God Promises to Lead His Own
For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death. ~Psalm 48:14
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.~Romans 8:14
I receive a daily devotional from a well known ministry that I have greatly benefited from over the years. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I owe a debt of love and gratitude toward this Brother for the labor of love he has engaged in over the 40+ years to not only make the exposition of the Word of God more accessible to nobodies like me (he has authored over 400 books), but also because he has taken great pains to stay true to the Bible and to vigorously champion the primacy of the Bible in the lives of Christians.
His ministry is directly responsible for compelling me to read my Bible in a disciplined way and to seek the Lord to give me understanding. I consider this Brother a mentor and father in the faith- even though we have never met. Such is the great influence this man has had on my life and ministry.
However in this particular devotional series this Brother undertook to warn us against the fanaticism he feels is at the root of subjective experiences with the leadership of the Holy Ghost; namely, “special revelations from God,” whereby God “uses special promptings to guide believers into making decisions.”
In the interest of full-disclosure, this minister is from a segment of Christendom that is known as “cessasionitst.”
Cessasionists basically hold that the days in which God dealt in a sovereign, supernatural way ended in what they term was “the apostolic age.” Since we have the complete Bible, there is no longer need for the operation of the Holy Spirit, to include any “special revelation” imparted to the believer’s heart.
This minister painstakingly cited egregious example after egregious example of how this phenomenon is basically a fools errand (in his not so humble opinion,)sternly warning against asking for, and relying on any personal leading of the Holy Spirit for fear of being led into gross error.
I am not so naive as to turn a blind eye toward the legions of examples of this apostasy myself. I have witnessed my share of ecclesiastical tommyrot. over the years. However, I fear that in his well-meaning, but misguided way in which he uses fear (and not so little intimidation) to warn against error my Brother has “thrown the baby out with the bathwater.”
Frank J. Bartleman author of the book “Azusa Street,” made the wise observation that “Men are creatures of extremes on all subjects.” And this is very true with regard as to whether or not “the days of miracles have past.”
On the charismanic end, you have those who go to great lengths to prove that God is in their lives by shoe-horning any sensation into a plausible explanation that “the Spirit is moving.” Again, I have witnessed a sad amount of ludicrousness in this regard.
But on the extreme other end are those who so deride the aforementioned and are so fearful of winding up in the same gutter, they eschew any idea that God would lead His child in a specific way.
Which is the greater error?
19 Quench not the Spirit.
20 Despise not prophesyings.
21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.~I Thessalonians 5:19–21
I got into a rather heated discussion with an avowed cessasionist on this very subject. I shared a couple of experiences whereby I had asked for Holy Spirit leadership in my life and felt that I had received it.
I was promptly denounced as being a “heretic” and warned that “doctrine cannot be based upon personal experience.” Not at all desirous to strive with this person, nor to “throw (my) pearls before the swine,” I promptly exited that discussion.
To be sure, the Holy Spirit who inspired the Word, is never going to lead a person to do something contrary to the Word.
For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. ~2 Peter 1:21
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:~2 Timothy 3:16
After listing the following“5 objective realities” that are inevitably a part of the Christians life: (1) they are saved, (2) Spirit filled, (3) Sanctified, (4) Submissive, and (5) Suffering for His name sake, the cessastionist minister who sent me his devotional goes on to advise-
If all those objective aspects of God’s will are realities in your life, you needn’t fret over the other decisions you must make. As long as the options you face do not involve issues directly forbidden or commanded in Scripture, you are free to do whatever you choose.
Whatever you choose? Yes, within the limits expressly set forth in God’s Word. If those five objective principles are consistently true in your life — if you are saved, Spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive, and suffering for righteousness’ sake — you are completely free to choose whatever you desire.
At first blush, this all sounds reasonable. However, my theology is a lot less metaphysical and a little more practical than this.
I recently heard a confederate of this minister give marriage advice using this same line of thinking. He exclaimed that as long as the person you are marrying is saved, then you are in the will of God. Period.
Again, as a practical matter, this is not theologically feasible.
I cannot fathom that a God, of Whom it is said knows each sparrow that falls to the ground, has numbered the hairs on my head, knew me in my mother’s womb, foreknew me and chose me in Him before the foundation of the world and predestination me to be conformed into the Image of His Son- would be so haphazard about my well being that He would not have my perfect mate in mind.
Think about it: Although a man and woman may be saved- may be of like precious faith, this is no guarantee that they are suited for one another. You do not need an advanced degree in psychology to have observed that even within Christian community among born again Christians, there is a wide diversity of temperaments. Experience informs us that compatibility and our choice of a mate has to be part of the calculation.
While the New Birth has to be the first and foremost criteria, we can never lose sight of the fact that our flesh is not born again (see Romans 7). We are imperfect beings, and, as such, subject to the molding of both nature and nurture. The New Birth expresses itself imperfectly through our fallen humanness.
Jesus makes that grand statement on marriage “…what God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” This leads me to believe that He had my mate in His mind. As I explained to a friend of mine the other day, one of the main reasons why we see so much divorce in Christian community is that “God hath not joined together,” it was man who did so.
This same minister was equally as dismissive of God’s exact leading when confronted with the inquiry as to what to do about the choice of a career. He blithely informed the questioner that he was certain to be on the right track as long as he is saved, etc. and that he could not possibly not be in the will of God as a consequence.
I cannot accept that the God who so ordered the universe, who David praised because “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” of whom it was said “consider the birds of the air…;” knowing He crafted each animal and creeping thing to be able to care for itself, is wholly unconcerned about the exact career a person should go into even down to where they should work.
Even in the more mundane facets of life, why would not I seek guidance from God on how/where to buy a car? Is He not concerned that I use my money wisely? That I not buy a piece of junk?
If I didn’t know better, I would say that the two ministers I am referring to believe that God did little more than create the universe, and all that is contained therein, and has stepped back for a time to let things play out.
I know that these Brothers do not believe this. Yet, it is not difficult to conclude that God maintains an aloofness with regard to how we live our temporal lives.
Proverbs 3:5–6 instructs us:
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
Jeremiah writes on the plight of fallen man within this fallen world:
O Lord, I know that the path of [life of] a man is not in himself;
It is not within [the limited ability of] man [even one at his best] to choose and direct his steps [in life].~Jeremiah 10:23 (AMP).
There is a reason why the Bible likens us to sheep. Sheep have to be watched over very painstakingly and led for they are subject to get themselves into all kinds of trouble.
I, for one, greatly desire the leadership of the Holy Ghost in every area of my life. I have to believe that the One who said “the very hairs on your head are numbered,” and of Whom it is written “cast all of your anxieties on Him for He cares for you,” is keenly interested in even the most mundane aspects of my existence.
Why would He not be?
Think of multitudinous was in which you are mindful of every fact of your family’s well being; the specific ways in which you care for them, even down to such exacting detail as to go out in the middle of the night to get your pregnant wife a gallon of her favorite ice cream and the exact brand of pickles she likes.
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? ~Matthew 7:11
I have been blessed to have experienced a number of specific ways in which God has provided His leadership in my life. A couple of examples:
(1) I was sent to Ft. Devens, Mass. by the Army after basic training to attend a two month course to prepare me for my eventual assignment in military intelligence.
Since my time there was of short duration, my wife and I heartrendingly made the decision that she would not join me until after I was stationed in my permanent assignment. We had only been married for over a year when I joined the Army and we had already been apart for three months while I was at basic training in Ft. Dix, NJ.
I woke up one Saturday morning and I sensed a Voice speaking to my heart, essentially telling me to “get up, get dressed, and go look for an apartment.” Heretofore, I had not thought of doing this as my wife and I already decided that she would not join me.
Not giving a second thought to what had been witnessed to my heart, I got up, got dressed and started walking.
It was a 2 mile walk from the barracks to the front gate, into the town of Ayer, Mass. I went forth not giving any thought to what I was doing- how I would ever find an apartment. However, I cared not a wit about the “whys” and the “wherefores,” I just got out of bed, and started walking.
The first person I met that morning was the owner of a used car lot who was putting signs on his vehicles. He and I made eye contact; he greeted me first, after which I felt prompted to ask him the following question:
“Sir: you would not by any chance know where my wife and I, who have no children, no pets, and who do not listen to any loud music, can find an apartment to rent for 2 months while I’m stationed in Ft. Devens? “
The look of incredulity on his face was indescribable. He laughed and informed me that he had an apartment that he was finding it impossible to rent because all of the tenants were elderly and, hence, very persnickety about who resided in his building. Since they were loyal tenants, he felt an obligation to be mindful as to who he rented to. He joyfully informed me that he would be more than willing to show me the place- thankful to have even 2 months rent since the apartment had been idle for many months.
Needless to say, it was a gorgeous little one bedroom apartment, reasonably priced (Massachusetts is one of the most expensive places to live) and I promptly put a deposit down, flew one way to Chicago to pick up my wife and she and I did not have to be apart for yet another two months.
I cannot accept a cessationist argument that this experience was by happenstance. In fact, it saddens me that their theology is so narrow as to not allow for the specific way in which the Lord Jesus cared for my wife and I.
(2) I had arrived at work early one day when I sensed this same leadership witnessing to my heart to “go for a walk.” I promptly rose up from my desk and began to walk throughout the office complex I was working at.
No more than 5 minutes later I walked by the desk of a lady who was our neighbor two doors down. I stopped at her desk, and after a few minutes of small talk she began to unburden herself about a problem she was having with her teen daughter.
My neighbor explained that her daughter had stopped eating, was fretful and anxious, not sleeping and experiencing much gastro-intestinal distress.
At that moment, I seemed to have something helpful to share with this distressed mom. I told her first: if there is any way that you can get your daughter to talk- about anything, just talk. She may not tell you what exactly is bothering her, but if she can just express herself it will be very helpful in relieving a lot of emotional upset that she has bottled up.
Secondly, do whatever you can to ensure she does sleep. Sleep cleanses our minds and processes those experiences we have that we may be unable to of our own volition.
Thirdly, take her to her doctor to rule out any organic causes of her upset.
This may sound like painfully obvious “advice.” However, you need to keep in mind that (a) this mother had no idea on how to even approach dealing with her distraught daughter, (b) I had not set out to talk to this lady, let alone offer her advice. I had no idea she was having so much trouble with her child, and (c) I was a mere sapling in the faith who did not have wisdom to even know what to do in a situation like this.
Again, cessationist theology has no accommodation for an experience like this. Yet it is written “…casting all your care upon Him for He careth for you.” Who am I to say how God chooses to “care” for His children?” Why is it so outside of the realm of Divine possibility that He would not providentially place into the heart of one of His believing children the wisdom to help another of His believing children who were crying out to Him for help?
It saddens me that some peoples’ God is so very small.
(3) I had to have a serious talk with one of my children, however I knew that if I did not approach this talk in the right way, I could do more harm than good. Experience informs us that giving advise to our children is a delicate process, even though, as fathers, we are mandated by Scripture to do so if we see this is needful.
However, I was so fearful of doing something wrong and offending my child I avoided giving the necessary talk, and I scrupulously justified continued inaction.
I came across a quote from Charles Spurgeon that began to move me toward doing what I knew what was right. I do not recall the exact quote, but the Prince of Preachers in essence said that if cannot tell someone something that is going to hurt their feelings, because you know it is going to hurt their feelings, “then God can’t use you.”
I said to myself “Uh-ho. This is about the talk I need to have with…”
A few days later I was sitting on my couch, when I innocuously reached over and and grabbed my Bible off of the arm of the couch, and in one motion opened up to the Scripture:
Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying. ~Proverbs 19:18
I immediately went to prayer and asked the Lord for guidance on what exactly to say to my child. The time was “now” to speak to them, and I was going to do the right thing, no matter how distasteful the experience was going to be for both of us.
My walk with God and my reliance upon His leadership has not been without some very spectacular failures. In the interest of honesty and full-disclosure I must relate the following:
(1) I fortuitously came across the book The Gospel According to Jesus by Dr. John MacArthur at a crucial time that prevented me from straying off into gross error. The concept of “The Lordship of Christ” was one that was heretofore wholly unfamiliar to me; this is not a doctrine that is widely preached and taught even within so-called “evangelical” and “fundamental” circles.
My walk with the Lord was immediately brought to a deeper level and it would have gone deeper still, had I not been disobedient to His leadership.
There was an area of my life that the Lord was making clear in no uncertain terms He was NOT Lord over.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God [but seek to please Him], by whom you were sealed and marked [branded as God’s own] for the day of redemption [the final deliverance from the consequences of sin].~Ephesians 4:30 (AMP)
As if showing me in His Word wasn’t good enough for me, I was getting the same instruction in a number of ways- to include the guilt within my own conscience, but I still rejected His leadership.
This tug-of-war between me and the Most High went on for the better part of 10 years. I was very “Jacob-like” in the way I could connive my conscience into justifying my rank disobedience. But my foray into wanting my own way came to an end.
At a moment in time I would experience the forbearance of God coming to and end and His chastisement upon my life. I would no longer be allowed to think I was sinning with impunity.
To this day, I have a daily reminder that you do not trifle with the leadership of the Lord. If He says something to you, He means it. The price I would pay for my disregard for His guidance was very high and I will live with the physical consequences for the rest of my natural life. There is so much more I could write about the Providential chastening by God of His children, but this topic merits separate consideration. Suffice to say, not only are there scars I must bear from this rejection of His mercy, I am certain to lose rewards at the judgment seat of Christ, at which we all will appear.
It grieves me to think of 10 years of lost time I could have been much closer to the Lord, how much more glory He could have received from my life; and that I took His kindness and abiding presence so for granted. Why was I so rebellious as to trade on His grace?
(2) My wife and I had befriended a divorced, middle-aged mother and her 3 children.
Her oldest daughter was at a bad place in her life. The mother briefly shared some of the struggles she was having and they engendered a deep sense of empathy for the young lady.
I have no idea what gave me the impression that I had her “answer,” but I informed my wife thus and that we need to share this insight with the daughter so as to aide in her “deliverance.”
Right before I was to make a tragic mistake in venturing upon territory I had no authority whatsoever to go on, my wife had a dream.
In the dream, she and I were at our friend’s house. I was walking up the stairs to the daughter’s bedroom, only as I was walking up the stairs, the stairs were buckling beneath my weight as I was elephant-stomping my way up.
The interpretation of the dream was that I was presuming to go to a very private place, as illustrated by the “bedroom,” where I was not invited. And I was doing so in a very insensitive, ham-handed way.
Meekness and gentleness are the fruits of the Spirit that must be exercised when dealing with people and their sensitive problems. A former supervisor of mine had a saying on his bulletin board which read:
Be sensitive. The human spirit is tender.
I could have done great damage to a very impressionable young lady taking on dealing with her personal problems- and this, not having been invited by her to do so and not having been given the go-ahead by the Spirit that this was my case. I may have meant well, in a sense. But “meaning well” “doesn’t butter the biscuit” when it comes to the leadership of the Holy Spirit is concerned.
(3) I was not to be so fortunate with this next example.
A young lady with whom I was working with at a Christian school noticed I was reading a book entitled “Always Daddy’s Girl: Understanding Your Father’s Impact on Who You Are ” by H. Norman Wright.
She made mention of the fact that the title was meaningful to her and asked if I would be so kind as to explain its premise.
Ever eager to share my wisdom (I say this derisively), I gave her a synopsis of the book after which she replied “Whenever I come across your path, something seems to happen,” meaning that she felt the Lord was dealing with her.
I allowed this comment to go straight to my head and promptly presumed to have the leadership to counsel this lady and give her significant advice regarding her career and where to live. She would ultimately quit her job and move back to her small, hometown back west, much to the extreme consternation of her pastor- who knew her better, and who was more in line that I was to have the mind of the Lord in counseling her.
Needless to say, this pastor let me know in no uncertain terms that I DID NOT HAVE THE LEADERSHIP I presumed to have and that my “advice” did not have good consequences. The young lady had moved to our area to attend a larger church to have more opportunities to fellowship and not be so isolated as her church out west was small and had a much older membership.
I was absolutely humiliated and mortified; justifiably so. I did not have the leadership- presuming instead to “lean upon my own understanding.
I do not disclose these things to flap my angel wings and make myself seem like someone special and worthy of admiration because I can be so freely transparent. I do so because I hope that my mistakes can prevent someone else from doing themselves, and others, harm.
I do not take the aforementioned mistakes lightly. Like I mentioned earlier, they will cost me dearly at the judgment seat of Christ when rewards are handed out. But they have served to help me be much more prayerful and much more diligent to ensure that God is leading me.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:8
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
David prayed in Psalm 51:10
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
I have come to appreciate that praying for God to make my heart clean/pure is not reserved for those times when I sin, but that this is something that I need to keep asking for each day if I am to expect His leadership in my life.
I pray that my heart is cleansed from any selfish or impure motives and objectives. I pray that my heart is pure toward God in that I seek only to “do that which pleases the Father,” that I “seek not my own glory,” that “whatever I do in word or deed I do all to the glory of God.”
This is no mean feat.
I am amazed that after years of making mistakes and having to be chastened by God as a consequence, as well as enduring chastening as a normal part of the Christian experience, there is still so much self-will resident within me that I have to labor as much as I do for God to “create in me a clean heart.”
However, if my heart is clean/pure, then I can expect His leadership and that no matter how contrary this leadership goes to my own understanding that if I “acknowledge the Lord in all of my ways,” “He will direct” my paths.
For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death. ~Psalm 48:14
With Your counsel You will guide me, And afterward receive me to glory.~Psalm 73:24
And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. ~Isaiah 58:11
Ideally, our Christian lives, although not perfect by God’s standard of measurement, nevertheless are characterized by :
18 but grow [spiritually mature] in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ… ~2 Peter 3:18 (AMP)
The Old Testament story of the prophet Samuel’s calling is particularly instructive in this regard.
1 Now the boy Samuel was attending to the service of the Lord under the supervision of Eli. The word of the Lord was rare and precious in those days; visions [that is, new revelations of divine truth] were not widespread.
2 Yet it happened at that time, as Eli was lying down in his own place (now his eyesight had begun to grow dim and he could not see well).
3 and the [oil] lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was,
4 that the Lord called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.”
5 He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call you; lie down again.” So he went and lay down.
6 Then the Lord called yet again, “Samuel!” So Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But Eli answered, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.”
7 Now Samuel did not yet know [or personally experience] the Lord, and the word of the Lord was not yet revealed [directly] to him.
8 So the Lord called Samuel a third time. And he stood and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you did call me.” Then Eli understood that it was the Lord [who was] calling the boy.
9 So Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and it shall be that if He calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 Then the Lord came and stood and called as at the previous times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”~I Samuel 3:1–10 (AMP)
Samuel was but a child who was learning how to recognize the voice of the Lord speaking to him. He was unsure at first, but as time went on he recognized the leadership of God and could then confidently petition the Lord to “speak, for your servant is listening.”
The same is true in the life of the believer. The saint was promised by our Lord that:
16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.~John 14:16–17
As we recognize the leadership of this Abiding One, our sense of His direction in all areas of our lives should become keener. The trials that the Lord in His Providential dealing with us, as they form us into His Image, make us more sensitive to His leading; we decrease, He increases.
Even so, “be it unto me according to thy word.”
Dr. John MacArthur in his Romans commentary Chapters 1–8 made the outstanding observation that prayer, Bible reading and meditation on the Word should get to the place whereby one is indistinguishable from the other.
I can honestly say that this has been my experience and it continues to be refined each time I seek the Lord’s leadership for the many concerns I have in my life, big and small. He is my Father, why would He not be concerned with what concerns me?
There is so much encouragement throughout the canon of scripture to seek God for wisdom, both in direct instruction in Proverbs and James’ admonition…
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.~James 1:5
…that I cannot help but believe in God’s direct and Providential interest in the affairs of my life.
I am strengthened and encouraged as I see Him at work, giving me knowledge and understanding of His Word- directing my life.
Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.~Psalms 25:4
I am struck by the number of times David implores God to “teach” him; how many times the word “teach” is used in Psalms alone.
God is obviously a “teaching God.”
I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.~Psalms 32:8
14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: ~Romans 8:14–16
And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.~Mark 14:36
“Abba” is a term of tender affection between a child and his father, the English equivalent is “daddy” or “papa.” I am so thankful that my Father is also my Abba.
casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully].~I Peter 5:7
What kind, loving father does not want to help his children with even the least of their concerns?
I have come to so cherish my time in prayer whereby I can talk to the “Counsellor” (Isaiah 9:6) about anything and everything that concerns me, with the assurance that He desires to speak back through the witness of the Spirit in communion with His Word.
I Come To The Garden Alone
I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.
In closing, my cessationist friends are correct in wanting to safeguard against the wanton lunacy that characterizes so much of charismania.
However, their approach is reductionist to the point whereby it can be said “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof (2 Timothy 3:5).”
For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.~I Corinthians 4:20
For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. ~I Thessalonians 1:5
I am so glad that my walk is the “new and living way (Heb. 10:20)” Paul speaks of.
Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee.~Psalm 143:8
Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. ~Isaiah 48:17
Truly, “we serve a Risen Savior.”
I would like to close this article with this gem from the late A.W. Tozer’s book “Deeper Life.”
The Word of God and the Error of Textualism
By A.W. Tozer
A generation ago, as a reaction from Higher Criticism and its offspring, Modernism, there arose in Protestantism a powerful movement in defense of the historic Christian faith. This, for obvious reasons, came to be known as Fundamentalism. It was a more or less spontaneous movement without much organization, but its purpose wherever it appeared was the same:
to stay “the rising tide of negation” in Christian theology and to restate and defend the basic doctrines of New Testament Christianity. This much is history.
Denominational groups, fell victim to its own virtues. The Word died in the hands of its friends. Verbal inspiration, for instance (a doctrine which I have always held and do now hold), soon became afflicted with rigor mortis. The voice of the prophet was silenced and the scribe captured the minds of the faithful. In large areas the religious imagination withered. An unofficial hierarchy decided what Christians were to believe. Not the Scriptures, but what the scribe thought the Scriptures meant, became the Christian creed. Christian colleges, seminaries, Bible institutes, Bible conferences, popular Bible expositors all joined to promote the cult of textualism. The system of extreme dispensationalism which was devised, relieved the Christian of repentance, obedience and cross-carrying in any other than the most formal sense. Whole sections of the New Testament were taken from the Church and disposed of after a rigid system of “ dividing the Word of truth”.
All this resulted in a religious mentality inimical to the true faith of Christ. A kind of cold mist settled over fundamentalism. Below, the terrain was familiar. This was New Testament Christianity, to be sure. The basic doctrines of the Bible were there, but the climate was just not favorable to the sweet fruits of the Spirit.
The whole mood was different from that of the Early Church and that of the great souls who suffered and sang and worshipped in the centuries past. The doctrines were sound but something vital was missing. The tree of correct doctrine was never allowed to blossom. The voice of the turtle dove was rarely heard in the land; instead the parrot sat on his artificial perch and dutifully repeated what he had been taught and the whole emotional tone was sombre and dull.
Faith, a mighty, vitalizing doctrine in the mouths of the apostles, became in the mouth of the scribe another thing altogether, and power went from it. As the letter triumphed, the Spirit withdrew and textualism ruled supreme. It was the time of the believers’s Babylonian captivity.
The error of textualism is not doctrinal. It is far more subtle than that and much more difficult to discover, but its effects are just as deadly. Not its theological beliefs are at fault, but its assumptions.
It assumes, for instances, that if we have the word for a thing, we have the thing itself. If it is in the Bible, it is in us. If we have the doctrine, we have the experience. If something was true of Paul it is of necessity true of us because we accept Paul’s epistles as divinely inspired. The Bible tell us how to be saved, but textualism goes on to make it tell us that we are saved, something which in the very nature of things it cannot do. Assurance of individual salvation is thus no more than a logical conclusion drawn from doctrinal premises, and the resultant experience wholly mental.