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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

The Voice of the Spirit In Ministry

Of the two camps cited by Wilson and Nathan, I certainly am more suspicious of “those who view a rich diet of subjective revelation as a must for the truly spiritual believer” [1]. Nor, however, do I fit comfortably in the camp that “views the Bible as the sole means of revelation” [2]. The Anglican tradition has emphasized, since Richard Hooker, a three-legged barstool approach to authority in which the three legs are made up of Scripture, tradition, and reason [3]. The tradition praised by Anglicans includes Medieval mystics such as St. Theresa of Avila, St. Julian of Norwich, and St. John of the Cross. This category has room for subjective revelation in the past which has been confirmed through reflection on Scripture and the consensus of the Church. While this approach has room for subjective revelation in the past, it does not have the same resources to make sense of subjective revelation in the present.

I was raised in a family that believed in the importance of both Scripture and special revelation. For several years while I was in elementary school, my family attended an Assembly of God church and afterward, we were part of a non-denominational church open to Charismaticism. My parents and sisters continue to attend an Assembly of God church. Yet I never had a personal experience with subjective revelation, at least one I currently recognize. I was suspicious of the elderly man I saw each week when I was a child who prayed for people in tongues, yet used the exact same syllables each week. During my teenage years, I thought I heard from God, but I have since learned that each of these times, I was attributing my own desires to God’s voice. For example, I spent several years in high school convinced God had told me I would marry a girl I was interested in at the time. She is currently married and I have moved on. I now know God did not speak to me like I thought He had. My experiences do not discount the possibility that God could speak; I just have not had an experience in which he actually did so.

I found the chapter from Wilson and Nathan helpful in thinking about the relationship between Scriptural and subjective revelation. Their emphasis on Scripture over subjective revelation [4] reduces the risk of misuse and misunderstanding by rooting it in the unchanging Word God has delivered to His Church. Yet, since Scripture is a revelation of Christ, they also subject our interpretations of subjective revelation to the character of Christ. If what we hear does not match His character, we recognize it is not His voice speaking [5]. They also, helpfully, place such revelations in the context of the Church community [6]. I would add that we do not merely interpret the subjective revelation in light of our brothers' and sisters’ discernment but in the whole communion of saints. How does it stand in the tradition of the Church as the Holy Spirit has been recognized as speaking to His people over the millennia? I think recognizing this would have helped me as a teenager. God does not just speak for our own sakes, but in the context of the Church community in order to build up His people, not to tell us exactly how our own lives will unwind [7].

The model outlined by Nathan and Wilson highlights the role the Holy Spirit plays in our ministry. He does not merely bless our plans or give us the strength to run programs. Instead, he draws us to those within our churches, binding us more closely together, and directing us to show the love of Christ to one another. Nathan and Wilson highlight two things we can do with what God reveals to us. First, we reach out to those who need to hear the Gospel of Christ. “The spirit of Jesus is seeking out and saving the lost, telling good news to the poor and the spiritually impoverished, releasing prisoners from captivity. So many of the promptings of the Spirit are simply the commander-in-chief directing the rescue operation” [8]. Second, the Spirit leads us to pray for others. He Himself prays, as St. Paul says in Romans 8:26-27, and He invites us to pray with Him for our brothers and sisters [9].

While I do not have personal experience with subjective revelation, I recognize the importance the Holy Spirit plays in guiding our ministry and in the life of the Church. It is important to learn to recognize His voice and follow where He leads for He goes where the world needs to be made new.

[1] Nathan, Rich, and Ken Wilson. Empowered Evangelicals: Bringing Together the Best of the Evangelical and Charismatic Worlds. Boise, ID: Amelon Pub., 2009. p. 176.

[2] Ibid.

[3] "Authority, Sources of (in Anglicanism)." Episcopal Church. March 07, 2013. Accessed February 18, 2019.

[4] Nathan and Wilson, pp. 190-191.

[5] Ibid, p. 195.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid. p. 198.

[8] Ibid. p. 197.

[9] Ibid. p. 198.

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