The Blackabys are not unfamiliar with criticism; of that you can be sure. We have had well meaning critics challenge everything from our choice of Bible translation to our use of sermon illustrations. But undoubtedly the subject for which we receive the most invective is our assertion that God speaks to people.
Invariably if we suggest in preaching or writing that God communicates with people directly, we are quickly reminded by self-appointed orthodoxy police, that we are sadly misguided. If we ask why they are so concerned about our teaching, our critics will hasten to inform us of someone they knew once, who claimed to have received a “word” from God that it was OK to commit adultery with their secretary and therefore it is far too dangerous to encourage people to assume they can receive a direct word from God themselves. . . One hates to think that because one misguided believer lied about hearing from God, now no one is allowed to receive a divine word.
If we suggest that the Bible is our instruction manual for the Christian life and that it provides numerous examples in both the Old and New Testaments of God speaking to people, our watchdogs will immediately assure us that God no longer needs to speak to people directly because we now have the Bible. Therefore, every word of instruction we require can be found in its written pages.
The problem with this approach is that there is no Bible verse that tells us we should take job “A” rather than job “B.” Or that we should go to Kenya on a mission trip rather than Cambodia. What our critics are doing is pushing people to trust in a Biblical principle rather than in the Author. Rather than asking God for specific guidance, this approach leaves the decision up to us, as we try to apply biblical principles to our unique situation. While the defenders of orthodoxy trumpet their above average fidelity to Scripture, they pull people away from an intimate, personal relationship with Christ.
If we suggest that from one end of the Bible to the other, God is speaking to people, our naysayers will loudly protest, “But THEY were different! They were in the Bible!” By this they typically mean that Moses, Jeremiah, and Paul needed God to speak directly to them, because God was using them to write the Bible, but such is not the case with us. We are just ordinary people for whom the Bible will suffice. It seems somewhat ironic that, for people who claim to be the chief guardians of Scripture, they discount so many examples taken from Scripture.
It doesn’t usually help to use Scripture when arguing with such people. If you point out a passage such as Isaiah 30:21, “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it”, they will point out that we have the Bible now, so we don’t need the Holy Spirit to guide us directly. If you point to John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me”, they will hurriedly inform you that Jesus did not mean that we would always hear His voice but rather, He was simply referring to our salvation. (One wishes we could all benefit from such definitive, inside sources of interpretation!). If you turn to John 14:16 where Jesus said He would provide another Helper (one who was exactly like Him), they will explain that the Holy Spirit will not guide believers in exactly the same way Jesus did, because Jesus did not have a New Testament available to Him, like the Holy Spirit does.
The truth is, the pattern Jesus used in guiding His twelve disciples was one in which He was actively involved. Jesus told them what to preach, where to go, and what to do. Jesus did not just hand His disciples a copy of Deuteronomy and tell them to make the best educated decisions possible based on the principles they discovered within it. Rather, Jesus took the scriptures and applied them very specifically to the disciple’s lives and ministry.
What I have often found is that people are concerned that if people can claim they received direct guidance from the Holy Spirit, then total mayhem may ensue in the church. But, if they would carefully read the book, Experiencing God (rather than simply criticizing it!), they would see that we, too, are concerned that people not abuse their ability to hear from God by claiming they heard something when they did not. That is why we encourage people to take everything they sense God is saying and confirm it with the Bible, prayer, other believers, and their circumstances. Only when all four of those line up and agree is it safe to advance.
Likewise, we wholeheartedly agree that the Bible ought to be carefully studied and diligently obeyed. But the Christian life is not merely a relationship with a book, it is a relationship with a Person. That is why Jesus rebuked the Pharisees of His day, charging, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39). For such people, they want the Holy Spirit to remain mute in believers’ lives. But the Holy Spirit is God. He will not remain silent while we destroy our marriages or health or Christian witness. He will speak. When we open our Bible, He will draw our attention to verses that speak directly to our situation. But if we will not read our Bibles, He will convict us every time we attempt to pray. If we refuse to pray, He will inspire other believer’s to share with us the truth of our situation. If we will not hear what they say, the Holy Spirit will orchestrate our circumstances to get our attention. The Holy Spirit has numerous means at His disposal to speak to us, and He will use them, as He sees fit.
I understand that many of these theological referees are motivated by a desire to protect the church. One would wish, however, that many of them were not so proud and self righteous in their work. The tragedy is that at the very time the Church needs to be sensitive to everything the Holy Spirit is leading it to do, there are those within it vehemently seeking to silence the Holy Spirit in many of the areas in which He has traditionally spoken.
Certainly the Bible is the preeminent guide to safeguard us from error. Nothing we do should ever contradict His written word. But allow the Holy Spirit the freedom to guide your life and family just as He has been leading people for thousands of years. Should you open your heart and mind to a fresh word from God, you might be amazed at what He says!