Why has the Christian Church not embraced the writings of the modern-day prophets? Why has the Church not incorporated into the Bible the writings of the 19th century prophets like Joseph Smith or Ellen G. White? Why has the Church not accepted the interpretations of Charles Taze Russell and Joseph Franklin Rutherford, the first leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Why has the Christian Church not embraced the special New World Translation of the Bible prepared by the Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Today we want to consider modern-day prophets and the Bible, and the question of truth and where we find it. It is not our desire to be controversial, but controversy has long been part of the history of the Christian Church. Today we see much controversy and conflict in the church over various teachings. Some churches want to keep in step with the times, to get with the program, to be relevant to today’s world. In some places the church blends in so well with the surrounding culture that no one can see any difference between the church and the world. There is no separation. No distinction. The church is the world. One well-known missiologist, Leslie Newbigin, said that when the church becomes just like the world, it is no longer a viable alternative to a corrupted culture. It no longer gives people hope that life can be different.
Truth and Controversy
We see plenty of controversy in the church world today, but controversy is not new. We find controversy in the church in the 19th and 20th centuries as theological liberalism and a modern scientific worldview became the standard of truth in some circles. We find controversy in the 16th century when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg, Germany. We find controversy in the church councils in the first centuries after Christ. We find controversy in the New Testament itself.
Jesus Christ himself was a controversial figure. He was so controversial that the religious authorities had him crucified, killed, and buried, thinking that would end the story. But God raised Jesus from the dead, and the controversy continued. The Jewish authorities forbid the disciples of Jesus Christ from preaching about his resurrection and teaching in the name of Jesus, but the disciples could not be silenced. They were imprisoned, beaten, whipped, some were stoned, and some were even beheaded. But that did not stop the church from preaching the good news of what God had done in Jesus Christ, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that he was literally, physically raised from dead on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-3).
There was controversy in the church itself when the Apostle Peter preached the gospel to the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house. The leaders of the church in Jerusalem demanded that he explain why he had entered the house of Gentiles and had eaten with them (Acts 10-11).
There was controversy in the churches of Galatia when Judaizers came behind the Apostle Paul and told the new converts that they had to follow the Law of Moses to be saved. Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians to correct that error.
There was controversy in Acts 15 when believers of the party of the Pharisees told Paul that he needed to circumcise the Gentile believers and to order them to keep the Law of Moses (Acts 15:5). The Church dealt with these issues and gave clear responses to their opponents. The Church never shied away from controversy. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that we must always be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have to anyone who asks (1 Peter 3:15).
These were not minor issues. They were major questions.
• Is Jesus Christ the only way to God?
• What must we do to be saved?
• Are we saved by the finished work of Jesus Christ, or must we do certain works to be saved?
It is not my desire today to be controversial, but as Luke wrote in his Gospel, my desire and prayer is…
Luke 1:4 ESV that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
It is my desire to be useful as was Apollos who “greatly helped those who through grace had believed” (Acts 18:28).
We are okay with reading about controversy in the New Testament. We can read the story of how the Holy Spirit led the church and resolved the conflicts and spoke through the writings of the New Testament Scriptures. But it is quite another thing to be in the middle of controversy. We would almost do anything to avoid controversy. Many would rather compromise the truth than to be involved in controversy. They would sacrifice truth on the altar of compromise. Anything to avoid conflict, for the simple reason that they have no conviction about the truth. The truth has not taken hold of them. Their idea is that we must seek peace at all costs. Lay down your weapons. Put up your sword. There is nothing worth fighting for. But that is capitulation, nothing less than a full surrender to the enemy.
There is a time for peace.
Romans 12:18 ESV If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
“If possible.” It is not always possible to live peaceable with everyone. “So far as it depends on you.” It does not always depend on us. But there is a time for compromise on non-essentials. An example of non essentials is found in Romans 14.
Romans 14:1-6 ESV As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
There are questions that are simply a matter of opinion. They have nothing to do with the nature of God or of Christ or of the Holy Spirit or of salvation. The Scriptures tells us that we must not cause division over opinions. Where the Bible has not spoken clearly, we should not be dogmatic or divisive.
So in order to be in harmony with everyone, why not accept the visions and the teachings and the writings of Ellen G. White as inspired Scripture? Why not simply incorporate the writings of Joseph Smith into the Bible? Why not simply accept the Book of Mormon and The Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrines and Covenants into the Bible? Why not accept the teachings of Charles Taze Russell and the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ special New World Translation of the Bible? Why not embrace the teachings of John Thomas and the Christadelphians? Why should we not accept the teachings of Baha’i and the Bahá’u’lláh? Why not accept these modern-day prophets? Wouldn’t it be better to simply accept these modern-day prophets and their teachings than to be divided? Shouldn’t we simply pursue unity? Isn’t that the Christian way?
A close reading of the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, shows that we cannot accept the teachings of every one who calls himself a prophet.
Why should we not accept the teachings of these different modern-day prophets?
1. First, we should not accept their teachings because we cannot accept their teachings. We cannot accept their teachings because their teachings contradict each other. Each of these groups teaches very different things about God, about Christ, about salvation, and about a host of other vital biblical doctrines. Some say that there are many gods. Some say that God was first a man who evolved into a god. Some say that Christ was not God. Some say that he was a god but not Almighty God. Some say that he was the archangel Michael in the Old Testament. Some say that he was just a man. The Bible teaches that he “the only God, who is at the Father’s side” (John 1:18). It is impossible to accept the teachings these modern-day prophets because these prophets contradict each other on matters of extreme importance.
2. Second, we cannot accept the teachings of these prophets because their teachings contradict the teachings of the Word of God. Some denounce the Apostle Paul because his teaching does not agree with the teachings of their prophetess. They are right. The teachings of the Apostle Paul do not agree with the teachings of their prophetess, but they are denouncing the wrong person. By rejecting the clear teaching of the New Testament, they reject the gospel.
3. Third, each of these groups with the exception of the Baha’is (which is not a Christian cult, but an Islamic cult) — each group claims to have restored the Church of Jesus Christ and to be the only true church. Well, they cannot all be the only true church. In fact, any church which claims to be the only true church, shows that it is not a true church at all.
Any group that claims to restore the Church of Jesus Christ, is saying that Jesus Christ failed to keep his promise. Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 ESV). Jesus has always had a remnant even in the darkest times of the history of the Church.
The Nature of Truth
The very nature of truth is that it stands in contrast with error. It is the opposite of fiction, fabrication, invention, or lies. Day is not night and night is not day. Right is not wrong and wrong is not right. Truth does not embrace all possible choices. Truth is not confused.
The truth is worth dying for. John the Baptist was beheaded for announcing the truth. Stephen was stoned to death for the truth of the gospel. James was also beheaded for the sake of the gospel. The truth of the gospel is worth dying for.
In fact, more than physical life itself, our eternal destiny — our salvation depends on holding fast to the truth.
1 Corinthians 15:1-2 ESV Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you– unless you believed in vain.
Paul says that we are saved by the gospel “if you hold fast to the word I preached to you.” Otherwise you have believed in vain. Paul goes on to define the terms of the gospel:
1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
The fundamental truths of the gospel are not negotiable. We cannot change them, take away from them, or add to them.
The Judaizers had followed Apostle Paul in Galatia and had added conditions to the gospel. It sounded reasonable. It made sense. But it was not the gospel. The Apostle Paul writes to the Galatians with unmistakable directness:
Galatians 1:6-12 NLT I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News 7 but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ. 8 Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. 9 I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. 10 Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. 11 Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. 12 I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.
Controversy is not new. Nearly every book of the New Testament warns the Church about false teachers and how to deal with them. In the Gospels, Jesus warns about false prophets, false teachers, and false Christs. He warns us that many will come in his name, claiming to be his representatives, and that they will deceive many.
Matthew 7:15 NLT “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.
Matthew 24:11 NLT And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people.
Matthew 24:24-26 NLT For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. 25 See, I have warned you about this ahead of time. 26 “So if someone tells you, ‘Look, the Messiah is out in the desert,’ don’t bother to go and look. Or, ‘Look, he is hiding here,’ don’t believe it!
The Apostle Paul tells the elders at Ephesus,
Acts 20:29-31 NLT I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. 30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out!…
He rebukes the Church at Corinth,
2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed.
They had no discernment. They believed whatever anyone told them, even when they preached a different Jesus.
2 Corinthians 11:13-15 NLT These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve.
Paul warns the Galatians about the false teachers that want to bring them under the law of Moses:
Galatians 2:4 NLT … some so-called Christians there– false ones, really– … were secretly brought in. They sneaked in to spy on us and take away the freedom we have in Christ Jesus. They wanted to enslave us and force us to follow their Jewish regulations.
Galatians 4:17 NLT Those false teachers are so eager to win your favor, but their intentions are not good. They are trying to shut you off from me so that you will pay attention only to them.
Galatians 5:9-10 NLT This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! 10 I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you.
Paul warns the Romans about people who cause divisions by teaching different things:
Romans 16:17-18 NLT And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. 18 Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people.
The Apostle Peter warns us,
2 Peter 2:1-2 ESV But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.
The Apostle John warns us,
2 John 1:7-10 NIVO Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. 9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him.
We must take these warnings seriously. They were written for us.
The Bible Is a Closed Book
So where do we find the truth?
John 8:31-32 ESV So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Where do we find the truth? We find the truth in God’s Word. God has revealed His truth to us in a book, and that book is the Bible.
In the Old Testament, we see that God revealed Himself through the Word. We do not speculate about God’s nature, His will, or His ways; we simply bear witness to what God has said about Himself.
The Bible bears witness to itself as the written Word of God, a claim that springs from the fact that God has spoken. In the Old Testament alone, the phrases “the Lord said,” the Lord spoke,” and “the word of the Lord came” appear at least 3,808 times… “where Scripture speaks, God speaks.”
When God gave the Old Covenant of the Law, He introduced Himself as “I am the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:2a). He gave the historical context: “who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2b). He gave the conditions of the covenant, the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-17). God listed blessings and curses (Exodus 20:5-7, 11-12). This covenant is put written form, written by the finger of God (Exodus 31:18). Finally, there was curse upon anyone who seeks to change the wording of the covenant documents:
Deuteronomy 4:2 ESV You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you.
At the same time, the Old Covenant anticipates the New Covenant:
Jeremiah 31:31 ESV “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,
Certainly any first-century Jew, when confronted with the term “covenant” (berth) in Jeremiah 31, would have understood…that this new covenant, like the old covenant, would be accompanied by the appropriate written texts to testify to the terms of the new arrangement that God was establishing with his people.
When we come to the New Testament, Jesus appointed and commissioned his apostles to be his authoritative witnesses: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). Peter tells us that the apostles were “chosen by God as witnesses… to preach to the people and to testify that [Christ] is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the death” (Acts 10:41-42).
As Christ’s spokesmen, the apostles bore his full authority and power: “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16).
The words of the apostles that the Lord had chosen are the words of the Lord and have the same authority has the words of the Old Testament prophets:
2 Peter 3:2 ESV …you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles,
Peter states that the Lord Jesus Christ has spoken through the apostles. The New Testament apostles are conscious that they are writing the Word of God.
Galatians 1:1 ESV Paul, an apostle– not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead–
1 Corinthians 14:37 ESV If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.
1 John 4:6 ESV We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
The Church of Jesus Christ is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20 ESV). Paul goes on to say that God’s eternal plan “has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:5 ESV). He says that same thing again in Romans 16:26 when he says that the secret plan of God “has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith.”
The Apostle Peter recognized that the Apostle Paul’s writings were Scripture. Peter said that
2 Peter 3:16 NLT …those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction.
There was an expectation that the New Covenant, like the Old Covenant, would have its written documents—its Scriptures—explaining its historical context, its terms and conditions, as well as its blessings and curses.
There was an expectation that the New Covenant Scriptures, i.e. the New Testament Scriptures, would be closed with the death of the apostles, those apostles that the Lord of the Covenant, the Lord Jesus Christ, had appointed to write the New Testament Scriptures.
There would have been no expectation that 1,800 years later modern-day prophets would add to the sacred Scriptures. Indeed, such prophets would have been recognized as the very prophets that the Lord Jesus had warned his disciples about: false prophets, wolves in sheep’s clothing, deceiving many.
Notice what Jude tells us:
Jude 1:3 NLT Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people.
He urges us to defend the faith, to stand up for the truth of the gospel. He says that God entrusted this faith to us “once for all time.” It is not to be updated with modern-day prophecies. It is not to be modified, or added to, or taken away from. False teachings, false prophets, and false churches are all around. You and I must defend the truth, the faith that God has entrusted to us once for all time.
The Scriptures Are Complete
There are many verses that speak about the inspiration of the Scriptures that we have not considered. Perhaps the best known is in Paul’s second letter to Timothy:
2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
I want to focus on that last phrase “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” This indicates that the Scriptures are complete. They are sufficient. They are all that we need to be equipped for everything that we need to do.
That means that we must not add to the Scriptures. In fact, just as the Old Covenant contained a warning about adding it, the New Covenant also warns us not to add or take away from God’s Word. There is a curse upon anyone who would modify the wording of the New Covenant:
Revelation 22:18-19 ESV I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
The Bible is a closed book, so to speak. It has a beginning and an ending. It begins with the creation of the heavens and the earth:
Genesis 1:1 ESV In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
And it ends with the new creation:
Revelation 21:1 ESV Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God which he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains everything we need God to tell us for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly.
That does not mean that the Bible tells us everything that we might want to know. It means that the Bible is sufficient for what God intended for it to accomplish.
The Scriptures Are Clear
The Scriptures are not mystical. They are not mysterious. The Bible is not full of secret hidden meanings.
In Ephesians 3, Paul tells us that God revealed His plan to “his holy apostles and prophets.” Paul wrote down what God revealed to him. Then Paul says,
Ephesians 3:4 NLT As you read what I have written, you will understand my insight into this plan regarding Christ.
Now that is amazing! God revealed His plan to His apostles and prophets. They wrote down what God revealed to them. The revelation is written in words. The words can be read. And as we read the revelation, we can understand exactly what Paul and the apostles and prophets understood.
That does not mean that it is necessarily easy. We do have to think!
2 Timothy 2:7 NLT Think about what I am saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things.
So what does all that mean? That means that you and I can understand that Bible. We do not have to have a modern-day prophet to tell us what it means. We can read the Scriptures for ourselves. One of the reasons why people are led astray by false prophets is that they do not read the Bible for themselves.
Part of our problem is that we sometimes try to read the Bible in ways that we would never read any other book. The Bible is composed of 66 books. If we are to understand a book of the Bible, we need to read the entire book. Our Bibles today are divided into chapters and verses, but they were not written that way. Moses never wrote a verse. Matthew never wrote a chapter. They wrote books. About 1000 years after Christ, the books of the Bible were divided into chapters. In about 1557, a French printer named Robert Étienne divided the chapters into verses. That is a great idea if you are trying to find a certain text, but too often people pick a verse and try to understand it without reading the whole book. You would never do that with any other book. You wouldn’t even try to understand a newspaper article by reading only one sentence. You must read the book.
Let me challenge you in this coming new year, to read at least one chapter of the Bible every day in 2015. If you have a hard time reading, meet with other Christians who will read the Bible aloud, one chapter every day. Read straight through whole books of the Bible. Read through the book of Genesis, chapter by chapter. Then skip over to the New Testament and read Matthew, one chapter every day. Then back to Exodus. Then back to the New Testament again. If you read three chapters a day and five chapters on Sunday, you’ll be able to read the entire Bible in 2015! That would be a great accomplishment and would help you to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Albert Mohler, He Is Not Silent, p. 41.
Andreas Köstenberger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy, p. 111.
Andreas Köstenberger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy, p. 112.
Andreas Köstenberger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy, p. 115.