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Experience, or Dead Religion?
By David A. DePra
Is Christianity an EXPERIENCE? Well, it had better be – if Christianity is real. Otherwise, phrases like, "born anew," "power of the Holy Spirit," "victory over sin," and a host of others are nothing more than words.
Yet Christianity is not an experience without guidelines. The Bible is God’s inspired word, and it tells us what this experience with Christ is, will be like, and won’t be like. Thus, despite the fact that Christianity IS an experience, it is an experience which will never stray outside of Biblical guidelines. Stray outside of Biblical guidelines and you are into deception – and it does not matter how real your experience seems to be.
Today, just like always, we have opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to this issue. On the one hand, we have people who loudly proclaim that doctrine is not important, and that what does matter is power, signs, and wonders. In other words, our EXPERIENCE is what matters, especially experiences that seem overtly supernatural. They forget that power, signs, wonders, and all possibility of supernatural manifestation, while all part of the Christian experience, are to be governed by what the Bible says about them. Thus, it is contradictory to say that doctrine is not important, but that experience alone is what matters. There are doctrines which God has given us to define and direct our experiences. If our experiences are not in line with these doctrinal teachings, they are, at best, leading us in a wrong direction. At worst, they are of another realm.
Usually what goes along with all of this focus on experience is an overall atmosphere of license and compromise. The grace of God is lauded, but not the Cross. Resurrection power is preached, but not the Cross. People are offered all of the wonderful and real riches in Christ Jesus – but through a short-cut. These folks tend to put our experience of Easter Sunday before – or to the exclusion of – Crucifixion Friday.
But then there is the other end of the spectrum. There are people today, who, mostly in reaction to those who focus on experience, teach that there should be little or no experience for a Christian. Certainly nothing deemed supernatural. To them, Christianity is nothing more than a theological position – a religion we adopt centered around the Bible, and it’s main character, Jesus Christ. Salvation, to these folks, is little more than a new legal classification we receive because we have accepted Christ. The life which emerges because of receiving Christ then becomes a matter of going to church, serving on committees, and sitting around trying to figure out how to turn the church into a money-making enterprise.
Doctrine, of course, is quite important to this second group. They have it memorized – at least from the viewpoint of their denomination or personal bias. But the trouble is, there is little in their experience that corresponds to their doctrine. Indeed, their Christianity is little more than a dead religion.
The spiritual atmosphere which these folks create is generally one of legalism. There will be much condemnation of anyone who isn’t, "one of them," doing what they do, and how they do it. The theme is, "WE are the ones who are holding TRUE to the Bible. WE are the one obeying God." Somewhere along the line, folks forget that legalism is just as much the result of UNBELIEF as is license.
Now, of course, we have just described the extremes. There are lots of folks in-between. But the question is, what is the right balance? Is Christianity based on experience, or doctrine?
Well, as we have stated, Christianity IS an experience, but governed by Biblical doctrine. Yet even this doesn’t quite capture the real essence of Christianity. For in the final analysis, Christianity is an experience with a Person, Jesus Christ.
Herein we see a key: Experience is not a THING. It isn’t an, "IT," that we are supposed to have because we have the Holy Spirit. No. Any experience in the Christian life which is OF GOD is our experience of a Person, Jesus Christ. The job of the Holy Spirit is to take Jesus Christ and reveal Him to us, and in us, and through us. Thus, once I make experience a THING that happens TO ME – I have missed the point. Christianity is an experience with – indeed, a oneness with – Jesus.
Now notice: While EXPERIENCE is not the THING – neither is a lack of experience the THING! Get that. People who reject any experience as being of God are actually setting up their refusal of all experience as THE THING!
You see this all the time. There are churches today, and leaders, who have, for instance, rejected all forms of outward worship in their church services – because they want to avoid all of the abuses which some other churches have committed. But I’ve got news: The complete outlawing of all demonstrative worship may be, in the eyes of God, just as much an abuse of worship. The LACK of something that is abused is not necessarily any better than the abuse – for it is also a rejection of THE REAL.
Today people abuse and distort Christian teaching all the time. What is the solution? To reject all teaching? Nonsense. The point is, if there is a REAL gift of the Holy Spirit, and REAL worship, people are often going to abuse it. The solution is not to outlaw everything, because if you do, you are going to miss the Truth.
It is amazing how people, in reaction to error, run to other error. It is amazing how we react to other Christians, but don’t react to God. It is tragic how Christians, indeed, entire churches, become DEFINED by what they are AGAINST, rather than by the Person they are FOR. It would seem that few of us really know Jesus Christ.
In the end, it comes back to HIM. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if Jesus started all over again with His church. What would that look like? Read Acts. It gives you a big clue. It’s not about, "having church." It’s about Jesus Christ HAVING US.
Christianity is about a PERSON, Jesus Christ. It is not an, "experience" -- not a THING that happens to us. The experience is HIM IN US, and all He brings. And on the other side of things, Christianity is not a dead religion – a list of THINGS to do and obey and believe. Christianity is fellowship with Jesus Christ – out of which emerges a life to the glory of God.
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