I[/dropcap] continue to receive lots of letters from readers. Here is a small collection of them which comment on my review of Francis Chan’s Letters to the Church as well as a recent article on prophecy.
Letters on Francis Chan’s Letters to the Church
You write that the pastors of the house churches are mostly bi-vocational and not seminary-educated. While I don’t think that a man would be immediately disqualified from the role of pastor because of either of these, I am curious to hear your thoughts on pastors who are not seminary-educated. I’ve seen some who are gifted and hold true to the Gospel without that education. I’ve also seen pastors who teach what they think more than what the scriptures say. This can happen with or without that education but it seems more likely to occur when pastors don’t have that education or training, especially at the speed you noted in your review.
—Doug M, Athens, GA
Tim: I mentioned that the pastors are mostly bi-vocational and not seminary-educated as a fact of the movement, not a critique. I agree entirely that neither of those disqualifies a man from ministry. That said, I do wonder if a movement can maintain its strength over the long-term when that is true of all or most of the pastors. That is where time will prove important.
I have personally been down this road. In the early 2000s I became disillusioned with the institutional church and was looking for something more authentic. I discovered the house church movement and began to seriously investigate its validity. What I found was a mixed bag. In the end I came to realize that there is no perfect way to “do church.” There were just as many issues with house churches (the biggest being no doctrinal accountability) as there were with traditional churches. Both have strengths and weaknesses. We as Christians are the Church, and it doesn’t matter where we meet. I think we all have to be careful to not allow form or function to become our idol.
— Chris R, Spokane, Washington
My first reaction to hearing about Francis Chan’s “Letters to the Church” was, ‘Oh no, not another book on the right way to do church’. I get that the early church saw tremendous growth, and somehow, it happened without the plethora of materials we have today. Like many, I long for revival in the Church. I long to see people coming to Christ in simple repentance. Like most in the church, I long to see the Body of Christ thrive. But our longing seems to catapult us into perpetual reception of the ‘holy grail’ of what to do next…to find the ‘secret’ lever to pull to make it all align and come together. Is Scripture so insufficient…so ambiguous that it requires we be on a perennial journey for the next revelation or newest thing?
—Scott M, Colorado
Tim: As I said in the review, I am not at all opposed to the house church model. Like you, my concern is when it is held up as “the next big thing” or “the real thing.” I am convinced God gives us tremendous freedom within the fairly basic stipulations he gives us within Scripture.
Tim, I greatly appreciate your measured approach to all kinds of biblical issues. The subject of Spiritual gifts for today is one I’ve been grappling with for some time now. Currently in a wonderful Acts 29/Southern Baptist church, I was deeply involved in charismatic churches for almost 40 years. I have prophesied and spoken in tongues but have stepped way back due to the many abuses and unbiblical excesses which predominate today. And yet, I want the Holy Spirit to fill and lead me as the scriptures enjoin. I want the balanced, full experience I see in the Bible, so I keep digging and reading good articles along with scripture. There were and will be errors and excesses, but I believe the keys to valuable prophecy are that we first seek the holiness of the Holy Spirit and that all prophecy be heard and judged by the elders in the church setting. In my early Christian years it was like this and was so sweet. My prophecies were mostly encouraging, never predictive, occasionally challenging and could have simply been from my own mind, but I was sincere in desiring God to speak through me for the edification of the church so have no regrets. Going forward I’m still seeking a true biblical path.
— Colleen A, Springfield Missouri
Have you ever been spiritually encouraged, revitalised, strengthened, uplifted by anything that was not directly from the Bible (soli scriptura)? If the answer is yes, then you’re probably a living human being touched by the same Holy Spirit that breathed the Word. A word of encouragement, the night sky, the peace of a beach, a kind action or unexpected gift received, a lyric or uplifting moment from worship music or any other creative expression, the love from another person… God gives us these ‘gifts’ through His Spirit as a way of blessing us and bringing glory to Himself. These are not directly scripture but draw us nearer to God and his peace. Same Spirit, same God. Prophecy is just another way that God speaks to us through one another. Prophecy is hearing from God, and prayer is a dialogue with God – speaking and listening, so prophecy is simply a part of prayer, part of that dialogue with the Living God, a gift (literally) given by God to us. Is prayer wrong because it is not the Bible? Of course not. Absolutely test prophesy with Scripture. We test and filter everything that comes into our lives and minds, consciously or unconsciously. But it doesn’t discredit the legitimacy of prophecy today and the beautiful role it can play in our lives, to spur us closer with Jesus and what He has us to do.
—Evan E, Melbourne, Australia
Tim: I appreciate the note, Evan. But what it’s lacking is scriptural support. It’s one thing to say “prophecy is just another way that God speaks to us through one another,” but I want to be persuaded from the Bible that this is the case.
You ask what prophecy offers that scripture doesn’t. How about this: prophecy could physically protect a believer in a way scripture could not. For instance, isn’t it at least logically possible for someone to say accurately, “Friend, God told me to tell you that you should not go to place X today, as calamity awaits”?
Consider the example of a fighter pilot whose wingman inexplicably shouts “dive!”, explaining later that the Lord had directed this. The pilot obeys, and his life is saved from the AAA now exploding where his plane would have been absent the sudden change of plans. Or a similar event on land: someone tells you the Lord says you should not enter a convenience store, which you later find out was robbed when you would have been in it.
Cessationists worry, correctly, about any new revelation that threatens the (crucial) doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture. Let it be said that if God never tells me anything but what he’s said in his word, I have everything. Moreover, the above examples are certainly susceptible to abuse. But your question implies there is no needful and true word that could come from the Lord–in any circumstance–beyond what is written in scripture. It seems a warning against impending earthly danger (similar to scriptural prophetic warnings about then-impending dangers) is at least a theoretical possibility for the subject of post-apostolic prophecy, which would in no way add to scripture or reduce its worth in any way.
—Bruce P, Beavercreek, OH
Tim: “prophecy could physically protect a believer in a way scripture could not.” That’s possible, but I don’t see it clearly defined that way in Scripture. Do you? You might think about Paul being warned not to proceed on his journey, but then he didn’t heed that warning…
Tim, thank you for your timely, most relevant and Biblically solid blogs and A La Carte menus which have been so helpful to me, my own ministry and blogging as a local church pastor.
Whereas I don’t believe that prophecy (forthtelling) has anything to offer that scripture does not, I would say I believe as many other preachers and disciples of Christ likely do, that this gift of prophecy may not only “personalize” the scriptures as Chandler argues, but elaborates upon and serves as an exhortative manifestation of the scriptures working through the Spirit, in much the same way as preaching does.
In other words, if the mere reading of the scriptures from the pages of the Bible and their rote memorization were sufficient enough to lead us into greater sanctification, why would preachers be commanded to “preach the word”, to craft and proclaim sermons which not only explain or exposit the scriptures, but also bring application, encouragement and exhortation from the preacher to his congregation, in much the same way that individual disciples are to gather and exhort and encourage one another to good works via the word of God (Heb. 10:24-25)?
Aren’t those similar examples in which this type of ‘prophecy’ and its gifting takes place? Perhaps this is why even John MacArthur, an ardent cessationist, believes and has taught that prophecy is synonymous with the gift and ministry of preaching in itself. That is how I take prophecy and the Bible together, working together in concert, not opposed to one another, but the word being giving voice- literally and figuratively from one disciple maker or preacher to another.
—Bernie D, Pembroke Pines, Florida
Very well said, Tim! As a pastor, I often get frustrated when church members seem to value “personalized” words and impressions from God over Scripture. I will use your careful, thoughtful, charitable analysis as a model to help them think through the related issues. Thanks for such a relevant, modern application of Sola Scriptura!
—David N, Newalla, Oklahoma