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Experience and the Word
- Jacob Ninan
Some people reject every experience that is not taught in the Word. Some others take experience as a demonstration of truth. Where do we stand?
Rejecting experiences simply because they are not mentioned in the Word is simplistic, and assumes that the Word gives an exhaustive coverage of every possible situation. Certainly the Bible is God's revelation of Himself and His ways to men, and in it we have truths, values, principles and help for our life (2Ti.3:16,17). When we find ourselves in situations that are not explicitly addressed in the Bible, we still take the revealed principles and values from it to decide. For this we have to go beyond looking for particular verses that apply to our situations, and seek to understand God's direction for us by judiciously extrapolating from what is already revealed in the Bible.
The other group considers their experiences as 'reality' and hence truth. In this way, they go from experience directly to doctrine. The danger here is that experiences can be deceptive. Also our interpretation of our experience can be wrong. Our experience itself can be wrong, coming from deceiving spirits (1Ti.4:1). None of us can claim immunity from deception, based on holiness of life or knowledge of Scriptures (Mt.24:24). Everything supernatural is not from God, and Satan and his demons also have much powers (even though limited compared to God).
We can see that many types of teachings are being brought forth these days. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between good and false teachings because 1) there are references to the Bible, 2) preachers or writers are teaching them confidently, 3) they promise to give us exciting experiences, superior knowledge, or join us to an exclusive group of specially favoured people, and 4) there are many testimonies of people who have followed them.
Some of us decide to obey the leading of God through the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our life, and then when we get into unfamiliar territory we either withdraw out of fear of going wrong, or plunge into the situation 'in faith' putting aside caution or restraint. Yes, we can go wrong, can't we, in recognising the voice of the Spirit and mistake our own thoughts or demonic suggestions as coming from God? Even when we have learned through experience to recognise the Spirit's voice, do we forget that Satan can impersonate that 'voice' (2Co.11:14)?
God has given us His Word to be the lamp for our feet (Ps.119:105). It is our safety manual. If a teaching is clearly contrary to the Word, we can reject it straightaway. If it is not clear, we need to examine if it is in line with the whole of Scripture. Here it is necessary not to look at a few verses alone, but the general spirit and direction of the whole Word. We must not allow ourselves to overlook some discrepancy with the Word just because it is coming from some well known person or supported by many testimonies. The final judge is to be the Word (Ro.3:4).