Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Oracle of Delphi, Preaching, Power, and Sensing God

Part One    Part Two

In upper central Greece along the slope of Mount Parnassus resided the ancient city of Delphi.  The ancient Greeks considered Delphi to be the center of the world, the world personified by the mother earth goddess, Gaia, and Delphi her navel.  Delphi comes from a Greek root, which means "womb."

The story was that Zeus had found the origination of the earth at Delphi by sending out two eagles to search.  Later, Apollo, the brother of twin sister Artemis (Diana) and the son of Zeus, the Greek god, slew Python or Drako, a serpent that protected the navel of Gaia.  The legend was that the Pythia was the original priestess in the worship of Gaia.  When Apollo slew Python, its body fell into a fissure at Delphi, releasing fumes that intoxicated Pythia, sending her into a trance and allowing Apollo to possess her spirit.  Then she prophesied, becoming his oracle.

The Greek author Plutarch, who himself became an actual priest at Delphi in the first century A.D., wrote about the oracle of Delphi and described how a woman would enter a small chamber in Apollo's temple and inhale sweet-smelling vapors ("pneuma") from a fissure in the mountain before entering a state in which she would provide responses to seekers' inquiries posed to her mediated by priests, who interpreted her pronouncements.

Delphi is 123 miles away from Corinth.  It doesn't look very far on a map.  Today it's about a three hour drive around the Gulf of Corinth.  In ancient times, people travelled great distances to ask the Pythia questions.  In 1 Corinthians 12-14 Paul confronts a case of paganism mixing with true doctrine, dealing with ecstatic utterances interpreted as divine revelation, often the more extreme the more likely its credibility (1 Cor 12:1-3), unknown languages (1 Cor 14:1-27), and female prophetesses and their asking the questions rather than being asked them (1 Cor 14:34-35).

Earlier in 1 Corinthians (1:18, 21), Paul said "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe."  "Preaching" (kerugmatos) isn't a style of speech, oozing with feeling and stylistic dynamics, but the content of the proclamation, and this is how the word was used in ancient literature.  In 2:1-5 he goes further to emphasize the effect wasn't in the excellence of the speaking that he did, excellence being the superiority of the person, but in the message, the testimony of God.  He spoke the words "which the Holy Ghost" had taught him, or with him as an apostle, in other words, he spoke scripture.

Of all the mentions of "the power of God" in scripture (13 of them and all in the New Testament), five are in 1 and 2 Corinthians.  The power of God rests in the Word of God, not in some means of a human intermediary channeling power akin to a Delphic oracle.  In another mention, Paul says the gospel is the power of God (Rom 1:16), again emphasizing the message, not the oracle.

When the said power stands in the message, the substance of the preaching, God gets the glory or that "no flesh should glory in God's presence" (1 Cor 1:29).  God's presence is in the preached Word of God.  Later Peter says that God is glorified when a man speaks "as the oracles of God" (1 Pet 4:10-11), which is scripture.  You know it is the Spirit of God when it is the Word of God, this being how someone knows God's presence.

The oracular or ecstatic speech that accentuates the experiential, the euphoria of style, glorifies man.  It is not what God has chosen to confound the wisdom of this world.  Anyone who hears a "powerful" speech by a dynamic orator could glorify the speaking of that man, but that isn't how God chooses to persuade men.  It makes sense to men, but it isn't what God uses.  When I write this, I'm not saying that a speaker attempts to be as dry and monotone in speech as possible.  I'm saying the emphasis is not on human means to sway.  Powerful preaching isn't related to technique, strategy, gesticulation, raving, or passion.  It's not a Billy Sunday pose or the visage and voice of a Billy Graham.

Through history, oracular religion, hearing voices, and then ecstatic speech are all manifestations of paganism.  Mormon doctrine says that Joseph Smith was an oracle, given the translation of the Book of Mormon.  Part of the doctrine of Roman Catholicism is visions and apparitions.  For instance, Teresa of Avila, a Catholic "saint," in the sixteenth century was a Spanish Catholic mystic and in her own book about herself, she wrote (Life, p. 27):  "being at prayer, I saw, or rather (for I saw nothing, either with the eyes of the body or with those of the soul) I felt my Savior near me and I saw that it was he who spoke to me."  She also wrote:  "I have rarely beheld the Devil in any form, but he has often appeared to me without one, as is the case in intellectual visions, when as I have said, the soul clearly perceives someone present, although it does not perceive it in any form."  I've heard others tell me in many instances one or the other of these experiences Teresa testified to having.

These subjective experiences are supposed to mark supernatural intervention.  At the beginning of Acts, Luke wrote to Theophilus that Christianity came with infallible proofs.  These were supernatural proofs that God was involved with what was occurring in the story of Luke and Acts in fulfillment of prophecies.  Everything and everyone that is going to say it is God or of God must give some kind of supernatural basis that would at least seem to evidence God.  In your own Christian life, you want to know that it is real, that it is of God or God working, a true relationship with God.  Many, maybe even a majority, of those who claim to be something Christian look to their own personal experiences to confirm that what they have is of God.

The early motto of Apple, used in marketing, was "Think Different."  In the authorized biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, he was quoted as saying:
Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.
Psychedelic drugs, Jobs said, made him think different, altered his consciousness enough to get a different look at the world.  I've heard several advocate the same since I've lived in California.  It reminds me of the fumes inhaled by the Pythia before she offered her insight to a visiting inquisitor.  This information that apparently comes from outside the body seems elevated to what someone learns with a natural method.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes series of books, also subjected himself to Victorian spiritualism.  He believed in it.  He believed God sent solace to those bereaved after the death of a family member, using mystical means.  Clairvoyance is the ability to see what isn't physically present, clairaudience is the ability to hear spirit's voice or thoughts, and clairsentience is the ability to sense what a spirit wants to communicate or to feel sensations from a spirit.  The Bible and historic Christianity has rejected these experiences as not of God.  They are either someone deceived, someone lying, or a demon.

I've heard lots of different personal, subjective happenings to validate someone is operating under the jurisdiction or within the working of God, not unlike the visions and apparitions of Roman Catholicism.  It's heavy in the Charismatic movement, but it's now maybe just as prevalent among evangelicals of different stripes, who would say they are non-Charismatic.  Some are revivalists, and even those who deny revivalism still have some kind of mysticism in their professing Christianity.  They say they sense God or feel the Spirit of God.  These sensations in almost every case are not verifiable.

 We have a completed and sufficient Word of God.  It is not to be added to or taken away from.  This is how God speaks today.  There are experiences that believers have outside of the Bible, but the Bible is the final and infallible authority for the validity of those experiences.  They are judged by the Bible, proven by scripture, or tested by the Word of God.

For instance, fruit of the Spirit shows up in the life of a believer yielded to the Spirit of God, which is to be obedient to scripture.  Love shows up.  That's an experience.  Patience shows up.  That's an experience.  These are all defined by scripture.  They can be judged by believers according to the Word of God. This is how God wants us to live.

On the other hand, men move outside of the Word of God into their own experiences as validation.  This is not living by faith, but by sight.  It doesn't please God.  It doesn't bring glory to God.  Many bad practices, against or outside of scripture, are justified by extra-scriptural mystical experiences.  False doctrine is taught and confirmed by sensations attributed to God by someone without any biblical means of verification.

Perhaps worse, the voices or calls or feelings explained above devalue scripture, and very often are elevated above scripture.  They are viewed as a superior form of relationship with God, more personal than the Bible.  Many of those who claim these experiences see themselves as having a higher form of spirituality, or even something of the power of God, not possessed by those who depend only on scripture.  Those with just scripture are thought or said to be missing something, a kind of spiritual have-not.  All of this is ripe for compounding deceit.

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