Murray Campbell

Every Generation Needs Reform: 5 Lessons about Reform from 2 Chronicles

In the case of Jehoshaphat, his reforms produce something far more interesting and engaging and serious than what had previously captured Judah’s attention. In what we might consider rather mundane detail, in commissioning teachers to go to the towns and people with an open Bible, this King was shepherding the people wisely and lovingly. Going back to the Bible isn’t a static process or a regressive move. Accepting all those profound ideas about the Trinity and atonement and the incarnation are treasures to wonder and share, not hide away in the too-hard drawer. 

Church must change! Bring on the great reset! Make Church great again!
Sloganeering can sound like a clarion call or like cringe. This self-absorbed need for redefining, refreshing and relevance has captured the attention of many strands of Christian thought and Church growth networks. It may sound new, fresh and revitalising, but there is rarely anything new under the sun. While Churches diagnose the issues with as much concurrence as a circus of entrepreneurs, evangelists and the local university student union,  and while answers are equally disparate, there is a semblance of agreement that in Australia our churches have taken some missteps, while others have leapt over the precipice and into the void.
We’ve had several visitors to church recently who are struck by the fact as a church we read the Bible and preach through the Bible, and we pray. Apparently ,many Melbourne churches don’t see the need to do this. My question for Melbourne churches is this, what are you doing? Who are you listening to? What are you teaching?
As a Church, we’re currently preaching through 1 and 2 Chronicles. After 18 years at Mentone Baptist Church, we were yet to explore this 2 volume work. I decided that 2023 is the year to do so. As I read, prepared, and preached I noticed that one of the recurring themes in Chronicles is this topic of reformation. While aspects of reform are to fore in many of the sermons, we gave it special attention for 2 weeks as we examined the life and times of one of the key reformers in Judah’s history, King Jehoshaphat.
Other than King Solomon, more chapters are dedicated to Jehoshaphat’s reign than any other King in 2 Chronicles. That fact alone caused me to take a good look at his rule and the events that took place under him. 
Jehoshaphat was a reformer. There are principles and lessons about his reforms that are useful as we consider what it means to reform the church today.  As you’ll see, these characteristics are not unique to Jehoshaphat, these features are found consistently throughout the Bible and yet they find vivid expression in this Old Testament period. 
The word ‘reform’ is used in politics and economics and law and education. When reform is announced, it means there’s something wrong, the system is broken or out of date and needs reforming. It requires fixing or renewing. 
Reform is famously used to describe one of the great Christian movements of history to which we owe so much today, the Reformation: with Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer, and best of all, the Baptists! What happened is that throughout the 16th Century, Christians living in different cities and speaking different languages were convicted by God’s word that some of the official teachings and morals of Rome were in error and out of step with the Bible. Across Europe, people went back to the Bible, ad fontes, and God began to reform and renew thinking, theology, education, civics, ethics and more. The Bible again changed the world. 
This notion of reform didn’t however first appear in 16th Century Europe. We find reforms taking place in the Bible, and the reign of Jehoshaphat is one such example.
1. Every New Generation Needs Reform
Jehoshaphat is among many Kings of Israel and Judah who understood that each new generation need reforming. While he doesn’t initiate his reforms as quickly as someone like Hezekiah, he nonetheless commits to returning Judah to God’s covenantal promises. This is set in stark contrast to his northern contemporary, King Ahab, who flew the flag of progress and change.
17:3 The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the ways of his father David before him. He did not consult the Baals 4 but sought the God of his father and followed his commands rather than the practices of Israel. 5 The Lord established the kingdom under his control; and all Judah brought gifts to Jehoshaphat, so that he had great wealth and honor. 6 His heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord; furthermore, he removed the high places and the Asherah poles from Judah.
Jehoshaphat might be King but he understands God is God and his role under God is to serve and obey him. So begins the process of removing errant practices and ideas and returning the people to God’s revealed will in his word. 
Reform isn’t about maintaining dead religion or resisting the future or pining for the glory days of film noir or art deco. The Chronicler explains reformation is about devotion to God and a heart for His people. We read how Jehoshaphat’s heart was devoted to God’s commands. There is no distinction for Jehoshaphat between seeking God with his heart and following God’s words. Heart and mind, attitude and action, belong together and move in unison when we love God. We don’t choose between loving God and obeying the Bible. We don’t choose to be a heart Christian or a mind Christian.  
In loving God, Jehoshaphat leads Judah in reformation in these important ways:

He sought God and followed God’s commands
He removes idols
He raises up teachers to teach God’s words to the people of God
He appoints judges for the towns and regions

Jehoshaphat’s reforms include an aspect of the negative, saying no to false worship and removing practices and objects that distorted or altogether replaced the true worship of God. His reforms are also positive, sending out teachers and judges who will bring the people back to God’s words and cause them to live under the covenant.
7 In the third year of his reign he sent his officials … 9 They taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people. (17:7,9)
5 He appointed judges in the land, in each of the fortified cities of Judah. 6 He told them, “Consider carefully what you do, because you are not judging for mere mortals but for the Lord, who is with you whenever you give a verdict. 7 Now let the fear of the Lord be on you. Judge carefully, for with the Lord our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.” (19:5-7)
2. We Move Forward by Going Back to God’s Word
Jehoshaphat leads the people not forward and away from God, but forward with God by going back to the word. He is a word-centred leader which is evidenced by him sending out teachers to all the cities and towns of Judah, men who took the Scriptures with them and taught the people.
One of the myths embedded in some missiology and church planting manuals is that to reach people today we need to find new ways and innovations. If I collected $10 for every time I hear talks and blogs and books advocating fresh, relevant and powerful ideas for churches, I’d soon be in a position to buy the Vatican! 
Of course, not everything new in the world and not every innovation is bad and wrong; that would be silly. Mission and Church have a language. I don’t simply mean linguistic and verbal language, but there are communicative signs and symbols in the way we do music and the way we organise church meeting places and the way we connect the gospel with people’s lives and cultural moments. But attached to many plans and dreams for the future, is a hubris and misstep that believes reaching people for Christ today requires new methods and new messages.
New is superior. New is more interesting. New is more authentic.
Of course, this vibe runs deep through many facets of our culture: think art,  music, movies, and even ethics. Ethics today is like experimental art. In places like Melbourne, what’s noticed and praised are new expressions and new definitions for those big questions of life,  ‘who am I’ and ‘what’s life about’. He old old story lacks gravitas, it doesn’t sell tickets, or so we assume.
This thinking is of course myopic. Plenty of new ideas are also disturbing and dangerous. Think of the subject of the movie Oppenheimer: the atomic bomb!
In fact, ecclesial commitment to innovation often creates new problems rather than fixing old ones. The consumer bent model of church that provides a cinematic experience or the moshe pit frenzy, the slick preaching that feels like a Netflix special, or the stripped back lounge church where we don’t preach or sing or do Bible because that creates awkward conversation.
Neither am I not arguing for traditionalism or conservatism. We don’t need to clean out the organ pipes and take classes to understand thee and thou. The tie is not more faithful than the t-shirt, or jeans over the dress. It’s not that one hour on Sunday is holier than 2, or a 50-minute exposition more faithful than 20. Within God’s given shape for church, there is great flexibility and freedom. And yet Jehoshaphat understood that faith has particular content and contour which shapes all of life. 
The shape and trajectory of the local church is far less glamorous and sounds way less cool and exciting and all the other adjectives we use to appeal to our congregation’s hearts, time and money.  And yet, it is far more substantial.
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Pride Will Destroy You, Your Ministry, and People Around You

Pride will destroy you. Pride is an ugly ministry companion that doesn’t let go easily. Pride will undo years of ministry and preaching and leading. If a friend has the courage to say, I think you’ve become proud, listen to that loving correction. Let God break that chain before it breaks you. Let us daily immerse ourselves in the humbling grace of God in Christ, that we might avoid the route taken by Uzziah and instead walk the one taken by the Lord Jesus 

You may be familiar with this famous saying, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall”. It comes from the Bible, Proverbs 16:18.
We have mixed feelings about pride in Australia. On the one hand, we like to run over any tall poppy with the lawnmower. And yet pride is splashed across Instagram and Facebook pages all the time: pride in achievement and success,  pride in people, pride about identity.  Pride has become an idea or slogan to embrace and celebrate.
We have a discombobulated relationship with pride.
To quote Pride and Prejudice,
“[Mr. Darcy’s] pride,” said Miss Lucas, “does not offend me so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family, fortune, every thing in his favor, should think highly of himself. If I may so express it, he has a right to be proud.”
“That is very true,” replied Elizabeth, “and I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.”
I think Australians are selective about the pride we denounce and the pride we embrace.
As a Church last Sunday we looked at the reign of King Uzziah from 2 Chronicles 26. In the account, the theme of power and pride rears its ugly head in devastating form.
Uzziah comes to the throne at the age of 16 and he starts well. While most teenage boys are gaming and playing cricket and using their testosterone for all manner of quick fulfilment pursuits, Uzziah was ruling a nation. He begins well,
4 He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. 5 He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success.
Uzziah rebuilds military towers and rebuilds towns. He organises and leads the army well. He brings people together. He led the army in battle against the Philistines, verse 7, ‘and the Lord helped him’. It’s not difficult to imagine the excitement surrounding this positive beginning. Uzziah is doing what pleases God and he’s looking after the people and protecting them. He oversees State run building projects that run on time and to budget.
Then it goes horribly wrong. Verse 16 spells out the downward progression,
 But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.
Power – pride – downfall.
While power is usually spoken in negative and abusive ways today, power isn’t inherently bad or wrong. God is all-powerful. By his powerful word, God created the universe and he made you. By his powerful word God exercises justice and administers mercy. In this strength, he stops nations and cares for the hungry. God also gives people strength – physical, mental, and spiritual strength.
Power can achieve much good and also much sin. In the hands of sinful people, which is all of us, power and strength is a present temptation. We have the creative ability to twist and misuse power in all kinds of ways.
Power doesn’t inevitably lead to pride but when it swims in the bathtub of humanity, it’s like putting an egg in boiling water for 6 minutes; the outcome is pretty likely.
1. Pride grows in all kinds of soil
We mustn’t think of pride in a one-dimensional way. Pride can grow in all kinds of soil: in success, in power, in failure, in suffering. Pride is adaptable and fits snuggly in all different sizes.
Pride is having that concern for yourself and your reputation over and above God and his glory and the good of others. Pride is a belief that I am better or that I deserve better.
Pride includes but isn’t limited to boasting and feeling big about yourself.
John Piper is right when he observes,
Boasting is the response of pride to success.Self-pity is the response of pride to suffering.
Boasting says, “I deserve admiration because I have achieved so much.”Self-pity says, “I deserve admiration because I have suffered so much.”
Boasting is the voice of pride in the heart of the strong.Self-pity is the voice of pride in the heart of the weak.
2. Pride redefines reality, defining identity and worth against other people.
In Uzziah’s case, his pride is fed by power. He came to believe that power justifies freedom to live on one’s own terms. Uzziah comes to believe that power is a road to autonomy and freedom for defining life’s norms. He no longer felt the necessity to follow God’s laws. He had the liberty to take licence. He thought, I can even enter the Temple ignore the law and relate to God as I decide.
This pride exhibits itself in a shameful act in God’s Temple.
16 But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. 
Of course, the reality is Uzziah was never independent. All the good he achieved only came about because of God’s help. As verse 5 reminds, “As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success” The Lord blessed his endeavours. The Lord was his helper. Not only that, the people he serves are God’s people. And this is God’s Temple and yet Uzziah’s self-confidence persuades him to strut about on his terms.
It’s here that I think it’s worth seeing how the story plays out and in doing so displays the stupid stubbornness of pride and its ability to destroy.
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Richard Dawkins Asks an Important Question and Here Is My Answer

For Dawkins, as brilliant a scientist as he is, he believes in a closed universe and so it’s unlikely that he’ll accept any compelling evidence that punctures his system. Even Jesus was aware of how our a priori commitments block us. He famously said, “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” Why? Because there is more going on in our minds and hearts than just intellectual questions and the pursuit of what happened.

I can imagine Richard Dawkins sitting in the back row at the Areopagus, stern-faced and shaking head, and leading a small chorus of sceptics.
Richard Dawkins is continuing his mission to evangelise people out of Christianity (and religion altogether) and to secure his message of a world without hope. 
Today in a video message, he asks, ‘Do you want to be comforted by a falsehood?’
It’s a good question and an important one. Does anyone want to find consolation in a fabrication? Does anyone want to pour all their hopes into a dead end? For Professor Dawkins death is of course the dead end, with nothing beyond and no light to give hope to either the dead or those who are left behind. 
When your brain decays there is absolutely no reason to suppose your consciousness will continue, so the grounds of plausibility, the balance of plausibility is heavily in favour or there been no survival after death and that is something and that is something we need to live with. It’s not all that horrifying a prospect when you think about it because we think as Mark Twain said, ‘I’ve been dead for billions of years before I was born and never suffered the smallest inconvenience. 
I suspect that Dawkins’ answer will arouse applause and retweets from fans and devotees, and with a satisfied Amen. Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether he’s right or not, his answer isn’t particularly consoling. Dawkins says that he finds solace in the finality of being no more, but I suspect most people including a lot of atheists are not so convinced. Our intellectual commitments (whether theistic or atheistic) come under a sudden assault when death approaches and when a loved one is lowered into the grave. There is a longing for death not to win. There is palpable hope that life may continue and love to beat any final breath. 
Why divorce cognitive processes from heart filled yearnings? Of course, the two can be in conflict and they can also partner together as a harmonious duet, as we find in Christian theism.
Dawkins (and fellow atheists) believes that once our final breath expires and we are buried, the totality of what we were begins to rot and we cease to be. All that is left is the box in the ground holding our biological material and the memories that people have of you. Again, some readers may find that a satisfying end of the story, but most of us don’t. Whether we find it satisfying or not isn’t evidence of what is ultimately true.
The thing about the Christian view of resurrection is not one of lacking commitment to the intellectual process but appreciating that there is more going on. It is not wrong to appeal to deep heart filled longings, for those emotional impulses are part of who we are as human beings. We are more than those heart desires, not less.
I believe, along with Oxford and Cambridge Dons, scientists, poets, plumbers and children, that the Christian explanation of resurrection is both intellectually satisfying and emotionally, psychologically, spiritually liberating and consoling.
Something happened that day just outside Jerusalem that changed the world. Women and men saw something that didn’t compute. The evidence defied their prior assumptions and challenged their emotional state. They saw and heard and touched Jesus raised from the dead. 
Before we line up the Biblical accounts with ancient mythology, we mustn’t assume that resurrection was a commonly held view in the ancient world, for that is not the case. Many ancient religions believed in some kind of life after death, although not all (including many Athenians in the First Century AD).  The Christian notion of resurrection is altogether different 
As Dr Chrisopher Watkin summarises in his new volume, Biblical Critical Theory, 
“The nature of the resurrection is very different to the ancient notion of rising gods known as apotheosis. The bodily nature of resurrection sets the Christian claim apart from other superficially similar narrative patterns in the ancient world. The Romans, for example, were familiar with the idea that a mortal person could undergo an apotheosis to become a god, but apotheoses were spiritual, not bodily, and the deified mortal would not be expected to tread the streets of Jerusalem for forty days before ascending to heaven. Apotheosis was also a privilege reserved for the rich and mighty, not for the common artisan and certainly not for the crucified criminal. Christ’s resurrection was also different from the myths of dying and rising agricultural gods in other pagan religions. N. T. Wright, author of the 740-page The Resurrection of the Son of God insists that “even supposing Jesus’s very Jewish followers knew any traditions like those pagan ones—nobody in those religions ever supposed it actually happened to individual humans.”
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When Schools Educate Children away from Christianity

Parents, know what your children are being taught. When your children attend special seminars and lessons with outside groups, do your homework and find out what’s going on. Ask the school in advance for information about what will be taught. Debrief with your children afterwards. Listen to their questions with lots of patience and love. Remind them that God’s ways are good and show them how to persist with kindness and grace when our schoolmates disagree.  Lest you think this is only an issue in Government schools, this is now widespread among private and independent schools.

A friend’s teenage son recently attended a high school excursion in the city. The day was focusing on empathy and learning skills to understand people who are different from ourselves. Sounds great! There we are discussions about homelessness and disabilities, which is great. Some of the day was about how to relate to LGBT people. It still sounds as though it may be useful. As part of the training, the presenter informed the kids that Christians are among the worst offenders in handing out bigotry. Christians are hateful people who cause all kinds of harm to LGBT people. Indeed, the school children were informed that parts of the Bible needs to be removed.
The boy spoke up in front of the class and explained that the trainer’s claims were untrue; that takes courage. One can imagine how his views were received. The poor kid went home having been essentially made to feel that he and his family were awful people on account of their Christian faith…and his entire class now know it!
Let’s leave aside the overdose of irony about an ‘empathy’ training event teaching kids that Christians are the worst and are bigots, and so are parts of the Bible, the claim is simply not true.
This presenter is simply repeating the popular lie which alleges disagreement equals hate. The correlation is both intellectually and morally insipid. Take Jesus for example. Jesus Christ disagreed with all manner of beliefs and behaviour (including sex outside marriage) and yet he is the most loving person ever to have lived. Indeed, it is his love that drives him to disprove ideas and actions that contradict God’s good purposes. Jesus even went to the cross and willingly gave his life for people who actively opposed him in every way imaginable. Activists, politicians and educators may repeat the mantra a thousand times, but disagreeing on important matters is not equivalent to bigotry and hatred.
And notice the gall of the presenter, who in the name of tolerance and acceptance, felt confident to tell a class of school children about all those hateful Christians and their hateful Bible. According to the group’s website, this organisation teaches 1000s of school children every year; imagine what other messages they have pushed onto children.
In a reasonable world, one might assume that defaming a religion directly to school children in this manner would be unacceptable. Surely inclusion includes Christians? Imagine the public outcry if a school program taught that Islam was evil or that Jews held abhorrent beliefs? Common sense ought to lead parents to trust that schools will object and never use the program again. But in today’s world, schools will probably shy away from doing the right thing because the fear of being outed by activists is tangible and the very long and judgemental arm of the Government is also quite real.
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UK Pastors Write Letter to the Government Explaining They Will Choose God

The Apostle Paul often found himself on the wrong side of the dominant culture, whether it was Jerusalem or Ephesus or Philadelphia. Christianity has often played this unwanted role in the last 2,000 years of history. It’s just that our cultural moment is unusual. In parts of the world like Australia and the UK we have reaped the rich gains of the Christian message, but we are now slowly turning our backs in pursuit of a life without God. 

Victoria is not the only jurisdiction in the world to introduce laws prohibiting conversion practices. While Victoria’s The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act remains the most extreme, both in the breadth of what is banned and in the criminal sanctions that are threatened,  other Australian State and several countries have or are in the process of banning elements of Christian practice and belief.
The United Kingdom is introducing legislation to ban so-called conversion practices.  More than 2500 pastors have signed a letter to the Government, explaining their position,
“It should not be a criminal offence for us to instruct our children that God made them male and female, in his image, and has reserved sex for the marriage of one man and one woman. Yet this seems to be the likely outcome of the proposed legislation,” they write.
“We therefore very much hope (and pray) that these proposals will be dropped in their current form. We have no desire to become criminals and place a high value on submitting to and supporting our government.
“Yet we think it important you are aware that if it were to come about that the loving, compassionate exercise of orthodox Christian ministry, including the teaching of the Christian understanding of sex and marriage, is effectively made a criminal offence, we would with deep sadness continue to do our duty to God in this matter.”
These are not words of bigotry. These are not malevolent attitudes toward fellow human beings who don’t identify with their biological sex or as heterosexual. These are reasonable convictions accompanied by love of neighbour. Indeed, the views articulated in the letter remain normal and orthodox in Christian churches around the world today (including Melbourne). The classical view of sex and marriage was even broadly held in civil society until just a few short years ago. But of course, the socio-political landscape has changed dramatically and it will continue to do so.
No doubt there are many faithful pastors who haven’t signed the letter. While others are weighing up the right course of action. I cannot of course speak for many who have signed. Among the signatories though are friends of mine. Indeed, some signatories are same-sex attracted. These are men and women who love God and are convinced by God’s good Gospel about his Son.
They are not malicious troublemakers or intolerant social miscreants. These are thoughtful people who are convinced by the teaching of Scripture, the very same Scriptures from which our society gleans the belief that all men and women are equal and that all life has value.
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The Real Boy Called Christ(mas)

The imprint of Jesus coming not only remains at Christmas but is all around us today. As we follow this Jesus we gain the greatest gift that no Christmas tree can hold or no toy factory manufacture: Peace with God, the forgiveness of sin, and eternal life. 

I admit it. I’m a bit of a fan of Christmas movies. It doesn’t fall as low Hallmark, but put on a classic Christmas show I’ll make the popcorn.  As a kid and now with children of my own I love sitting down and watching the snowfall and a Christmas tune and trying to take in the smell of pine and fir trees through the tv screen.
“Home Alone,” “The Grinch,” and “A Christmas Carol” are perennial favourites in our house. Even a Harry Potter Christmas scene is enough to take me in.
At this time of year, everyone is churning out new seasonal Christmas movies. Among the most anticipated Christmas movies for 2021 is “A Boy Called Christmas.” The movie features a lineup of British actors including Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent and Toby Jones.
I haven’t seen the movie yet, but the trailer certainly caught my attention. First of all, “A Boy Called Christmas” has all the hallmarks of another half-decent, fun viewing, film for families. It has the right amount of snow and pretty lights and elves and Christmas jargon to draw us into the story being told.
But if the movie is anything like the messaging that’s promoted in the trailer, “A Boy Called Christmas” deserves an eye roll the size of Hollywood.
Covered with enough sugar dusted on top to make it all sweet, the story projects a couple of myths about Christmas.
Before I dare follow the well-trodden path of the Grinch and criticise anything connected with Christmas, let’s keep in mind that this new version of the origins of Christmas is fantasy and fiction; the producers and writers aren’t pretending otherwise. Nevertheless, “A Boy Called Christmas”, reinforces (as truth) two myths that are perpetually bouncing around our culture today.
First of all, Maggie Smith’s character makes a claim as she tells a group of children the story of Christmas,
“Long ago nobody knew about Christmas. It started with a boy called Nicholas.”
Ummm…no. There was once a man named Nicholas. He lived in the 4th Century AD and served as a Christian Bishop in the city of Myra (located in what is today, Turkey). But Christmas didn’t start with him, nor was it about him. In fact, one can pretty much guarantee that Nicholas would be appalled by any suggestion that he invented Christmas.
The event that we know as Christmas today certainly started with a boy, but his name wasn’t Nicholas; it was Jesus.
It’s worthwhile separating the day on the calendar called Christmas and the original event it is honouring. By Christmas, I’m not referring to the public holiday or to December 25th, but to the event that changed the world and which the world has sought fit to mark with a celebration every year in December. In fact, while Christians have always believed and held onto the birth of Jesus as a crucial step in God’s plan of redemption, no one celebrated a day called Christmas for hundreds of years.
I realise the name kind of gives it away, but in case we’re unsure, Christmas has something to do with Christ. Indeed, it has everything to do with the Christ. Christ of course is the Greek noun for the Hebrew name, Messiah. It’s a title that denotes ruler and anointed King. Christ is God’s promised ruler who will receive a Kingdom that will never end, fade, or perish.
“The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” (John 4:25—26)
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.” (1 John 5:1)
This first faux pas from “A Boy Called Christmas” is forgivable, in the same way, Narnia and Dr Seuss aren’t given to us as history or sacred writ, but please make sure our kids realise this is the case. It is this next line from the movie trailer (which presumably features as a motif) that is nothing short of inane. A young Nicholas is given this advice,
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Does the Holy Spirit Speak New Words Today?

If we want to know what God thinks, open the Bible and read it; not plucking verses out of their context but reading it as we ought, in context, understanding genre,  recognising that all Scripture is preparing for and fulfilled by and is about Jesus Christ. 

The idea that God has new things to say and that the Holy Spirit speaks to people outside of Scripture is a common understanding among some religious circles. The ‘Holy Spirit said to me’ has become a popular belief particularly among pentecostal and progressive Christians. Stories of the Spirit speaking offer powerful testimonies, albeit ones that cannot be verified. The claim is often used to justify ideas and decisions we want to make. After all, how can we say no to an idea if the Spirit has spoken?!  This is, however, a misleading and dangerous notion. This view of the Spirit and God’s speech is one that ignores the Spirit’s own testimony through Scripture and it is one that often leads to all manner of pastoral issues.
Indeed, when we have a dodgy doctrine of the Bible we shouldn’t be surprised if we take a wrong turn on all kinds of theological and ethical issues.
Before I turn to the Bible I want to clarify a few potential pushbacks.
What I’m Not Saying
I’m not for a moment suggesting that we only listen to Scripture and that other voices are unimportant. It is an act of love and respect that we listen to and understand the culture around us. We value people by appreciating the questions and fears and longings they feel and express. It’s for this reason, that people matter, that it’s vital Christians don’t go around playing God and claiming authoritative words from God.
Let me also preface,  I am not pretending that the culture we live in doesn’t influence how we read the Bible. The conversation however is not a dialectical one where we come to the truth by listening to both the Bible and the voices of today. Rather the Holy Spirit sanctifies God‘s people so that we understand and embrace more of what God has spoken. His word will increasingly draw us into conformity with his Son and not with the standards of our cultural moment.
I am not denying the active work of God’s Spirit in the lives of God’s people. The Spirit illumines the words of God so that we may understand, believe and obey them. The Spirit ministers to our hearts, and affects joy, peace, and love, perseverance. The Spirit unites us to Christ and with each other. The Spirit does not however speak new words or words that contradict Holy Scripture.
The Holy Spirit and the Bible
Allow me to demonstrate my point from the Bible.
The suggestion that God’s Spirit is revealing new truths beyond the Bible goes against the grain of what we learn about the Spirit’s role in revealing God and his plan of salvation. John 14-17 is one of the Bible’s most important sections for giving us a doctrine of Scripture. In these chapters, Jesus teaches his disciples extensively about the work of the Holy Spirit. Please note the following:

The Holy Spirit is sent from the Father and the Son (14:26; 15:26–27; 16:7).
He is the Spirit of truth (14:17; 15:26-27). Already in John’s Gospel the truth has been defined as Jesus (14:6) and the Father’s words are defined as truth (17:7). As the Spirit of truth his representation of God and God’s purposes are true. He does not lie.
The Holy Spirit has a speaking role. He is, however, not a free agent doing and saying whatever he pleases, but as the One sent from the Father and the Son his mission is tied to theirs (16:13–15). Jesus makes this very clear to his disciples.
The content of the Holy Spirit’s speech is Jesus: ‘the Holy Spirit will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you’ (14:26); ‘the Spirit of truth…will testify about me’ (15:27).
Most scholars agree that in 14:26 and 16:13–15 Jesus is addressing his apostles, rather than the Church at large. After all, when Jesus says, the ‘Holy Spirit…will remind you of all that I have said to you’, this must be addressed to the apostles who were with Jesus during his earthly ministry.

Thus, Jesus is not saying that the Spirit will teach us new things, he is teaching his apostles that the Holy Spirit will help them remember, understand and apply Jesus’ teachings. In other words, the Holy Spirit is pointing back to Jesus. On three occasions John shows his readers this divine’ remembering in action (2:22; 7:39 12:16).
6. The Spirit’s words to the disciples become what we know as the apostolic message, the New Testament Scriptures. In John 17:6–19 Jesus prays for his disciples, that as men who had been sanctified by the truth, and as Jesus had been sent by the Father, so Jesus sends his disciples into the world. This prayer is immediately followed up by a prayer for all future believers, those ‘who will believe in me through their message’ (17:20). To summarise: God’s revelation comes from the Father and from the Son, it is mediated by the Spirit, to the apostles, about the Son, who in turn are sent into the world. There is no hint that the Holy Spirit will speak words beyond the apostles or in addition to the full revelation of God in Christ.
In my view, this is game, set and match. Jesus’ teaching on the Spirit and Scripture in John 14-17 gives clarity as to the how, what, and why of the Spirit teaching.
One of the corollaries accompanying the view that the Spirit speaks new words today is the belief that the Bible isn’t sufficient. But is this the way Jesus and the Apostles describe the Bible? Let’s explore,
Jesus consistently taught that the entire Old Testament (for the New Testament had not yet been written) ought to be considered as the words of God, and accordingly trusted and obeyed.
For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus establishes his Scriptural hermeneutic, saying,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matt 5:17-18)
This statement is important for at least these two reasons: First, Jesus explicates one of the chief purposes of the Old Testament Scriptures. “Law and Prophets” is shorthand for the entire Old Testament (from Genesis to Malachi), and with clarity, he explains their ultimate design, which is to prepare for and point people to himself.
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