Church Life

Boxed God

I recently read an article by a distinguished evangelical Scottish Presbyterian professor in which he expressed eloquently his fear that his “cessationists” denomination may be become contaminated by those who believe that God has the ability to communicate today.

Put simply the dogma of his denomination regards any communication between God [other than the words written in the Bible] and his people as heretical. In other words the idea that God can speak, direct, motivate, reveal, warn or comfort any person by means of a personal revelation is considered impossible – or if any claim to such is made – possibly demonic.

The first absurdity of this doctrine is that it reduces God to a place below his arch enemy – Satan. By implication, in the eminent professors view [and the dogma of his denomination], Satan, who does not have his own book,  is allowed to speak to people – reveal the future to them – allow them to seek his direction and experience the supernatural – but the God of the Christian is not. This, in my opinion, is a doctrine that sails very close the cardinal sin against the Holy Spirit.

In an interesting comment on the article, a young minister of the professors denomination, wrote – “When I accepted a Call to a charge, I sought the guidance of the Spirit.” However such seeking, according the the professor, must be totally pointless if not verging on the heretical – for in his opinion [backed up be the dogma of his denomination] such a prayer is totally pointless and ill directed because God cannot answer it – only Satan is free to do that. Indeed prayer itself becomes pointless because it will, at best, be ever and only a one way conversation. No reply to any request can ever be expected.

The second absurdity of the doctrine is its rank presumption. Whether it is admitted or not what we have here is man making himself God – dictating to God what God is and is not allowed to do. How this fits in with another of the professors revered doctrines – the sovereignty of God – I have yet to work out.

The third problem is what we might call the limitational exclusiveness of the “cessationists”  position. Although the makeup of the Bible as we know it was recognised by 500 AD only a very select educated few had access to it. It was to be almost another 1000 years [14th century] before John Wycliffe translated the Bible in to English. Furthermore, even by year 1700 it is estimated that only 40% of men and 25% of women in England could read. And this was in the most advanced civilisation on the globe!  In Scotland of course the numbers were far lower – to say nothing of the illiterate masses throughout the world both then and now. So if, after the completion of the “canon” of scripture in 500 AD [when direct revelation was no longer necessary according to some “cessationists” teaching, the other being the end of the apostolic era], and God no longer revealed himself other than through the printed page mankind has a huge problem! How can a seeking man or woman ever know or learn of God if they cannot read? Furthermore how can the educationally or mentally challenged in our day know God? And some do – to a greater degree than the educated!

On a practical and experiential level a further problem with this dogma is that it runs contrary to Christian experience both within and outside the Presbyterian tradition which the learned professor represents. Of course he realises this and admits himself at odds with those within his denomination and tradition such as Dr. John Kennedy, Dingwall (1819–1884) who, in his book – “The Days of the Fathers in Ross Shire” , to use the professors words – “Extolled those who had ‘the secret of the Lord’: the ‘Men’ who got verses from Scripture which they took to be personal”.

Of course not only must Kennedy be condemned – but also a raft of men and women from the professors own tradition – such as the covenanters Donald Cargill and Alexander Peden and, closer to home, Rev. John Porteous, Ross-shire, (1704 – 1775), Lachlan MacKenzie of Lochcarron, Rev. John Morrison, Petty, Tormod Sona, Lewis and Rev. Murdoch Campbell, Ness to name but a few. In addition to these well known and renowned men of the Presbyterian church could be added a multitude of men, women and children who have lived far beyond the constraints placed on their God by the professor and their own denominations.

Another minister commenting on the professors article wrote – “I think *** is absolutely spot on here, both with regard to the confessional position on revelatory gifts – with which all *** Church ministers must agree, or perjure themselves.”  And in a separate article regarding another matter the learned professor reminds his readers of  – “The Confession to which all Presbyterian elders have sworn allegiance.” One would be forgiven for thinking this  document takes precedence over the Bible. And in practice it does.

So we have the bizarre situation where the ministers and elders of a supposed biblical church – “swear allegiance” to an extra biblical document and some, who disagree by default and in practice, commit “perjury” [the offence of wilfully telling an untruth or making a misrepresentation under oath] if they are to pray to their God expecting an answer or believe in the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit.

And this act of perjury is against what? The Bible? No! It is against a document ordered to be drawn up on the instructions of the English parliament in  1643 – and later to become known as the “Westminster Confession”. The document was written collaboratively by members of the English Parliament along with a council of theologians appointed to restructure the Church of England. The “Confession” was subsequently adopted by the Presbyterian Church in Scotland.

Imagine the howls of consternation if Theresa May appointed a cross party group of parliamentarians from the House of Commons and invited a select group of theologians from the Church of England, charging them to come up with a document to which every church in the UK should subscribe – and then have every minister, elder, priest and bishop up and down the land swear allegiance to it! Yes exactly. But in the 1600’s that’s more or less what happened – and now, almost 400 years later the resultant document  is still being used by supposed “evangelical” churches to keep God in a box and hold their “ministers” and “elders” in check.

And we wonder why people seeking truth and a vibrant spirituality are not coming to church anymore! Perhaps the time has come to officially release God from the chains man has placed him in! Or will we have another 400 years where, in some “evangelical”  circles,  God is held captive to the whims of men?

But the last word should be left to Jesus. It is he who promised, and I am happy still to believe it, that –

When the truth-giving Spirit comes, he will unveil the reality of every truth within you. He won’t speak his own message, but only what he hears from the Father, and he will reveal prophetically to you what is to come.

John 16:13 [TPT]

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  • Reply
    Stevie Boyle
    August 17, 2018 at 8:36 pm

    This is very much a powerful and liberating response in which captives can be released if they hear the voice of the Holy Spirit through this.

    Or will we have another 400 years where, in some “evangelical” circles, God is held captive to the whims of men?

    O Lord visit us with power from Heaven by your holy and righteous presence in Your Holy Spirit’s voice may he continue to reveal Jesus in all truth.

  • Reply
    December 16, 2018 at 6:03 pm

    Brilliant article Steve.

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