We see this apostolic priority practiced even in the period of the book of Acts. In the case of local doctrinal disputes, the early Christians did not ask their local “prophet” to “get the Word of the Lord” on the problem. They asked for, and knelt to, the words of the Apostles as final and God-given. As Paul writes, “you received the word of God which you heard from us . . . not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13).
If all Christians of all ages are to align themselves with the teaching of the Apostles, then Christians are to kneel only to the text of the Bible. Why? Because, as Anglican divine E. A. Litton put it, “no apostolical teaching is certainly extant except that which is embalmed in the New Testament.” If Christians are to be taught by and be subservient to the Apostles’ teachings, then they are to be taught by and be subservient to the surviving writings of the Apostles—and nothing else.
What about the Jesuitical (and Mormon!) type of argument that says: “God regularly spoke to the apostles during the period described in the book of Acts. Can’t we reasonably expect that He would continue to do this for His church until Jesus returns?” The simple answer to this is, “No.” Scripture does not tell us to do doctrine on the basis of any past actions or words of God we read in the historical books (including Acts). The text of Scripture is to be the basis of our doctrine—in particular the didactic books of Scripture. The fact that God once acted or spoke something revelatory gives today’s Christian believer no sufficient reason to believe that God is obliged to do or say revelatory things again—unless there is an attached promise on His part to do so. One of the basic rules of Reformation hermeneutics is that we must not universalize promises. A promise given to an individual is a promise solely to that individual (unless the promise is accompanied by words such as “all,” “world,” “whosoever,” “every,” “all,” “always,” etc.). This has implications for every Christian today who has an inclination, like Gideon, to “lay out a fleece” whenever he thinks he needs “a sign from the Lord!”
The early church had to face the issue of “continuing revelation” in the case of Montanism. And the Reformers were confronted by the “Schwärmerei” (“enthusiasts”), who defended their private revelations as Spirit-given—apart from and in addition to the Word. John Calvin confidently opposed these enthusiasts, writing, for example, “. . . the children of God . . . know no other Spirit than Him who dwelt and spoke in the apostles, Him by whose oracles they are repeatedly recalled to the hearing of the Word.” Martin Luther’s famous response to Thomas Müntzer was, “I wouldn’t believe you if you had swallowed the Holy Ghost, feathers and all!” The late Dr. Robert Preus accurately summed up the position of Luther and the seventeenth-century Lutheran dogmaticians: “. . . Scripture alone is the source of all knowledge of supernatural theology. . . Scripture must stand alone in this respect or not at all. If it is not the only norm of doctrine, it is not a norm in the true sense of the word” (The Inspiration of Scripture, pp. 4–5).
The old Lutherans made use of the distinction between “gross” (“gross sacramentarians”) and “crafty” (“crafty sacramentarians”). The situation in the case of the “gross continuing revelation adherents” has been well described by Dr. John MacArthur Jr. in the August 2001 Tabletalk and by Dr. R.C. Sproul in “The Establishment of Scripture” in Sola Scriptura! The Protestant Position on the Bible. The “crafty adherents of continuing revelation” are probably best represented by Dr. Wayne Grudem (The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today). One excellent reply to Grudem’s position is Dr. O. Palmer Robertson’s The Final Word, a book I highly recommend. Robertson correctly sees that Grudem’s position creates deep problems, not only with sola Scriptura but with the perspicuity and sufficiency of Holy Scripture, as well.
Given that we have a rationale for accepting the Old Testament text as God’s inspired Word, and given that we have a rationale for accepting the apostolic New Testament writings as God’s inspired Word, Reformation Christians should actively resist and/or reject anything that seeks to supplant these. Even if they do not mean to do it, even if they attempt to offer a rationale as to why their “other revelatory sources” are not revelatory in the sense that Scripture is revelatory, those who argue for “continuing revelation” lead the believer away from sola Scriptura. The Reformers were correct in rejecting the supposed new revelations of the “Spirit-drivers” (Abraham Kuyper) in their day. We must do no less.