In one branch of Quakerism, there is no sermon or Scripture. Instead, all sit quietly until the Spirit stirs someone to get up and speak. One of their guiding lights, Rufus Jones, had written that the Quaker:
- “Turns away from arid theological notions and insists instead upon a real and vital experience of God revealed to persons in their own souls.”
For some Quakers, doctrine and scriptural teachings are dry and lifeless. Although Jones insists on turning away from “arid theological notions,” his claim is highly theological and perhaps also “arid.” Nevertheless, he is right that God can speak to us in many ways, even directly into our heart and mind, as Scripture even asserts:
- For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Romans 1:21)
- "And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:8)
In fact, as Proverbs tells us, the wisdom of God is all around us, crying out to be taken by all:
- Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech: “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings. But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand… (Prov. 1:20-24)
Wisdom is available but rejected. Why? It is painful. It carries a “rebuke.” This is because wisdom first requires us to see the truth about ourselves and repent – the last thing in the world we want to do! It is only after we remove our own blindness through confession that we can see clearly enough to correct others (Mat. 7:1-5). However, according to Jesus, we prefer to hide away in the darkness of denial and rationalizations:
- “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)
Consequently, unless we are being drawn into the light of truth we grow to hate it. In order to cover up this hatred, we might even boast that we are seeking or even that the Spirit is talking through us. Consequently, it is just too easy for us to avoid the light by believing that our feelings and personal sentiments are those of the Spirit. If this is so, then the “Spirit” will never tell us anything that contradicts our agenda! How convenient!
Instead, Scripture warns us of our almost limitless ability to delude ourselves about the things of the Spirit:
- Thus says the Lord of hosts, "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:16)
- Then the Lord said to me, "The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds. (Jeremiah 14:14)
- Thus says the Lord God, "Woe to the foolish prophets who are following their own spirit and have seen nothing.” (Ezekiel 13:3)
- All a man's ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart. (Proverbs 21:2)
How is it that we can be so horribly self-deluded? There are two reasons for this – one voluntary and one involuntary. We voluntarily harden ourselves to God. As a result of this, we beckon in the darkness of self-delusion (Rom. 1:18-32):
- But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust: and they walked in their own counsels. (Psalm 81:11-12; 2 Peter 2:18-21)
We also contend with immaturity. Growth into the light is a slow process, as Jesus indicated:
- “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
It’s a process! Sound theology doesn’t just suddenly appear. The Spirit gives wisdom (James 1:5) through study of the Word (2 Cor. 3:1-3; among other things):
- Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. (Psalm 119:97-100)
Meditation on the Scriptures is a process. It requires time, but, in conjunction with the illumination of the Spirit, it produces wisdom:
- The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. (Psalm 19:7)
The Spirit can also use the wisdom that comes from Scripture to lead us to salvation:
- How from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:15)
Does the Spirit work apart from Scripture, as Jones claims? He certainly can, but He has ordained to work through Scripture, as Paul explained:
- How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"… Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14-17)
Jones’ faith is not based upon hearing the message of the Gospel. Should not Jones question it, as Isaiah counsels:
- When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. (Isaiah 8:19-20)
Paul counseled that when we go beyond Scripture, we go beyond the wisdom of God, and get into trouble:
- "Do not go beyond what is written." Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Corinthians 4:6-7)
Instead, if we want to be faithful to our Lord, we must be faithful to His Word:
- If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. (1 Peter 4:11)
Consequently, when Paul departed from the Ephesian elders for the last time, he pronounced this benediction upon them:
- "Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)
According to Peter, blessing would come through the Word, not the Spirit alone:
- His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
What then does it mean to be a follower of Christ? Jesus answers this in many ways. He had warned, “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned (John 15:6). Well, what does it means to remain in Him? He explains:
- If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you… If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love… You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15:7, 10,14)
There is no other way to be a friend of God without abiding faithfully in His Word, not in the Spirit alone.
Besides, the Spirit is the author of Scripture. He led its writers to write what they did (1 Peter 1:9-10; 2 Peter 1:19-21). It is therefore impossible to abide in the Spirit without also abiding in His Word. And without the Spirit, spiritual discernment is not possible:
- The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (1 Cor. 2:14)
Jesus also taught about the inseparable-ness of Word and Spirit:
- The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life. (John 6:63)
Because these two are inseparable, we cannot claim that we have the Spirit while we reject the Word. Consequently, if we are not born of the Spirit, we can have little assurance that we are being led by the Spirit.
His teachings weren’t “arid theological notions,” as Jones claims, but living and essential truths, as He always claimed:
- “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness... For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say." (John 12:46, 49-50)
Others claim scriptural support for the notion that, since they are being led by the Spirit, they do not need the Word of the Spirit:
- But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth… As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit--just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:20, 27)
This interpretation is clearly mistaken, as we have seen above. However, there are many more reasons for this. For one thing, if Scripture had been made unnecessary by the spirit, then teachers of the Scripture are also unnecessary. But this is clearly not true:
- It was he [God] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-15)
What happens when we don’t have the Word? We don’t have a proper foundation for our faith and are blown about by every wind of doctrine and belief.
For decades, I had struggled unsuccessfully against depression. Even after coming to the Lord, I was consumed by powerful feelings that God did not like me and might not have accepted me. It was so natural for me to assume that these powerful feelings were the leading of the Spirit. However, Scripture trumped these feelings and convinced me that they didn’t represent the Spirit’s revelation to me.
Besides, how can we have confidence about any decision without the light of Scripture? After all, many claim the guidance of the Spirit, and they contradict one another. One pastor claimed that the Spirit had led him to divorce his wife and to marry a younger woman. The congregation – and they thought that these personal leadings took precedence over Scripture – agreed. However, some years later, this same pastor received another “revelation” from the Spirit to divorce his second wife in favor of a far younger woman. It was only then that his congregation began to ask questions.
This same problem pertains to dealing with all unrepentance. Many of these unrepentants claim that they are led by the Spirit to commit sin. How are these problems to be addressed? There must be a source higher and more reliable than our personal feelings of how the Spirit is guiding us, and that reliable source is Scripture.
How then do we interpret 1 John 2:20 and 27? These verses never say that the Spirit teaches us apart from Scripture! Instead, His anointing teaches us through Scripture (and the teachings of the Apostles), as John writes elsewhere in this same letter:
- We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. (1 John 1:3-4)
In fact, had the Spirit’s anointing been enough, John would have had absolutely no reason to even write this letter! John concludes:
- We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding [through His teachings], so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true--even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)
According to John, Salvation came through the teachings of Jesus, not apart from the anointing, but in conjunction with it!