Regulating Special Revelation

In the lead-up to the Truth Matters conference in October, we will be focusing our attention on the sufficiency, authority, and clarity of Scripture. One of our previous blog series, Looking for Truth in All the Wrong Placesstrongly emphasizes those doctrines. The following entry from that series originally appeared on June 21, 2017. -ed.

by John MacArthur / Friday, August 30, 2019

Regulating Special Revelation

If God is still speaking to His people today—particularly through mental impressions and premonitions—how can believers exercise discernment when it comes to interpreting and applying these divine messages? Put simply, how is following the private, subjective “leading” of the Lord any more reliable than gazing into a crystal ball?

As we saw last time, biblical discernment¹ runs contrary to the kind of subjective mysticism many promote in the church today. Without any objective criteria, there is no means for determining truth from error. Such blithe subjectivity leaves people at the mercy of whatever mystical “voice” they’re listening to.

Upper Abdominal Distress

It is therefore ironic that advocates of mysticism inevitably treat discernment itself as if it were some kind of subjective, mystical ability. One author speaks of discernment as “a spiritual function,” by which he evidently means that discernment does not involve the intellect. [1] In one of my earlier books I quoted Bill Hamon, one of the leading proponents of modern revelatory prophecy. Hamon’s recipe for discernment is a classic case of mystical anti-intellectualism. He believes prophecies can be properly evaluated only by people willing to set reason and logic aside:

I have sometimes heard people say, “I did not witness with that prophecy.” But after questioning them, I discovered that what they really meant was that the prophecy did not fit their theology, personal desires or goals, or their emotions reacted negatively to it. They failed to understand that we do not bear witness with the soul—the mind, emotions or will.

Our reasoning is in the mind, not the spirit. So our traditions, beliefs and strong opinions are not true witnesses to prophetic truth. The spirit reaction originates deep within our being. Many Christians describe the physical location of its corresponding sensation as the upper abdominal area.

A negative witness—with a message of “no,” “be careful” or “something’s not right”—usually manifests itself with a nervous, jumpy or uneasy feeling. There is a deep, almost unintelligible sensation that something is wrong. This sense can only be trusted when we are more in tune with our spirit than with our thoughts. If our thinking is causing these sensations, then it could be only a soulish reaction.

On the other hand, when God’s Spirit is bearing witness with our spirit that a prophetic word is right, is of God and is according to His will and purpose, then our spirit reacts with the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We have a deep, unexplainable peace and joy, a warm, loving feeling—or even a sense of our spirit jumping up and down with excitement. This sensation lets us know that the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with our spirit that everything is in order, even though we may not understand everything that is being said, or our soul may not be able to adjust immediately to all the thoughts being presented. [2]

Notice that Hamon’s emphasis is entirely on feeling, while he derides the intellect, theology, reason, understanding, and by implication, true biblical wisdom. A reaction in the upper abdominal region is supposed to be a more reliable gauge of truth than all those things.

But that is superstition, not discernment. How your upper abdomen feels about a thing is certainly no measure of truth or falsehood. Neither is “a nervous, jumpy, or uneasy feeling” apart from any rational cause. “A deep, unexplainable peace and joy, a warm, loving feeling—or even a sense of [your] spirit jumping up and down with excitement” is no proof that a supposed prophecy is reliable. Those who practice this sort of “discernment” epitomize reckless faith.

And those who seek truth by analyzing inner feelings are likely to wind up with nothing but confusion.

Dueling Prophets

My editor once attended a service at the Anaheim Vineyard where two “prophets” gave contradictory prophecies. It happened in a Sunday morning worship service. When the congregational singing was over, John Wimber stepped to the platform. Before he could say anything, a young man in the congregation stood and began loudly to prophesy judgment against the leaders of the church. “Jerusalem! Jerusalem!” he began, echoing Luke 13:34, “you persecute My prophets and stone My messengers. My displeasure burns hot toward the leadership of this church for the way you have scorned My prophets and ignored My prophecies. . . .” and so on. The man evidently was disgruntled at the treatment he had received at the hands of church leaders, and this “prophecy” seemed to be his way of striking back. He prophesied in that manner for five minutes or more, earnestly calling the elders of the church to repentance. His entire message was in first person as if from God.

Immediately when he finished, before John Wimber could respond, another “prophet” from the other side of the congregation popped up and began to prophesy exactly the opposite message. This prophet began with a loose paraphrase of Jeremiah 29:11: “Oh, pastors and leaders of this church, I know My thoughts toward you—thoughts of mercy, and not of judgment. I have loved you with an everlasting love and have laid up for you a crown in heaven, My beloved. You have done according to all My good pleasure, and henceforth all men will rise up and call you blessed. . . .” etcetera, etcetera.

When the second man finished, a woman stood and sang a song, another person spoke in tongues, and one or two others quoted Bible verses or shared something brief. Then the service continued with Wimber making announcements. No reference was made to the two contradictory prophecies. No attempt was made to explain the dilemma or interpret either prophecy. Members of the congregation were simply left to draw their own conclusions about which, if either, of the two prophecies was correct.

That illustrates the impossible situation that arises when people are encouraged to voice their own subjective impressions as if they were divine prophecy. And it also reveals the predicament we are placed in if we must allow a sensation in our upper abdominal area to determine the truth or falsehood of a prophetic message.

Notice that both prophets’ messages echoed biblical terminology. Both of them were delivered with great conviction. Both of them employed first-person pronouns, as if God Himself were doing the speaking. Yet they flatly contradicted each other. They might both be false prophecies, but there is no way they could both be true. How were the people in the congregation supposed to determine which, if either, was correct? If they followed the gut-feeling approach, all the disgruntled people in the church undoubtedly opted for the first prophecy, believing they now had a word from the Lord to confirm their displeasure with their leaders.

The obvious fact is that once we stray into the realm of subjectivity, we have no way to determine what is really true.

(Adapted from Reckless Faith.)

 A good explanation of biblical discernment¹ can be found here.

Another good read on this subject Does God Still Give Revelation?