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 Super Christians and the new Gnosticism: 
Divine Revelation

by Richard Rice

"The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures forever"
(1Pet 1:25; cf. Isa 40:7).

If you like adventure books, you may have read about Richard Burton. He was a Victorian explorer and linguist, whose travels took him to Asia and Africa and whose hard work enabled him to master dozens of languages and dialects. His linguistic skills were so acute that he could pass for a native in settings as diverse as the back country of India and the streets of Cairo. His accomplishments were as diverse as identifying the source of the Nile and translating the Kama Sutra. What is less well known about Burton is the fact that he was a spiritual adventurer as well. He diligently studied the teachings of a number of religions, including Hinduism and Islam, and was one of the first Westerners to visit Mecca and publish a description for the outside world. Burton's spiritual explorations were driven by the fundamental conviction that there has to be somewhere, in some religious tradition or another, a secret source of knowledge, something far outside the ordinary, some secret or esoteric knowledge that lies well beyond the grasp of the ordinary worshiper.

Many people are spiritual adventurers like Burton. They believe that there is a hidden source of knowledge, a special avenue to the divine, and they are constantly seeking for an experience that is inaccessible through the channels of conventional religion. They quest for the new, the secret, the special, the unusual, the esoteric, the one true thing that will set them apart from the typical, run-of-the-mill religious person. They want special access to divine power. As they see it, there are different spiritual tracks—one for ordinary believers and an "inside track" for a far more select group. And there is a clear difference between then. The "insiders" will enjoy superior knowledge and an experience of God that is available only to the few.

Others are convinced that striking manifestations of Godís presence and power are available to Christians generally. But in order to enjoy them, they insist, you will have to break with the thinking of conventional Christianity. God speaks to people today just as he did in biblical times, they believe. And this sort of divine communication is, in principle, available to everyone. So, these are our questions. Are there really "super Christians," people who enjoy dramatic experiences with God? And is this sort of experience available to all of us?

Two positions on the issue

Jack Deere answers these questions in a book whose title pretty much says it all: Surprised by the Voice of God: How God speaks today through prophecies, dreams, and visions (Zondervan, 1996). As Deere sees it, there is no real difference between biblical and post-biblical times when it comes to divine communication. The ways in which the Holy Spirit operated in the days of the apostles, can and should continue in the lives of individual Christians today. In fact, anyone who sincerely asks will eventually hear the voice of God. 235.

We find in the Bible itself, Deere argues, a mandate for looking beyond the Bible for divine revelation. And we are guilty of "explaining away the Bible" if we hold that special revelation and guidance are not normal today, but were only for the apostles, only for special people, only for unique situations, and only for the period of the open canon. This view of things, Deere insists, is "modern theological nonsense." 278. It is nothing but "unbelief through theology." Earlier in his experience, he recalls, "I only expected God to speak through the Bible, so that's the only way I heard his voice. After all, dreams, vision, and impressions couldn't be important now that we had the Bible. I embraced a theology that justified my unbelief in all forms of divine communication other than the Bible." 271.

But Deere's outlook changed dramatically. Those who discount divine revelation, he argues now, are "Bible deists." They are guilty of worshiping the Bible rather than God. For Bible deists, Christ cannot speak or be known apart from the Bible. So they merge Christ into the Bible and preach the Bible in the place of Christ. 251-52.

These people are also guilty of overemphasizing the importance of knowledge. When we make the goal of our lives to know the Bible, we exalt knowledge over experience—a tragic mistake. The truths of Scripture can only be fully known through experience. 122. Intelligence, he insists, actually plays a limited role in understanding God's voice. 261. More effective, he asserts are things like an audible voice (revelation can't get any clearer than that). 262. dreams (one of God's favorite ways of speaking). 219. and our thoughts (particularly thoughts that are radically different from our own) (cf. Isa 55,8-9). 327-28.

So, the Bible itself directs us to encounters with God that lie outside the Bible and underscores the importance of actually experiencing God. The Bible is not "a book of abstract truths about God," but "a guide into the supernatural realm of God's power" (26), "a guide to dynamic encounters with a God who works wonders." It was given to us that we might "hear God's voice and respond to that voice with life-changing faith." 28. We should have the experience of people in biblical times, who heard God speak "through an audible voice, dreams, visions, circumstances, fleeces, inner impressions, prophets, angels, and other ways as well as through scripture." 19. The book of Acts represents normal Christianity, Deere insists, and it is filled with accounts of supernatural communication. Accordingly, the very same things could happen to us. 63.

In a nutshell, Deere's position is "the Bible plus." The Bible is valuable, the Bible is important, indeed, the Bible is supreme, but in the final analysis the Bible is not enough. And there is plenty in the Bible itself to show that it is not enough. The Bible itself directs us to look for encounters with God outside the Bible. Emphasizing the Word at the expense of the Holy Spirit leads to a costly divorce, Deere concludes, and many in the church today are content to live with only one parent. They live with the Word, and give the Spirit limited visiting rights. We need both parents. 358.

For someone like Jerry Vines (SpiritWorks: Charismatic practices and the Bible, Broadman&Holman, 1999), virtually every aspect of Jack Deere's position is mistaken. Instead of distinguishing the Bible and the Holy Spirit, Vines brings them together. Since the production of the Bible was the Spirit's greatest work, he argues, it is a mistake to separate the two. Does this exalt the Bible above Christ? Of course not. "The Holy Spirit exalts Christ by composing a book." 40. The central message of the Bible is not the Holy Spirit and his gifts, but Jesus and his resurrection. 41. Accordingly, the Bible defines the scope of God's revelation to us, and provides the means for us to achieve a knowledge of God. The Holy Spirit does not communicate to us independently of the Bible.

What about the dramatic manifestations recorded in the Bible? Don't they provide a precedent for subsequent religious experiences? No. Their role was a temporary one. The things recorded in the Bible are important because they contributed to the production of the Bible. And once the production of the Bible was complete, they were no longer necessary. Accordingly, all dramatic manifestations of divine power, and all gifts of the Spirit, belong to a certain period in the history of God's dealings with human beings, and that period is now past. So it is erroneous to look for them to continue in our time.

In particular, Vines argues, we shouldn't build doctrine or establish church practices for today on the Book of Acts. 78. (Nor on Old Testament passages, for that matter. 125.) What happened at Pentecost was a biblically promised event, and cannot be repeated, so it cannot be the norm for us. There can be no second Pentecost just as there can be no second Bethlehem. The apostles of Acts had a special role in the founding of the church. But we should not expect the events of the early church to be the norm for today. 79.

For Vines, the New Testament itself supersedes the signs and wonders recorded in the New Testament, including the "sign gifts" of the Holy Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit's primary work is to create the Bible, the fundamental purpose of the dramatic events its records is to confirm the unique value of the Bible, not to provide a precedent for further activities of the Holy Spirit. Vine is therefore a "cessationist." The gifts were given to the church for a limited time, and for a very specific purpose—to help launch the Christian church and provide a written guide for future generations. When the written Word was completed, the sign gifts ceased. 128.

These two writers join the issue before us in a helpful way, because the differences between them are so clear. For Jack Deere, revelation continues beyond the Bible. The supernatural manifestations we read about in the Bible—prophecies, dreams, miracles, and so on, extend beyond biblical times on into the Christian era and right up to our own day. Accordingly, we should not be "Bible-bound." We should not limit our knowledge of God to what the Bible says. Just as people did in biblical times, we too can hear "the voice of God."

For Jerry Vines, divine revelation ended with the Bible. The revelation contained in the Bible is definitive. It is comprehensive, conclusive, and concluded. There is no further revelation. To look for the dramatic events of the Bible to repeat themselves in our experience undermines the authority of the Bible and ignores its unique role in God's plan. If there is further revelation, he asks, shouldn't it be included in the Bible, too?

Neither view represents an acceptable position for Seventh-day Adventists. Vines is helpful in upholding the uniqueness of the Bible, but he denies that God has further things to say to his people. Deere is open to the idea that God continues to reveal himself to human beings, but he denies the Bible its unique role in Christian history. In short, one author exaggerates the uniqueness of the Bible, while the other underestimates it. What we need is a view of things that acknowledges the distinctive place of the Bible in Christian history, but allows God the freedom to reveal himself to subsequent generations.

We can achieve this understanding, I believe, if we look carefully at the way the biblical canon developed, in particular the canon of the New Testament. We will discover that early Christians wrestled with the very questions that perplex us here. What is the relation between God's activity in the life of Jesus and his immediate followers and his activity in our lives today? Is their experience just like ours? Is it completely different? Or are they similar in some ways but different in others?

The very existence of the canon suggests an answer to these questions. Early Christians developed the canon because they were convinced of two things. One was the realization that Jesus is God's supreme revelation to human beings. The other was the conviction that God also reveals himself in the Christian community. Put these together and we come to the conclusion that God continues to reveal himself, but all subsequent revelation is subordinate to the revelation in Jesus Christ. That is the definitive revelation of God to human beings. It is unique. It is unrepeatable. It is authoritative.

Seventh-day Adventists obviously have a stake in this, because we hold that Ellen G. White is divinely inspired, yet we maintain that we are Protestants and take the Bible and the Bible only as our rule of faith and practice. How can we have it both ways? How can we hold to both the supreme authority of the Bible and the inspiration of Ellen White? The answer lies in a careful understanding of what the Bible represents, as well as the way in which early Adventists, including Ellen white herself, regarded the spiritual gift in her ministry.

Canon

The Bible is a miracle—several miracles, in fact. For centuries the Bible was painstakingly copied by hand. Then in the mid-fifteenth century Johann Gutenberg used movable type to publish a Bible. And the rest is history. If you have ever seen a Gutenberg Bible you have never forgotten it. Large, imposing, magnificent after 500 years, it is a testimony to the marriage of faith and ingenuity. Thanks to further developments in technology and economy we now mass produce the Bible in many versions and hundreds of languages. The American Bible Society sells copies of the Bible for $2.95. Imagine being able to purchase the living word of God for the price of a fast food meal!

The Bible as we have it is a collection. Actually, it's a collection of collection of collections. The Old and New Testaments together contain 66 individual documents, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. We call them books. The books of the earlier collection were first written almost entirely in Hebrew; the books of the later collection were originally written in Greek. Now there are indications in the Bible that some writers viewed other biblical writings as inspired, but there is no list of biblical documents in the Bible itself. There is no place in the Bible that enumerates all 66 books and says, "These are the books that belong in the Bible—just these 66, no more, no less." So, even if we accept the belief that these documents are individually inspired, we still haven't answered the question, "Is the list inspired?" Why are these particular documents in the Bible and not others?

The word "canon" refers to a body of sacred writings that carry the highest authority for some religious community. The Jewish canon consists of the Hebrew Scriptures. The canon of Islam is the Koran. The Christian canon contains the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and an additional collection of documents originally written in Greek (New Testament).

By the time of Christ there was a well established, rather widely accepted, collection of writings which carried unique divine authority. Actually, there were three collections of documents that carried authority in the Jewish community, comprising a total of 24 books. They were the "law," the "prophets," and the "writings." The law consisted of the five books of Moses (Gen-Dt). The prophets contained eight books—four "former prophets" (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) and four "latter prophets" (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets [Hosea-Malachi]). The Writings included Psalms, Proverbs, and Job; the "five scrolls"—Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther—then Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah and 1-2 Chronicles.

When we find in the New Testament expressions like "the law and the prophets" (Mt 7:12), or "Moses and the prophets" (Lk 24:27), or "Moses, the prophets and the psalms" (Lk 24:44), we know that the entire Old Testament, as we know it, was what the author had in mind.

Jesus accepted all three collections as divinely authoritative, as did the Pharisees of his day. (The Sadducees accepted only the Law.) These works formed the original Scriptures of the early Christian church. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures in particular, the version known as the LXX, was popular among early Christians. When the writers of the New Testament spoke of the "scriptures," it was these documents they had in mind (cf. Jn 5:38-39; Lk 24:27; Ac 18:24; 2 Tim 3:16).

From a Christian perspective, the most significant thing about the Old Testament, as the very expression indicates, is the fact that it points to Christ. It provides the background and the material that enable us to comprehend the significance of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, the Christ, and God's own Son, whom he sent to save the world from sin. Jesus and his early followers believed that the Sacred Scriptures pointed to him as their fulfillment.

So, from a Christian standpoint we might say that the Old Testament is part of the overall, comprehensive revelation of God in Jesus. To accept Jesus is to accept the Scriptures he accepted—the scriptures which he studied and discussed, which he taught, which he quoted, which he applied to himself, and which he recommended to others throughout his lifetime. "I have not come to abolish the law or the prophets," said Jesus, "I have come to fulfill" (Mt 7:17). The Old Testament was the Bible of the early Christian church.

Now, how did the collection we know as the New Testament come into existence?

The Christian church added the writings of the New Testament to form our present canon in a gradual process that was not complete until the fourth century after Christ. What factors led early Christians to form another list of writings and add it to the one they already accepted as divinely authoritative?

  1. From the beginning the words of Jesus carried the same weight in the Christian community as the writings of the Old Testament. According to Ac 20:35, Paul exhorted the Christian elders from Ephesus by appealing to something Jesus said: "remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

  2. Emergence of heretical sects with their own sacred writings. As is often the case, heresy proved to be the mother of orthodoxy. The first canonical list of New Testament writings was compiled b Marcion, who rejected the entire Old Testament and accepted only an edited version of Luke and ten letters of Paul. Christians in general rejected his position in favor of a much more expansive collection of writings.

  3. Needs of worship. Which documents were acceptable to read in worship?
  4. Persecution made it necessary for Christians to know which writings they could renounce and which carried authority for their faith.

  5. The invention of the codex form of manuscripts made it possible to put the sacred writings in a single volume. So, people needed to know which ones should go into it and which should be left out.

  6. The most important factor in the development of the Christian canon was the death of the apostles.

The apostles occupied a position of great significance in the early church. Paul described them as the foundation of the church, along with the prophets (Eph 2:20), and as the most important of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:28). The reason for the importance of the apostles to the church was their unique relation to Jesus. In a nutshell, the apostles were the official witnesses of Jesus' ministry. They bore the authentic, authoritative testimony to his life, death, and resurrection. Indeed, in their work and words, the ministry Jesus began continued in the world. (This seems to be the strategy of Luke's two part contribution to the New Testament, which we have in the form of the third Gospel and his Acts of the Apostles. It shows that the work of Jesus keeps on going in the ministry of the apostles.)

The apostles all met two qualifications: personal contact with Jesus and divine ordination for their work. For the most part, of course, the original apostles had been among Jesus' twelve disciples. After Judas' death, the eleven, with divine guidance, selected Matthias to take his place from among several men who had contact with Jesus during his earthly life (Ac 1:21-26). The apostles often appealed to their personal contact with Jesus to authorize their message (cf. 2 Pet 1:16; 1 Jn 1:1-3).

Among the apostles, Paul was a special case, as he himself was acutely aware. He did not know Jesus during his life on earth. But he claimed to be the recipient of a resurrection appearance (1 Cor 15:8), and he was adamant that he had received an apostolic call from God (Gal 1:1).

Because the apostles provided a "living link" to Jesus, their preaching was essential to the church. As they died one by one over the years, their writings became the only from in which their witness was available. So it was natural for the church to invest these writings with authority, just as they had the preaching of the apostles.

This, then, is what the New Testament represents. It is the written record of the apostolic witness to Jesus. Early Christians accepted as authoritative only documents written either by an apostle himself or by someone closely associated with an apostle. Mark, for example, was a close friend of Peter; Luke was Paul's companion. In this way, the testimony of the apostles continues to guide the church and proclaim Christ in the world.

So, the most important criterion of New Testament canonicity was apostolicity. To be accepted as authoritative, a writing or a document had to be connected to an apostle. It is important to notice this, because we often speak of the Bible as inspired. And we frequently link the words revelation and inspiration in ways that suggest that the most important thing about the biblical writings is the fact that they were inspired. Inspiration was an important criterion of canonicity, for early Christians believed that all the writings of the apostles were inspired. But they did not believe that only apostles were inspired. After all, there were also prophets in the early church. So, they believed that all biblical documents were inspired, but it did not necessarily follow that all inspired documents were biblical.

This distinction is important because it provides a way for Adventists to resolve the connection between EGW and the Bible. Like good Protestants, we accept that principle of sola scriptura, the belief that the Bible alone is the ultimate authority in matters of faith and life. Many people feel that our conviction that EGW was inspired conflicts with this idea. They see us adding her writings to the canon. We've always denied that she represents an addition to the canon, but it is difficult to maintain that view if the canon is the collection of authoritative, inspired writings. We can solve this problem by making apostolicity rather than inspiration our criterion.

Ultimately, the authority of the Bible rests on the authority of Jesus. The authority of the New Testament arises from the authority of the apostles, but the authority of the apostles comes from Jesus. So Christians base their attitude toward the New Testament on their belief in Jesus Christ. They believed that the life of Jesus was utterly unique. In him God was personally present to human beings in a way he has never been before or since. As a result, the testimony of those who witnessed the history of Jesus is likewise unique and unrepeatable. This fact has three important consequences.

First, it means that the canon is closed. No post-apostolic writing can have the same significance, because no later writer can have the same contact with Jesus. The canon is historically limited. The New Testament reflects the unique situation of that first generation of believers, who had personal contact with the Lord himself.

Second, the authority of the apostles cannot be passed on from one generation to another. The apostolic office was not an institutional function. It was an activity for which only the first generation of Christians could qualify, because of their personal acquaintance with Jesus on earth. Early Christians formulated the canon because they recognized the unrepeatable character of the apostles' work.

Third, it means that the Bible has authority over the Christian church. It is true that the canon is the creation of the church. During the first three hundred years after Christ, Christians selected from among a large number of different writings which ones should be accepted as authoritative. The New Testament as we now have it reflects the universal consensus the church had achieved by the late fourth century. There was no question about most of the New Testament documents. The four Gospels, Acts, Paul's letters, 1 John and 1 Peter were accepted everywhere from the beginning. Several writings were accepted for a time by Christians in certain areas of the church but not in others. Some of them eventually gained universal acceptance and are included in the canon. Among them are Hebrews and Revelation and several of the "general epistles." Others failed to acquire universal acceptance, and were finally left out.

In time Christians reached a consensus. A letter written by Athanasius of Alexandria, a bishop in Egypt, in A. D. 367 lists for the first time the "books that are canonized and handed down to us and believed to be divine." Included are the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. So, it took nearly three hundred years after the apostolic generation for the church to settle on the canon.

Lessons from the history of the canon

The history of the canon has a lot to tell us about the nature of the Bible and how we should approach it. The story of the canon tells us something about Ö

  1. Contribution of tradition. When we accept the Bible as our rule of faith and life, we are agreeing with the convictions of other Christians who lived 1600-1900 years ago. We accept the judgment of the church as to which writings carry the highest authority. This conclusion raises questions because it seems to set the Bible under the control of the church. After all, if the church created the Bible, doesn't the Bible get its authority from the church? And in that case, doesn't the church have the right to tell us what the Bible teaches? This is one of the watershed issues that concern Protestants and Catholics. One of the principal goals of the Protestant Reformation was to establish the independence of the Bible from ecclesiastical control. That's really what the idea of "sola scriptura" was all about.



  2. Authority of the Bible. When we look closely at the process of canonization we see that early Christians developed the canon because they recognized that these writings were inherently authoritative. In the words of biblical scholar F. F. Bruce, "The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired" (The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? [5th ed. rev.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: William Bible. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1960], p. 27).

  3. So, in creating the canon early Christians were not conferring their authority on the Bible, they were acknowledging the authority in the Bible. They didn't place the church over the Bible, they placed the Bible over the church. The documents were authoritative for Christians because of their association with the witness of the apostles. The witness of the apostles was uniquely important because or their special relation to Jesus. They bore the authentic, authoritative testimony to his life, death and resurrection. And of course, Jesus was decisively unique because God acted in him for the salvation of the world. Because the Christ event was unique and unrepeatable, the apostolic witness to Jesus was likewise unique and unrepeatable. And that is why the written record of their testimony is so important to the church.

    In acknowledging the authority of the Bible, the early Christian community effectively drew a line between the earliest strand of Christian teaching and everything that followed. The authority of the apostles, or of the apostolic witness to Jesus, would carry unique significance for the church for all time to come. As Oscar Cullman observes, "The fixing of the Christian canon of scripture means that the Church itself, at a given time, traced a clear and definite line of demarcation between the period of the apostles and that of the Church, between the time of foundation and that of construction, between the apostolic community and the Church of the bishops, in other words, between apostolic tradition and ecclesiastical tradition. Otherwise the formation of the canon would be meaningless" ("The Tradition," p. 59; italics his).

  4. God's use of human instruments, history. God uses human beings to accomplish his purposes. This means that there are always some unanswered questions. We don't have time to deal with the question of the Apocrypha, books and passages found in the Greek translation that did not appear in the Hebrew original. Do those writings belong in the Bible or not? Catholics say yes. Protestants generally say no. When it comes to the canon, the center is clear, but the edges are a bit fuzzy. The history of the New Testament canon, as we saw, shows that the edges of the canon were not sharp at the outset of the process.



  5. The humanity of the Bible. The Bible is thoroughly human, as individual parts and as a collection.

The New Testament does not contain everything the apostles wrote. In 1Cor Paul mentions that he had already to the church in Corinth (1Cor 5:9). His letter to the Colossians mentions a letter written to the Laodiceans (4:16). What happened to these letters? Are they included in some other parts of the New Testament, or were they simply lost?

We should not try to eliminate or minimize the human participation in the production of our Bible, either in the composition of the documents or in the process of collecting and preserving them. Although the Bible is thoroughly human, it is not reductively human. To say that it is thoroughly human is not to say that it is merely human, that it is nothing more than a product of human ingenuity.

Even more important than how we got the Bible is what we do with it. We must open our hearts to its influence. We must live by the word of God. It brings life and healing. Let us determine to make the study of God's word the center of our lives.

On the negative side, the history of the canon helps us to avoiding two mistakes when it comes to the relation between the Bible and the Holy Spirit. It can prevent us from either underestimating or overestimating the role of the Holy Spirit in the church. The activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus and his immediate followers was unique. What happened then will never happen again. The activity of the Holy Spirit in the experience of Jesus' closest followers and designated messengers was also unique. Their testimony to Jesus was defined by their place in history. So, for that reason, there will be no more apostles in the life of the church. The way in which the apostolic witness exerts an influence in the church today is through the New Testament. That is how their ministry continues to bless and guide us.

So, it is a mistake to think that what happened in the early Christian church can just keep right on going throughout Christian history. That was a unique period of time, and the Christian church recognized that importance very early on, as we have seen. So Jack Deere and others like him slight the unique activity of the Holy Spirit in bringing the Christian church into existence when they see nothing but continuity between the early church and subsequent generations of Christians and talk as if there should be the same spiritual manifestations today that they had then.

The fact that the earliest generation of Christians was unique for the reasons we have discussed does not mean that the discontinuity between them and us is as sharp as someone like Jerry Vines makes it. Vines talks as if the events of the apostles' lives took place primarily to bring about the creation of the Bible, and that the process was designed to produce precisely the book that we have. That was what the Holy Spirit was up to in the early years of the Christian era, and once the book was created, the Spirit had effectively completed its work. But there is nothing is the New Testament that suggests that the gifts of the Spirit, anymore than the fruit of the Spirit, were only for the first generation of Christians.

To be faithful to the New Testament itself and the insights of the early generations of Christians, we must allow for the possibility that the Holy Spirit will continue to work in human lives, both quietly and dramatically if it chooses, to bring about the fulfillment of God's saving purposes. But we must insist that every operation, or purported operation, of the Spirit be measured by the New Testament descriptions of the Spirit's work. In particular, does it direct people to Christ? Does it serve the fundamental objective of the Spirit's work? Does it build community, bind us together in the body of Christ, and enable us to serve one another? Manifestations or abilities whose fundamental function is to give their subjects a sense of uniqueness or superiority to others are suspect. They do not promote the Spirit's goals.

Even as we allow for the continuation of the Spirit's work among Christians today, to be faithful to the New Testament we will recognize that nothing can add to the ministry of Jesus or to their record of Jesus' ministry. So, the Bible will always be the primary, irreplaceable source of our knowledge of God. The idea that the Bible isn't enough, that focusing your attention completely on the Bible as your avenue to divine truth, as the guide for your life, limits your contact with God or your spiritual development, as Jack Deere maintains, is totally unacceptable. Being Bible bound, as he puts it, it hardly a problem. It would be wonderful to be Bible bound. The word of God has everything we need. It is unique, it is comprehensive, and there is no higher goal in life than to understand and live by it. When the Holy Spirit transforms the words of the Bible into life-giving power within us, we won't need anything more fulfilling.

Conclusion

The work of the Holy Spirit is not it to separate Christians into different levels of spiritual attainment, to elevate one group in the church above another. Instead, its work is to bring Christians together, to unite them into one community, the body of Christ. To do this, it creates differences in service and occasionally it may even provide unusual manifestations of its presence. But the purpose of all such activity is to benefit the community as a whole, and to bring the community together. Throughout his writings, Paul insists that what Christians are together is more fundamental, and more important, than what they are individually. In fact, he specifically speaks against the idea that Christians have different spiritual identities (depending on who their mentor was). 1Cor 1,10-13. So, it violates Paul's vision of the church to regard the Holy Spirit as a divisive factor in Christian experience.

Similarly, the idea that there is a special sort of knowledge, accessible through special insight or learning only to the few, who are thereby set apart from run-of-the-mill believers, is erroneous. Paul insists, to the contrary, that Christ is "the mystery of God," "in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col 2,2-3). In other words, when you have Christ you have everything. There is nothing more you can have. The idea that there are different classes of Christians ignores Paul's insistence that we all have the Holy Spirit. We receive the Spirit at baptism and the Spirit unites us in the body of Christ. Are there super Christians? Yes, there are. But only in the sense that all Christians are super. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, says Paul. And we might add, one Holy Spirit.


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