Communication, in this modern age of communication, can be frustrating on many levels. Consider the common cell phone. Many nimbly leap from phone call to text message to taking a picture of a friend, all with the efficiency of a technological Jedi. Others, mortally fearful of missing a call, trot around with a “Bluetooth” attached to their ear (my regular jest to such people, that “you have a little something in your ear,” has so far failed to elicit a chuckle). Such people have mastered the art of modern communication, at least of this variety.
Then there are the technologically-challenged. Our one-year-old grandson has a better chance of activating the television through use of the remote than many middle-aged adults have. When it comes to the cell phone it gets worse. Everyone seems to have a cell phone these days but legions are totally perplexed as to how to go about retrieving messages. How frustrated they are to see the little screen indicating they have a message but have no concept of how to retrieve that message.
Hearing from God
Perhaps this is how many of us feel about messages from God. It wasn’t so bad when we were using the old communication technique—you know, the Bible. Back when we were taught that prayer was us speaking to God and Scripture was God speaking to us. We understood at that time how such communication from the Lord worked. We read and studied the Word to understand God and His instructions for living. This was not always easy, but with careful effort and proper technique we had a handle on God’s instructions.
Then along came new and “improved” methods. We were told that God had a specific will for each of our lives and, more importantly, we had to find that will. We were now on a celestial treasure hunt to “discover the will of God.” Complicating matters further was that the Bible provided no instructions to aid in this search. Instead, we were told that the Lord was providing a sort of new and fresh revelation completely apart from biblical revelation. It was personalized revelation directed specifically at each individual.
It was the voice of God but not audibly heard. This voice was an inner voice most likely detected through hunches, feelings, promptings and circumstances. And adding to the gravity of the situation was the warning that to miss this voice, or even misinterpret it, would doom us to living outside the will of God—perhaps for life.
An array of books, seminars and sermons was developed to instruct and train concerned Christians on how to “retrieve” these messages from God. However, the instruction manuals, having not been written by God, tended toward conjecture and guesswork, were often contradictory and left the weary believer apprehensive at best. “How do I know,” they often asked, “if I am really hearing the voice of God? Could it be my own imagination or desires? Could it be the suggestions of others or even the devil at play? Could it be that pepperoni pizza I ate at midnight?”
Like many frantically searching through a series of instructions hoping to unlock the secret to the latest message from a friend, the child of God fished through the plethora of man-made instructions to discover God’s messages. But here the stakes are higher. My wife may have missed my message to bring home ice cream, but the believer fears that he may have missed God’s message concerning a spouse, a career change, what church to attend or automobile to purchase.
It is for such frustrated and perplexed people that I have written a number of papers on this subject. It is my hope that these thoughts will help unravel some of the confusion. In this article I would like to press home the great need of the hour: the need for confidence in the Word, the only authoritative voice of God for all ages.
What I believe is missing today is confidence in the sufficiency of the Word of God. The Scriptures are under attack. Of course, this is nothing new; we can trace such attacks to the Garden of Eden. What is new in evangelical circles is the package. Let’s back up for a look at recent church history.
Lessons from recent history
In the 1920s and 30s differences between conservative and liberal churches came to a head in America. Out of that controversy came new denominations, fellowships, schools, missions, etc., which separated from those who no longer believed in biblical Christianity. These organizations were founded by believers who desired to hold fast and “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3). One of the big problems at that time (as it is today) was developing a consensus concerning the essentials of the faith. That is, what doctrinal truths were absolutely necessary? What did all Christians who claimed to be orthodox believe and, conversely, what could be left to individual convictions? In other words, what was non-negotiable in the faith?
A series of volumes, published sequentially from 1910-15 entitled The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, were an attempt to answer those questions. Written by some of the finest conservative scholars and church leaders of the day, The Fundamentals addressed the doctrines of Christology and soteriology, but almost one third of the essays concerned the reliability of Scripture. What emerged from this was what has become known as the Fundamentalist movement. A Fundamentalist was simply one who adhered to the fundamentals of the faith, primarily as described in The Fundamentals. One of those fundamentals was the belief in an infallible and inerrant Bible.
As time moved on, those who would become known as Evangelicals split from Fundamentalism. Evangelicals still held to the fundamentals of the faith, but believed there was more room to compromise and work with those who denied some of the essentials. Of course, today there are many sub-groupings under these titles, but that is not our subject. Our point is that, by definition, all Fundamentalists and Evangelicals supposedly adhere to the belief that the Bible is the only authoritative revelation from
God to man, without error in the original, and is correct in all that it affirms.
While the Fundamentalist camp has continued to firmly hold this position, there has been considerable evidence of weakening on the Evangelical side. For example, in 1976 Harold Lindsell, former editor of Christianity Today and typical Evangelical, wrote a book called The Battle for the Bible. In this book, he documented the compromise taking place concerning biblical infallibility and inerrancy in such Evangelical organizations as Fuller Seminary, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod). The book was not well received. He followed it with The Bible in the Balance in an attempt to show the danger the Evangelical world was facing because of its eroding view of the Scriptures. He wrote, “Today an increasing number of Evangelicals do not wish to make inerrancy a test for fellowship” (Lindsell 303). His lament throughout the book was that Evangelicalism was slowly losing its conviction in an inerrant Bible. Conversely, he believed that Fundamentalists were standing firm on the Scriptures.
Few heeded Lindsell’s warning and, as a result, forty years later it has become increasingly difficult to define an evangelical. Recently, in a futile effort to define the term, one journal resigned that an Evangelical today is anyone who claims to be one. There are no longer any definitions. Lindsell suggested in 1979 that all Christians who wish to maintain an orthodox view of Scripture may want to return to the term “Fundamentalist” even with all of its negative connotations (Lindsell 320). With this we happily agree if, by the term, we mean one who stands for the essentials of the faith including an inerrant and infallible Bible.
However, many who accept the Fundamentalist label (defined by its original meaning) have their problems inregard to the Scriptures as well. While they firmly stand for infallibility and inerrancy, many have sadly compromised on sufficiency.
By the sufficiency of Scripture I mean that the Bible is adequate to guide us into all truth pertaining to life and godliness. Based upon such passages as 2 Peter 1:3; 2 Timothy 3:15-4:2 and Psalm 19, I believe the Scriptures alone (through the power of the Holy Spirit) are capable of teaching us how to live life, how to mature in godliness, how to handle problems and how to know truth. The Bible needs no help from the wisdom and experiences of men. Yet, the vast majority of both Evangelicals and Fundamentalists believe the Scriptures are either inadequate or incomplete in communicating what the Christian needs to know in order to deal with the issues of life. Thus they believe that something in addition to Scripture is necessary.
A biblical example
Again, there is nothing new about God’s people believing that the Bible is insufficient to meet their needs. Colossians 2 describes a church during the New Testament era that felt it necessary to add several things to Scripture in order to move on to maturity.
Lindsell, Harold. The Bible in the Balance. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979.