There’s’ an old Pentacostal saying that goes like this,
“A man with an experience beats a man with a Bible verse”.
Used in defense of valid and invalid experiences at camp meetings, church services, revivals and such, throughout the history of Pentecostalism. Old timers still quote it. It has some merit, since an experience can never be taken away from the person who experiences it. It can be denied and reinterpreted over time, but never removed.
Personally speaking, I don’t believe it’s an either/or issue. Sifting through the debris of experiential faith can be like following a massive wildfire. Wildfires leave puffs of fire burning and tend to clean up the unnecessary deadwood. This leads to another old saying,
“Better a wildfire than no fire at all”
The one thing these statements imply, is that experiences come through supernatural visitations. I want to be clear, no supernatural experience will ever deviate from Scripture, (in case you wondered if your dog growing wings is a valid visitation). Having said that, have you read that book?! There are a ton of weird, supernatural things that happen to people who hang out with the God crowd! And they happen to people who believe in him or don’t believe in him.
Visions, talking donkeys, disappearing leprosy, major sea partings, plagues, consuming fires, burning bushes, earthquakes, hurricaines, healings, raising the dead, demons in pigs, mulitplying food, transfiguring, blindness, audible voices, still small ones, smoting people (my husband covets that one when driving), the list goes on.
The supernatural, unfortunately, is rare in the American church. There was a time when it was less so. Anyone remember Kathryn Kuhlman, or as my husband calls her “Sister Spook”? She held enormous rallies where people came from everywhere with illnesses defying treatment. God used her to heal people at at time when medicine was insufficient. She was odd, had a checkered past, spoke in a very spooky voice (the earned nickname) and always stated that the only reason she was in ministry was because a man didn’t accept the call.
With today’s social media volatility she’d be a lightning rod for controversy. Bloggers and Twitter would explode and the Christian book market would collect a fortune. But tell the people who were healed under her ministry, that what they experienced wasn’t real or didn’t come from Jesus — I dare you.
The American church is awash in Biblical teaching, from every perspective.
For those who want to be socially conscious and inclusive, there are books, churches, pastors, bloggers and fair trade outreach projects galore.
For traditionalists, there is Franklin Graham, Franklin Graham and…Franklin Graham (I swear that man has the most savvy social media department in all of Christendom). Oh, and John Piper.
For the experiential types, Francis Chan, Jim Cymbala, and ol’ timers like Jack Hayford (I refuse to name the weirdos).
And yet, our sin cup as a nation is growing fuller by the day.
I read some verses today from 2 Timothy, 3: 1-5. I won’t fully recite them, you can read for yourself but the gist was that there would be terrible times in the last days, a laundry list of behaviors to watch for, an admonition to have nothing to do with such people and finally in verse 5, this: “having a form of godliness but denying its power.”
I don’t know if we’re truly in the last days, it seems so, especially with ISIS and world wide persecution of Christians, I’ve been hearing that alarm bell for decades so I’m a tad jaded. But that word, power, struck me like a lightening bolt. Could that be what’s missing today?
I was also reminded of the woman at the well, a degenerate outcast who even the neighbors wouldn’t associate with. Jesus’ answer to her question about why they couldn’t associate was telling.
John 4:10 “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
Her life could have been transformed in one encounter with the creator of the universe, yet she wanted to dialog about teachings on where to worship! She’s so impressed by his supernatural insight that she forgets her waterpot and tells the neighborhood about him. They have to see for themselves because she’s not considered reliable.
This scene rings a bell for me. People. Hurting, miserable people who attend churches all across America but won’t pursue a full experience with Jesus though they need it desperately. Forms of godliness without power. Water that comes from a stagnant pond rather than a running stream. It must seem easier to boil water from a pond than to forge the stream and drink from his hand.
I’ve had both and I can tell you, I’ll take the fresh, clean, cold, clear water out of my Savior’s hand than anything from a well or pond. I may have to get knocked down a few times from the force of the water, or I may step on a few sharp rocks and encounter some slippery ones. I have to persevere, be open to risk, overcome my fears, but the taste of the water and the intimacy of his hand are…
The times for Christians are challenging. Whatever side of the culture war you live on, the stands you take will impact your faith. They’ll require you to make choices you don’t want to make.
For those on the traditional side of Scripture, discrimination from the other side will hurt. And watching loved ones living contrary to the truth will bring sorrow. Maybe the church didn’t win the culture war properly in the past, but having to loose to the current culture is still unthinkable.
For Christians embracing tolerance, inclusion and acceptance of behaviors, which were once whispered about behind closed doors, it won’t be easier. While I applaud your passion to reach everyone with the love of God, challenges will strain the best of relationships.
Grace, that unmerited favor which none of us deserve and was so painfully purchased by Jesus, is needed in abundance.
Here’s another passage I happened on this morning. Isaiah 46:8-10
“Remember this, keep it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’
Again, no matter your side, this is still his story to tell and he will have his way. I think we need some of that Ol’ Time power, the stuff that can’t be taken away. It’s the only thing that will clean up the debris from this culture war and leave some fires burning in the hearts of God’s people.
Let it come