One of the issues resolved by the Reformers was that of final authority, i.e., Are the Scriptures sufficient for doctrine and life? The Reformers, of course, answered in the affirmative. Louis Berkhof summarized their case as follows:
In Scripture each succeeding book connects up with the proceeding (except in contemporary narratives), and is based on it. The Psalms and the Prophets presuppose the Law and appeal to it, and to it only. The New Testament comes to us as the fulfillment of the Old and refers back to nothing else. Oral traditions current in the time of Jesus are rejected as human inventions, Matt. 5:21–28; 15:4, 9; I Cor. 4:6. Christ is presented to us as the acme of the divine revelation, the highest and the last, Matt. 11:27; John 1:18; 17:4, 6; Heb. 1:1. For the knowledge of the way of salvation we are referred to Scripture only, to the word of Christ, and the apostles, John 17:20; I John 1:3 . . .
Both Rome and the Anabaptists rejected the sufficiency of Scripture. Rome put as Scripture’s rival her church councils and traditions, with the ultimate authority residing in the pope. The Anabaptists, however, had a low view of Scripture for other reasons: they sought guidance from an “inner light” and direct revelations from God, resolving that the Spirit worked apart from the Word because the Word was dead.
Renting the Spirit from the Word by claiming direct revelations from God was something the Reformers could not abide. For that reason, Martin Luther derisively referred to them as “swarmers” because they were “swarming everywhere, deranged by the devil, regarding Scripture as a dead letter, extolling nothing but the Spirit and yet keeping neither the Word nor the Spirit.”
Likewise, in speaking of the link between the Spirit and the Word, John Calvin wrote . . .
Two things are connected here, the Word and the Spirit of God, in opposition to the fanatics, who aim at oracles and hidden revelations apart from the Word.
The Sufficiency of Scripture
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men . . .
Westminster Confession, chapter 1, article 6(a)
The confession states that everything we need to know for doctrine and life is either expressly or by consequence set forth in Scripture. Moreover, because it is the “whole counsel of God” there is nothing left to be revealed in this life. In other words, the Scriptures are sufficient for all men at all times and therefore can’t be added to.
Incomplete to the Complete
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son . . .
The writer of Hebrews juxtaposes the patriarchs and prophets to Christ. The point being that their writings were partial, incomplete; this is why there was a succession of prophets and books of the Bible. Christ, however, being the pinnacle of revelation, was truth in its entirety (John 14:6; Col. 2:9).
No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
All that the Father wanted revealed was made known to the Biblical writers. This information, and only this information (Jn. 21:25), was later codified into the Scriptures by the work of the Spirit (Jn. 14:26). It is this completed, inscripturated word that is to be taught (I Tim. 4:13), and it is by this completed work of revelation that we are fully equipped:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
Furthermore, because God’s revelatory work is complete, we are able to proclaim “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), and we are able to rest in the knowledge that what we have in the Scriptures is “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” (Jude 1:3)
Modern “swarmers” abound. Some, like Harold Camping, Pat Robertson, or the late David Wilkerson, are well known to us, and so is the shame they brought on the body of Christ because of their claims of revelations. But these “God whispers” don’t only occupy leadership roles in major ministries, nor do they only fill the gaudy stages of “Christian” TV programs. Pentecostals, Charismatics, and many Evangelicals seek revelations apart from Scripture. For those seeking these revelations I have two things I’d like you to consider:
First, think about what you’re saying when you say something like, “God spoke to me,” or “God is giving me a word for you,” or, as a former “pastor” of mine would say mid-sermon, “Yes, yes, lord, I’ll say that.” God doesn’t take kindly to those who claim to be speaking on His behalf when He has not spoken. As a matter of fact, this crime is so heinous that, in Old Testament times, God commanded that the offenders be put to death (Deut. 13, 18:20-22, 13:12-13; Ez. 13:1-9; Zech. 13:3).
Second, what’s wrong with the revelation that He already provided? Considering the case made above, why do you think the Scriptures are incomplete? Why are they not sufficient for you? Instead of seeking a new “word,” how about mastering the revelation you’ve been provided (2 Tim. 2:15)?
All those seeking extra-Biblical revelations must stop trying to find a back door to God (or, as Martin Luther put it, stop trying to view God in the nude). God has spoken, and still speaks, through the Bible—and those same Scriptures remain sufficient for doctrine and life. Not the Spirit working apart from the Word, but the Spirit working through the Word.
The Bible is something more than a body of revealed truths, a collection of books verbally inspired of God. It is also the living voice of God. The living God speaks through its pages. Therefore, it is not to be valued as a sacred object to be placed on a shelf and neglected, but as holy ground, where people’s hearts and minds may come into vital contact with the living, gracious and disturbing God. . . .
James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, pg 48
Labels: Creeds Confessions and Catechisms, Doctrine of Scripture, Pentecostalism