Saturday, December 13, 2008

Seeking the Experience?

I figured out I was a charismatic over twenty years ago. And while I haven't "done it all" I have done a lot of it. I've been in places where we worshipped our heads off, danced in the aisles, seen healings (one time my wife received some healing she hadn't even sought as she walked by when someone else was being prayed for--never did know whether he got healed or not); I've spoken in tongues, received words from prophets, delivered a few myself, been part of a "laughing revival", been drunk on the Holy Spirit (never have been drunk on alcohol in my life, but that night I was drunk); never cast out any evil spirits, but I've known people who have; and finally figured out that I had walked in a form of the gift of discerning spirits for most of my adult life, even before I knew I was a charismatic.

But the best advice I ever heard on this came from one of the leaders of the Toronto Blessing. I can't even remember who it was, John Arnott or one of his associates. Right around the time they were asked to leave the Vineyard Association, he spoke at the Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati. And one of the things he said was, "Don't seek the experience--seek Jesus."

And he was right. I've seen a lot of people "seeking the experience"--lining up to be prayed over by a prophet (some almost treat it as if it were fortune-telling), running to the next big meeting, going to see the big-name worship leader or faith healer, running off to Kansas City or Brownville or wherever the next big happening is. And the hype goes on and the egos of the "leaders" get bigger and bigger.

But in recent years I've noticed something else going on. The first hint I picked up was when Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis Schaeffer (whom I've cited at times in this blog) left the heritage he'd grown up in to join the one of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. And he's not alone. A number of evangelicals have gone either Orthodox (including a couple of bloggers I read) or Roman Catholic (Sen. Sam Brownback used to be a Baptist, but is now RC). And some of the newer churches--some I've known of, and one I attended for a couple of years--have been getting into things like candles, incense, liturgies, Lectio Divina, Divine Hours--I've even heard someone teach that "spiritual disciplines" are how you "abide in Christ" (from John 15:4--the problem is, IMO, if you read the whole chapter, Jesus told how to abide in Him, and he said something else--more on this in another post sometime).

It's almost seemed for some years now that serious Christians are going in two different directions--some becoming more formal--liturgies, etc.--and others are becoming less formal--house churches, "free-range Christians" ( a term I picked up from Wayne Jacobsen). And I've realized for a long time that my own inclination is to less formality (maybe it's the redneck in me).

But lately something else about this situation has dawned on me. All the formal stuff--liturgies, incense, candles, Divine Hours--is another way of "seeking the experience." The "experiences" they seek are not the same "experiences" the charismatics went for, but the principle is the same. And the problem is, the "experiences" are not Jesus. And while for some the experiences may lead to Jesus Himself, all too many will stop short, just as all too many charismatics kept seeking experiences and never quite got all the way to Him.

So--Don't seek the experience, seek Jesus. If He knows the experience will be good for you, or is something you yourself need, He'll see that you get it. (That was my own attitude about tongues years ago.) But keep your focus on Him, not the experiences along the way. The best they can do is point you to Him, but if you focus on them, you can miss Him. And that road leads to emptiness and the need for more and more "experiences" to try to fill up the void that only He can fill.


ded said...

Great post, Phil. Simple truth is always the most stirring, I think.

The move toward the Orthodox/Catholicism is curious. I think the power of the draw is as you have described it. Charismatics (or the ones I have known) have determined that if God is present then supernatural manisfestations are to be the norm.

Likewise, I think these two "ancient" expressions of faith acknowledge their formalism in the worship experience exists because it is their mark or evidence of the mystical aspect of God.

Paul said if the resurrection is not real then Christians are fools for living as they do. In our modern age, there seems to be a need to prove outwardly that the supernatural is happening in our experience.

The supernatural does indeed occur. It is walking in faith that Jesus in-dwells us. The focus upon Him brings about everything that is God's will, and God's will on earth, His Kingdom come to earth, is a supernatural reality.

postmodern redneck said...

Thanks for commenting, ded.
I mentioned the Cincinnati Vineyard in this post. I once heard their founding pastor, Steve Sjogren, describe the charismatic gifts as part of the basic toolkit of the church. That Vineyard was also the only church I have ever seen that made a serious, consistent effort to teach ordinary church members to hear the Holy Spirit themselves and walk in the power gifts--I went through their training for prayer teams for the services, and that was a big part of it--not just for the pastors, but for the people too. I also heard Steve say more than once that his job as pastor was to help his people be successful in their own Christian walk. He's a rare bird, as pastors go.