has two basic but different modes of communication: logos and rhema. Their belief is that logos is God’s communication through the written word, and rhema is His spoken word. No. In fact, the terms are used interchangeably throughout the New Testament. Moreover, according to this doctrine, God’s oral transmission has authority (they call it “new revelation”) over His logos, which means that the hearers are beyond being corrected by Scripture! Like Satan (Genesis:3:1-4), the leaders in this movement continually add to, undermine, and contradict God’s Word, while their followers willingly conform to whatever those over them may claim. All of those connected with the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) and ministries such as the International House of Prayer (IHOP), Bethel Church Redding, and the Elijah List are among those who promote this error.
Hearing from God experientially seems to be an accepted practice among some of the most influential women in ministry today. Even a cursory review of the teachings of Beth Moore, Joyce Meyer, Priscilla Shirer, Sarah Young, and Jennie Allen of the IF:Gathering (and her conference speakers) reveals a preponderance of “conversations with God” and little to no exegesis of the Scriptures. It can’t be overstated how dangerous this subjective teaching and pursuit is to millions of Christian women spiritually. Worse than just taking a step off the path of God’s Word, it’s a step off a cliff with nothing objective (e.g., sound doctrine) in sight to grab onto. Once a believer buys into the “God told me” stories of others, biblical doctrine quickly mixes with and is lost in a jumble of personal experiences. More often than not, the subjective experiences and teachings replace sound doctrine and are accepted as being true to and even supplanting the Scriptures. It then becomes a clear case of adding to God’s Word, a practice that the Bible condemns (Proverbs:30:5-6, Revelation:22:18-19).
Are all subjective personal experiences with Jesus likewise condemned? No. Everyone who has believed the gospel began a personal intimate relationship with Him. That can’t take place without the involvement, to some degree, of one’s emotions. It may also include some form of personal communication with Jesus—if He chooses, how He chooses, and when He chooses. The principle of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit personally interacting with believers is found throughout Scripture. Paul’s life in Christ reveals his often-subjective guidance and communication with the Holy Spirit. Subjective? Yes. For example, Paul is forbidden by the Spirit to preach in Bithynia and is redirected to Macedonia (Acts:16:7-10). That communication was subjective, meant only for Paul at that time. Was this an objective command of God, indicating that believers are never to go to Bithynia to preach? No! Peter writes to believers in Bithynia, so obviously the gospel was preached and believed there (1 Peter:1:1-2). Three things are demonstrated in those verses and many others: 1) The principle that God communicates to believers is established; 2) He communicates objectively through instructions and commands for all who read His Word, and 3) He communicates personally and subjectively with individual believers.
Should the Lord choose to communicate with a believer on a personal basis, that must neither be received as though it were equal to the Scriptures nor put forth in any way that supplements or supplants God’s Word. Furthermore, as with every spiritual experience, it must be tested: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God…” (1 John:4:1). The critical test is whether or not the content of the communication or the experience is a) true to the teachings of Scripture and b) true to the revealed character of the persons of the Godhead.
Books promoting conversations with God such as God Calling, A Course in Miracles, Conversations with God, and Jesus Calling, to name but a few, have become best sellers within Christendom, mostly because few Christians seem interested in applying biblical discernment, which is in direct disobedience to Paul’s exhortation to Timothy: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy:2:15). The two women who channeled “Jesus” in God Calling said they felt highly privileged for being “selected” to be personally taught by him, and indicated that they were more comfortable not having to rely on written words. Who wouldn’t want to be personally spoon fed by Jesus and be convinced that His teaching content was at a higher level than what has been written down in the Bible? That’s an incredibly powerful seduction and one that is deceiving millions in Christendom today.
Pray for those who have been drawn in by those who “speak not according to [God’s] word” (Isaiah:8:20); and pray for the shepherds who are not shielding their sheep by warning them in solemn words that “Every word of God is pure: He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him. Add thou not unto His words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar” (Proverbs:30:5-6).