Monday, April 23, 2012

Prayer Priority

When Peter and John healed the man crippled from birth (Acts 3:2), the early post-resurrection church was experiencing vibrant expansion an its first months of existence. Reactions from bewildered civil authorities in Jerusalem ranged from threats to temporary detainment of believers. On one occasion after being commanded not to speak any more in the name of Jesus, Peter and John returned to their own people to give them a report and to lift up their voices to God in prayer.

In the midst of great showers of spiritual blessing on the nascent church, the believers’ heartfelt prayer for deliverance and boldness began in an unusual and interesting way: “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them” (Acts 4:24-25). One may think the creation of heaven, earth, sea, and everything in them might not be positioned first on the list of prayer topics at this exhilarating time. But it was! The church leaders connected miraculous acts of creation, including heavens, earth, and its life forms with the miraculous events occurring in Jerusalem. There was no disconnect between mighty creation works in the natural realm and God’s mighty spiritual creation works unfolding before their eyes. The one true God was the author of miraculous works in both spheres.

Somewhat later the Apostle Paul appealed to the Athenians at the Areopagus with similar language. After observing their altars with the inscription “To an unknown God,” Paul presented an argument designed to persuade the Athenians to believe in the one true God and His Son, the resurrected Christ. He began his case, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts -25 NIV). Once again, there was a strong connection between vibrant belief in God’s miraculous spiritual works and His miracles in the created physical order.

The 16th century reformed confession of faith known as the Belgic Confession (Article 2) highlights the relative importance of dual revelation:

We know him (God) by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse. Second, he makes himself known to us more openly in his holy and divine word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own.

General revelation may be considered the created works of God manifest in “heaven and earth and sea, and everything in them” referenced explicitly by Peter, John, and Paul. Special revelation consists of the canon of inspired scripture. Orthodox theologians acknowledge that special revelation (scripture) contains everything one needs to know in order to gain salvation and live the Christian life. This is the doctrine of sola scriptura.

Less well known is the doctrine of prima scriptura. At the risk of oversimplifying a complex issue, prima scriptura allows for other revelations besides scripture only, while maintaining scripture as preeminent. Our Christian doctrine has its foundation in scripture, but God also reveals His truth by other means. The created order, for example, reveals the infinite power of God. It also provides us many other truths about the characteristics of God, such as His loving care for and sustenance of the created order, including above all, His deep love for humanity. Prima scriptura would provide for acceptance of truths provided by the correct, proven findings of science, such as the incredible complexity of living things demonstrated especially in the last few decades of discoveries about living cells. This doctrine would also allow for acceptance of scientific discoveries about the age of the earth and universe. Tragically, this issue divides many believers in the church.

Peter, John, and Paul in the Book of Acts, and numerous other scripture authors present general revelation (the book of nature) as support for acceptance of the character of God. Special revelation (inspired scripture) explicitly details the theological truths of God’s actions in response to man’s spiritual needs. Taken together, the two revelations present a powerful apologetic for belief in the reality of God. For some people believing the truths of special scripture revelation is not remotely problematic. For others an additional revelation from the physical world may help them cross the line from unbelief to belief. Still others may not believe even if someone should rise from the dead (Luke ). Belief acquisition is individually acquired.

Special revelation and general revelation are of equally important value, since both revelations originate from God. Knowledge gained from both revelations is an occasion for thankfulness to the God of creation. Beyond the apologetic value of general revelation to help us acquire belief in God based on physical evidence, there are many other benefits. This knowledge is appropriately the subject of sermon content, hymn lyrics during worship time, personal testimony and devotion, and prayers of intercession.