Continuous revelation

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For a broader description about of communication from deity, see revelation.

Continuous revelation or continuing revelation is a theological belief or position that God continues to reveal divine principles or commandments to humanity.

In Christian traditions, it is most commonly associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and with Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity, though it is found in some other denominations as well.

Continuous revelation also forms part of the rituals of gatherings in various chapters of Taoism. In the Baha'i Faith, Progressive revelation is an important concept that is similar to continuous revelation.

A notable factor of continuous or continuing revelation as a source of divine commandments and statements is the written recording of such statements in a more open scriptural canon, as is the case with the Latter-Day Saints; while more frequent with the Latter-Day Saints, it is less frequent with the Baha'i Faith, with progressive revelation only being periodically expanded over an extremely long period.

Judaism[edit]

Conservative Judaism teaches God's revelation at Mount Sinai and God's continuing revelation through study of Jewish texts and through life as a Jewish believer.[1]

Christianity[edit]

Catholicism[edit]

Vatican II states “no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” The notion of progressive or continuing revelation is not held by the Roman Catholic Church or by Eastern Orthodoxy, who instead favor the idea of tradition and development of doctrine, while progressivist and continuationist approaches are specifically condemned in the declaration Dominus Iesus.

Protestantism[edit]

Protestants generally teach that the modern age is not a period of continuing revelation.[2]

Friends (Quakers)[edit]

In the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), continuing revelation comes from the Inner light or the light within. This light has traditionally been identified as the Spirit of Christ or Christ within, although not all Friends associate the Inner Light with Christ. It is understood as the presence of God which provides illumination and guidance to the individual and through individuals to the group.[3]

Some Friends consider the Bible the ultimate authority, but others consider the Inner Light to be above the Bible. Both groups believe that the Inner Light speaks to people directly and not just through the text of the Bible.

Because Friends believe that revelation is ongoing, they have no set creed or dogmas. However, as early Friends listened to the Inner light and endeavored to live accordingly, a common set of beliefs gradually emerged, which became known as testimonies. (See Testimonies for a fuller list and description of them.) Although rooted in the immediate experience of the community of Friends, these Testimonies are based on what Friends believe are verified in the Bible, especially as described in the Gospels regarding the life and teachings of Jesus.

The Testimonies are not formal static documents, but rather a shared collection or view of how Quakers relate to God. They cannot be taken one at a time, but are interrelated. As a philosophical system, they are coherent, even outside of Christianity.

The list of testimonies that Quakers follow is also not static. The following is a generally accepted list:

Pentecostal and Charismatic[edit]

Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians generally believe that Christians, especially "Spirit-filled" Christians can receive revelations from God in the form of dreams, visions, and audible or inaudible voices. They also believe that certain individuals are able to transmit revelations from God in the form of prophecy, words of knowledge, and speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues.

While most Pentecostals and Charismatics believe the Bible to be the ultimate authority and would not say that any new revelation can ever contradict the Bible, they do believe that God continues to speak to people today on extra-biblical topics as well as to interpret and apply the text of the Bible.

Latter-day Saints[edit]

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), continuing revelation is the principle that God or his divine agents still continue to communicate to mankind. This communication can be manifest in many ways: influences of the Holy Ghost; vision; visitation of divine beings; and others. By such means God guides his followers to salvation and without such His followers will eventually form their beliefs or practices after a god of their own making. Church founder Joseph Smith, Jr. used the example of the Lord's revelations to Moses in Deuteronomy to explain the importance and necessity of continuous revelation to guide "those who seek diligently to know [God's] precepts":

God said, "Thou shalt not kill"[4] at another time He said, "Thou shalt utterly destroy."[5] This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted-by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire . . . As God has designed our happiness-and the happiness of all His creatures, He never has – He never will – institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of his law and ordinances... for all things shall be made known unto them in [His] own due time, and in the end they shall have joy.

Joseph SmithTeachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 256–7.

The LDS Church believes in continuing revelation, not continuous revelation, and differentiates between the two.[6]

Personal versus church-wide revelation[edit]

When speaking of continuing revelation, Mormonism make a distinction between personal revelation and revelation directed to all members of the church. They believe that personal revelation can come to any individual with a righteous desire, for example to direct someone in their search for truth. In contrast, revelation for the entire church only comes to those who have been called by God as prophets, which in LDS Church includes the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.[7] Mormons regard revelation through prophets as an indispensable element of Christ's church, without which the church would be led by man, not God. Continued revelation is essential for matters affecting the church as a whole, including guiding the church through changing world conditions, keeping doctrine pure and unadulterated, revealing new doctrine and scripture in the times appointed by God, and making policy or organizational changes as the church grows and evolves. In contrast to the Mainstream Christian belief that God has "sealed up the heavens" in terms of church-wide revelation, Mormons believe God continues to follow the pattern that he adhered to throughout the entire span of the Bible, which was to reveal his will and doctrine through prophets.

Opposition to continued revelation[edit]

Mormons see the tendency to dismiss the possibility that God could call modern prophets as similar to the attitude of those in the Bible who rejected the prophets and/or apostles of their day. As demonstrated by the Jews in the time of Jesus, it is often much less challenging to accept prophets of prior ages, rather than a contemporary prophet. Granted, the work of a prophet has always been to dispel false beliefs and warn against behaviors that are contrary to God's will, which inevitably creates friction when viewed as a threat to firmly entrenched traditions and mindsets. The sense of change in the message of Christ and the apostles led many to regard them as false prophets. Christ himself warned against false prophets, teaching that the way to distinguish between a true and a false prophet was "by their fruits" (Matt 7:15-20); however, the perceived threat to tradition was often a strong enough deterrent to cause the witnesses of good fruits (such as powerful sermons or miraculous healings) to dismiss them as the work of the devil (Matt 12:24). After Christ ordained his apostles, he warned them of the extreme opposition they would encounter for these reasons, telling them, "ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake" (Matt 10:16-23). Christ also said, “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets," thus illustrating that opposition will naturally accompany a true prophet if they are doing their job correctly (Luke 6:22-26).

Apostasy[edit]

Sometimes the opposition against God's prophets escalated to the point of violence and martyrdom, which Jesus and the apostles frequently referenced while preaching to their detractors (Matt 23:31-37, Luke 11:47-51, Acts 7:52, Romans 11:3, 1 Thes 2:15). In this sense, Mormons acknowledge that revelation has not continued uninterrupted throughout history, being that the killing of God's prophets sometimes resulted in periods without church-wide revelation—which Mormons refer to as apostasies. Similar to prophets before them, Peter and the apostles also suffered martyrdom at the hands of their persecutors—with the exception of John who was banished to the Isle of Patmos.[8] In contrast to the Mainstream Christian view that the apostolic era came to a close because revelation had reached its completion,[9] Mormons see it not as God's will but as a tragic result of the overwhelming persecution that plagued the church in that era, which cut short the program of apostolic succession that had commenced when Judas was replaced by Matthias (Acts 1:23-26). The apostasy that followed is referred to as the Great Apostasy, because it lasted longer than prior periods without prophets.

Mormons believe that once the Christian church was no longer led by revelation, its doctrine began to be altered by theologians who took it upon themselves to continue developing doctrine, despite not being called or authorized to receive revelation for the church body. In the absence of revelation, these theologians often resorted to speculation,[10] which coupled with their own interpretations and extrapolations of scripture, inevitably resulted in disagreement and division on many doctrinal points.[11] Ecumenical councils were held in order to settle these differences, yet without prophets called and authorized to reveal God's will on the topics being debated, the attendees could only vote on the theories presented in order to decide which ones would become official doctrine[12]—a practice that served to ostracize as heretics those who didn't go along with these decisions, and in some cases led to major schisms in the church. Mormons view this process of doctrinal development as completely foreign to God's established pattern of revealing doctrine through a prophet. They point to history as incontrovertible proof that humans are incapable of agreeing on how to interpret the Bible (2 Pet 1:20), which should act as a strong indicator that God's purpose for the Bible was not to derive doctrine, but rather to support it. When doctrine is not established and maintained through continued revelation, Mormons see the inevitable result as “philosophies of man, mingled with scripture”.[13]

Restoration[edit]

Mormons again point to the Bible to show that after every period of apostasy, God always eventually called another prophet when the time was right. It is in that same spirit that Mormons claim that once conditions were ready, God again resumed his pattern of revealing his will through prophets by calling Joseph Smith, through whom he restored the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, clearing up the error that had been introduced during the Great Apostasy. Mormons believe that since that time, revelation through prophets and apostles has continued unbroken until the present day, God having promised that revelation will not be taken again from the earth before the Second Coming of Christ.[14]

Open scriptural canon[edit]

The open scriptural canon of the LDS Church is based on the principle of continuous revelation. Its 9th Article of Faith states:

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

Members of the LDS Church anticipate additions to its canon, including the translation of the remaining two-thirds of the golden plates which was the source of the Book of Mormon.

Community of Christ[edit]

The Community of Christ (Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), the second largest Latter Day Saint denomination, regularly canonizes revelation into the Doctrine and Covenants. Its Prophet/President present Words of Council to the church usually before its World Conference. If the conference confirms the Words of Counsel as prophetic, it is added as a Section in the scripture known as Doctrine and Covenants.

Islam[edit]

There is no verse of the Qur'an which states that divine revelation has ended with it. The Islamic prophet Muhammad received scriptural as well as non-scriptural revelations, some of which were recorded as Hadith Qudsi. Nor does the Qur'an restrict the sending of divine revelation to prophets/messengers, for the mother of Moses received revelation (28:7). The Qur'an refers to the continuity of messengers (7:35) and promises that those who obey Allah and Muhammad will be favoured with the blessings of prophethood (4:69) which includes being given knowledge of the unseen through divine revelation.[15]

The verse (5:3) refers to the perfection of religion and not to the cessation of prophethood or revelation. The verse (33:40) refers to the excellence and superiority of the prophethood of Muhammad and the continuity of prophethood amongst his followers, and not to the complete cessation of all types of prophethoods or revelations. According to a well-known hadith of Muhammad recorded in Sahih Muslim,[16] the Messiah would receive revelation from Allah during his second advent. Thus, there is no real basis for the common misconception among some modern day Muslims that all types of divine revelations and prophethoods have been discontinued.

Ahmadiyya[edit]

Ahmadi Muslims believe that while law-bearing revelation has ended with the perfection of scripture in the form of the Qur'an, non-scriptural revelation to non-prophets as well as non law-bearing Muslim prophets continues. They cite Qur'anic verses as well as Ahadith considered by many to be authentic in support of their belief in continuous revelation.

Baha'i Faith[edit]

Progressive revelation is a core teaching in the Bahá'í Faith that suggests that religious truth is revealed by God progressively and cyclically over time through a series of divine Messengers, and that the teachings are tailored to suit the needs of the time and place of their appearance.[17][18] Thus, the Bahá'í teachings recognize the divine origin of several world religions as different stages of in the history of one religion, while believing that the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh is the most recent (though not the last—that there will never be a last), and therefore the most relevant to modern society.[17]

Bahá'ís believe God to be generally regular and periodic in revealing His will to mankind through messengers/prophets, which are named Manifestations of God. Each messenger in turn establishes a covenant and founds a religion. This process of revelation, according to the Bahá'í writings, is also never ceasing.[17] The general theme of the successive and continuous religions founded by Manifestations of God is that there is an evolutionary tendency, and that each Manifestation of God brings a larger measure of revelation (or religion) to humankind than the previous one.[19] The differences in the revelation brought by the Manifestations of God is stated to be not inherent in the characteristics of the Manifestation of God, but instead attributed to the various worldly, societal and human factors;[19] these differences are in accordance with the "conditions" and "varying requirements of the age" and the "spiritual capacity" of humanity.[19]

Thus religious truth is seen to be relative to its recipients and not absolute; while the messengers proclaimed eternal moral and spiritual truths that are renewed by each messenger, they also changed their message to reflect the particular spiritual and material evolution of humanity at the time of the appearance of the messenger.[17] In the Bahá'í view, since humanity's spiritual capacity and receptivity has increased over time, the extant to which these spiritual truths are expounded changes.[19]

Taoism[edit]

In various designated offshoots of Taoism like the De Schools in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, and the Dao Schools in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, weekly or sometimes monthly gatherings are held at temples to receive and understand communications from above by way of two mediums holding rattan sifts writing on sand, who are 'dictated' with news ranging in contents from current affairs, religion, to arts and morality, the writings are called Sift Text or '乩文'. Different gods in the Daoist pantheon are designated for temples which have to go through the rigour of acceptance before the contents are recognized as authorized communiques from heaven.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Elliot N. Dorff Conservative Judaism: Our Ancestors to Our Descendants 1996 - Page 201 "We believe in God's revelation to us at Mount Sinai and in God's continuing revelation to us through study of Jewish texts and through our lives as Jews. b. Some believe that God's revelation at Sinai and subsequently consists of God's own ..
  2. ^ Keith A. Mathison -The Shape of Sola Scriptura 2001- Page 161 "We do not live in a period of continuing revelation. This is not simply a Protestant doctrine. Vatican II states that, “no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”5 "
  3. ^ Protestant Nonconformist Texts: 1550 to 1700 Robert Tudur Jones, Kenneth Dix, Alan Ruston - 2007- Page 375 "... a well known member of the Dutch Collegiant church who had written a paper against the possibility of continuing revelation. Barclay wrote him a lengthy refutation which is, as it happens, an excellent summary of Barclay's theological ideas."
  4. ^ Deuteronomy 5:17
  5. ^ Deuteronomy 7:2; 12:2; 20:17
  6. ^ Oaks, Dallin H. (March 1997), "Teaching and Learning by the Spirit", Ensign: 14, "Revelations from God ... are not constant. We believe in continuing revelation, not continuous revelation. We are often left to work out problems without the dictation or specific direction of the Spirit." 
  7. ^ Gaunt, LaRene Porter (September 2013), "How Is Doctrine Established?", Ensign 
  8. ^ Butler, Shanna (February 2005), "What Happened to Christ’s Church?", Liahona 
  9. ^ http://www.catholic.com/tracts/private-revelation
  10. ^ http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14588a.htm Catholic Encyclopedia article on "History of Dogmatic Theology" mentions speculation a few times, for example "The Great Fathers of the Church and the ecclesiastical writers of the first 800 years rendered important services by their positive demonstration and their speculative treatment of dogmatic truth."
  11. ^ Tuggy, Dale (Summer 2014), History of Trinitarian Doctrines, "Trinity", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy  — This article offers a good summary of the disagreement that was a constant feature of the evolving doctrine of the trinity
  12. ^ http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04423f.htm
  13. ^ Robinson, Stephen E. (January 1988), "Warring against the Saints of God", Ensign 
  14. ^ Hales, Robert D. (November 2005), "Preparations for the Restoration and the Second Coming: 'My Hand Shall Be over Thee'", Ensign 
  15. ^ Denis E. McAuley - 2012 - Ibn `Arabī's Mystical Poetics - Page 109 "By saying this, he reaffirms the notion that the revelation of law stopped with Muhammad, but also places himself in a category of people who receive continuous revelation of a different sort. The continuing revelation."
  16. ^ Sahih Muslim, Book 41, Hadith No. 7015
  17. ^ a b c d Smith, Peter (2000). "Progressive revelation". A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld. pp. 276–77. ISBN 1-85168-184-1. 
  18. ^ Effendi, Shoghi (1974). Bahá'í Administration. Wilmette, IL, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. p. 185. ISBN 0-87743-166-3. 
  19. ^ a b c d Lundberg, Zaid (May 1996). Baha'i Apocalypticism: The Concept of Progressive Revelation. Department of History of Religion at the Faculty of Theology, Lund University. Retrieved 2006-11-25.