Friday, May 20, 2011

Being Satisfied With God's Ordinary Gifts - by Jason VanBemmel

This is a repost of a brand new blog started by our former Headmaster at our Classical Christian School.  Jason VanBemmel is now an ordained pastor of Faith PCA in Cheraw, SC.   You can follow his blog here at Ponderings of a Pilgrim Pastor.

"Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." - 1 Peter 1:8-9, ESV

"So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight." - 2 Corinthians 5:6-7, ESV

So much of our struggle as Christians lies in properly understanding the times in which we live. We live in the age between the comings of Jesus. We did not get to see Him when He was here and we do not now see Him. We live our lives "away from the Lord" and so ours must be a walk of faith, of believing in Him who is unseen and rejoicing in our salvation which remains incomplete.

Theologians have said that we live in the era of the "already but not yet" kingdom of God. So many of God's promises have been fulfilled in Christ. In fact, 2 Corinthians 1:20 tells us "all the promises of God find their Yes in him (ESV)." But the full reality of those promises has not yet been revealed. We are still waiting. Colossians 3:3-4 says, "you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (ESV)." So we live in a time of hidden life, of not-yet-revealed glory.

This walk of faith is hard and often involves suffering, persecution, rejection, hardship and longing. Many people throughout the history of the church have sought a short-cut to get around or somehow cut through the age of "already but not yet" in which we live. They want to experience the full presence of Jesus now. They want to see the revealed glory of God now.

Sadly, many teachers will appeal to this longing by promising believers a "deeper experience of Jesus" or a "closer intimacy with Christ." It sounds so good, doesn't it? Why wouldn't we want to experience more of Jesus' loving presence and glorious power in our lives? Who doesn't need a deeper awakening and a higher walk with Him?

The problem is that what is promised and what is delivered is unbiblical. God has appointed ways we can meet with Him and hear from Him and grow in Him- in the word of God, in prayer and in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Christ promises to speak to us through His Word, to hear us in prayer, to commune with us in the Lord's Supper and to pour out His grace in baptism. These are the "ordinary means of grace." The objection so many people make is that they are, indeed, so "ordinary."

In place of these ordinary means, false teachers promise richer experiences of the glory of Christ in a deeply moving "worship experience." This usually means an emotionally stirring rock concert. I've often been deeply stirred emotionally at rock concerts, but it has not actually been a richer experience of Christ, even when it has been a Christian concert. Others promise more revelation from Christ through prophecies and words of knowledge, but they never agree to submit to the Lord's test for a prophet in the Bible and so often their "word from the Lord" is either feel-good, esteem-building pablum or else mis-guided and ill-informed error. Still others claim to have found secret codes in the Bible that reveal hidden myseteries. (Remember the one that said the world would end in the year 2000?)

All of this stuff is nothing new. The church has been battling these kinds of temptations and distractions since the rise of Gnosticism, that old heresy that never seems to die.

Some of these false teaching seem innocuous, such as Sarah Young's book, Jesus Calling. Sarah is a PCA missionary with MTW and her New York Times bestselling book is aimed at helping people deepen their prayer lives. Unfortunately, it does so by encouraging people to speculate and to "listen" for the voice of Jesus calling them in words outside of the Bible. Thus, the book presents the imagination of Sarah Young as the words of Jesus. With good intentions, Jesus Calling blurs the lines on what is and is not revelation.

Falling into this seemingly innocuous category are contemplative prayer, centering prayer, the spiritual discipline of "silence" (being still so you can "hear" the "voice of God"). If we want to hear from God, we must either open our Bibles and start reading or else sit under the faithful expository preaching of God's Word. The Bible alone, read or preached, is the Word of God.

Of course, other examples of this kind of spirit are even worse: Harold Camping's bold prediction that the world will end the day after tomorrow. The "soaking prayer" movement speading in charistmatic churches. The "healing crusades" of men like Benny Hinn. These fall into a different category altogether. (Or do they?)

It may seem hard sometimes to be content with ordinary things, but we must treasure the gifts God has given us and not foresake them because we want something more. What we'll find is not more, but less. We will abandon the true Word of God for a false word that does not come from God. We'll abandon a real, meaningful prayer life for silent meditation on nothing and the empty voice of our own imagination (or possibly something worse).

Think about it: God has spoken to us in His Word. He hears us when we pray. He feeds us with Christ in the Lord's Supper. He meets us in gathered worship and builds us up in faith and holiness through the preaching of His Word. His Spirit convicts us, comforts us, teaches us His Word and strengthens us against temptation. These "ordinary" things are great and precious gifts! How dare we look down our noses at them and think we need something more!


Carrie Thompson said...

You do not think you can hear from GOD besides His actual WORD the BIBLE or a preacher? I am curious about this... I get the contemplative prayer thing that is in my opinion just bunk--- we dont need nor should we "center" ourself" but Benny Hinn doesnt talk about centering yourself-- He doesnt preach that? In the Bible God speaks in MANY ways. Quietly, through silence, in a loud voice, through a burning bush, a jackass, a prophet...why shouldnt we expect or desire to hear from GOD in those same ways now. He is the same yesterday, today and forever right?

I don't always appreciate or like the newest fad-- the one book everyone is reading, or the new version of Christianity but I dont think I would characterize Benny Hinn in that catagory--- he is flashy I will give you that but unbilical?

Just curious really....

Jason A. Van Bemmel said...


Thank you for commenting. In the Bible, God did speak to His people through prophets in various ways- dreams, visions, revelation, etc. Hebrews 1:1-2 says, "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe." Here, the Bible contrasts the way God used to speak "in the past" with the way He speaks today "in these last days."

When God used to speak to His people through prophets, these prophets were tested. If their prophecies did not come true, they were supposed to be stoned as false prophets. (see Deuteronomy 18:22) Now, with the fullness of God's redemptive plan having been revealed in Christ and explained by the Scriptures, the age of prophecy has been closed. The proof of this can be seen not only in the closing words of the Book of Revelation but also in the fact that no "prophet" in the world today can pass the Biblical test for a prophet.

For example, Benny Hinn "prophesied" in 1989 that Fidel Castro would die sometime in the 1990's and that God would destroy the homosexual community in America in the mid-1990's.

We have a reliable word from God, a word most sure and steadfast, without error, a word that never fails. If we want to hear from God, we need to open the pages of Scripture and read, praying for the Spirit to teach us and seeking further understanding from the pastors and teachers God has given His church.