Experience or the Word of God?
by Keith Hassell | December 13, 2010
Recently I heard a preacher say that people don't need doctrine. They need an experience. The reasoning is that, "A person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with an argument." People are told to lay aside their doctrine and to seek an experience. The question is posed, "Are you hungry for an experience with God? Then come to the altar and have an experience with God tonight!" Granted, any true believer who has faith will also have experiences with God. No one can claim to be saved who has not had encounter with the Savior. But the growing emphasis on experience highlights a common misperception about how we can have a true relationship with God. The truth is that we are not saved by an experience. We are saved by faith. And it is not faith in an experience that saves us. It is faith in God's Word--the Gospel--that saves us. Seeking an experience apart from doctrine is dangerous. Why? How do you know that the experience you seek is of God? Experience cannot validate itself. Experience only validates that we have had an experience. Experience cannot be the criteria for determining truth or else truth is at the mercy of experience. Unfortunately this gets real confusing because people are having many contradictory experiences and, of course, they all argue that their experience is real. Why? They experienced it. People are claiming religious experiences today on every hand and yet Christians are departing from the faith in record numbers here in America. Christians swoon at the altar of experience and live like devils the rest of the week. Preachers are falling left and right. Churches are full of people who live no differently than the world. What is the problem? People are basing their spirituality on faith in subjective experiences and opinions rather than on faith in God's Word. People are living their lives based upon what they feel. Their life is built on experience rather than on the solid rock of God's Word. They cannot stand in the time of difficulty and storm. They are blown this way and that way because their spirituality is not built on the Word of God but on the changing winds of experience. They move from one experience to another. If they can't get an experience in one place, they move to another place. Because they build their lives around experiences, it is easy to justify the experiences of the flesh. They are like the man who leaves his marriage when the romance fades. His idea of marriage is based on experience rather than a covenant. He doesn't need another experience. He needs to commit to the relationship. When he does, he will experience the benefits and blessing of the relationship for which he seeks. In the same way, it is that the Word of God rather than spiritual experience that is the basis of our relationship with God. An experience cannot not validate itself. The Word of God is the only reliable criteria by which to judge and evaluate our experience. When Christians pursue experience at the expense of God's Word, they forfeit their only means of discernment and fall into the deception of embracing every kind of questionable experience simply because they or someone else experienced it. Can you see the end of this kind of experience based spirituality? The Scripture pattern for bringing people into a true knowledge and relationship with God is for God's ministers to preach the Word of God. Why? Because the day will come when people will not endure sound doctrine but will heap up to themselves teachers who will tell them what they want to hear (2 Timothy 4:2). In other words, the time will come when people will depart from the faith as they hunger for teachings and experiences found outside of God's Word. As the faithful minister preaches the Word of God, people are sure be encountered by the God of the Word--the God of Truth. That encounter will be either positive or negative depending on their response. Preachers must preach the Word in such a way that people are brought into an encounter with the God of the Word. Because of their subjective nature, it is misguided to seek after experiences. We are to seek after God. As we seek the God of the Bible, experiences often--but not always--follow. Those who seek after God in Biblical ways will be granted all of the godly experiences they need. These genuine experiences will become a testimony to the truth of God's Word rather than a testimony to the experience itself. God's Word validates experience and not the other way around. Therefore the truth is, "A man with the Word of God is never at the mercy of a man with an experience."