How should we respond when someone says they have had a vision?

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Thomas_Goodwin

Puritan Board Freshman
Important to note: I am not affirming or denying the experiences below, but I was looking for counsel to give to this person. I so far have only said that if you doubt if you know Christ then you can receive Him freely.

I ask this because I know a man who "converted" due to a vision of "Christ."
He could not make out "Jesus' physical features" and only saw "Him as light with a vague form." He was "told" he was forgiven and was "commanded" to read His word and obey His commands. He claims he awoke with a peace and joy he had not known. He is confessional (affirms all in 1689), reformed and leans towards cessation-ism. He doubts his salvation because of reformed teaching on visions and because of the natural pleasingness to human flesh to made much of and puffed up by unique and special experiences (does his vision make much of God or himself for receiving this special "favor"). He used to go around telling this story, but he hasnt in a few years. I am not sure how to go about counseling this man.

P.S. Sorry if this is a little confusingly structured. Ive been struggling with the flu. Its mostly gone now but my mind feels like mush. All of yesterday I had about a 104 fever reaching its worse at about a 104.8 temp. I talked to this person today, and I know he is very grieved, confused and needs direction. Maybe he is a wolf in sheeps clothing? Maybe he is not geniune. How should I counsel this man?
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
1. Basing your self-condemnation on an experience (weird or not) is at least as bad as basing your assurance on it.
2. He should look to the Christ of Scripture now. For salvation; for resolution to his doubts; for what to do with that experience. It doesn't matter if the vision was an exceptional mercy or a demonic sending; if he trusts Christ now, he is not and never will be cast out.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Ask them more on the meaning of it than whether it actually happened or not. Concerning the latter, you are in no place to say. Sometimes we Reformed default to a Deist state on the supernatural. He very well could have had a vision. That's not important. What's important is the interpretation given to it.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
In studies of several Mslm groups in Indonesia as many as 20% of mslm-background believers state that a dream or vision was instrumental in them finding or opening a bible or talking to a Christian. There is no need to slander these true believers as liars.

I know dozens of Christians who have reported dreams. I had someone call me with a dream at a critical time which proved to be true and kept me from danger (it is true). Another person had a dream I was visiting and trekked out at night to meet me on the trail with food. The ancients report many dreams and prophecies which proved to be true, even pagan peoples, such as those who dreamed and predicted the coming of White Men to their tribe or the tales of the oracles as told by Herodotus.

When I was hallucinating once with severe malaria I was shown an old tribal lady in a treehouse dying. A scary voice reminded me she was going to die alone and without medicine. As I was recovering some days later I received news of an old lady in that same area across a small river (I saw the location from above in my dream) died from malaria while I was sick. This was sobering. I don't think I was just crazy out of my head. Granted, many old tribal ladies look similar and there are multiple ones just West of this river but the dream did not seem random.

In Acts we see Cornelius and Peter have a vision/dream. Dreams are ALWAYS meaningful when mentioned in Scripture. This does not prove all dreams are meaningful...but some were. The prophecy of Joel about dreams and visions was fulfilled at the coming of the New Testament age, but such things are said to typify this age as a whole. I believe it still happens even as I label myself a Cessationist. The ancient church and medieval church wrote much of dreams and visions being meaningful and some of the martyrs were sent dreams and visions to comfort them before their impeding deaths for their faith (as in the account of Perpetua and Felicitas in the ancient church). Even the Puritan Covenanters reported prophetic dreams and warnings to flee or prepare for their deaths. None of these would assert their dreams to be Scripture-level Revelation but only strange providences and movings of the Spirit.
 
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Thomas_Goodwin

Puritan Board Freshman
In studies of several Mslm groups in Indonesia as many as 20% of mslm-background believers state that a dream or vision was instrumental in them finding or opening a bible or talking to a Christian. There is no need to slander these true believers as liars.

I know dozens of Christians who have reported dreams. I had someone call me with a dream at a critical time which proved to be true and kept me from danger (it is true). Another person had a dream I was visiting and trekked out at night to meet me on the trail with food. The ancients report many dreams and prophecies which proved to be true, even pagan peoples, such as those who dreamed and predicted the coming of White Men to their tribe or the tales of the oracles as told by Herodotus.

In Acts we see Cornelius and Peter have a vision/dream. Dreams are ALWAYS meaningful when mentioned in Scripture. This does not prove all dreams are meaningful...but some were. The prophecy of Joel about dreams and visions was fulfilled at the coming of the New Testament age, but such things are said to typify this age as a whole. I believe it still happens even as I label myself a Cessationist. The ancient church and medieval church wrote much of dreams and visions being meaningful and some of the martyrs were sent dreams and visions to comfort them before their impeding deaths for their faith (as in the account of Perpetua and Felicitas in the ancient church). Even the Puritan Covenanters reported prophetic dreams and warnings to flee or prepare for their deaths. None of these would assert their dreams to be Scripture-level Revelation but only strange providences and movings of the Spirit.
Even a vision of Christ?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Even a vision of Christ?
Yes. Sometimes they report a robed figure of someone they identify as the Prophet Isa. Often white hair or long beard. Sometimes they see a book. A hand reaching out to them in one dream that they knew was from God and identified as Jesus. One did explain. "I am not saying it was Isa...I only report that I saw someone that I thought was him and I don't know why." It could be the soul/subconscious/imagination doing the mental imagery itself, but these dreams are often reported as critical in the lives of these believers even if they cannot explain them totally.

And of course, there are readers right now saying, "This is proof that it is NOT from God!" or they easily dismiss these accounts as mere imagination. But I am not ready to charge solid Christians with lying. I see a precedent in the Book of Acts. I am not even saying that THE Jesus actually appears to them. But I believe the Spirit through their providential dreams is working because the fruit is repentance and obedience to God.

p.s. me and other missionaries report the same thing, but reluctantly. We often do not tell of these things lest we be condemned as holding to some fringe view. But this is a common thing that is reported throughout the Mslm world and I am ready to accept it as true.
 
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Irenaeus

Puritan Board Freshman
I don't think this type of teaching is totally foreign to Reformed theology. Not that study Bibles are a good metric, but the Spirit of the Reformation in its study notes remarks that these types of experiences are more common on the geographical frontiers of the gospel's reach, where supernatural activity often seems to be heightened. Another possibility might be that Acts is setting forth a pattern for the spread of the gospel in that supernatural occurrences are more common in the foundational period for the church in a given area (note the repeat of Pentecost in Samaria in Acts 8) - so maybe there is room to acknowledge these kinds of things when the gospel is first introduced to a land, but as something that passes away as the church takes root and matures in an area.

I do tend to think there is a way to be a full blooded cessationist while still believing (in practice as well as in theory) that the supernatural is real and that God reserves the right to exercise himself in supernatural ways without diminishing the primacy of his ordinary means of working. But I leave it to people smarter than me to figure that out or to correct me if that type of thinking seems to lack scriptural warrant. At any rate, I'm with Perg in that I'm not willing to discount the numerous tales of the type mentioned without giving it due evaluation.
 

hLuke

Puritan Board Freshman
My conversion came with a vision of Christ.
As mentioned above, though profound as the vision may be, it is not to be relied upon for assurance of salvation, and is not so important.
What comes of the conversion, namely a life of repentance and holiness, matters, not so much the vision. But even more is that God is glorified.
Similar to your friend, I used to tell people about my experience, but when God graciously led me to reformed faith I'm much more weary in sharing it.
I realise that sharing an experience will bring pause for some brothers and sisters-- which it has already here on this board.
As @VictorBravo says, the question boils down to whether he trusts in God. I would tell him not to trust in the vision for assurance but in Jesus and his word for assurance.
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
John @Thomas_Goodwin,

It depends on what is meant by "a vision" of Christ. Sometimes, at the moment God choses to regenerate His elect children it is in this manner: "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 4:6).

When the Spirit of Christ shines the glory of Christ into our hearts it may seem to be "a vision" but is actually a vivid regeneration. When Spurgeon was converted he said of it, "I looked at Him, and He looked at me, and we were one forever."

And when the Lord appears to us by His presence, although there are no audible words spoken, yet volumes may be said in and by His very appearing to us in whatever situation.
 

jw

Administrator
The Lord often sends strong delusions that men will believe a lie. Folks’ experiences are unassailable because who has dwelt in someone else’s being in order to validate/invalidate their experience? No one. The Lord may -and is free so to do- use such things as a directive to someone’s conversion. That does not mean we -the creature- are free to make use of or even dogmatically affirm the Lord’s working therein. Sometimes the Lord gives success in the predictions of dreamers of dreams in order to prove our own fidelity to the more sure word of prophecy over all competitors. Again, we cannot assail someone’s secret experiences, and we shouldn’t feel the need to do so. The Lord knows, and the secret things belong to Him. But you know what is ours? Those things He has revealed in His Word, to the end that we would obey all the words of His law. That leaves my plate full.
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
It doesn't matter if the vision was an exceptional mercy or a demonic sending; if he trusts Christ now, he is not and never will be cast out.

I couldn't add more than one Amen to your post, so I am adding a few more here.

Amen! Amen! Amen!
 
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Irenaeus

Puritan Board Freshman
The Lord often sends strong delusions that men will believe a lie. Folks’ experiences are unassailable because who has dwelt in someone else’s being in order to validate/invalidate their experience? No one. The Lord may -and is free so to do- use such things as a directive to someone’s conversion. That does not mean we -the creature- are free to make use of or even dogmatically affirm the Lord’s working therein.
No, but we are free to affirm the Lord's ability to work in such a way, as well as the very real possibility that he truly does so. You said that, so we're in agreement there, but then you jumped to making use of or dogmatically affirming the Lord's working therein, both of which represent subsequent steps in a chain of reasoning. I think it's important to distinguish those steps, because some folks refuse to acknowledge even the possibility that the Lord would work this way. There's a middle ground between that and dogmatically affirming some sort of codified doctrine of such (which is where in my opinion Reformed continuationism goes wrong: trying to develop and codify a theological point beyond what Scripture warrants). As for making use of it, again, if we are discussing the incorporation or fixed characterization of this extraordinary experience into a theological system, then I would disagree. But if by making use of it you mean referencing it or describing it or even considering it a part of the circumstances attending one's salvation, then I don't know that we're forbidden to do that - or, at least, that is the question I am pondering myself. If such visions are credible, then it seems odd that they would come with a gag order.

I disagree that experience is unassailable, much as it has become the defining criterion for establishing the validity of a characteristically postmodern range of divergent (and often individually tailored) religious belief systems. Sure, we can't live a particular subjective experience, but believing as I do in objective reality, I absolutely think at least some aspects of experience can be validly challenged. "Experiences" are in this day and age attended by truth claims, and the validity of those can be questioned along with the soundness of the link between the experience and the derived truth. But the experience itself can also be questioned. If you tell me that you are friends with a 3-foot tall purple spider who lives under your bed and has revealed to you the dietary secret to long life, and it turns out that it only involves eating orange foods: well, the truth claim is highly open to debate; the connection between the vision and the truth claim is open to debate; and lastly I'm going to suggest that that you're high as a kite and should stop mixing 'shrooms with your oatmeal because the experience itself is incongruent with reality as generally understood. Of course, it's possible that 1) you really did see and befriend the purple spider in a hallucination 2) the purple spider is real, albeit a terrible nutritionist 3) there is real paranormal activity at play. These possibilities, and the impossibility of definitively ruling them out apart from being able to share the subjectively lived experience, don't change the basic fact that, yes, the experience itself is very much assailable. To think otherwise is to buy into one of the great pernicious lies of our day (though to be fair I don't know that there wasn't any intentional irony or sarcasm in your assertion).

Regarding visions of Christ, they have to be evaluated according to objective criteria. A vision of Christ that compels a man to leave his wife and follow his heart's true love is patently no such thing. I think that what is being discussed here is the multiplicity of reports of visions of Christ that, apart from the question of the vision itself, appear in every other respect to be congruent with a real salvation experience / working of the Holy Spirit: the experience is attended by the fruits of salvation and does not form the basis for further theological error (apart from possibly the assessment of the vision experience itself). The reports of visions are widespread and repeated across numerous localities and situations. This necessitates the addressing of such events and the question of whether there is or can be room for such experiences in a biblically and confessionally consistent theological framework. The question is not settled in my mind, though I frankly confess that I am inclined to believe that yes, there is room for acknowledging these experiences without compromise. I'm not a continuationist in any way, but I don't want to become so fixated on avoiding experientialism that I become a practical deist.
 

Christopher Robin

Puritan Board Freshman
As a Charismatic I interpreted many experiences according to my preconceived notions. Then claimed that my experiences were "unassailable proof" of the my ignorant and superstitious assumptions.

It's important that such experiences be interpreted in the light of the true faith and teachings of the Word of God.

While I have no doubt that such visions and conversions may be genuine, we should not leap to unfounded conclusions about these as a set, but consider each one individually.
 

Claudiu

Puritan Board Junior
WLC. Q. 109. What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are … the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever.
 

Irenaeus

Puritan Board Freshman
WLC. Q. 109. What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are … the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever.
Indeed, but I don't think the question is one of making images of God, but rather whether God sometimes reveals himself in extraordinary ways.
 

Claudiu

Puritan Board Junior
Indeed, but I don't think the question is one of making images of God, but rather whether God sometimes reveals himself in extraordinary ways.
If “those former ways of God's revealing his will unto his people being now ceased” (WCF 1.1), then any supposed vision categorically could not be divine. If not divine, then it is an invention of the mind and prohibited (2nd commandment; WLC 109). This is the confessional Reformed teaching.
 

Irenaeus

Puritan Board Freshman
If “those former ways of God's revealing his will unto his people being now ceased” (WCF 1.1), then any supposed vision categorically could not be divine. If not divine, then it is an invention of the mind and prohibited (2nd commandment; WLC 109). This is the confessional Reformed teaching.
I don't think it necessarily follows that WCF 1.1 applies here; therefore, I don't categorically accept that these supposed visions could not be genuine.
 

Stephen L Smith

Administrator
Staff member
I have enclosed some summary notes from a men's study I led a couple of months ago. This is a summary of John Calvin's classic study of the relationship between word and Spirit.

John Calvin on the relationship between Word and Spirit​

(From the Institutes of the Christian Religion book 1, chapter 9)

In my opinion Calvin has gifted to the church some rich teaching on the relationship between word and Spirit. I have summarised his comments as bullet points:
  • The Spirit seals our minds with that very doctrine which is commended by the gospel
  • The Holy Spirit is recognised in His agreement with scripture
  • Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). Therefore is anyone says ‘the spirit spoke to me’ how will one know if the Holy Spirit did indeed speak? The answer is through the scriptures. We recognise the Spirit in the scriptures because the Holy Spirit is the author of the scriptures
  • The word and Spirit belong inseparably together. The word is not a dead letter. Phil 2:16 calls it the word of life. Paul calls his preaching the ministry of the Spirit 2 Cor 3:8. Therefore the Holy Spirit powerfully influences the truth which is expressed in the scripture. Only when proper reverence and dignity are given to the word does the Holy Spirit show forth His power. Carefully reflect on this powerful statement by Calvin: “By a kind of mutual bond the Lord has joined together the certainty of His word and of His Spirit so that the perfect religion of the word may abide in our minds when the Spirit, who causes us to contemplate God’s face, shines; and that we in turn may embrace the Spirit with no fear of being deceived when we recognise Him in His own image, namely, in the word.” (Institutes 1:9:3)
  • Christ opened the minds of two of His disciples that they should know the scriptures (Luke 24:27,45). Similarly Paul urges the Thessalonians not to quench the Spirit (1 Thess 5:19) Therefore the word and Spirit belong together.
 

Claudiu

Puritan Board Junior
I don't think it necessarily follows that WCF 1.1 applies here; therefore, I don't categorically accept that these supposed visions could not be genuine.
So images of Christ, even in the mind, contra WLC 109, are ok? Does that not apply here either? This is a slippery slope of casting aside the standards.
 

Claudiu

Puritan Board Junior
I apologize if I’m misrepresenting you. That’s not my intention, nor do I wish to do it inadvertently.

If someone claims to (i) have a vision of (ii) Christ, the standards that speak to this clearly are: (i) there is no continuing revelation (WCF 1.1) and (ii) images of Christ are prohibited even in the mind (WLC 109). Then if you say that those standards don’t apply here, I would have to perceive them as being cast aside.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I apologize if I’m misrepresenting you. That’s not my intention, nor do I wish to do it inadvertently.

If someone claims to (i) have a vision of (ii) Christ, the standards that speak to this clearly are: (i) there is no continuing revelation (WCF 1.1) and (ii) images of Christ are prohibited even in the mind (WLC 109). Then if you say that those standards don’t apply here, I would have to perceive them as being cast aside.
Read Garnet Milne’s published dissertation The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Cessation of Special Revelation: The Majority Puritan Viewpoint on Whether Extra-Biblical Prophecy Is Still Possible (Paternoster, 2007). Then tell us what you think. They allowed dreams and visions and still held to the WCF, even helping form it.
 

Claudiu

Puritan Board Junior
Read Garnet Milne’s published dissertation The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Cessation of Special Revelation: The Majority Puritan Viewpoint on Whether Extra-Biblical Prophecy Is Still Possible (Paternoster, 2007). Then tell us what you think. They allowed dreams and visions and still held to the WCF, even helping form it.
Thank you for the recommendation. I’ll add it to my reading list, but it might take me some time to get to it.

The framers of the standards were adamantly against images of Christ though, were they not? So even if for the sake of argument we allow for ongoing revelation ala dreams and visions, there would still be bar on the violation of the second commandment.

I come from an Eastern Orthodox and Pentecostal background before becoming Reformed. I prize Sola Scriptura especially as upheld and contended for by the Puritans. So I shudder at perceived deviations from that. My background was filled with “spiritual men” who had dreams, visions, revelations, and miracles, etc that would put Protestants to shame. Many Orthodox and Pentecostals claim to have had visions of Christ. And the Orthodox tradition greatly abounds with many superstitions that flow from this. By giving away Sola Scriptura ala WCF 1 and the 2nd commandment per WLC 109, I give away the sound ground against these aberrant beliefs and practices.
 
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Anthony W. Brown II

Puritan Board Freshman
Thank you for the recommendation. I’ll add it to my reading list, but it might take me some time to get to it.

The framers of the standards were adamantly against images of Christ though, were they not? So even if for the sake of argument we allow for ongoing revelation ala dreams and visions, there would still be bar on the violation of the second commandment.

I come from an Eastern Orthodox and Pentecostal background before becoming Reformed. I prize Sola Scriptura especially as upheld and contended for by the Puritans. So I shudder at perceived deviations from that. My background was filled with “spiritual men” who had dreams, visions, revelations, and miracles, etc that would put Protestants to shame. Many Orthodox and Pentecostals claim to have had visions of Christ. And the Orthodox tradition greatly abounds with many superstitions that flow from this. By giving away Sola Scriptura ala WCF 1 and the 2nd commandment per WLC 109, I give away the sound ground against these aberrant beliefs and practices.
This is it.

Sent from my SM-A326U using Tapatalk
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
I kid you not, I had a dream about this thread. In the dream I was sitting on the floor of a gymnasium balcony (while a basketball game was going on below) and talking with a bunch of stangers about the subject of visions and dreams. I don’t remember what we discussed, but afterwards (still in the dream) it occurred to me that whether you say God does reveal things in dreams and visions, or that he can, you end up in a pretty similar position: you have to test everything against Scripture. Make of that what you will.

I also adopted a talking bear.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I kid you not, I had a dream about this thread. In the dream I was sitting on the floor of a gymnasium balcony (while a basketball game was going on below) and talking with a bunch of stangers about the subject of visions and dreams. I don’t remember what we discussed, but afterwards (still in the dream) it occurred to me that whether you say God does reveal things in dreams and visions, or that he can, you end up in a pretty similar position: you have to test everything against Scripture. Make of that what you will.

I also adopted a talking bear.
I had a dream I was eating marshmallows. I woke up...and my pillow was missing.
 
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