Sunday, December 28, 2014

Mysticism, Experience, and Doctrine

Christian doctrine is degraded in a vast variety of ways. Some conservative pastors preach, “I’m not so interested in knowing about God, but in knowing God!” Although we can sympathize with this sentiment - we all long for a greater sense of intimacy with God - this statement dismisses doctrine. It suggests that we should pursue a mountaintop experience with God apart from doctrine.

This is Biblically unsupportable. Moses had had the premier mountaintop experience— so much so that his face actually glowed! After spending 40 days and nights in the presence of the Lord, Moses climbed back down off the mountain to share with his brethren what he had learned. Instead of relating his “transformative experience” – his “union with the divine” - and how the Israelites might attain a similar experience, Moses confined himself to teaching “the commands that the Lord had given him” (Exodus 34:32).

What was it that had made Moses’ face glow? Was it merely being in the presence of God? No!

·       Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai…that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. (Exodus 34:29).

The Bible never degrades feelings or experiences, but consistently makes them subservient to growth in understanding of His Word:

·       And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2).

Scripture consistently relates spiritual maturity to growth in understanding God’s Word.  To have any meaningful and lasting effect, experience requires an interpretive framework. Two people will hug me, identically. However, I will experience them in an entirely different way depending upon my relationship with them and how I interpret their hug. If I interpret it as manipulative, I will feel very differently than if I interpreted it as genuine affection. If we cannot put an experience into an interpretive framework, it will quickly disappear and lose any significance.

Besides, the wrong interpretation or understanding can prove deadly! I had some remarkable experiences with the Ouiji board. We encountered beings who used profanity, cursed at us, but answered our questions. Lacking any biblical wisdom at the time, I erroneously concluded that these beings simply had a more advanced sense of humor and were, therefore, fully trustworthy. Consequently, they almost succeeded in leading me to take revenge upon an innocent party. It was only after I was able to correctly interpret these encounters that I was able to make beneficial use of them. Even though these encounters had been profound experiences, when accompanied by the wrong interpretation (doctrine), they would have been disastrous.

We need the right doctrines/teachings so that we can profit from our experiences.  When we apply the wrong doctrine to our experiences, it is like buttoning our shirt by starting with the wrong button. Consequently, everything else will be out-of-place – a frustrating experience.

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