Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy ... How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. ... Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 1 Cor. 14:1, 26, 29-33.
One of the things that strikes me as interesting about Paul is that on the one hand he feels like the stodgy asexual intellectual, and on the other hand he was clearly what we would label a charismatic or Pentecostal in modern parlance (c.f. 1 Cor. 15-19). He was convinced both of the necessity of the Scriptures for the health of the church and of the necessity of revelation. Now, I don't know who reads this, but odds are good that one of you just hackled at that. Do I deny the sufficiency of Scripture? Am I not glorifying man over God? Those are precisely the things I wanted to talk about. Let me set you straight right now: I believe in the supremacy of Scripture over private revelation. In fact, I don't believe in private revelation unless it is consistent with Scripture.
Scripture is full of the Word coming to people in ways that are merely incidentally recorded - Abraham, Moses, Nathan, Oded, Hanani, Micaiah, and Peter all received revelations that are recorded in books that are not about their revelation, to name a few. In the case of Oded and Hanani and men like them, it is difficult to believe that the only things they ever heard from God are the few sentences written in Scripture. And Scripture also contains references to times when the Word came or will come without being recorded in Scripture at all: Iddo, Jehu, the book of the kings which contains "many oracles" concerning the reign of King Joash and "the words of the seers who spoke to [King Manasseh] in the name of the LORD," and the prophecies which Paul says occurred in the church of his own day (if some of those references are unfamiliar, go back and read 2 Chronicles).
Now, in the case of the Old Testament unrecorded prophets (by "unrecorded" I don't mean unwritten; I mean that God evidently did not see fit to preserve those written records for the church throughout the ages) we are essentially told that they heard from the Lord, but Paul says something much more interesting: "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge." In other words, just because somebody has heard something or seen something supernaturally doesn't mean it's from God, and the church is commanded to discern. I find the way in which we are to discern quite illuminating.
First off, a few ways in which we clearly cannot discern. One is whether or not the vision or revelation comes true. The spirit by which the Philippian slave girl foretold the future seems to have told the truth, but it was nevertheless a demon (Acts 16:16-19). Another is by appearance, or our own gut reaction. The enemy is perfectly capable of appearing holy (2 Cor. 11:14), and even a cursory study of Scripture will reveal that the presence of an angel (let alone of God) is terrifying beyond description. So let us prattle no nonsense about how it felt.
Instead, how are we to discern? "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God" (1 John 4:1-2). Now this "confessing" is clearly more than aping mere forms of words. Jesus confronts plenty of demons who admit that he is the Son of God. But confessing that Christ has come in the flesh is the formula we use when we pray for salvation, when we accept him as Lord and Savior, and Jesus didn't meet a single demon who did that.
Implications. First, I absolutely affirm that in Christ we have the authority to directly demand of a revelatory spirit that it confess Christ as its Lord. But all of this - the hearing itself, as well as the kind of interrogation I just mentioned, happens internally. And here you might have another objection: aren't I really just playing games in my head - elaborate games, to be sure, but ultimate centered on what I think, what I feel? Well, I hope not. He who trusts in his heart is a fool (Prov. 3:5-7, 28:26), but wisdom and safety are found in a multitude of counselors (Prov. 11:14, 15:22, 24:6). Indeed, Paul does not command us to judge our revelations, individually, but to share them with the Body and let others judge.
And judge, I think (although I am open to correction on this point), not just by having them go through an internal interrogation process. Judge by the yardstick of the rest of Scripture, the written Word, the revelation of which we are utterly certain. I do not think John was thinking just of speaking to spirits. I think he also meant, "any spirit which does not essentially re-proclaim the Gospel is not of God." And even if John didn't mean that specifically, it is absurd to imagine that God would speak something inconsistent with what he had spoken in the past. Men are inconsistent; God is utterly consistent. I don't know what the Lord spoke Iddo. I do know that it was nothing I couldn't get from the rest of Scripture.
If revelation is really nothing more than re-proclaiming what has already been proclaimed, what then is the point of revelation (what we call "the speaking voice of God" at the River, and denote with the Greek word rhema at The Church on the Way)? One might ask the same thing of sermons, which are also nothing more than proclaiming the Word of God, and the answer would be the same. Not just that it is good to proclaim the Word for its own sake (although it is). But that the Word ought to be proclaimed in a way that applies it to the current lives of real people. Yes, a good sermon does nothing more than proclaim the Word. But only somebody who has never heard a good sermon would think that you could get the same thing by reading a leather-bound gold-leafed book in your bedroom.
I have found the same thing to be true of revelation in my own experience. I think people who don't come from charismatic churches tend to have the idea that charismatic services (or more specifically, services in which charismata are exercised) are weird or unusual. They're really pretty mundane. I've heard more prophecies spoken to the church than I can count, and they've always been things that basically re-proclaim the Gospel (the reason I count them as prophecies from the Lord is precisely because you can point to Scripture and say, "the Lord said exactly the same thing in this passage here. This is fresh but it is not new"). Here is one of my favorite visions:
It is at the killing fields of Thermopylai. I can see only the hand of a man fallen on the dirt, which is stained red with blood. The hand is riven and covered with blood as well. A sword lies in the hand, but the hand does not grasp it. The man whose hand this is has fallen, and his sword has half tumbled out of his grip. I know that the hand is mine. A hand - is it visible or invisible? I cannot tell, but I know it is a hand - closes my fingers around the hilt of the sword. And then my fingers grasp it. Life is returning to me.
Now I see a heap of bodies piled high in the narrows of the mountain pass, bodies in grotesque poses in bronze and silk and everywhere there is blood, blood, and the grislier chunks of flesh that bespeak the terrible fight which occurred here. The Greeks have fallen; the pass is lost. The pile of corpses fills the pass. Out of the center of the bodies rises a man, but he is not a man - he is far too huge. Higher and higher he rises, now a giant of a man, now a colossus, and I know it is the Lord. His armor is blasted with blood and his flesh bears many wounds, all to the front. He has been in the thick of the fighting. The bowl of his shield seems to blot out the sun, and in its protective shadow I too rise, dwarfed to insignificance beside this massive and magnificent warrior. The sword in my hand, a weapon of desperation, is gone. Now my fist grips a long spear, a warrior's weapon and one that should have been shattered in the fighting long ago. But it is here in my hand, and my arm is strong as I raise it for an overhand thrust. Now on come the Medes in their endless ranks. The Lord thrusts with his spear, and I fight in the shadow of his shield. His spear is massive, more massive than a weaver's beam - more like a tree, like the spear of Athena Steel Eyes with which heaven's daughter levels battalions of heroes in her wrath. This is the terrible spear of my Lord as he strikes down my enemies by the dozens, by the hundreds. I cannot even tell if my spear is finding its mark as the foe are slaughtered, as we press the bowls of our shields into the very chests of the foe and shove them bodily out of the pass, but I feel his pleasure that I am fighting beside him even if I cannot tell if it is doing any good, such pleasure that it seems my heart will burst. The Lord is laughing. It is a deep, challenging, joyous laugh. He is like a lion roaring in the pride of his strength as he saves his son, and his son fights beside him.
That is a vision I saw some years ago. I invite you to consider whether it is one which essentially re-proclaims Scripture (I might suggest you read Psalm 18:34, 58:10, 59:16, 62:2, Isaiah 63:4, and Jeremiah 46:10 to start). If you believe that it does, and therefore should be trusted as a vision of the Lord, I invite you to consider whether the Lord could have said quite the same thing to my heart by simply directing me to those passages in the written Word.
(edit: "re-proclaim" may be stronger than what I actually think Scripture calls us to. See comments.)