Blog » Does Jesus Communicate Through Dreams? (or, Christ vs. Terrorists)
- Jan 8th, 2016 at 11:05 AM (CST)
Lately I have been reading of the underground church in Arab countries such as Iraq, Assyria and Somalia. Christians are under severe persecution and threat of death in these countries. It is encumbent upon believers in the West to educate ourselves to the plight of our family in faith suffering in these places, pray earnestly for them, and when moved to compassion by the Spirit to give in support of their relief.
I am recently reading Killing Christians by Tom Doyle, a collection of true accounts of the lives of Muslims who have converted to faith in Christ and are being hunted down in their own lands. Particularly impactful are the messages at the end of each account from the believers themselves, who express joy in the face of almost certain martyrdom. This should be a slap in the collective faces of us in the West who have such thin permanence and intensity of faith.
As a theologian there is a fascinating element to this book, and it seems to be portrayed directly in the previous work Dreams and Visions by the same author. The fascinating element is the phenomena of Muslims having dreams of Jesus appearing to them. The book I am reading hints that this may be a widespread phenomenon, but Muslims are too terrorized by their own to speak openly about it. It makes me wonder how many in these countries are secretly inclined toward Jesus, but are outwardly maintaning a facade of allegiance to Allah?
I have previously dispensed with most talk of dreams. My position as an LCMS pastor has been that since the Word became flesh, and consequently His words and those of the Gospel as explicated by the Apostles in the New Testament have been recorded, there is no longer any need for the Lord to communicate via visions and dreams. However, over time I wonder if this is placing too many restrictions upon God.
Trust me, I am well aware of the potential pitfalls of opening up weird channels for grace. Note well, I am certainly not here advocating a multiplicity of either "saviors", nor the means of Grace for the Spirit to convert someone to faith in Jesus. The Scripture figures prominently in the transformation of these Muslims. In fact, I don't know of one instance in the book where a person came faith solely on the basis of their dreams, but only through deeper contact with Jesus in the Word of God, the Bible.
I am unsure of a great deal of things in regard to the dream state, and I think anyone with credibility would take a like perspective. Be assured that dreams are held in much, much higher importance in the Muslim world than in the West. They are seen as an almost infallible form of communication with the divine. This gets me thinking... why wouldn't Christ use dreams in such cultures to approach people? The stories recounted are similar and doctrinally in line with classic Christianity. Jesus approaches the people in a nighttime dream and says similarly, "I am Jesus. I love you. I will provide for/protect you..." They all are directly pointing to the Savior, they dont wander far afield in doctrine, and they result in Muslims seeking to learn about Jesus and fellowship with "Bible people," consequently coming to faith in Christ.
There are some things I have grown quite skeptical about in the Christian realm, chiefly the purported trips to Heaven via near death experiences. The contradictory nature of the accounts and the incessant emphasis on Universalism as a conclusion by too many authors makes me reject nearly the entire lot of them. I am very skeptical of God's hand being involved in such incidents, especially when the conclusion is antithetical to the Gospel!
But, if indeed Muslims in extremely stressed areas of the world, areas where dreams are taken as the Gospel truth (sorry, couldn't resist!) are seeing the equivalent of a movie trailer for a personal encounter with Christ, what can I say? That God wouldn't do such a thing? No, I cannot say that. Someone may attempt to argue that I Corinthians 13:8-10 suggests that prophecies such as uttered in the Old Testament, speaking in Tongues, or messages of knowledge will cease. The application of that passage might suggest that dreams, too, are no longer necessary. However, the context is clear that the time in the future when these will pass away will be the advent of our King, Jesus at his return. In the meantime we cannot say they are abrogated.
So, what about in the meantime? Our church body at large has said, all but formally, but certaily tacitly, we don't need prophecies, and for the most part neither do we need Tongues speaking. However, we spend inordinate amounts of time on proliferation of "knowledge" of God! Yet, there is no Scriptural termination to all such activities - until Christ's return. We even see instances of the Apostles' being communicated to in mysterious ways, including dreams, in the New Testament.
Acts chapter 16 contains elements of the Spirit's working which confound my traditional perspective of such matters; Paul and his companions are, "kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the Word in Asia (v.6), then Paul has a nighttime vision of a man begging him to come minister to the people in Macedonia, which they respond to (v.9-10). So, if Jesus has ascended and the Apostles have all the information they need, why is a vision still being used? Why is John the Apostle getting visions as he is incarcerated on the island of Patmos? The likely answer to that is the Spirit was using visions to communicate clandestinely, allowing the weird images to get past Roman authorities and be interpreted by the church in the seven towns to which John wrote.
Still, it's all pretty messy, and there is not a clean delineation in the New Testament for either dispensing or ignoring dreams. One possible explanation of the Apostles' involvement with dreams or visions is that they were specially commissioned by Christ and conveyed the Gospel in all its fullness. That may be true, but there is enough extra activity in the New Testament of others, i.e. non-apostolic believers involved in miracles to warrant consideration of that conclusion. I do, however, see a clear pattern consistent with the early church. To my mind dreams are for those who are on the "fringe" of faith, and as one gets deeper into the Word they are not necessary. I also see dreams employed by God in dire circumstances and cultures where they are held in high value. Paul and the other Apostles were under dire threat, a condition in which it seems the Lord might employ visions. I see people in places of horrific persecution, where the church can only exist underground, as being both "on the fringe"of faith, and/or in dire stress with little convenience in regard to apprehending the Bible.
I do not ever expect to have a vision or visitation of God in a nighttime dream for these reasons; my trust is already in the message of the Gospel and I do not live in an environment of extreme persecution, such as our friends in these Muslim countries. Can I say, however, that Christ cannot use dreams or visions to open a person's mind to be prepared for contact with the Gospel, and through it to receive him? No, I cannot. This becomes very exciting for me when I contemplate how the Lord might use The Word Today in such cultures. Literally The Word Today is introducing Christ to people who know precious little about Him, and much misinformation about Him. How might the Spirit of Jesus work in the minds of people who hear via radio of the love of God in Jesus? Might they begin having dreams about a new Friend, Jesus? Yes, perhaps, and in my mind that would be a wonderful thing!