I’m noticing something about the followers of Jesus with whom I spend much of my time. Whether they are young or old, American or of international birth, male or female… they seem to be falling into one of two camps: those who spend their lives wishing to hear something of God and those who spend their lives wishing to see something of God. Interestingly, they seem to be suspicious of each other. The ones who wish to hear will tend to maximize bible doctrine, preaching, study and books on theology. For those desiring to see, there is the pattern of fasting, prayer, expressive worshiping, passionate desire for the miraculous and personal experience with God. I have noticed that the hearers often think the seers to be immature, ungrounded, theologically ignorant and susceptible to unbiblical extremes. The seers gravitate toward labeling the hearers as bookish, theoretical, incomplete in the Gospel, and lacking both power and faith. Over the years I have not said much about this debate publicly but, truth be known, for the last eighteen months I have sought to clarify for myself where I stand in this debate between knowing and experiencing, hearing and seeing. Here is my summarized conclusion about whether I am a hearer-type of Christian or a seer-type of Christian: I am neither because I am both.
“For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and with full conviction…” – 1 Thessalonians 1:5
Paul was the architect of most of our New Testament doctrine. Paul was, no doubt, a Word man, an objective Gospel-man. He had a doctorate in Old Testament study. He spent his life pouring revelatory truth into others and hazarded his well-being for decades in order to correct doctrinal error and establish sound theology into multitudes of people from various walks of life. He utilized his Hebrew bible as context and support for his New Testament message of grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. He was both a student and a professor. He loved the written word and God used Paul as the human instrument to give us the truth that frames up our faith unto this very day. Paul wanted Christians to hear something from God.
Yet Paul was also immersed in the sublime and supernatural. Visions, healings, resurrections, judicial curses of those who opposed the Gospel, words of knowledge, tongues and other miscellaneous (but mighty!) miracles were all taught and/or experienced by the Apostle. So it is clear that Paul also wanted people to see something from God. Regardless of where we personally stand concerning the degree to which the miraculous & supernatural works of the Holy Spirit are active today, we cannot deny that the greatest theologian who ever lived was an unashamed possessor and employer of the miraculous & supernatural.
Simply put, both of these groups should humbly learn from the other. For my Charismatic friends and readers (the seer group), be aware that all personal experience should be tested with God’s Word. Though there should be room in our beliefs for non-biblical experiences, there cannot be allowance for the un-biblical. Non-biblical would simply describe that which is not communicated in Scripture – these things would neither be endorsed nor prohibited by what is written in our bibles. Unbiblical would describe that which goes against Scripture – things that violate what is clearly taught in God’s Word. For example, my calling into the ministry was a supernatural, non-biblical experience. In other words, when God personally called me into ministry on December 14, 1994 He did so through an overwhelming, inward sense of His summons. There was a mental, emotional and physical sense within me of His strange work which crystalized that moment forever in my mind and heart. I cannot explain the dynamics of it but I knew that night what my life-calling would be and I have never doubted it since. It was a fully non-biblical experience in that there is no one bible verse that says, ‘Jeff Lyle, live out the rest of your days as a proclaimer of My Gospel.” Yet it was not un-biblical because there are scores of passages that validate this type of calling. Quite honestly, all my Cessationist friends who declare that the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit has ceased after the Apostolic age or the completion of Scripture are going to have a difficult time answering the question of how they knew God called them into the ministry. If we are called by God into ministry then that calling must have a supernatural, beyond-the-bible element to it. Do you see the strain we are forced to acknowledge? Some Charismatics want complete independence of the authority of God’s Word and some Cessationists want a free pass on having to remain consistent in their views that a supernatural God now only works through the objective written word and that the supernatural has passed off the scene. I find that neither group seems to be consistent. I am finally at rest living within the tension of these two schools of thought.
Some of you reading this will automatically become curious to know what goes on in my own personal walk with Jesus. Is Jeff primarily a hearer (the Word) or is Jeff a seer (supernatural experience)? I am neither because I am both. If I declare that there is nothing supernatural about my relationship with Jesus then what do I have left? Intellectual only? Natural? Theoretical? If, on the other hand I believe it is ALL supernatural then what guardrails exist to keep me from sailing off the edge into the murky waters of untested personal experience? If the Word is not essential then how do I validate my experiences? I testify that not every supernatural experience that people attribute to God actually comes from Him. I will write with equal conviction that some supernatural experience is directly from God for His glory. In the same moment I will declare that not every limitation placed upon the use of spiritual gifts can be backed with clear Scriptural evidence… but some of the limitations we hear are 100% biblical and must be honored and obeyed. In the end, what is important is that we humble ourselves and commit to unilaterally holding neither one of these two positions at the total expense of the other. Do we dare to sum up the Almighty without at least a thread of hesitation? Could it not be that you do not have the exhaustive grasp of Him and His ways? I’m posting this today in the spirit of mediation with sincere hope that we can become like Paul who gave great reverence to God’s Word and God’s Spirit. We do well to ask how we can love the Book but risk dismissing its supernatural Author (2 Timothy 3:16). Or how can we say that we are full of the Author while violating His objective book? Between these two views there has resulted too much hammer-on-nail posturing in the Kingdom. I’m confident that the King is displeased with some on both sides of the aisle, especially since both the Word and the Gifts are given to build up the Body of Christ and reveal our oneness to an unbelieving world.
Paul did not divorce the orthodox doctrine from the inexplicable work of the Holy Spirit. If you believe you can do so then I recommend something to you: tremble a little before you speak your mind on this issue. It took me eighteen months of sincere study, prayer and dialogue just to find the liberty to write these few paragraphs. It is not likely that you or I will bring an end to the debate but my hope is that I have written enough today to get all of us to slow down and think clearly on this. Eighteen months of personal, purposed thought on these things….I am glad I waited before I wrote.
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