“ I longed for the Reality of His Presence…. to actually SEE the working of God and to KNOW and EXPERIENCE Him more…”* So begins the testimony of a fellow that considered himself well-grounded in the Word, but as he pursued the wrong means and ends, his life and that of his family were nearly ship-wrecked. Why? How does that happen when there is such an apparently legitimate passion to ‘know’ God?
OK, I’ll say right up front here that I have far more on my mind than will fit in a single blog but am having a tough time sorting and ordering its presentation. In short, I see two related phenomena happening in current Christian practice. This pursuing of the experiential ties them both together. One is a strong desire to experience God’s presence, to SEE signs and wonders or anything that will give evidence that God is alive and well and active in my sphere of the world. The other related idea, is the view that prayer is much more of a two-way walkie-talkie than our parents’ generation ever suspected. Hearing from God outside His already written Word has become rather commonplace, in fact an anticipated right of every child of God. If you’re not ‘hearing God’s voice’ something must be wrong. Or maybe you just need some practice…
It sounds good. But something is not right. As the Mother Goose rhyme says, “I smell a rat close by”!**
How could that be? Surely we can give credence to both these pursuits. “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection…” was after all Paul’s own single-minded reason for pressing on (Phil.3:10). Isn’t that the same as knowing ‘the reality of His presence”? And ‘His sheep hear His voice’ is surely evidence enough that God speaks quite intelligibly to His own. Isn’t it?
Apparently church historians are onto labeling this trend. They’re describing the times we live in as ‘third-wave Christianity’ [The first wave was Pentecostalism, the second the Catholic Charismatic Revival—and we must be talking strictly about the modern era or we’re missing centuries of ‘waves’!] Some are calling this trend the ‘new paradigm’ in evangelical Protestantism, tracing it back to the explosion of interest in spiritual experience characterized by the ‘Jesus People’ in the 60’s.*** I haven’t been a serious student of Church History (not yet anyway) but I’m convinced that even a little knowledge would give a stabilizing wisdom and perspective to our trendy times. Solomon said there was nothing ‘new’ under the sun. I’ve been reading Bruce Shelley’s Church History in little ‘helpings’ and thinking, wow…. Extra-biblical revelation is nothing new. Certain erroneous doctrines embraced a thousand years ago (which are with us to this day) were confirmed by dreams and signs. What if more emphasis had been placed on establishing truth from the written Word and less credence given to the experiential? Might we have been spared damnable heresies? Might we still? But I digress…
The fellow I was citing as I began this post continued: “As I daily studied the words that I received [from prophetic teachers]… this desire grew. I grew dissatisfied and frustrated with the church I was attending. “They just don’t GET IT!” I told myself. So I determined in my heart that I would find out where I could learn about this “New Thing” that God was doing and I and my family would be there when God showed up!” *
He was in for some major disappointments. He changed churches, got to the source of where God was apparently moving, and in his own words: “that’s when my life started to unravel.” It’s a story that’s been lived out innumerable times. Fortunately for him, he extricated himself and committed with his wife to find their source in the Word and prayer alone, in the company of solid Bible-believing friends with ‘a proven track record with God’, ‘solid, firm grounded and steady in the Word’, not merely sounding ‘spiritual’. He’s on the road to recovery.
As I look at movements and stories of people around me, as I read, as I ‘work out my salvation’ with the God who is at work in me, I wonder, what are the safeguards, what are some guiding features of the way of truth? How will I keep from sliding down the slippery slope of experiential reality where it parts ways with revealed truth? I love to research and investigate in quest of solid truth, to cross-examine and evaluate. But it also occurs to me even as I’ve begun to read and listen to half-truths and enticing ‘new truths’ that these can be a tremendous distraction from the pure and unadulterated pursuit of Jesus to which I’m called. Paul pled with the Corinthian church to recognize that the teachers they were entertaining were false. He said: “I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. “ II Cor.11:2,3
From the look of things there’s no end of craziness and false teaching in our times. It’s alluring; if not to believe it, at least to expose it. But can I afford the distraction? What might become of my morning quiet times? Will I be reading His Word, or a book that promises me the keys to enjoying His Presence? Must my passion for the truth take me through every counterfeit before I can contest that I’m sure of my foundation? And is the old fashioned way of reading the Word and praying good enough or must I find a new and better way? And most critically, am I beyond delusion and deceit myself, or might I walk into a hidden snare in the process of unraveling truth and error?
I find it especially disturbing that seemingly ‘spiritual’ teaching can actually lead us away from undiluted devotion to Christ. Paul warned the Corinthians that the men who boasted of their ‘mission’ to the Corinthians were actually “false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ”. And here’s the part that makes me sit up and take notice. It’s not as though the people we may read or listen to or be led astray by are going to appear as obvious frauds. Paul was quick to point out: “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” II Cor.11:12-15. Oh my, these teachers will be perceived as ‘servants of righteousness’. Now that’s something to think about!
But, if I’m not going to read every book, watch every video clip, and follow every related blog to find out who’s who and who’s not what they seem… what are some guiding questions I can use to steer myself and the arms and legs of the Body around me into ‘the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.’
I know I’ve asked way too many questions already, but the following are ones I’ve drawn up (in no particular order) to evaluate teaching that comes my way. I’d love it if you’d add to this list in the comment box! For starters…
–Is the focus on things seen or unseen? On believing in a hope yet unseen or in experiencing what we hope for now. (Rom.8:24,25)
–What is the effect of the teaching? Does it point me to Jesus or attract me to a teacher? Does it increase my hunger for the Word of God or the words of a man? (I Cor.1:12,13)
–Is the Cross of Christ and the pure and simple Gospel message of sin, repentance and salvation a primary or peripheral teaching? Are visible, physical manifestations given more attention than the Gospel’s power to transform souls?(I Cor. 1:17,18)
–Godliness with contentment is great gain. Is there a measure of contentment in this teaching? Can I rest in it or am I left forever craving something more? (I Tim.6:6)
–Is the ministry markedly Christ-like—not just with demonstrations of power but with humility, servant hearts, self-effacement, and righteous living. Is it marked by loving self-sacrifice or self-promotion? (Phil.2)
–Are the benefits that are made much of primarily to be experienced in this lifetime, in these bodies, or does the teaching emphasize seeking those things that are above? (Col.3:1)
—Whose Kingdom is being built by this teaching? (Where’s the money going?) (Mt.6:33)
–Is the hope of Christ’s return a focal point or is the focus merely the outworking of His Kingdom on earth? (II Tim.4:8)
–Does it fuel a looking forward to the Kingdom of Heaven or a present Kingdom with tangible present rewards? (Titus 2:12,13)
–Is the teaching clearly sourced in the declarative teachings of the Word of God or in logically derived, or experientially based teachings? (II Tim.4:3,4)
Having said all that, it’s hard to improve on Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonian believers:
“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.
See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.
Pray without ceasing.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Quench not the Spirit.
Despise not prophesyings.
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
Abstain from all appearance of evil.
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and [I pray God] your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Faithful [is] he that calleth you, who also will do [it].
Brethren, pray for us.” I Thess. 4:14-25
When this generation is winnowed will there be a harvest of righteousness? Will we have tested and clung to the truth, no matter how ‘old-school’ it seemed, and let the fluff of chaff blow on with ‘every wind of doctrine’? May it be so.
“Praise is due to You, O God…to you who hear prayer…Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!” Ps. 65:1-4
*honorofkings.org by Kevin Kleint, “Working for the Elijah List”
**”Three Little Kittens” (Follen (1787-1860))
**Cited in an article in American Anthropologist titled “The Absorption Hypothesis: Learning to Hear God in Evangelical Christianity” (p.3,4). A fascinating secular study which raises many interesting questions for the believer in pursuit of hearing from God. You may hear more from me on this one?! Available on the Internet as a PDF file.