Processing Revelation in the Body of Christ
by Rob Packer
These are incredibly exciting days to be living in, and they are also times of great challenge. One of the things that is exciting is the amount and scope of revelation that God is releasing to the Body of Christ. A challenge that accompanies that revelation is to know how to evaluate and process what people are hearing and seeing. In this article I want to focus specifically on how we process teaching and revelation for ourselves, and how we process it with others in the Body of Christ - in a way that maintains and builds unity among us.
Judgement vs Evaluation
What should be our attitude to things being taught that we are hearing for the first time? In deciding that, I believe that we need to recognize the difference between being 'judgmental' and being 'evaluative'.
We are told in Scripture to avoid being judgemental.
Rom 14:10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way.
1 Cor 4:5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God.
While we are told not to move in unrighteousness judgment in our dealings with each other, it is important for us to understand that God is not asking us to be gullible and to automatically accept everything that we hear. We are told to test things that we are hearing; we must develop the ability to be evaluative.
1 Thes 5:19 Do not quench the Spirit; 20 do not despise prophetic utterances 21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;
1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;
So if we are to evaluate the things that we hear, what is to be the basis of our evaluation?
The basis for evaluation
One of the first and most important things to evaluate teaching by is the Word of God.
In saying that, however, there are some important things that we should be aware of.
1. All of the Bible is true, but not all truth is in the Bible.
The Bible does not contain all truth about life - there is nothing in there about motor vehicles, the law of gravity, radio or television. Jesus Himself said to the disciples... John 16:12 "I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”
The Bible is not the sum of all truth about life; it is, however, a template of truth that God has given us to help us know Him, His character and nature, and His plan for us - a plumb line that we can line up alongside what we are hearing or seeing.
There are 3 broad categories of teaching or revelation that we can receive:
Biblical - ie the teaching or revelation is found in Scripture
a-Biblical - it is not specifically found in Scripture, but it does not contradict the principles of scripture or the truth about God, His character, His nature and His plan for us.
anti-Biblical - it does contradict the principles of Scripture or the truth about God, His character, nature and His plan for us.
2. We will only see in Scripture what is within our current theological understanding.
This means that some aspects of truth can be hidden in plain sight in Scripture and us still not see them. Have you ever had the experience of reading a scripture that you've read 50 times before, and then on the 51st time reading it you see something in it that you never saw before? That happens because God has just stretched your understanding and given you fresh revelation.
In order for us to evaluate teaching by the Word of God we must first evaluate whether or not the teaching is actually anti-Biblical. If it clearly is anti-Biblical, e.g. teaching that says that Jesus did not die for us, then we must discard it.
It is here that the evaluation process becomes really interesting. Because of the fact that we will only see in Scripture what is within our current theological understanding, it is entirely possible for us to label a teaching that actually is found in Scripture as a-Biblical, simply because we haven't yet seen it in Scripture. Equally so, we could label it as anti-Biblical, because it conflicts with our current understanding of what Scripture teaches.
In evaluating what we are hearing we do need to ask Holy Spirit for clarification and more revelation. It is really important for us to remember that Holy Spirit is our personal coach. We can ask Him questions like "Is this from You?", "Will You please give me more understanding about this?", "Will You please show me where it talks about this in Scripture?", "Is this something that You are wanting me to pursue right now?"
If the teaching is clearly opposed to the fundamental truth of what is revealed in Scripture, that should be easily recognised as such, and is anti-Biblical.
If the teaching conflicts with my current understanding of what Scripture teaches, then processing with Holy Spirit and with others in the Body of Christ should help me see if it's my understanding that needs to change, or if it's the teaching that needs to change.
If, after processing with Holy Spirit and others, I can't find the teaching mentioned in Scripture yet it doesn't conflict with what I understand scripture to teach, then I can recognise it as a-Biblical teaching.
The Interesting Box
In my mind I have a rather large 'Interesting Box'. If there's something that I hear that I either don't understand, or don't agree with, I will mentally say, "That's interesting" and put it in the Interesting Box in my mind. I don't dismiss it straight away, but neither do I take it on board straight away. I let it stay there while I am processing with Holy Spirit and with others.
Differences of Perspective
I believe it is important that we recognise that whenever a person is teaching, they are sharing from their current understanding at that point in their journey. We all see as through a glass darkly - in other words, on our best day we are still looking at a partial picture.
Look at the picture above. Can you see how the the shadow of the same object can be described as being either a circle or a rectangle, depending on which perspective you are viewing it from? No one has total revelation or all truth about anything. 5 years down the track, the person you are listening to may be more convinced of what they are now teaching, or they may be less convinced about it. Why? Because they've had further light or revelation since they taught what they're teaching now.
If in our current perspective we are looking at a partial picture, is it appropriate, then, for us to have firm convictions about what we believe? Yes, totally. But I believe that it is wise to hold those convictions lightly; we must still be open to further revelation on what we now understand. A most dangerous attitude for any of us to have is to think that we have all the light or revelation that we will ever need. We must always be open for God to stretch our understanding.
Processing with each other
We not only need to process teaching with Holy Spirit; we also need to process with each other. Historically, in the Body of Christ, this is something that we have not done well. Too often we have been addicted to 'being right', vehemently defending the rightness of our perspective, and in some cases we have allowed relationships to fracture in order to maintain that 'rightness'.
We will never to be totally 'right' about God because He is an infinite being. There will always be things that we don't yet know about Him. We are eternal, and we will live for ever, but we are not infinite. We are finite beings, and the finite can never exhaust the infinite. That means that we will never stop learning about the wonders of who God is and what He has done. Isn't that awesome!
We need to learn to process effectively with each other. If someone teaches something that you are not sure about, if at all possible talk it through with them. Wisdom would indicate that we should be quick to hear and slow to speak. It is better to first invite the other person to share what they are hearing and seeing. Find out how they arrived at their current understanding and perspective, then by all means share from your own journey and perspective. We must learn to have honest, open, loving dialogue with each other. It is through this process that many of the gaps in our understanding are removed. We need to be comfortable with the fact that we can disagree with each other on issues but still honour each other and walk together, being committed to relationship and building on the unity that Christ has purchased for us.
In processing with each other, each of us will be sharing from our current understanding and perspective, and even though our perspectives may differ, we can recognise that we are both looking at a partial picture. It will be important that we can pray for more revelation for each other, knowing that the further we journey together in dialogue, often the closer our perspectives will become. Please do not let relationships fracture on the basis of difference of perspective.
In some cases, and for practical reasons, processing with another person can't take place face to face. If possible see if you can process over the phone or via Skype. Tone of voice is really helpful in each person getting a feel for the 'heart' meaning of the other.
If processing needs to take place in written form, e.g. through texting or sending emails, please recognise that other people can't pick up your tone of voice from them. Make sure that your communication is open, truthful and loving. Sometimes healthy discussion and debate can take place via social media such as Facebook, but too often I've witnessed Christians criticising the beliefs of others and naming them publicly, and they haven't followed the Biblical principle of 'going first to your brother in person if you have something against him'. Remember, if we know all mysteries, and have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, we are nothing but a noisy gong.
The importance of your own revelation
Another thing that I believe is important - never feel under pressure to adopt someone else's revelation as your own. Ask Holy Spirit about it and let Him give you your own revelation on it; then it becomes your revelation, and you can live out of that. You can't live effectively out of someone else's revelation. Holy Spirit reveals different things to different people in different sequences, and it's really important that we trust Him as our coach to show us the things we need to know, when we need to know them.
One challenge that we face in the Body of Christ is that many of us who have grown up in church have either imbibed by osmosis, or been specifically told, that we should not question what is taught from the pulpit. "Touch not God's anointed" is a phrase that springs to mind. The result of people adopting that attitude is the tendency for them to automatically accept whatever anyone teaches, and they never develop the ability to effectively and Biblically evaluate what they are hearing.
The landscape of today's society and church is vastly different from a generation ago. No longer is the local pastor the only source of teaching and spiritual input. The internet has opened up access to teaching from a multitude of sources.
That can be an incredible blessing, but it can also have its difficulties. Many people in our congregations today have little or no strong Biblical foundation. They have not dug into the Scriptures themselves, engaged the services of their personal coach, Holy Spirit, and asked Him to lead them into truth. They have mostly just listened to a sermon on Sunday, as good as it may have been, and that has been their spiritual feeding for the week. Or maybe they have listened to a podcast as supplementary feeding.
I firmly believe that we need to be continually growing in our personal journey and relationship with Jesus, Father and Holy Spirit and looking to them for the training that they want to give us. While they will use other people as instruments of training, it is important to remember that they are in charge of the training program, and we must hear from them directly. It is not sufficient for us to believe something just because some other person believes it.
A good foundation
When people do not have a good understanding of what Scripture teaches, it is so much harder for them to effectively evaluate whether what someone is teaching is Biblical, a-Biblical or anti-Biblical.
By all means we can search out areas of truth and revelation that are not specifically found in Scripture, ie a-Biblical, but it is important that it is Holy Spirit who is leading us in that direction, and that it is because He knows it is time for us to be exploring those things. A-Biblical revelation is best evaluated on a good foundation of Biblical truth.
My personal conviction is that there is a vast resource of revelation still awaiting us in Scripture, and that our main focus should be on journeying with Holy Spirit in discovering what He has made available there. Let's make that our first priority.
What has been really interesting, frustrating and exciting for Lyn and I over these last few years is that God has upended some of our theology and asked us, "Why do you believe that?" He has been giving 'what we believe' a good overhaul. The result has been a lot more freedom to live as a son, not a slave, a much stronger appreciation for how profoundly we are loved, a new perspective on grace and what Jesus accomplished on the Cross, and so much more!
What is Holy Spirit showing you? How is your foundational understanding of what you believe? Is it your revelation or someone else's? These are great questions to be asked. Uncomfortable, maybe, but great.
How is your foundation at the moment? Do you know... Your God given identity? What was won for you on the Cross? How to live out of your new identity? How to release Kingdom reality in your sphere of influence?
How do you see Father God? Many of us have twisted perceptions of what He is really like, and the truth is that we all live out of our perception of who He is. He is exactly like Jesus. Jesus is the exact representation of the Father. Are you experiencing His incredible love? If not, or if the above areas need to be strengthened, why not ask Holy Spirit to lead you in a greater revelation of them.
I can assure you it will be a grand adventure!
God is leading us to maturity in the Body of Christ and He is fashioning a generation who will walk in the fullness of their God-given inheritance. In that process He must adjust some of our mindsets, where they conflict with His perspective and truth. He must open our eyes to see things we've never seen before, so that we can walk in a realm of Christlikeness and Kingdom expression that we've never walked in before.
Let us be committed to receiving and embracing everything that comes from Him and discarding what doesn't. Let us grow in our ability to process well with Holy Spirit and with each other so that we can recognise what is from Him and what isn't. And let us grow in our profound love and honour of each other, encouraging each other to pursue the training program that Holy Spirit has for each of us, and not breaking rank because of differences of perspective at points along the way.