I got a very good question today. Actually, it was a multi-part question, and I decided it was valuable to answer on the front page. I’ll start with the last part of the question first. Do Christians think we “speak for God”?
Those who aren’t Christians, or who aren’t committed Christians, will often ask this question, and it is a good one. It is especially important because sometimes Christians will mean one thing by the expression while other people might mean something completely different.
Christians have historically believed that God has already spoken, in the Bible. The Bible is God’s Word, the very words that God gave us and wanted us to have. II Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” The original Greek word translated “inspiration” means “breathed” by God. There are other Bible passages on this subject as well. In John 17:17, while praying to God the Father, Jesus said, “Thy Word is truth.” This is what Christians have always believed.
There are people who claim to be Christians who deny that, but they are outside the historical and Biblical definition of Christianity. It would be preferable if they came up with a better name for what they believe — it just causes confusion, otherwise. I understand why they want to use the name “Christian”, for it brings many good things with it, and many of those things may apply to what they believe. But it certainly causes confusion when people who don’t believe the Bible is the true Word of God call themselves “Christian”.
In any event, just so there is clarity, when I use the term “Christian” I am talking about those who believe the Bible is true, and believe it is the very words God wanted us to have.
If I tell someone what the Bible says, in a sense, I am indeed “speaking for God”, but not in the sense of claiming any right to tell God the way things should be, or any right to speak about things God didn’t say. Nor am I setting myself up as an authority in any way. Rather, I’m just letting people know what He has already said. The Bible says that believers are “ambassadors for Christ” (II Corinthians 5:20). But an ambassador can only rightly say what his government authorised him to say. Otherwise, he’s no ambassador, but simply a loose cannon.
It’s sort of like David Cameron’s spokesman at No. 10 Downing Street. He “speaks for David Cameron” in the sense that he passes along the message that the PM has already given him. The spokesman isn’t running the country, he’s just passing along the messages that the person who is (supposedly :)) running the country wants to pass along.
In a sense, Christians are like David Cameron’s spokesman — we’re passing along the messages God wants us to pass along.
There’s a very big difference, though. If the PM’s spokesman doesn’t pass along the message correctly, we won’t know he messed up unless someone tells us. We can’t listen in on their private conversation to know whether the messenger is doing his job.
It’s different with Christians. If I don’t pass along what God has said correctly, I have to answer to God (just like the PM’s spokesman has to answer to the PM), but anyone else can see it, too. They can look at the Bible, check out what I said, and say, “Hey, that guy’s an idiot (or a liar)! God didn’t say that at all!”
Anyone can “listen in” to what God has told me by looking in the Bible. No one has to trust me about what God has said, and no one should. People should “check” me. In Acts 17, some people in a place called Berea were called “noble” because they “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” In other words, they didn’t just trust the preacher who came along, they checked him to see if what he said was really in the Bible. God said they were noble for doing so.
Christianity doesn’t exalt a man, it exalts God. No one can speak on God’s behalf, they can only say what God has already said. Even the Apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, writing to a church that he had personally founded, said, “Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand” (II Corinthians 1:24). Christians stand by faith in God, and our faith is not under the dominion of any man.
Some Christians get messed up on this point. They decide that a preacher or teacher, or someone claiming to be a prophet, is the “man of God”, and they stop “checking” him. They give him dominion over their faith. If “X” said it, it must be true — whoever “X” is. God spoke to X, so we must do what X says. They place their faith in that person, rather than standing by faith in God. It leads to all kinds of problems in the church, and often in their personal lives as well. No one is in God’s place. There is no reason for us to trust any person, when we can “check” them. If what they say isn’t “checkable”, if they can’t show me in God’s Word, why should I put them in dominion over my faith, or my life? I’m trusting X rather than God, and I’m not standing by faith anymore.
So the answer is no, we don’t “speak for God”. However, words are funny things. The word “for” has multiple meanings. Someone could say “I speak for God” meaning “I’m speaking in favour of God,” or “I’m speaking to defend God against people who criticise Him,” etc. I’ve heard Christians say those things, and there is nothing wrong with it.
Sometimes, Christians will even say it, meaning, “I’m speaking what God has said.” There is nothing wrong with that, either, though to prevent misunderstandings it would probably be wiser to say it differently. If we say it with that meaning, though, we need to realise — it is incumbent on us to prove God said it. No one should believe ME, of all people. I’m just a guy on some blog, or to the people in our church, just a guy who stands up behind a pulpit and talks. So what? They’d better be able to see that I’m telling the truth when I say that God said something — it had better be in the Bible. They shouldn’t have to trust someone like me, because I have a deep, dark secret — I make mistakes. Don’t tell anyone, or before you know it, it will be all over the Internet.
What we cannot ever do is “speak for God” in the sense of speaking “in the place of God”. “For” can have that meaning, too, and that is often the sense in which those who aren’t Christians ask the question. If God is silent on a topic, we have no right to speak as if He has spoken. Though few Christians would explicitly say they are “speaking for God” in this sense, in practice we can drift into speaking in a way that communicates our own importance as an authority, rather than a humility that says, “Please look at what God has said. This isn’t my message, it is His.”
Jesus said, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me” to all the world (Acts 1:8). We are responsible to “speak for God” in the sense of telling what we know of Him. But honest witnesses don’t make their own stuff up; they tell what they have seen, heard, learned, etc. If we are good witnesses, we will not only tell what God has said, but we will tell it in a way that reflects His character. Otherwise, our testimony to Him is wrong. Sadly, sometimes Christians are testifying true words about Christ, but in a way that reveals much more about themselves than it does about Christ.
So to tie this in to the original question, if someone “speaking for God,” in the sense of passing along a message and expecting other people to pay attention, they need to be ready to prove from the Bible that it is God’s message, and they had best be speaking it in the way God wants them to speak it. Otherwise, at best they are lousy ambassadors, and at worst, they are frauds.
In this blog, as in my preaching, I’m not trying to “speak for God”. I’m trying to, firstly, point out (to Christians in particular, but others are more than welcome) what God has said. Second, I need to point it out in a way that others can see it themselves in His Word, so that people know it is God and not me. Third, I want to help people think about how to apply it.
For Christians, this is so our thinking can get more in tune with God’s thinking, and our actions can get more in tune with what pleases Him. For those who are not yet Christians, perhaps it will help them to see better what Christianity really is, and to see better who God really is. He is a God worth knowing, serving, and following, a God of real truth and real love. The more I can help people (Christians or not) see God as He is, the better. If I start to “speak for Him”, I’m putting myself in the way, obscuring the view. Instead of speaking for Him, we should point towards Him and what He has said.