I’m not interested in what the Spirit is saying to you!
That’s an incredibly rude thing for one Christian to say to another, isn’t it?
Still, this is precisely what Dr. John MacArthur is said to have communicated to an obviously naïve student who stepped up to a microphone to challenge Dr. MacArthur on his position that students of the Bible consult trusted biblical resources in the course of their studies.
“Why can’t I just crawl into my prayer closet with my Bible and let the Spirit guide my interpretation of the Scriptures---why can’t I just let the Spirit speak to me” was the essence of the man’s objection.
Dr. MacArthur is reported to have told the young man that he wasn’t interested in what the Spirit was “saying” to him---or to himself, for that matter. Instead, he was most concerned with what the Spirit had already communicated in the pages of Scripture.
On numerous occasions, I’ve found myself in that awkward position of listening to a brother or sister in the Lord tell me about how the Spirit had “placed” this or that thing on their heart---that the Spirit had “spoken” to them in a "powerful way."
The only trouble in these occasions was that what the Spirit had allegedly spoken to them was objectively contrary to what the Spirit had already spoken in the Bible.
To be sure, there is a place for private Bible reading and praying over Scripture. In fact, this must be part of our devotional life. But, it’s not the unique or preeminent way that the people of God, and in particular, preachers and teachers of His word, ought to read, study, interpret, and proclaim the Gospel.
In theology, no man is an island, and no man has the corner on biblical thought such that he has no need of the careful review of his peers.
Unfortunately, our modern, American culture has imported a sense of individualism to the faith that is foreign to the pages of Scripture. It has even infected the way many of us think we’re entitled to interpret the biblical message---on our own, sans any outside confirmation or correction.
We need to be clear in our generation about this: the Lone Ranger method of biblical interpretation has proven itself time and again to be a poor and shoddy approach that produces bad theology.
Muhammad produced the Koran in a cave all by himself, and Christians ought to avoid building doctrine in their own caves of isolation.
Throughout the ages, and in both OT and NT history, men of God submitted themselves to other men of God for instruction, accountability, and correction---all under the supreme authority of Scripture. Here is where sound doctrine was hewn and separated from heaps of doubt and heresy.
Those who would unwisely reject the input of men raised up by God for the instruction of the church should consider the admonition of Charles Spurgeon, for example, who wrote:
Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have labored before you in the field of exposition. If you are of that opinion, pray remain so, for you are not worth the trouble of conversion, and like a little coterie who think with you, would resent the attempt as an insult to your infallibility. It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what He has revealed to others. [emphasis mine]
We have the tremendous blessing of living in an era of unprecedented access to biblical scholarship. Today, believers all over the world, and especially in the west, have the opportunity of studying the Word of God with the help and input of not only each other, but great thinkers of the faith.
While I do care about what the Spirit is saying to you, I only care about the substance of what you’re hearing as it relates to the written, inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God (Heb. 4:12).
In a world that embraces compromised and relativistic truth, nothing else will do.
If you’re looking for a great resource to point you in the direction of trusted, biblical scholarship, something that will help you in your own spiritual and theological development, check out Dr. Danny Akins publication “Building a Theological Library.”
Questions for reflection:
1. When you consider the positions on biblical doctrine that you hold, have you ever thought about how you actually arrived at them?
2. How have you submitted your beliefs to others for loving correction or confirmation?