Double Edged Christian Experience

churchOne truth that most Bible-believing, Protestant Christians agree on is that we cannot interpret the Bible through our experiences. We cannot claim something that goes beyond, or is contrary to, Scripture, i.e. end times date setting, catholic traditions, etc. 

God’s Word should instead come first, and all else interpreted through it. We cannot claim an experience happened that goes above Scripture or in contradiction to it.

However, there is another angle of “experience” that should not be allowed into Bible interpretation and it is this idea: That since my day to day Christian experience is dry and somewhat routine, that I must then downplay the extra-ordinariness of the Bible, such that the example we have of the early church should not at all be expected or sought today. That was then, this is now. The great 20th century Welsh minister, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, wrote about this and put it this way:

The second danger, then, is that of being satisfied with something very much less than what is offered in the Scripture, and the danger of interpreting Scripture by our experiences and reducing its teaching to the level of what we know and experience.

A statement we often hear: ‘Yes the record of healings is common in the New Testament, yet it is not normative today…..or if it was, why do we not see more of it? Therefore, since we do not see more of it, the church today should not expect it as did the early church.’ Many are so fearful of fanaticism that they vigorously keep residence on the other side of the pendulum. This is also common in a lot of lifeless country churches. They do not “see” (or expect) anything extra-ordinary (except a burning crock-pot if the service goes past 12), therefore the example of the vibrant New Testament church is not to be expected today. In fact, many of these Christians, due to their dry and routine Christian lives, are ultimately afraid of the supernatural, and that fear drives their interpretation and creates a reduction or irrelevance of the New Testament church. It becomes ultimately a lifeless history book with good morals. 

“Compare, for instance, what you read about the life of the church at Corinth with the typical church life today. ‘Ah but,’ you say, ‘they were guilty of excesses in Corinth.’ I quite agree. But how many churches do you know at the present time to which it is necessary to write such a letter as the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians? Do not put your  emphasis entirely on the excesses. Paul corrects the excesses but see what he allows, what he expects. Take your New Testament as it is. Look at the New Testament Christian, look at the New Testament church, and you see it vibrant with a spiritual life, and, of course, it is always life that tends to lead to excess. There is no problem of discipline in a graveyard; there is no problem very much in a formal church. The problems arise when there is life.”

As you read the book of Acts and see a vigorous, energetic church, do not read the epistles as if the extra-ordinary was on its way out. The epistles already assume the backdrop of the church in the book of Acts. Do not then also assume that sometime shortly after this, since this example was of a special time, that things then moved on to normalcy. Instead, do not let yourself be satisfied with something very much less than that offered in the Scripture by reducing it to the level of what you know and experience. Let the example of the lively New Testament church that is portrayed in Scripture drive your Christian experience and expectations. Pray diligently and expect God to answer. Expect and seek the supernatural from our supernatural God. Keep prayer journals. Travel!! Let the life and vibrancy of the New Testament church dictate your expectations, do not let your expectations turn your New Testament reading into essentially an ethical, history book. 

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