At the church I lead I often say, “We’re Bible people!” and then I quote from our statement of faith:
(The Bible is) our final, absolute authority, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.
I love that! There’s security there. “Stick to the book.” I believe that’s absolutely true. Every time I accidentally step out of line I can look back and see what happened. Hindsight being 20/20, I inevitably see that I deviated from the book.
However, as true and secure as that is, I’ve found that warm blanket of certainty never quite covers me. There’s always a rogue limb exposed. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not indicting the Scriptures as incomplete or insufficient. In fact, it’s the opposite. Like the throw on my couch I expect to cover my entire lanky frame when I get chilled, it’s not a failure of the blanket, it’s my misuse of it.
I believe the Scriptures command us to do more than repeat what’s already been done, and to look for God to do what He’s never done before. Therefore, the wholesale rejection of all things new, claiming they are “without biblical precedent,” is to undermine the Bible itself.
The Biblical precedent is that God does things that are unprecedented.
For example, I don’t know what those people who gathered in the upper room were expecting to experience (Acts 2:1-4) … but it wasn’t that! God’s actions were unprecedented. When Paul prayed for a hanky (Acts 19:11-12), it was unprecedented. When Elijah took a flying chariot ride (2 Kings 2:11), it was unprecedented.
1. The sun stood still (Joshua 10:13).
2. The walls fell when the trumpets blew (Joshua 6:20).
3. Philip teleported (Acts 8:39), for crying out loud!
All unprecedented. God is God. He doesn’t need precedents; he sets them.
I’ve experienced and witnessed God doing things in the lives of his people that are new and certainly aren’t replicas of how he moved in the Bible. When that happens, it always makes me uncomfortable. My mind starts racing, scanning the Bible for a precedent—I NEED A PRECEDENT!—a precedent means that I haven’t just stepped in it again! When I can’t find one, I’ve got some questions to ask:
1. Does this in any way contradict or undermine scripture?
2. Is this incongruent with what the Bible teaches about how God moves in the lives of his people?
3. Is there something in me or in people I trust that feels unsettled (the operative word here is discernment)?
If the answer is no on all counts, then maybe this isn’t something to fear. Maybe God is following the precedent he very clearly set in Scripture, and he’s just doing something new. Certainly God can do something new! Insisting that he can’t is just about the most unprecedented position I can imagine.
But isn’t that a slippery slope?
It certainly is! Slippery slopes require caution, no doubt. However, wholesale avoidance of all slippery slopes assumes two things:
1. You’re already perched at the top. Slippery slopes need gravity to present a real threat, and if they’re always bad, that means you think you’ve got nowhere to go but down. Provided you still see through a mirror dimly, maybe this is a slippery slope that you need to climb!
2. You don’t trust your anchor. If you’re truly anchored in the Word of God and have made it the final arbiter on all issues, then slippery slopes don’t pose a threat.
In the constant quest for a precedent, some have set the precedent of rejecting the new and amazing things that God is doing. I don’t want to make that mistake.
He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” - Matthew 13:52