Friday, June 7, 2013

The Clarity of the Word of God

By Reverend Mark Hunnemann

Continued from The Necessity of Scripture

Last time we began a series on the attributes of the Word of God, and their ramifications for the paranormal. The necessity of the Word of God, the clarity, sufficiency, and comprehensiveness--all these speak of why scripture is important for us, and the ways it is to have preeminence in our lives. The purpose of this newsletter is to analyze, from a biblical perspective, what is happening in the paranormal community in general, and the notion of ghosts in particular. So, what we have to say about the clarity of the written Word, will be applied to these issues. If you did not read the last one on the necessity of the Word of God, it would be useful if you did, but this should stand on its own.

Why has there been a nuclear explosion in the number of people who have come to believe in ghosts in the last fifteen years? That can be accurately answered in a number of different ways, but for our purposes, folks attitude towards the bible is a huge factor.Last time we looked at the necessity of the written Word of God, and asking the above question brings us to a brief review of what we have already said, as well as sharpening our current application focus.

The bible is the ultimate presupposition for Christians in every area of life--including our reasoning, knowledge acquisition, and interpretation of God's world...this is merely the outworking of the Lordship of Christ in the area of human thought--it applies the the doctrine of scriptural infallibility to the realm of knowing. Human knowledge is servant knowledge (or primary vs. derivative).That is, in seeking to know anything, our first concern is to discover what our Lord thinks about it and to agree with His judgment, to think His thoughts after Him (seeing EVERYTHING through God's eyes!). There are no "neutral" facts because God's pre-interpretation of the facts logically precedes the existence of all facts. Hence, we must align our interpretation of paranormal phenomena with our Lord's infallible interpretation of the same. Put another way, we are obligated to re-interpret accurately what our Lord has already interpreted. Can any Christian seriously suggest otherwise? We shouldn't, but we do--remember what we said about autonomous thinking? Talk about foolish-- how could anyone imagine that contradicting the Master of the universe would be a wise decision? All sin, whether Adam and Eve's or ours today, is a result of sinful, autonomous thinking.

How does this apply to our paranormal focus, and our question? Just this, it is the seeking of knowledge about part of God's creation (the spirit realm), without being subject to God's revelation, that has been the primary cause for the explosion of belief in ghosts. How else can you explain the belief in, or "knowledge" of, something that does not exist? In fact, it would be wrong to speak of "knowledge of ghosts" because the category or class known as "trapped spirits" is the null does not correspond to reality. Put another way, with the marginalizing of the God of the Bible, and the bible of God, in our culture, then intellectual autonomy is the inevitable well as incurring God's wrath (Psalm 2; Rom.1). Folks sinfully prefer their reasoning, their intuition, their years of experience, their perceptions, and their interpretation of the paranormal facts over God Almighty's interpretation of the same facts. This is blatant intellectual arrogance."The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction."

Those in the paranormal community, Christians and otherwise, have spent all their academic training in an environment which disassociates the facts of creation from their Creator--by jettisoning from the classroom His authoritative interpretation of His cosmos (the bible). So, when faced with the facts of the paranormal (and the very real experiences which have become pandemic), the paranormal community does what they have been taught--disassociate the paranormal facts of creation from their Creator. We are not re-interpreting these facts in servant/creaturely submission to God's own authoritative interpretation of these realities. Consequently, they are creating their own fantasy land.

At this point we can now turn our attention to the clarity of the Word of God. The perspicuity or clarity of the bible is how evangelical/Reformed theologians have spoken about one of the attributes of the bible...indeed that is what the written Word of God affirms about itself. Scripture ( as in Deut. 8:3; Pss. 19:7; 119; Matt. 4:4) says that God's written Word is for everybody to understand and live by. The Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of how some doctrines are clearer than others. For example, what is necessary for salvation is very clear. However, it would be a mistake to say that even a single word in the bible does not, in some sense, speak of salvation in a broader sense--every inch of the bible enriches our understanding of the cosmic sweep of the drama of redemption. Nevertheless, that which is required for a credible profession of faith is quite simple (but profound)...and is very clear.

God is THE Great Communicator...He is fully in control of His communication to human beings. When He communicates with us the Lord always does so successfully (human rejection of His successful communication is a commentary regarding mankind's sinfulness...not His Word) But another name for successful communication is clarity. Since God's word is clear, it will always accomplish its purpose (Isa. 55:10-11)--it won't come back void. If a person rejects that Word, then it has still accomplished it's work--much like Jesus perfectly accomplished His Father's work, even though more people rejected the Incarnate Word than accepted Him.

As I point out in Seeing Ghosts through God's Eyes, the notion of ghosts touches on several crucial biblical themes--what happens to us when we die? And what is our hope? And others...many others! Certainly the two I mentioned are so significant that we would rightly assume that the Great Communicator would communicate ultra clearly regarding these, and He does! I am aware that there are those who disagree--saying the bible is not clear regarding what happens to us after death--butdo you see what that implies about God's communication skills? Fear of death is the most universal fear of it any wonder that hope (certain faith applied to the future) is a central Resurrection motif? The perceived un-clarity is inexcusable and sinful--yes, misinterpreting the Word of God is a sin.

When we consider the clarity of the bible in relation to the Lordship of Christ, it creates ethical obligation in its hearers: obligation to believe what it says, to do what it commands, and so on. To quote Frame, "The clarity of God's Word means that we have no excuse for failing to meet it obligations. To say that God's Word is clear is to say that we have no excuse for misunderstanding or disobeying it. So the clarity of Scripture has ethical implications." (pg 206...The Doctrine of the Word of God)

Again, how does all this relate to the notion of trapped spirits? Since it is inextricably tied to the central biblical doctrines of hope, the afterlife, and the Person and Work of name but a few, then one would expect that the Word of God will be ultra clear. It is...very clear! Clear enough to create an ethical obligation to reject this demonic fabrication. Clear enough to make it sinful to believe in the notion of ghosts. Clear enough that there is no excuse for misunderstanding the bible's teaching regarding the matter. Clear enough that there is no excuse for believing in or attempting to speak to demons mimicking humans. And it is certainly clear enough that we do not need to hear a supplemental word from the "other side of the veil" to clarify what happens after death...implying that God's Word is unclear and defective. God, in His written Word, has clearly told us what happens when we die. If we are in union with Jesus, then we will see Him, with glorious clarity, face-to-face!

(The biblical texts are so extensive, and clear, regarding the afterlife, and related themes, it would be a monumental task to amass them--all biblical doctrines are inter-related.)

The Necessity of Scripture

By Reverend Mark Hunnemann

The ultimate written authority we are subject to is God's inerrant, personal Word to us in the bible. It is God's authoritative interpretation of His own creation (among many other things)...which includes the paranormal. Hence, it is appropriate that we spend some time looking at the nature of scripture. This series will include discussions of: the necessity of scripture, the clarity of scripture, the comprehensiveness of scripture, and the sufficiency of scripture. All of these speak of why scripture is important for us, and the ways it is to have preeminence in our lives. A driving force of the sixteenth century reformation was sola scriptura (scripture alone), and it remains the driving force of any church or Christian who seeks to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Let us first look at the necessity of scripture.

To speak of the bible's necessity is simply to say we need it. We have noted before that when Satan tempted Jesus to turn stone into bread that our Lord replied by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matt. 4:4). Notice that Jesus refers to every word, which implies that every single word is necessary for our spiritual diet...every word is inspired by God the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16). We certainly need food, but our need for God's word is of even greater importance. In practice, which is viewed by you with more importance--eating      breakfast or daily ingesting God's word?

Recently I was communicating with a friend who is a witch. In response to a blog I had posted on Facebook, they commented that it would make them sad if their magical world of spirits was reduced to only demons and angels--implying that the bible impoverished one's view of reality. As is so often the case with occultists (and folks who believe/speak in ghosts are occultists), my friend was of the opinion that she had an objective view of the spirit world, but that I was saddled with an antiquated bible which has antiquated views about the spirit world. Poor me! I replied that nobody is able to be 100% objective (defined as not influenced by anything but the "facts") and we all operate, consciously or unconsciously, with a worldview--a set of presuppositions about ultimate norm or standard that we appeal to. The ultimate norm may be the bible or it might be one's reason, imagination, intuition, experience and so on. But we must disabuse ourselves of any notion that we view the paranormal objectively...nobody does...nor is it possible or even desirable. As followers of Christ, He must have preeminence in all of our thought--regarding the full circumference of reality--seen and unseen.

However, if our ultimate norm for interpreting reality is anything but the bible, then it has become autonomous (literally, "self-law"). Autonomous reasoning is attempting to reason independent of God. I told my friend that we ALL lean on something to be our ultimate court of is not just Christians with their bible. For example, since the paranormal is invisible (usually), it is particularly necessary that we be guided through this treacherous terrain by the compass of the bible--otherwise our autonomous reasoning will steer us wrong....and onto the rocks. We WILL misinterpret real experiences, and Satan WILL deceive us if we attempt to reason autonomously regarding anything--especially regarding the spirit world on earth since that is God's ordained, temporary home for Satan and his infernal army. I refer you to the first sentence in this paragraph--there is no "IF"S" about seems to me that the primary human cause (as opposed to Satanic strategy) of this explosion of necromancy is the ancient disease known as autonomous reasoning....Satan tempted Adam and Eve to first think autonomously, and their sinful eating of forbidden fruit would follow. Instead of bowing before the comprehensive jurisdiction of God's holy and authoritative Word over every area of our lives (including the paranormal), we have used our God-given faculties independently of our Maker.The temptation to think autonomously has its roots in the Garden (Gen.3......and Satan's revolt before that) and we must come to terms with how thoroughly original sin has affected our minds--we instinctively suppress and deny the truth of God and exchange it for a lie (Rom.1). I say all this because it accents just how necessary God's Word is.

Have you ever been to a county fair where one of the games was a duck-shooting gallery? Pling...pling...pling...even I can nail them at such close range. "They are a sitting duck" is a common expression referring to people who are defenseless against a deadly enemy. The tens of millions of Americans who have an active interest in the paranormal are sitting ducks in the worst possible way. Their insistence on autonomy of thought has exposed them to demonic oppression. The friend I mentioned earlier said that the idea that all paranormal activity was demonic was stupid (her word). Not so...what is foolish is playing in Satan's sandbox....what is naive is the notion that we can outwit Satan's deceptions without the Word of God. The carnage is becoming a killing fields--and it is heartbreaking to see. If ever their were in the history of mankind a situation which showed the absolute necessity of the word of God is America in 2013.

Second, the written Word is necessary because it establishes God's covenant authority over us. People often speak of having a personal relationship with Christ, but they are uncertain about the role of scripture in that relationship. Jesus says that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15, 21, 23, 15:7, 10) To obey His commandments we need to know them--hence, the necessity of having His Word and reading it. His words are absolutely necessary for our lives (John 6:68). If we do not obey His Word, then we may not call Him Lord (Matt.7:21--27). Jesus' words are found only in scripture. By right of creation and re-creation, God (and God alone) has the rightful authority to demand implicit obedience from us...keeping His commandments. We will speak more of this in the weeks to come, but the Lord, and His Word, has jurisdiction over every area of our lives--including full control over our interpretation and behavior regarding the paranormal. The written Word of God is the constitution of God's redeemed community here on earth.

Third, His written, personal Word to us records the key events in Jesus ministry, as well as giving us God's own interpretation of those events The four gospels and epistles are equally important--generally speaking, the gospels record the key redemptive events, and the epistles interpret or explain the meaning and significance of those recorded events. I hasten to add that the gospels certainly contain theological interpretation and commentary, and the epistles have historical elements in them...but we can still say that the gospels are primarily narratives of redemptive historical events, and the epistles elaborate the significance of the: incarnation, life, substitutionary atonement, resurrection, ascension, and second coming of our Lord Jesus. Without the bible, Jesus' death would have no meaning to us. Without the bible we would have no clue as to the Person and Work of Jesus--the incarnate Word. Without the Old and New Testaments, there is no Christ...without Christ there is no gospel....without the gospel there is no salvation. The gospel cannot be grasped by general/natural revelation--it had to be verbally communicated by our Lord to us. Below is the very first statement of the Westminster Confession of Faith regarding this matter--personally subscribing to the substance of the WCF was a prerequisite of my ordination in 1985 in the AR Presbyterian denomination.

Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be MOST NECESSARY; those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people being now ceased. (WCF 1:1...emphasis added)

Fourth, God's written word is necessary, because without it, reality in general would become meaningless and incoherent. Any attempts at autonomous reasoning (thinking independently of God's influence) ultimately becomes self-destructive. For example, Scripture says we are made in God's image (Gen.1).This image-of-Godness is not anan optional extra--it is the essence of our self identity. As His image bearers, we cannot even begin to have accurate knowledge of self if we reason independently (autonomous) from the God we mirror. As John Calvin said in the beginning of the Institutes, knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves, are inextricably bound together...and it is difficult to know which comes first. Having, cherishing, and reverently reading the Word of God is absolutely necessary for spiritual growth and equipping of the saints for spiritual warfare.

See Part 2 The Clarity of the Word of God