Criteria for testing messages based on unmediated experiences of God

Criteria for testing messages based on unmediated experiences of God November 30, 2011

Since I mentioned the importance of unmediated spiritual experiences of God, several people here have inquired about criteria for testing them. Others have objected that positing objective criteria undermines the immediacy of the experiences.

Here is intend to propose some intersubjective criteria that all Christians should be able to agree on and use in testing messages, truth claims, brought forth as a result of unmediated experiences of God.  I have in mind messages such as prophecies (whether forthtelling or foretelling), claims of new truths based on “rhema word,” etc.  Insofar as an unmediated experience of God does not result in such messages, I see no need for criteria.  Criteria become necessary when a person claims something was revealed to him or her that others should believe.

I offered these tests or criteria in an editorial in Christianity Today’s January 14, 1991 issue (p. 15).  The cover story was about the so-called “Kansas City Prophets”–the controversy du jour among charismatics and some evangelicals.  Rather than simply deny extra-biblical prophecy altogether, I (at the request of the editors), suggested these five tests for whether a prophecy (or other kind of extra-biblical message) MIGHT BE from God.  In other words, they are negative tests, like the law of non-contradiction in philosophy.  They do not prove the validity of any message; they only function to raise red flags of warning over messages that might be false.

1) The Christ Touchstone. If a prophecy (or message) promotes Christ and not the prophet, it may be valid. (Put negatively, if a prophecy promotes the prophet over Christ, it is probably not valid.)

2) The Apostolic Norm. If it is consistent with the message of the gospel as found in the didactic writings of the New Testament, it may be valid.

3) The Unity Criterion. If a prophecy does not promote spiritual elitism or schism (based on the prophecy alone), it may be valid.

4) The Sanity Check. If it does not require the sacrifice of the intellect and the mindless acceptance of newly revealed teachings, it may be valid.

5) The Messiah Test: If it does not exalt some individual (or organization) into an object of veneration, it may be valid.

Paul ordered the Corinthian Christians not to quench the Spirit but to test all things. These criteria are simply tools for discernment.

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