In the last post, I laid down some thinking that if the Holy Spirit works in a special way that He will make sure that the message is authenticated. I did that to start answering the contention that Christians are to make decisions based on an interior still voice (that sounds different from themselves but which they can start understanding as the voice of God as they become more spiritual), or that Christians must rely on an internal nudging to do X over Y, or that they can be miraculously led by the Spirit to justify some preaching over another preaching, etc, etc.
I left off showing how the one time that we see in Scripture some sort of nudging of an individual Christian by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:9) we see that the situation isn’t as subjective as is often suggested. The story starts with the Holy Spirit blocking passage to other parts of the country (Acts 16:6, 7). Luke doesn’t tell us how the Holy Spirit does this; it is merely assumed that he is doing it. We don’t know if he personally speaks, or if there’s an earthquake, or if there’s a sent angel blocking the path. Whatever the case may be, the missionary team discovers the Holy Spirit doesn’t want them in an area as they travel toward the area; not before they leave to the area. This isn’t a change of direction; this is getting to the place they want to go but being stopped.
Then Paul has a dream that seems pretty obvious; you would think that the situation would be settled outright. Instead, the missionary team discuss their next step and conclude that God wants them in Macedonia (Acts 16:10)—a road that eventually leads to a prison (Acts 16:22-23). So here is a situation, if normative, would suggest that it is not merely an internal forth telling, but it is discussed within the group in light of all the evidence that God has presented.
Indeed, another case that doesn’t consist of an internal nudging (though sometimes presented as such) we see Paul heading toward Jerusalem but meeting with the elders in Ephesus (Acts 20). Paul says that he is bound by the Spirit to head to Jerusalem without knowing what will happen in Jerusalem. But he knows that bonds and afflictions await for him there because the Holy Spirit testifies to him in every city. The Holy Spirit is testifying to Paul in certain locations—not by an internal nudge.
Continuing the story In Acts 21 we see Paul staying at the home of a renowned Evangelist, hanging around the man’s four daughters who were prophets, and the visit of the famous Agabus (who prophesied about a severe famine Acts 11:28). Like the prophets of old, he takes Paul’s belt, ties himself up and announces the word of the Holy Spirit that Paul is to be bound and delivered to the Gentiles. The people of God begged him not to go on. If anything, Paul should be nudged in the direction that he doesn’t go to Jerusalem, but instead he decides to continue on—instead of seeing this as a warning, he takes it as incentive for suffering. The community is not saddened that Paul is acting against the will of God—instead they fall silent saying “The will of God be done”.
But why did they try to dissuade Paul if they saw this as the will of God?
In the first case, the dream of Paul didn’t stand alone but the group decided the course of action; in the Agabus prophecy, the group was afraid of this message but knew that if Paul was to go on to Jerusalem, he would be arrested. They didn’t know this by an internal witness but by an expressed prophecy which was in accordance with all the other testimony of the Holy Spirit. They could sift the Spirit’s revelation (Acts 20 and 21) and conclude that this is true.
Corporate action sifting the work of the Holy Spirit is evidenced most clearly in the Jerusalem Council where the question is “What about circumcision and Gentile conversion?”(Acts 15:1) Here’s a situation where we have known prophets (Paul) and teachers (Barnabas), people who have seen visions by the Spirit of God (Peter), people who have had the Spirit of God perform miracles through them all coming together(Acts 15:6) to get an answer on a tough issue. Surprisingly enough, God doesn’t speak to a prophet to reveal a message of God that will settle the issue. Nor does he give a vision to any of the council members. The answer is sought on the basis of God’s activity.
After debating the issue (Acts 15:7) Peter shares his past experience in regard to preaching the Gospel to gentiles and the Spirit of God working obviously (authenticating the message) in the Gentiles just as He worked in the Jews. Indeed, Paul and Barnabas were seeing Gentiles saved left and right and they’re testimony in the council dealt directly with that question (which they didn’t answer on the mission field with the words “God told me so” or “I was led by the Spirit to say”). Barnabas and Paul instead shared the authenticating wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles (Acts 15:12) and these actions of God, not internal nudges, were examined with an eye as to what God was doing.
Now James speaks and quotes the words of Scripture that tie with what’s been going on. The message was recorded in Scripture and it was fulfilled before their eyes with authenticating wonders. In light of all this, the decision is that Gentiles are not to bear the yolk of circumcision. From this decision they then choose people (Prophets: Judas, Silas Acts 15:27) to confirm Paul and Barnabas’ message (Acts 15:22) with a letter (Acts 15:23) and summarize all of this as something that seemed good to both themselves and the Holy Spirit of God (Acts 15:28).
This is important. Being led by the Spirit here wasn’t a subjective nudge; it was the gathering of the leaders of the people of God deciding the best course of action in regards to this teaching based on what God was plainly doing in history, authenticated by miracles, witnessed in their circumstance and after serious discussion.
This emphasis on the corporate sifting is seen elsewhere. Galatians 2: tThe Spirit of God working in Paul with the gentiles is the same spirit of God working in Peter with the Jews—God shows no partiality. Paul, relating a later story, speaks about confronting Peter, not on the basis of nudging but on the basis of the revealed word of God. As a final proof, Paul turns the eye against the Galatians, who have the same Spirit of God as Paul and Peter, and asks who has cast a spell on them to make them ignore their entrance into the truth by faith which was then authenticated by God (Gal 5:5) with miracles among them corporately. Paul, writing to Timothy, tells him not to neglect the Spiritual Gift that was imparted to him (not by an internal nudge) but by the corporate laying on of hands of the leadership (1 Timothy 4:13-15).Paul, when writing to Corinth tells them that they can make tough decisions because they all (with him) have the Mind of Christ (the Spirit of God—1 Cor 2). Indeed, Paul says, he’s with them in the Spirit of God as they make these tough decisions (1 Cor 5:4). Paul puts this into further practice when he tells them that the words he writes is the word of God and if any of them think they’re prophets they will corporately authenticate the veracity of Paul’s statement.
Now here there’s potential for a person to confuse what I’m saying and take it to mean “In the tough decisions, God will show us the light.” And that is patently false. Paul’s basis for them making a tough decision is grounded in the reality of the Spirit’s work in the ministry, death and resurrection of Christ. Paul tells them that the way they should live is obvious in light of Christ being our Passover and all believers living during a perpetual feast of cleanliness (1 Cor 5). Furthermore, the sane preaching in the community which can be understood (via interpretation) consists of relating the word of God that calls for repentance found uniquely in the Gospel (1 Cor 14).That being the case they must (and can) make tough decisions because they have the Spirit of God whose mission is to point to Christ (John 14-16).
So beyond the case that Scripture doesn’t really speak of internal nudging as the normative activity of the Spirit of God in promoting action; Scriptures do speak positively of seeing the Spirit of God at work as a community which then examines the evidence based on what has been (and is being) revealed and authenticated by God.
But a community, says a person, is made up of individuals. Even the Jedi Council was made up of Jedi’s! How is an individual, who is part of the community, led by the Spirit if not by the subjective and internal driver? After all, the Holy Spirit spoke through Agabus which necessitates the man being moved to go to where Paul was and giving him the message. Indeed, in all cases, the prophets are being moved to speak by God (who is behind all good); how can you, Rey, possibly suggest anything different?
Well, that’s another post.