By John MacArthur
Question: "How would you reply to a believer in the Charismatic movement who agrees that revelation cannot be added to Scripture, but would still argue that God still gives words of knowledge in the church for direction, as long as it falls in line with Scripture?"
Answer: I think in answering a Charismatic there are a number of ways. My book on the Charismatics goes into that in some detail, but revelation is revelation. If a person says, "I am getting direct words of wisdom, knowledge, [or] revelation from God," then that equates with Scripture, in the sense that it is the pure, unadulterated true revelation of God. So it confuses the issue. We have, according to what Jude said, "A faith once for all delivered to the saints." We have according to what John writes in Revelation, a revelation which does not permit addition, "If anything is added, it shall be added to the person the plagues that are written in the book."
The idea that God is giving revelation and that it is somehow not equal to Scripture, or not on a par with Scripture poses some difficulties. If it absolutely true and divine and from God, then it is divine revelation. God reserved divine revelation for special times, which were encompassed in the written word, and since that time revelation has ceased. Let me give you an illustration of that.
At the end of the Old Testament era there was a 400 year period in which there was no revelation, and then God spoke again--in the New Testament. So having a time period in which there is no revelation is not new--when God completed the Old Testament He stopped speaking, and then He spoke again in His Son, Hebrews 1 says. I believe when He completed the New Testament, He ceased to give revelation, and we have the "Once for all delivered to the saints faith."
Furthermore, I would say to a Charismatic the same thing that they say to me all the time whenever I've talk to them, "How do you know it's from God?" Inevitably, they will say, "Well, we think it's from God," because they can't know. Why? Because it was very, very clear in the New Testament era who the prophets of God were; who the Apostles of Christ were, and the Word came through recognized authorities. Today, anybody and his brother might get a revelation from God, and on what basis are we to assume it's from God? Is it attendant with signs and wonders? Can they heal the sick? Can they raise the dead? Can they cast out demons at a word; authoritatively like Jesus and the Apostles did? Those were the signs of an Apostle.
See, anyone who had the ability to give revelation had to be accredited, and the accreditation was, according to 2 Corinthians 12, the signs of an Apostle. It was known to all who these people were or the fact that they were Apostles or they were those who were associated with the Apostles. So I think it is very, very important to understand that,
1. Revelation ceased.
2. Even when it was being given--not everybody got it. And it never was something that God just passed out indiscriminately to all kinds of people.
So I think that those would be the approaches that I would take.
I remember reading a book that was published by one of the Pentecostal presses in our country, in which it said this pastor was pleading for people to stop standing up in churches and saying "I have a Word from the Lord." And he said, "We know that it is from the Lord or it isn't, but we don't know how to know which!" It is very confusing. This pastor gave an illustration of a church that was in the process of calling someone to be their pastor, and some lady stood up and said, "I have a Word from the Lord, 'This is the man.'" Immediately it threw the church into chaos, because they didn't know whether it was from the Lord or not. That's very typical, very typical.
I know very well a man who took me into his office, a very well-known Charismatic pastor, and said, "God had given him a vision." And he showed me on a board the vision that God had given him for an area of the city, which the Lord had set aside for him. Within five years that vision was gone; that board had disappeared in the trash barrel somewhere and he had a new one. This would be a man that everyone would assume if any body was going to be able to know if he got a revelation--he might. But again, it is very whimsical.
It is very frightening also to say you, "Have a Word from the Lord." In the Old Testament if you said you, "Had a Word from the Lord," and it was tested and found to be not from the Lord you were killed. And that's how important the issue is. Because you can't have people running around loose saying, "God told them this, and God told them that." And so before anyone would ever say anything like that, they would want to take very careful stock of the issues at hand.
Furthermore, are we to assume that somehow the Spirit of God can't do His work, unless He gives revelation to some people; unless He give revelation indiscriminately to all kinds of people? I think not. Furthermore, it seems to me of grave concern that those people who are getting revelation, tend to be in a movement which is the most biblically illiterate to be real honest with you. They don't know theology; they don't know doctrine; they don't know how to interpret the Scripture very well. And because of that lack of content they fall into a mystical category, because they are not able to carefully exposit the Word of God. Without that content orientation they fall into the category of looking for an experience. I'll give you an illustration of it.
I was watching the television program "Today" from "Church on the Way." There was a guy singing a song, and the song went like this, "When there are no answers there is Jesus," and he went on to say, "When there are no answers there is Jesus." I thought to myself, "What in the world does that mean?" Does that mean that you can either go with a cognitive approach and find answers to questions, or you can junk just that and grab Jesus? You see that is a very mystical approach to truth. "Where there are no answers--there is Jesus?" Wait a minute, that's abandoning the search--for an experience. The song should say, "When you're looking for the answer--Jesus has it." The Bible has the answer, but it is a very experiential kind of milieu in which many of those dear people exist. I think they substitute those revelations very often for understanding. So I think there are a lot of ways to approach that, and I don't say that with unkindness. I say it because I believe that it is true and it is correct.