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In Christian traditions, it is most commonly associated with the Latter Day Saint movement, 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 Baháʼí 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 an open scriptural canon, as is the case with the Latter Day Saints origin churches with Community of Christ in particular adding frequently to their Doctrine and Covenants in recent years. While more frequent with the Latter Day Saints, it is less frequent with the Baháʼí Faith, with progressive revelation only being periodically expanded over an extremely long period.
Progressive revelation is a core teaching in the Baháʼí Faith that suggests that religious truth is revealed by God progressively and cyclically over time through a series of divine messengers or prophets, known as Manifestation of God, and that the teachings are tailored to suit the needs of the time and place of their appearance. Baháʼí teachings consider several world religions as different stages in the history of one religion, while believing that the revelation of Baháʼu'lláh is the most recent (though there will never be a last), and therefore the most relevant to modern society.
Baháʼís believe each Manifestation of God establishes a covenant and founds a religion. This process of revelation, according to the Baháʼí writings, is also never ceasing. 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 brings a larger measure of revelation (or religion) to humankind than the previous one. 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; these differences are in accordance with the "conditions" and "varying requirements of the age" and the "spiritual capacity" of humanity which is increasing over time.
Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy
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.
Protestants generally teach that the modern age is not a period of continuing revelation.
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) affirm continuing revelation through the Inner light or the light within, which is the presence of God which provides illumination and guidance to the individual and through individuals to the group. Some, usually African and Evangelical, Friends hold that individual revelations should be tested against the Bible, while others place less importance on scripture. 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. As early Friends listened to the Inner light and endeavored to live accordingly, some common lived expressions of faith emerged, which became known as testimonies. Although rooted in the immediate experience of the Society of Friends, Quakers believe much of the testimonies may be verified in the Bible, especially as described in the Gospels regarding the life and teachings of Jesus.
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 that no new revelation can ever contradict the Bible, they believe that God continues to speak today on extra-biblical topics as well as to interpret and provide clarity on the text of the Bible. This thinking, however, has sometimes been taken to excess in more extreme fundamentalist movements. There are examples of such abuse that degenerated into a cultish and manipulative expression of Christianity. In such circumstances, leaders are treated as virtually infallible.
Latter Day Saints
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 humankind. 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" Deuteronomy 5:17 at another time He said, "Thou shalt utterly destroy." Deuteronomy 7:2; 12:2; 20:17 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.
The LDS Church believes in continuing revelation, not continuous revelation, and differentiates between the two.
Personal versus church-wide revelation
The Church makes 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 the LDS Church includes the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Church members 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, church members 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
Church members 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; the sense of change in the message of Jesus and the apostles led many to regard them as false prophets. Jesus himself warned against false prophets, teaching that the way to distinguish between a true and a false prophet was "by their fruits"; 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. After Jesus 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". Jesus 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.
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, church members 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 church members 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. In contrast to the mainstream Christian view that the apostolic era came to a close because revelation had reached its completion, Church members 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.
Church members 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, which coupled with their own interpretations and extrapolations of scripture, inevitably resulted in disagreement and division on many doctrinal points. 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—a practice that served to ostracize as heretics those who did not go along with these decisions, and in some cases led to major schisms in the church. Church members 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, Church members see the inevitable result as "philosophies of man, mingled with scripture".
Church members 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 church members 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. Church members 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.
Open scriptural canon
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.
Community of Christ
The Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), the second largest Latter Day Saint denomination, regularly canonizes revelation into its Doctrine and Covenants. Continuing revelation is one of the enduring principles of the church which "define the essence, heart, and soul of our faith community. They describe the personality of our church as expressed throughout the world."
Continuing revelation as an enduring principle
- Scripture is an inspired and indispensable witness of human response to God's revelation of divine nature.
- God graciously reveals divine will today as in the past.
- The Holy Spirit inspires and provides witness to divine truth.
- In humility, individually and in community, we prayerfully listen to understand God’s will for our lives, the church, and creation more completely.
Normally, new revelation is canonised when the church's Prophet/President presents Words of Council to the church usually before the church's World Conference, which occurs every three years in Independence, Missouri. If the conference confirms the Words of Counsel as prophetic, it is added as a Section in the scripture known as the Doctrine and Covenants.
In recent years, the church has begun to redefine the process of revelation from one that comes from the top down with an appointed Prophet providing revelation to the church to one that is more collaborative and bottom up with the people increasingly becoming involved in the revelatory process as a community. This change has included theological and procedural changes including concepts such as faithful disagreement which allows for open debate, dialogue and disagreement within the church body without consequence.
One of the most clear explications of the role of a prophetic people in the church was canonised in the church's Doctrine and Covenants on March 29, 2004.
The phrase Khatamu 'n-Nabiyyīn ("Seal of the Prophets") is a title used in the Quran to designate the prophet Muhammad. It is generally regarded to mean that Muhammad is the last of the prophets sent by God.
Ahmadi Muslims believe that while law-bearing revelation has ended with the perfection of scripture in the form of the Quran, non-scriptural revelation to non-prophets as well as non law-bearing Muslim prophets continues. They cite Quranic verses as well as Ahadith considered by many to be authentic in support of their belief in continuous revelation.
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.
- Smith, Peter (2000). "Progressive revelation". A concise encyclopedia of the Baháʼí Faith. Oxford: Oneworld. pp. 276–77. ISBN 1-85168-184-1.
- Effendi, Shoghi (1974). Baháʼí Administration. Wilmette, IL, USA: Baháʼí Publishing Trust. p. 185. ISBN 0-87743-166-3.
- Lundberg, Zaid (May 1996). Baháʼí Apocalypticism: The Concept of Progressive Revelation. Department of History of Religion at the Faculty of Theology, Lund University. Retrieved 2006-11-25.
- 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 "
- 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."
- 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.
- Gaunt, LaRene Porter (September 2013), "How Is Doctrine Established?", Ensign
- Matthew 7:15–20
- Matthew 12:24
- Matthew 10:16–23
- Luke 6:22–26
- Butler, Shanna (February 2005), "What Happened to Christ's Church?", Liahona
- "Private Revelation | Catholic Answers". Archived from the original on 2013-12-02. Retrieved 2013-11-27.
- 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."
- 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
- "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: General Councils".
- Robinson, Stephen E. (January 1988), "Warring against the Saints of God", Ensign
- Hales, Robert D. (November 2005), "Preparations for the Restoration and the Second Coming: 'My Hand Shall Be over Thee'", Ensign
- "Enduring Principles". Community of Christ. Archived from the original on 2014-11-17. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
- "Faithful Disagreement Definitions and Principles" (PDF). Community of Christ. March 2013. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-09-06. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
- "Doctrine and Covenants Section 162". Community of Christ. 29 March 2004. Archived from the original on 2014-11-15. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
- Rabbi Allen Selis. Jewish Denominations of Revelation: From Sinai to schism https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/jewish-denominations-on-revelation
- 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 ..