As the title indicates, this is part two of my thoughts about scriptures. In part 1, I wanted to show that scriptures are God’s way of preserving His spoken word – as given through His prophets. I also wanted to point out that we need to know and can find out whether any particular writing that is claimed to be scripture, is actually God’s word. We discussed the need to go to the source, to God himself, for confirmation. Indeed we saw that that was the only reliable way.
Today I want to attempt to answer the following questions;
- Why haven’t we had prophets and new scriptures since New Testament times?
- Why was the Biblical canon of scripture closed?
- Has mankind now progressed so far that we don’t need God’s direction anymore?
- Why doesn’t God want to give us clarity about all the evil influences that are gaining support in the world now?
- Does God still care about us?
As I have been talking to people about my faith and learning about their faith, I have found that non-believers have a deep distrust in the veracity of ancient writings, including the Bible, and that fellow Christians are deeply sceptical that there can be any more scripture than the Bible. The Bible, they tell me contains God’s word and is now closed. Finished. God has spoken his word and will not speak any more word. The answers to all today’s problems are all there in the Bible if we can just understand it correctly.
Actually I confess to adding that last bit about “if we can understand it correctly” myself. I agree that we can learn true principles from the Bible, but are there are precious few who actually agree about what the Bible is saying. Many churches are in process of accepting changes in scriptural understanding to accommodate those who live in what used to be called “sin” as our culture and society changes and that “sin” becomes so common.
Is this the right thing to do? Without prophets and revelations in our time, how do we get clarity and God’s correction when we need it? There are mighty cultural changes and social experimentation going on, so now would be very good time.
I can’t imagine that an ancient prophet brought to todays world just say “God’s word is in the ancient writings of the Bible, there is no new word from God.” Nor would they think that we as a society are doing okay. I am convinced that they would be out preaching, “Thus sayeth the Lord, Repent and return to me!” In doing so they would provide new scripture – clarifying and exhorting, doing whatever they could to save our souls.
They would also directly address those philosophies that are challenging God’s work, including:
- The movement to redefine the family and gender
- The enslavement and hopelessness that results from drugs and addictions
- Sexual activity outside marriage and pornography
- The focus on me, me, me and consumerism
- Relativism in keeping the commandments
Yet the canon of the Bible, I am told, is still closed. God has spoken his word and will not speak any more word. As evidence of this, fellow Christians have pointed me to Revelation 22:18-19
18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
It is clear that if anyone will add to or take away from the book, it is against Gods will and God will punish them. They look at the Bible in their hands and seeing one volume, identify the book of the scripture being talked of as the Bible. This, however, is not the proper interpretation. The “words of the prophecy of this book” or “book of this prophecy” are similar in meaning to the book of Revelation’s introduction. In Revelation 1:3 John says “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.” The author is limiting the warnings to the Book of Revelations itself.
Were this not the case, we’d need to reject the New Testament and other scriptures as there is a very similar scripture found back in Deuteronomy 4:2: “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” Back then it was all they had.
No, we need to recognise that a key principle is that God works through prophets, people specially called to preach and organise us in doing His work, and prophets create scripture. In Amos 3:7 it is pointed out that God acts after telling the prophets what He is going to do, so we are warned.
7 Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.
The apostle Paul explained more in: Ephesians 4:11-14
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
God called prophets, apostles and other ministers specifically to perfect the saints, do the work of the ministry, and edify the body (church) of Christ. He says that these ministers should remain, doing their work, until we all come to a unity of the faith and until we have unity in our knowledge of Christ and have unity in our stature until it becomes the same as Christ’s.
Clearly this has not yet happened.
These prophets and apostles would also serve as the Lord’s watchmen to see what is happening call out warnings to those who would listen. They would also protect the purity of the doctrine of Christ. They would stop us being like children who are easily deceived and misled by new religious ideas proposed by cunning deceitful men.
So what happened? Where did the prophets go and why is there no continuing scripture?
What happened to the prophets?
It is clear that the apostles were to meant continue – Matthias was called to replace Judas. Later, Paul was called as an apostle. The apostles continued to receive revelations and call the people to repentance, revelations that were later included in the biblical canon. They journeyed far from home to tell more people about the gospel. They wrote letters to the congregations reminding them on points of doctrine.
Communications, however, were different then. It took a long time to deliver a letter. As the apostles travelled round it meant that they were out of contact. Over time the apostles were killed and those remaining did not know to call replacements, eventually leaving the church leaderless.
The Bishops of the different congregations attempted to take over the role of leadership. Originally all were equal but as time passed, they began to disagree on doctrine. Some were influenced by other philosophies including Gnosticism, which taught that God was unknowable, without body parts of passions. Apostasy was creeping into the church and the prophets and apostles were not there to correct it. There was no-one with the authority to maintain the doctrinal purity.
As there were no prophets and apostles, there was no-one to receive revelations for the church and the flow of new scripture simply dried-up. How would the church explain that there were no new revelations coming? Rather than accept the church had lost its way, it now claimed the Bible was complete. God had spoken his word and we didn’t need any more. The heavens were closed. Job Done!
I have already written elsewhere about signs that the church had indeed gone astray. History books provide plenty of examples of evil acts performed by the church. Here, though, I want to point out that as in Old Testament times the religious leaders became ready to kill the prophets for talking hard things against them. Any who did challenge them were tortured and burned to death.
As the church became part of government it became more protective of it’s power. It found that keeping the people in ignorance meant that few could challenge the things they were doing. The bible was kept for the priests and the elite. It was taught in Latin so that only the educated would have access to it and challenge official interpretation. The normal man had to trust the knowledge of the priest in the details of salvation. For example, who was to say that selling indulgencies that allowed repentance to happen in advance of the sin, was wrong. The focus was on profit and control – a far cry from prophets and personal control taught by the early church. They were indeed the dark ages.
The canon was de-facto closed. No-one called as a prophet would survive the oppression of the apostate church and any new thing written down was destroyed.
God Commences the Restoration of His church
Over time God prepared the re-establishment of His church on the earth. He inspired Luther and other protestant reformers to see the wrongness in the established church. He inspired John Wycliffe and William Tyndale to make the bible more accessible to the common man by translating it into English, men who were killed by church and state for so doing.
The Pilgrim Fathers moved to America to establish colonies where they could practice their religion free from intolerance and separate from the established English church. Here with a constitution promising religious freedom, God now acted to re-establish His church.
It was 1820. Joseph Smith, a young man only 14 years old and residing in rural New York, was living through a religious revival. It seemed that everyone was involved, joining one or other of the churches. The problem for him was determining which of all the churches was right. He was told that it didn’t matter which sect you joined so long as you were converted but this didn’t seem right to him. If it didn’t matter, why were there different churches? Why was it that when he asked the various ministers what scriptures meant they would each show different meanings? Also, why did the churches contend with each other with bad feeling, in the business of getting converts?
He realised that he was too young, inexperienced and uneducated to be able to resolve all these questions by himself, and as the ministers did not agree, he could not be sure of their interpretations either. What was he to do?
It was at this point that he was reading in the Bible for guidance and was forcibly struck and deeply affected by a scripture in James 1:5
5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
The message was clear. If you lack wisdom and need it, ask God. He gives wisdom and doesn’t rebuke those who ask. Joseph realised that this was what he needed to do, to go to the source of knowledge. So after some pondering and deliberation he went into his local woods to be alone and to pray without interruption.
This was the moment that God called a new prophet, someone who was humble, teachable and who was asking Him for guidance. In answer to Joseph’s prayer, our Heavenly Father and his son, Jesus Christ, appeared in person and told him to join none of the churches. None of them were authorised to represent Him as His church. Joseph was told that if he would obey God’s instructions he would be prepared as a prophet and would restore gospel truths that had been lost since Jesus himself was on the earth. Indeed their very appearance to Joseph started that restoration of knowledge as it brought clarity about the physicality of God himself.
As God’s prophet, Joseph had all the same responsibilities as the ancient prophets – that of bringing our heavenly Father’s children back to him; building the Kingdom of God on the earth through the establishment of a church; and being a watchman to teach and preserve God’s true doctrines.
In part 1 of this post sequence I explained that God communicates with us both as individuals and through an organisation – his church. His church has structure, and that structure contains prophets, apostles and other roles. When those prophets received revelations from God, they became scripture and when deemed especially useful and lasting they were added to the canon.
Above I have shown that the church organised by Christ continued to receive revelations and some of these were worthy of adding to the canon, becoming the New Testament. The revelations, however, stopped coming as the church went astray. The church became part of a despotic regime, exerting secular power and vigorously exterminating any challenges to it’s religious authority.
God prepared the way so that His church could once again come on earth and that meant that once again, there would be living apostles and prophets at the head, and revelations would be received, some of which would be worthy of adding to the canon of scripture.
I think we are now ready to discuss the Book of Mormon and see where that fits in. Next post coming soon.