Does God Work Only In And
Through The Word Today?
Alexander Campbell's favorite philosopher was John Locke (1632-1704). He's one of mine, also. But, I am afraid that Locke's rationalistic approach unduly influenced Campbell. Consequently, Campbell rationalized the working of the Holy Spirit in conversion and limited His influence to the written Word. He argued that "if the Spirit of God has spoken all its arguments" in the Bible, then "all the power of the Holy Spirit which can operate on the human mind is spent."
Before anyone think me an enemy of Campbell, and some have, please understand that I hold him and much of his work in very high esteem. And although I think Campbell was right in trying to counter the "better felt than told experience" of the Calvinists, who taught that one was saved by the direct operation of the Holy Spirit apart from the Word of God, his conclusion was, in my opinion, quite incorrect. The Holy Spirit certainly works through the Word in conversion. In fact, no one can be converted apart from the Word. But, and this is very important, the Bible nowhere teaches that the Holy Spirit is limited to working only in and through the Word. Unfortunately, this is a mistake that many among us have continued to make. Some have even taken the next step and are teaching that "God works only in and through the Word today."
While discussing the continued activity of demons today with a fellow preacher (and I'm not talking about demon possession), I pointed out that the Bible says we are engaged in a battle "against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). Furthermore, I pointed out, it had been prophesied that some would give heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1). In connection with this, I mentioned that the Bible teaches there is a wisdom that is derived from demons (James 3:14-17), and that the battle we are engaged in seems to be centered on the mind (Acts 5:3; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 11:3; 2 Timothy 2:26). It was my point that these passages clearly teach us that the Devil can fill our hearts, blind and corrupt our minds, and, by the use of deception, take us captive to do his will. But, according to this preacher, such was true only during the miraculous age. Satan and his agents, according to this preacher, can no longer do these things today. When asked why, he replied, in part, that God worked only in and through the Word today and, therefore, if Satan and his agents were allowed to influence our minds, then they would be more powerful today than God.
This is exactly the kind of thinking I am trying to pinpoint. Where does the Bible teach, either through direct statement, approved example, or necessary inference, that God works only in and through the Word today? Where is the teaching that says God cannot influence our minds apart from the Word? Of course, one may counter by asking, "Where is the passage that says God does influence the mind independent of the Word?" This is a good question. In answering it, I call your attention to James 1:5. In this passage, we are taught that God gives wisdom to His children when they ask for it. Notice that this wisdom comes as a direct result of prayer, not study—although I believe it is safe to conclude this happens in a way not totally divorced from the serious study of God's Word. Therefore, the Bible teaches that God can, and does, somehow influence the mind apart from the Word—and by this I mean the Word as the agent. If this were the only passage we were able to cite, and it's not, it would prove, quite conclusively, that God is not limited to working only in and through the Word today.
I am afraid that many, "not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God," have become nothing less than modern-day Sadducees (Matthew 22:29). Like the Deists, these seem to worship a God who no longer actively works in His creation. Their secularized gospel, although it sometimes gives lip-service to God's providence, says that when good things happen, they happen because of chance, accident or planning, and work. In such matters, God's providence is not really taken into consideration—after all, "God works only in and through the Word today," they tell us. Likewise, when bad things happen, they happen for the same reasons. Satan's activities are simply not factored in—after all, if Satan were directly involved, then he would have more power than God, because "God," they remind us, "works only in and through the Word today." Such teaching may seem orthodox to more than a few Christians, but I am convinced that it has its roots in Locke's 17th century rationalism. Unfortunately, many Christians living at the beginning of the 21st century are more comfortable with naturalistic rationalism than they are with the supernaturalism taught in the Bible. This ought not to be!
If we are going to teach that God's providence is real, and that prayer is, in fact, effectual, then we must not teach that God works only in and through the Word today. As Sovereign of the Universe, God exercises control over nature, nations, and individuals. Currently, Jesus Christ rules as "Lord of lords." The Bible says He has all authority in heaven and on earth (John 17:2) and "upholds all things by the word of His power" (Hebrews 1:3). Are we to think that He does this only in and through the written Word? Surely we can see how such thinking would dethrone the Lord in the minds of such folks. Moreover, the very fact that we exist proves that God is actively at work in His creation, for "in Him [viz., Jesus] all things consist" or hold together (Colossians 1:17). Without Jesus' continuing work, everything would simply disintegrate.
Furthermore, in addition to general providence, there is the special providence promised to the church. Paul tells us that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28), and that He provides us with all our needs (Philippians 4:19). He tells us that we always have "sufficiency in all things" (2 Corinthians 9:8-11). In Matthew 6:23-33, the Lord Himself says that those who will put the kingdom of God first in their lives will have all their physical needs taken care of. Are we to think that this will happen only in and through the Word?
Indeed, the Bible teaches that Christians ought to study and pray. But, if God today works only in and through the Word, then we ought, in all honesty, to quit praying and use this time for more Bible study. If not, why not? In truth, Restoration slogans and ideas, even when they come from the esteemed Alexander Campbell, are useful only as long as they reflect the truths taught in God's Word, the Bible.
But How About Miracles?
Some believe, and I think quite erroneously, that in order for God to be actively at work in His creation today, He would have to be performing miracles. This view seems to ignore the fact that most of God's activities in both the Old and New Testaments were non-miraculous. The story of Joseph is but one of the many examples of this. Although men, with all their lusts, jealousies, and deceptions, were exercising their free wills in the matter of Joseph, he could say, "you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive" (Genesis 50:20; 45:5-8). Further, the Bible attributes David's success against the lion, bear, and Goliath to the help of God (l Samuel 17:37, 45-47). Are we to label these "miraculous"? The Scriptures teach that the Lord was able to work a great victory through Shammah when he stood in his own bean field (2 Samuel 23:11-12). When we stand in our own bean fields today, can't God work victories through us without performing miracles? And when He does so, is it correct for His followers to claim He is working only in and through the Word?
The Bible tells us that God can deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:3), and that He can open doors of opportunity for us (1 Corinthians 16:7; Colossians 4:2-3; Revelation 3:8). Can He? Does He? By faith, we can say, "Yes!" Does God need to perform a miracle to do so? Most certainly not! Therefore, those who believe and trust in the Lord can confidently sing, "Lord I believe, yes, I believe, I cannot doubt or be deceived; the eye that sees each sparrow fall, His unseen hand is in it all."
In contemplating the majesty of Jehovah, Jack Cottrell, in his excellent book What The Bible Says About God The Ruler, wrote:
Who is this God who holds the entire universe in the palm of his hand, and preserves it from oblivion by the mere force of his wi11? Who is this One whose power and presence penetrate and envelope every particle of the cosmos? What kind of God holds the reins of nature so that clouds turn, snow falls, thunder roars, and stars explode at his command? What kind of God knows every star and sparrow by name, and cares about them? What kind of God is this who can endow the crown of his creation with free will and still maintain constant control over the events and flow of history? How shall we describe the God who turns kings' hearts wherever he wills; who metes out life and death, blessing and calamity....
How thankful we ought to be that this one true God is our God. We must not think, say, or do anything that would take away from His glory and majesty. Limiting Him to working only in and through the written Word does just that, and is, I am convinced, a serious mistake. Therefore, let us not be guilty of saying that the Lord works only in and through the Word today.