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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

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Monday, September 04, 2006

On Hearing God's Voice - Part Two

The other night I had coffee with a friend who is doing his dissertation on a study of individualism as it affects matters of spirituality, especially here in the United States. Very interesting stuff. More than we realize, we have accepted the individual as the basic integer of spiritual reality—this is an unquestioned given, but not necessarily truth. In fact, one could argue that the Bible emphasizes the collective, the communal, the familial to a degree scarcely noticed, much less honored in our generation.

One witness to this is some of the hostile comments I have received but not posted on this blog which take issue with my suggestion that one must test what one perceives to be the voice of God against the wisdom of tradition and of the community. Such objectors evoke the names of prophets Elijah and Isaiah, figures like Paul, and Yeshua, and harangue me for not insisting instead that it is the individual, standing alone, Bible in hand, who should, who can, who does hear and discern the voice of God. Such parties apparently infer that my insistence in testing one’s perceptions against the wisdom of the community and its leaders now and in the past [tradition] is a form of self-aggrandizement for myself as a leader, and a form of faithless wimping out, as if I did not believe that people can and should hear from God themselves.

Of course I do believe that people can and should hear from God themselves. But the question remains, is the community and its wisdom to be a non-issue when compared with the individual’s experience and judgment?

Years ago when I was co-leading a drop-in center in San Francisco, a young man who had been visiting our services reported to us that God was leading him to go to Israel. This was a matter of concern to us, because this young man was generally a bewildered and impractical person, and didn’t seem to have a job nor be capable of holding one. When we inquired as to how he knew God was leading him that way, he told us that when he prayed, if his right elbow started to twitch, it was a “Yes” from God, and if his left elbow started to twitch, it was a “No.” Now, I know that I have at least one commentator out there who will write me and ask, “So how do you know, Great Rabbi Dauermann, that God doesn’t speak to him in that manner? Who are you to say it isn’t so?” as if my reticence on the matter were simply a matter of smug, overweening pride. To such a person I would say that it is rule of thumb that God is not stupid nor given to treating the bizarre as the norm. I would say that for this young man to avoid submitting his “guidance” to the judgment of experienced elders, and the experience of the community throughout time, was at best naïve, prideful, foolish and dangerous. And it would have been irresponsible for me and my colleague to have shrugged our shoulders and said, “Well , who are we to say. Maybe that is the leading of God. We’ll help you pack!”

Another example, also true. I met a young woman in the SF Bay area who claimed that the risen Christ had come and visited with her one week end and spent the week-end giving her a seminar in Bible study. Aside from the fact that such an encounter would certainly be out of the ordinary, this young woman’s subsequent life demonstrated a moral instability that undermined here claim. What are we to do? Are we to simply shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, who are YOU to say that Jesus didn’t visit with her that week-end? And if God spoke to Moses, and Elijah, Jesus and Paul, why not her?” Well, again, without denying that God can and does speak to individuals, I would say that God is not stupid or foolish, and that as a rule of thumb, we all do well to check our perceptions of his leading against the wisdom of the community and the tradition. And if any of you consider me a wimp for saying so, enjoy yourselves. I can handle it.

I would suggest five criteria that should be aligned when we are seeking to validate or invalidated something that claims to be a leading from God:

(1) Is this in line with the thrust of Scripture [and not simply one proof-text];
(2) Upon consulting with them, is this leading confirmed by leaders and mentors whose character and track-record demonstrates them to be reliable?
(3) Is this leading in line with the tenor of the wisdom of the people of God in general—the voice of tradition?
(4) Does heeding this leading lead you in the direction of humility and growth in godly character?
(5) Is following this “leading” reasonable in view of at least the preponderance of the foregoing?

I think following such guidelines is far more reliable than heeding twitching elbows and perspectives that imply or state a direct comparison between the experience of canonical prophets and apostles and ourselves.

And if that makes me out to be a wimp, well, I’ll just have to learn to live with that.