Let's get real. People like receiving personal "communications from God" (especially without the hassle of seriously studying His existing words in Scripture). It's exciting, it requires very little intellectual energy, and it makes you sound incredibly spiritual to your friends. But in my opinion, this idea suffers from too many flaws to be remotely convincing. As promised, here are just few that bother me:
1) The notion of extra-scriptural, personal revelations from God contradicts 2 Timothy 3:17. If, indeed, the Scriptures "thoroughly equip" a believer for "every good work," then why would God feel the need to constantly drop a line to certain fortunate among His children?
2) If, indeed, God communicates to individual Christians apart from the Bible, then such communications (being His words) would be on par with the rest of His Word -- essentially making personal communications equal with the Bible, and each individual believer into an inspired prophet.
3) Such personal communications often contradict God's existing revelation. I once knew a youth pastor who claimed that God had personally approved of his adulterous relationship.
4) Personal communications from God are inherently unverifiable. By their very nature, they occur to a single person. Thus, if a Christian claims to have received an extra-scriptural message from God, then other Christians have no reliable way of testing its authenticity. This allows sinful human emotions and desires to masquerade unchecked as Divine revelation, and breeds confusion. I have witnessed sincere Christians led into conflict with one another by opposing "personal communications" from God.
5) Personal revelations from God divide, rather than unite. By definition, such revelations are personal. They place the individual at the center of the spiritual universe, and marginalize communal worship, prayer, and study of Scripture. I once knew a family who claimed that they needed no church or Christian community to encounter God. "The woods are where we meet Jesus," they said.
6) "Personal communications" Don't stay personal. Though an individual Christian typically "receives" the communication, he or she usually has no problem demanding that other Christians take that revelation as gospel. This results in the all-too-familiar "God-told-me-to-tell-you" charade, in which self-anointed heavenly messengers take it upon themselves to deliver God's communications to their fellow Christians. But in the end, this often degenerates into little more than a form of church horoscope or fortune-telling. A friend recently described to me how, upon visiting a charismatic church, his father was approached by a woman who said, "God just told me to tell you that you're going to have a deeply meaningful relationship with your dad over the next three years." My friend's father smiled and informed her that his dad was deceased.
7) The idea that God communicates His will to us individually paralyzes believers. I have known countless friends who refused to make basic life decisions because they were waiting for God to cast His vote through some mystical personal communication. (See Annie Provencher's feature article on BreakPoint for more on this subject). Some Christians wait for God to tell them whether they should go on a missions trip or get a summer job. Some wait on Him to tell them whether they should ask their girlfriend to marry them or not. Some wait for Him to tell them which shirt to put on in the morning. But all sound equally silly to me. God is the Ruler of the universe, and does not need to micromanage in this fashion. He will accomplish His will no matter what. As far as I can tell, we are responsible only for doing the right thing and accepting clear opportunities He places before us.
8) I know countless believers (including myself) who have never experienced a personal revelation from God. Assuming I am wrong about this subject and God truly does speak in this manner, then there are only two possibilities: Either God only reveals Himself personally to a select few of His children, or I am not one of His children. Obviously, I refuse to accept either possibility.
A couple of necessary caveats:
All right, I can already hear the objections. So I figured it would be prudent to include a brief list of disclaimers. First, I believe that God can do whatever He wants. If He chooses tomorrow to make Himself known to me in an undeniable, individual manner, outside of Scripture, then I will have to rethink my conclusion. According to the Bible, He has done this over and over again throughout human history, and clearly promises to do so again upon His return. At that point, of course, we will have personal, verifiable access to the human Christ. I am not talking about that when I deny personal communications from God in this day and age.
Second, I have no problem accepting the sovereign rule and direction of God in all things. In other words, the Holy Spirit can definitely work through our circumstances, surroundings, and even feelings and dreams to take us where He wills (Acts 16:6-10, Romans 8:28). But this is equally true of all things, including trials and hardships. But we don't take our everyday circumstances as "personal communications from God" any more than we consider a starry night sky (which, according to Psalm 19, "pours forth speech") to be so. Does God use circumstances and stars to get a message across to us? Yes. But that's not what I (or most people) mean when we talk about God directly speaking to us.
Finally, God listens to us. I am not talking about prayer, which unquestionably serves as a means for us to communicate our thanks, needs and desires to God. I am also not talking about worship, which scripture undeniably teaches Christians to practice.
So, if God talks to you outside of His Word, let me know. But until I see some incontrovertible proof (both from experience and Scripture) that God regularly dispenses new revelations to individuals today, I will remain firmly skeptical of those who claim to experience such communications.