Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Has the Holy Spirit Spoken to “Brother Bob?”

In recent years it has become increasingly common to hear speakers say that the Spirit has given them personal, specific instructions. The Spirit “told” them to contact a particular person they had forgotten or to apologize to someone they had offended. He reminded them of just the right hymn or Scripture they needed at exactly the perfect time. He prompted or nudged them to do a particular good deed. Under His control, they said or did the right thing to the right person at the right time. Because they were in tune with the Spirit, they could “hear” His “voice.” Could they really?
Some current songs are asking the same question. The lyrics to “There’s a Stirring” read in part, “There’s a stirring deep within me … Is that His voice I am hearing? ‘Come away my precious one.’ Is he calling me? Is he calling me?” What about that? Can so-called “promptings” or “nudges,” that people once thought came from the conscience, actually be individual messages from the Holy Spirit to one’s own spirit? 
When I took part in outreach campaigns in college, I met a man in Iowa who claimed that the Holy Spirit told him exactly which Scripture to read next. He would turn to a passage and then say aloud, “Thank you, Holy Spirit.” Apparently he believed that John 14:26 was addressed directly to him: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”
This troubled me because, for one thing, I believed that John 14:26 was a special promise Jesus made to His apostles, regarding the revelation and inspiration of Scripture. In addition, I did not know anyone – including this man – who had been taught “all” things and could remember “all” that Jesus had said. In fact, this man held beliefs that I considered contradictory to Scripture. I could not reconcile his unusual teachings with what the Spirit had clearly said in the Bible. Third, while I was thankful for the Spirit’s presence in my own life, I had to study and memorize Scriptures in order to recall them. And even then I sometimes forgot! I still today do not know anyone on earth who can honestly claim to have the “all” of John 14:26.
Meanwhile a friend of mine, who was preaching at that time, told me of something that happened to him shortly after his baptism into Christ. He had read Luke 12:11-12: “When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Believing that he could claim this promise for himself, he stood up – with no preparation – to preach a sermon. Receiving no message from the Spirit, my embarrassed friend sat down. He realized that he had misapplied the passage. From that point on he carefully prepared his lessons.
There have been for some time, of course, people in the broader religious world who sincerely declare that what they feel has come directly from the Holy Spirit. Their teaching may not square with biblical truth. They may not have even become Christians in the way the New Testament teaches. Yet they claim that their intuition, their sudden impulses, and their spiritual desires have been prompted and produced by the Spirit. One prominent female evangelical speaker claims to have had a verbal argument with God in an airport over whether or not she should brush the hair of an unkempt man in a wheelchair. Years ago many of us would have seen such a claim as misguided, though sincere.
In more recent years, however, the idea of the Holy Spirit “speaking” to people has become much more common among some speakers in the churches of Christ. Some persuasive preacher will touch people’s hearts with stories about the Holy Spirit “speaking” to him through these “promptings.” That raises another question. If the Holy Spirit is speaking, why does He not use words as He did in the Bible? Why does He only communicate through these non-verbal “urges” that people feel? Does that kind of "speaking" have biblical precedent? Where?
An example of these modern assertions is a man we will call “Brother Bob.” When he claims special insight directly from the Spirit, his opinions and interpretations appear to be more valid than those of others. His listeners, honestly knowing that they themselves lack this kind of “sixth sense,” stand in awe of “Brother Bob” when he says, “I felt the Spirit telling me ...” He is very convincing. Then his followers, when any question arises, respond, “Well, ‘Brother Bob’ says …” because they think that “Brother Bob’s” views are, well, somewhat or almost inspired. After all, the Spirit prompts him. Anyone who questions “Brother Bob” is questioning, not merely a man, but also the Holy Spirit whose mouthpiece he has become.
As the process continues, there is increasing emphasis on “Brother Bob’s” experiences, feelings, thoughts, and concerns. His personal testimony is more and more captivating, and it becomes his primary message. People may not even realize that in his presentations there is less and less Bible, and more and more “Bob.” He’s not even talking about Jesus very much, but about himself and his unique personal experiences.
People in his audience think that maybe one day they can have the same direct connection with the Spirit that he does, if they just spent enough time listening to him. Bible doctrines which are more emphasized or less emphasized by “Brother Bob” become more important or less important to his devoted audience, because the Spirit has allegedly informed him of the things that truly matter and the things that do not. What he says about worship, or Bible study, or evangelism, seems to carry extra weight. His words, his thoughts, and his presence surpass those of others who lack his special “gift.” Many may be misled, if his message lacks full, balanced, biblical content.
I do not question anyone’s sincerity, but I am very cautious regarding such claims. On the one hand I am thankful that the Spirit of God personally lives in every child of God. His presence within us sanctifies, encourages, and strengthens us. Each of us can be transformed by the renewing of our minds, as He works in our lives. Our minds, focused more and more on the things of God, will naturally prompt us and encourage us to do the works of God. I am excited to think that love, joy, peace, and the rest of His fruit can be produced in every Christian. I am thrilled that, as every disciple thinks on things above, that disciple is more intent on all the things that the Holy Spirit would have us do. Ultimately all such growth comes from above, not from self.
However, I dare not equate my fluctuating, fallible feelings with some direct push from the Holy Spirit. I dare not present my opinions as anything more than just that: my opinions. I dare not preach my own experiences as some sort of standard. I will not wait for a “call” to get up and do what the Lord has already called all of us in Scripture to do. I am to be compassionate, forgiving, and evangelistic whether I feel a special “urge” or not. And I will preach, “Thus says the Lord,” and not, “Thus I have been led to feel.” I know that the Word of God, inspired by the Spirit of God, is the sword He uses to transform the people of God.
Cory Collins

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