”, I’d be richer than my Pentecostal friends who collect a nickel each time one of their fellows says, “God is leading me to go to so and so … ”
Regardless of the substance of the such-and-such or the location of the soand- so, irrespective of the tradition wherein we learn the acceptable verbiage for expressing them, almost all of us possess a stunning incapacity to question such assertions. We may think the person is misguided, the declaration is self-serving or the group has erred. But she has declared that God has spoken.
God has told him what to do. God has guided them to go somewhere. Who are we to question them?
Now I don’t doubt their sincerity. They feel compelled to follow the Spirit’s lead. Yet, when they make such claims they not only assert a kind of certitude in understanding, they also shut down the opportunity for others to question them.
Yet, we not only can but most certainly should question the goings, the doings and the expressing of such claims.
Siblings in nuclear families usually find the nerve to challenge one another’s claims of divine revelation, if only by breaking into derisive laughter. Sisters and brothers in the church family are fully equipped to do so, but not wanting to be dismissive, they go mute. Who are we to question them? Who are we to even call into question their claim to have the ability to hear God with such clarity?
Now far be it from me to doubt both Christ’s desire and the Spirit’s ability to communicate with us today. The Psalmist’s declaration about heavens declaring the glory of God suggests it. The book of Revelation demonstrates it.
Jesus’ words about sheep knowing their shepherd’s voice declare it. BUT … and this is a big BUT, we are Calvinists. We proclaim with Calvin that “The human heart is a factory of idols … Everyone of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.” And Calvin got that idea from Scripture: “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse — who can understand
it?” (Jer. 17:9).
God is calling me to the ministry. God is calling us to build this building. God is calling us to break this particular chain of injustice. God is calling us to step out into this mission field. And, yes, the favorite these days: God is calling my church to leave the denomination. Says who? Says WHO?
Who are we to say with confidence that we have heard the Lord’s voice, we have interpreted the winds of the Spirit, we know God’s call upon us? And how are we to make such claims, especially when our claims are extrabiblical, that is, either contrary to explicit teachings of Scripture (like “Jesus is only one way among others”) or not addressed in Scripture at all (like whether this is the right person to marry)? Scripture is, after all, the only reliable, visible, tangible, analyzable, God-inspired communication available to us — the only standard by which all other truth claims can finally be measured.
Frankly, as much as I appreciated all the robust experiences of God I encountered in Charismadom three decades ago, this flaky part I was only too ready to leave behind when becoming a Presbyterian. Yet I find it here as much or more than in the Pentecostalism of my youth. Even in my Pentecostal Bible college, when I blurted testimonies of wild visions and awesome dreams, someone or other would grin and say, “You ate too much pepperoni pizza last night.” Even in my years in that movement, I learned to stop saying, “Thus says the Lord … ”, and instead to say, “I think God might be saying something for us to hear, like … ”. Truth claims that are preceded with caveats, faith-claims that are humble enough to volunteer, “I might be wrong about this … ”, and plans that add, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15) are more likely to get it right.