Experience or Truth?

“16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:16-21

A week or so ago I wrote a post entitled “The Danger of Abandoning Sola Scriptura”  and in it discussed the very dangerous and confusing practice of “hearing God’s voice” through internal promptings or messages such as that taught in the Experiencing God study, as opposed to using the Word of God as sufficient for all guidance and truth.  The former practice, perhaps without even knowing, is essentially claiming to receive prophetic word directly from God with no basis to support it.  This is commonly referred to as “extra-biblical” revelation.  The Bible contains the prophetic word of God written by Holy Spirit inspired men and it is “closed revelation”, meaning nothing new should ever be added to it as we read in the familiar passage of Revelation 22:18-19 18I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”  When claims are made that God is continuing His revelation to people this is really saying that the Bible is not closed, but can continue to be added to.  For example, a pastor named Jack Hayford once claimed that God had revealed the coming of a new era to him, namely the second coming of Christ.  This private revelation of additional information on Jesus’ second coming literally adds to the closed revelation of the Bible and is in fact an unsubstantiated claim.  Now this is on a larger scale through a quite spectacular claim made by a somewhat well known pastor.  What then is the difference between someone like Hayford, Oral Roberts or Pat Robertson making a claim that God had given them special revelation versus an everyday person claiming the same thing to a lesser degree?

The Apostle Paul writing in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 is defending his apostleship against those false apostles who crept into the Church at Corinth.  In this passage Paul begins to tell the people that he has been given visions and revelation of heaven, though he subtly shifts the attention to “a man he knows” in order to steer clear of boasting.  In verses 6-7 he completely avoids telling of his vision, “6Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. 7So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” 2 Corinthians 12:6-7 Why doesn’t Paul go on to give great detail of his vision of heaven?  Because he wanted his words and his ministry to speak for themselves, if anyone had ever a cause to boast about revelation it was here, with Paul.  In fact, because of the great vision given to him, God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh to humble him and prevent him from boasting of what he experienced.

In our passage included above from 2 Peter, we get insight into one of the greatest recorded revelations that man has ever witnessed, namely the transfiguration of Christ.  Peter, James, and John were all witnesses and heard the audible words of the LORD say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Matthew 17:5  Yet notice what Peter says here; in verse 16-18 he has described what the disciples saw, but in verse 19 he makes a much stronger assertion.  “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word.”  This something “more sure” than the experience they witnessed is the prophetic word of God, in this Peter references the Old Testament, but the New Testament is likewise implied in this statement as it is a continued revelation of God’s Word.  These 3 disciples were part of an experience that was never again repeated, yet Peter is shifting the weight from that experience to the truths of the Word of God.  Dr. John MacArthur provides the following on relating experience to truth: “My experience and your experience is not the test or proof of biblical truth. It is the reverse. Biblical truth must validate or invalidate any experience.”  He goes on to say, “Once you allow experience to be the test of truth, then you can’t limit doctrine to the pages of Scripture.”  It would’ve been easy for Peter to build a theology around those things which he saw and heard, but instead he comes back to the Word of God as the foundation and asserts that it is sufficient to guide people, “which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.

As Peter continues his discussion on revelations received by men, he states that “that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  First he clearly affirms that the prophecy of Scripture did not come by way of man’s interpretation then he backs up to say that no prophecy is ever produced by the will of man but by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  I often wonder if in an attempt to commune with God, those who would follow the strategies and practices of “hearing God’s voice” aren’t employing a will of their own into the experience.  In essence, their strong desire to feel an impression or to hear an internal voice actually promotes the experience.  The question becomes though, how could anyone ever determine whether said impression or voice is: 1) Not from the flesh or 2) Not from Satan?  Let alone whether it is actually God speaking or moving.  Herein lies another danger because these experiences are “self-feeding” meaning that as they occur, regardless of the source, they feed into the person’s pursuit to “hear”, “listen”, or “obey” and continually push the person down this path of confusion.         

Pastor MacArthur describes a true spiritual experience as follows, “A true spiritual experience would be the result of the quickening of truth in the Christian’s mind. In other words, the Spirit, all of a sudden gives dramatic life to a truth. It does not occur in a mystical vacuum.”  Truth does not occur outside of the Bible, so the truth which the Spirit quickens in the mind of a believer comes directly from the Word of God.  Conversely MacArthur describes a false spiritual experience as “the experience that supposedly leads me to the truth. This must be true because look what I experienced. That’s backwards.”   Experience should be in response to the truth brought forth by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, not the other way around.  An old truth that I so frequently quote is, “your experience is never a substitute for your theology.”    

Is your experience a valid test for truth?  Or is the Word of God the only source for truth?

Jeremiah 23:16 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes.  They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.’”

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