THE "EXPERIENCE" CONTROVERSY
by Wendy Howard
- "I was suddenly overwhelmed by the Spirit, and almost wafted to the floor, my arms and legs were tingling with power."
- "I felt a warmth rising in my throat, and laughter burst forth which I could not contain. I roared with the delight of it and a shaking surged through my body."
These sort of "experiences" have flooded through Christendom in the recent false "revival" movements, which are sweeping millions into an altered state of consciousness which parallels New Age religious phenomena. As with all controversial developments in the Church scene, a Scriptural balance must be maintained. By this is meant, not dialectics, or coming to a compromise, but keeping on an even keel. In terms of balance and truth, the following questions should be addressed:
- Is there Scripturally correct experience? Is God greater than the Bible?
- Are the present day "revival" experiences alien to the Bible?
- Is a legalistic denial of all experience really what God requires?
- What is the difference between "walking in the Spirit" and holding the sound belief that all authority for faith and doctrine is in the objective Truths of the Word of God?
- Is living a Christ-centered life about "experience" as well as doctrinal correctness and holiness of life?
1. IS THERE SCRIPTURALLY CORRECT EXPERIENCE?
To even mention that Christianity involves "experience" with God is akin to using a "naughty" word in many circles today. This is understandable; responsible people have had quite enough of the exotic displays of the existentialists in their midst. To polarize into "no-experience-accepted" groups, versus "truth-equals-experience" groups is not the answer however to the shame the Christians are feeling in regard to the extremes and errors of our day. After all, Godliness means more than just cold adherence to doctrine: Godliness is walking in reality with a Living Being who loves us; and knowing Him and worshipping Him always brings experience of HIM and His dealings with us. The Bible is full of the reality of God, and the stories of the blessed characters of Scriptures who have experienced God first-hand. There certainly is Scripturally-correct experience, and there are those of us who would never accept such disasters as the Toronto Blessing, yet would witness with joy of our own experience of God Himself.
(Exodus 13:21-22; Joshua 3:14-17; Ezekiel 1:27-28; Daniel 3:21-25; Acts 9:3-6; Acts 18:9-10; 2 Corinthians 12:1-4; Revelation 1:17-20. Many, many more).
Is God greater than the Bible? Of course He is: He is the Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all that is in limitless Space: He inhabits Eternity: God has no beginning and no end: He is both transcendant and imminent: He is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. We live and move and have our very being in God; of course He is greater than just a book, the Bible. This does not mean though that he has NOT limited His revelation of Truth and of Himself to a certain Book, as we shall discover under question three later on. (Genesis 1:1; Exodus 3:14; Psalm 50:1-6; Isaiah 57:15; Revelation 1:8;20:11).
2. ARE THE PRESENT "REVIVAL" EXPERIENCES ALIEN TO THE BIBLE?
Mature Christians are shocked by the roarings, shakings, laughter extremes, fallings, "visions" and "prophecies" of the Faith Movement and Latter Rain Revivalists. Why is this, if the Scriptures teach authentic Christian experiences? The reason is simple, the Bible does not teach that such experiences are of God, quite the contrary. The false revivals of today are New Age demonic experiences under another banner. What then constitutes Biblical experiences which are of God, and what constitutes demonic counterfeits? (Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Galatians 5:20; Matthew 7:22; 24:24; 11 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:13).
(a) Biblical experiences are received from the Lord by the Spirit: God's Spirit moves upon the spirit of the believer. Counterfeit experiences move upon the soul and the body of man. Thus the emotions are stirred to an unstable state, the soul being the seat of the emotional life. The body is moved upon by the demonic counterfeiters, who make it tingle, fall, shake and react in an uncontrollable manner.
(b) Biblical experiences are centred upon the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, never upon the Holy Spirit or experience for experience's sake. Biblical experience occurs because the believer is longing to commune with the Lord, longing to please and obey Him. If one seeks experience for itself alone, it is rather like seeking lustful things rather than falling in love with someone. The experiences of lust are many, but they can never compare with sharing a love relationship with another human being, despite the physical merging involved in both relationships. So it is with spiritual relationship. Experience instead of Christ alone is so self-centered that no true spiritual gain or joy results, nor do those thus deceived please God in any way. Rather a curious frustration and a bondage to the experiences develops, and a painful desire for more which is never satisfied ravages the deluded. They end up often seeking for another "fix" on and on. .
(c) What about visions and prophecies and revelations? What about "new" teachings which leave the "old" behind? The current trend to rely on visions, prophecies and dreams has removed countless church-goers into the extremes of existentialism. They have been drawn away from the objective truth of the revealed Word of God (the "old") into a subjective "truth" which relies on experience (the "new"). These visions and prophecies lead into the doctrines of demons shown in 1 Timothy 4:1, seducing spiritual lies. To retreat from the safety of the Holy Spirit-breathed Scriptures to seek guidance, truth and doctrine in extra-biblical phenomena is to court disaster, and is forbidden by God. (Revelation 22:18-19; 2 Timothy 3:16). These very experiences of a false nature are bringing about the apostasies and evil doctrines of the Latter Rain and the Faith Movement. (2 Peter 2:1).
If any should seek "visions" or "revelations" or "prophecies" for their own glory, enjoyment, or to pamper their own desire to boast of their "spirituality", the adversary will answer with his counterfeits! The Spirit of God is Holy; He cannot deny the Lord; the Holy Spirit responds only for the Glory of God. (2 Peter 1:19-21).
(d) A common denominator which is present within most of the counterfeit experiences in the current "revivals" is a passivity which leaves reason and the workings of the mind behind. The leaders of revivals often teach that people should "move in the spirit", leave "dogma and doctrinal bondage", "receive in the spirit" and stop "reasoning". This is diametrically opposed to the teaching of Scripture which shows that it is the MIND that is transformed, which then leads to the growth of the spirit. "Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your MIND, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." (Romans 12:1-2). (1 Corinthians 14:20; Col. 3:10).
A blank mind and a passive, yielded body are not what God requires of a believer. Letting go in such a manner is the very way the emotions (the soul) and physical being is opened to evil spirits, the natural senses are then possessed. God, however, deals with the spirit of man, who opens his mind to the transforming enlightenment of the revealed Word of God, and the spiritual power of the Living Word thus brings life to his spirit. God works with the believer, never dominates and overthrows him. (Proverbs 20:27; 2 Corinthians 6:1; Hebrews 4:12). .
(e) The false "Presence of God" in the false revivals of today are felt in the body, or are present in the soul, an attack by evil spirits on the emotions. The experience might be a burning in the body (Fire), thrills up the spine, a tinging in the fingers and up the arms, a breath of wind, a loss of all control and consciousness. The mind is switched off, the victim becomes yielded and without will. Sometimes the eyes become glazed, the person is drunken-like. The body may float, levitate, and become subject to the spirits entirely. The emotions can be so heightened by ecstasy that a sensual excitement engulfs the soul, rather like a sexual climax. This is not of God, it is religious sensuality. This can be very thrilling and induce compulsion to the spiritual interference; so similiar to drug-produced experiences. (Ephesians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 2:11).
The real Presence of God is entirely different. When God moves He communes with the spirit of the believer: The body and soul are awake and fully alert; The spirit is softened; the will remains free but God draws gently into a conformity to His will. There is always beauty, harmony, holiness and grace when God makes His Presence manifest. Never does the Holy Spirit of the Lord bring about foolish, uncouth or unclean actions. He can fill a room with His Presence, but the spirit is affected never the senses and the body. The body may be overcome by the Presence of God but it not the centre of a spiritual phenomenon. An emotion of love surely comes towards God, but never a sensual perversion. The emotional response in a Godly experience is secondary, holy, uplifting and pure. The believer is made aware of God by an enlightening in the spirit, very seldom by an appearance which the senses, such as the eyes, the nose or the ears, apprehend. (Hebrews 10:38; 2 Peter 1;2-8).
Churchgoers in the 1990s, in the majority believe that all spiritual experience which is pleasant is from God; they imagine themselves to be beyond deception. If deceptions are detected, the confused victim may still hang doggedly to the concept of the deception. The church cliche "if there is a counterfeit there must be an authentic experience, for Satan is only a counterfeiter and he must have copied something that is real in God!" is embraced fervently. Sadly it is not consistently true that every false experience has an authentic Godly one which is being copied. What kind of world would it be if we all based our lives on the idea that if something is wrong and evil, there must be something good and right which it is counterfeiting? It would be a nonsense world. No, Satan is certainly a master of the counterfeit; however, the True must stand on its own merits, with the only proofs accepted being Scriptural, i.e. Satan is NOT counterfeiting a Biblical "drunk in the Spirit" experience, which is a fake of a legitimate "drunk" experience from God etc. (Deceived. James 1:22; 1 John 1:8; Galatians 6:3; 1 Corinthians 3:18; James 1:26; Galatians 6:7; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 15:33).
3. IS THE LEGALISTIC DENIAL OF ALL EXPERIENCE REALLY WHAT THE LORD REQUIRES?
The backlash against the modern day experience-centred fiasco has become extreme in itself. If one opposes an error too strenuously one often goes too far, and ends in a counter error. A legalistic, doctrine-centred, coldly intellectual faith is NOT the Faith of our Fathers, it is not New Testament teaching. There are two main areas in the doctrine-centred concept, one is perfectly Scriptural and sound, the other is almost Bible idolatry. The Faith Movement accuses the "fundamentalists" of worshipping a God who extends no further than the leather covers of their Bibles. In some instances, the critics may be quite accurate.
TWO AREAS OF BIBLE-CENTRED BELIEF
(i) The acceptance of the Bible as the sole authority for faith and doctrine, and as the only revealed, infallible Word of God is God-honouring and Scriptural. Nor should any truths about God the Father be sought outside the pages of the book which He has spoken through, that is, apart from its pages. For example, the Bible reveals that God is the Father, and Christ Jesus is His begotten Son. It reveals nothing deeper about those relationships which would aid our understanding - in a natural sense. We know naturally that a father is older than a son, that begotten means that once the father existed but the son did not exist. The Bible however shows us that the Son of God had no beginning and no end, that the Father and Son and Holy Spirit co-existed eternally, therefore the Father is NOT older than the Son. We must always proceed in our understanding of God from the revealed Word to the natural world, never the other way. Subjective experiences in regenerated people, who still live in a fallen world, should never dictate to the objective Word of Truth. The Bible should always dictate to the experience. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Daniel 10:21; Romans 15:4-6).
(ii) The acceptance of the Bible as the only way a believer encounters
God, or by which He manifests Himself to His saved ones, is NOT Scriptural.
Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ is ever with His blood-bought one.
He lives, He "walks with me and talks with me, along life's narrow way." The
area of loving, worshipping, adoring, responding to a Divine Person is
not merely doctrinal. The experiences of God in a Christian's life should
be rich and fulfilling, humbling and precious indeed. The battle between
the Latter Rainites, the Faithites, and the Bible-based Christians should
never become one of plain doctrine versus experience. It should be between
these opposing views:
(a) False experiences of the evil spirits versus true Biblical experiences;
(b) The basis of truth is subjective experience versus the basis of Truth is the objective, infallible, revealed Word of God, our only authority. .
4. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN "WALKING IN THE SPIRIT"
and HOLDING THE
SOUND BELIEF THAT ALL AUTHORITY FOR FAITH & DOCTRINE IS IN THE INFALLIBLE
WORD OF GOD?
Here, it seems to the writer, lies the problem area with many sincere Bible-based Christians. They rightfully are appalled by the extreme experience-centred movements, and may then retreat into a cold legalism, which is presumed to be Godly Christian living. However, the Scriptures instruct the believer to "walk in the spirit" to be "filled with the Spirit" (Galatians 5:25; Ephesians 5:18), and this is far more than mere intellectual agreement, and more than only a mental belief in God. To live Godly lives, we must have faith and belief; we also enter into fellowship with God, we should obey the Father in His Grace, and His Son will become manifest unto us. The latter being an "experience" with Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit. (2 Corinthians 4:10-11; John 14:21).
- Can we really imagine that breath-taking words such as the following can be known in fullness without knowing and experiencing God? .
- "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit." (Psalm 34:18).
- "And the peace of God which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7).
- What are just a few of the ways that a Christian can experience God, without these experiences being counterfeit and demonic?
Examples might be:
(a) The sinner comes to the foot of the Cross in repentance, he there accepts Christ as Saviour. His guilt, shame and hopelessness are taken away by the Lord Almighty, and his whole being is filled with a glorious joy unspeakable. He knows he has passed from death to life. He becomes suddenly aware that God is with him. This is reality, experience, as well as belief in the salvation verses.
(b) A Christian is bitter against another person, blames the other self-righteously and can see no wrong in his own behaviour. He comes to God in prayer, crying tears of self-pity to his father. After only a short time all is changed. He is convicted of his own wrong in the matter, he sees clearly now, he is deeply humbled and ashamed of his blindness and wilful sin against his brother. Confession is made to God and man, and the miracle of restoration to peace with God is accomplished. Tears of relief now flow, where only a short time before the world was a black place. This is experience with God, not just head-doctrine.
(c) There has been a period of severe trial in the life of a Christian couple. A child is very ill, the father has lost his employment, their church fellowship has been soured, the wife's elderly mother has died. In the midst of these painful matters, they kneel together in prayer. A fullness of peace and joy floods their beings, it is as if they are enfolded in the arms of the Almighty. It is as though they hear a voice say, "...be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed, for the Lord thy God is with thee wherever thou goest." They are filled with new confidence and trust that all is well. Later, reading their daily devotional book, the verse Joshua 1:9 is under that day's date. This is an experience with God which no one could ever adequately explain to the Godless heart.
In many ways we can experience God as we "walk in the Spirit", some times God shows Himself in dramatic ways. Never, however, are these manifestations of the Lord contrary to His Word, aimed at the senses, the body and the soul, nor are they in any fashion occultic in nature, nor unholy sensuality.
WHAT ABOUT BASING OUR LIVES ON DOCTRINE AND THE SCRIPTURES?
To subject ourselves to the Scriptures as the only source of Truth does not mean that we must reject Godly, doctrinally sound experience. All that we need to understand about God's nature, purpose, revelation to man, plan for the future of this earth, plan of salvation, God's love, justice, judgement and Sovereignty has been already given in the Word of God. The guidance, instruction in righteousness, revelation of doctrine, exhortation and wisdom of a thousand, thousand lifetimes are all there in God's Word. We should never go to "the spirit" alone without the Word, to do so is to open ourselves up to delusion and deception from the enemy. The Spirit and the Word must agree.
It is one thing to rejoice in the experience of the Lord God as a living reality in our lives. It is quite another thing to base guidance, truth, revelation, prophecy and doctrine on experience. To do so is to throw the gates of our souls open to the doctrines of seductive and wicked spirits. .
5. IS LIVING A CHRIST-CENTRED LIFE ABOUT "EXPERIENCE", AS WELL AS DOCTRINAL CORRECTNESS AND HOLINESS OF LIFE?
Really there is no Christ-centred life without experience of Him. There is no real revival without Christ as the Centre. There is no Godly doctrinal correctness and holiness of life without knowing a Living Lord, day by day. If we truly yield to the Lord, obey Him through the instructions of the Scriptures, worship Him in devotional prayer, seek HIM with all our hearts, we will have experience with Him. HE LIVES! .
"O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name." (Psalm 63:1-4).
The Lord will make us aware of Him in His way and time. We do not have to help Him do so, as is the practice of many in the 1990s. We should never try to sense God, feel Him, image or visualize Him. God reveals to us His character in the Bible, our devotional life with Him must be also centred upon the revelation of Scripture. God the Father and the Spirit have no bodies, they are incorporeal. Jesus Christ is seated, at this period of time, at the right hand of God in Heaven. He is not now in the flesh, we apprehend Him through the agency of the Holy Spirit who draws us to Him, never to the Holy Spirit Himself. Paul was determined to not know Christ after the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16). The carnal practices of today which image Christ standing before us, holding out His arms of love, or walking down the corridors of the past with us, are hindrances to authentic Christianity. These practices are no better than making images of stone or metal. Habitual use of such "aids" will produce spirit-guide oppression! Let God Himself reveal Himself to the obedient, totally surrendered believer as He will. May the Lord warm sad, cold hearts again to the glory and rest of precious communion with HIM. .
- Realise that we can know nothing that we can be sure about, apart from the revelation of the Divine Word. .
- We can only have a sure relationship with the God of the Bible as we get to know His character shown in His Word..
- If we rely on our own confused, partial and distorted ideas of who and what God is, we will open ourselves to deception by evil spirits. .
- God has been revealed in the Divine book in all His beauty, delightfulness and perfection. We must make it top priority to find Him as He is in His own revelation to mankind. .
- Feed spiritually upon His Word. Read devotionally the passages which show who God, the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit really are. The Bible will lead you into knowing God personally, and into worship and adoration of the Glorious Creator.
- Knowledge is the way to Truth, not experience. Jesus Christ, the uttered thought of God, is Truth revealed in the Bible, the Logos. Francis Schaeffer wrote: "We cannot assume that, because we are Christians, in the full biblical sense, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, automatically we shall be free from the influence of what surrounds us. The Holy Spirit can do what He will, but the Bible does not separate His work from knowledge..." ("The God Who Is There", p.139).
- Experience with the Divine Lord will bring sweet contentment, precious communion, happiness and peace that the world can never know, and growing understanding of the depth and height of the loving Father's compassion towards His people. "...for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, the Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me." (Hebrews 13:5-6).
© 1995-2013 Tricia Tillin of Banner Ministries. All rights reserved. Cross+Word Website: http://www.banner.org.uk/ This document is the property of its author and is not to be displayed on other websites, redistributed, sold, reprinted, or reproduced in printed in any other format without permission. Websites may link to this article, if they provide proper title and author information. One copy may be downloaded, stored and/or printed for personal research. All spelling and phraseology is UK English.