Our culture touts experience as the great standard by which life is be guided and governed. Follow your heart! Go with your gut! If it feels good, do it! The tragic consequences of this misguided philosophy have affected all aspects of our society. What is more sad and surprising is that this futile way of thinking has infiltrated and influenced the church. Experience is certainly significant, and thank God Christianity is a robustly experiential religion. But experience must not be supreme since we live by faith, not by sight (or experience!).
Experience is Not Our Guide
While promoting the joy and providing the incentive for our faith, experience cannot function as the guide and gauge of our faith. After all, it is difficult to manage our feelings and almost impossible to govern our emotions. No wonder many professing Christians have such a hard time with the trials of life! Things outside of our control affect us in a host of ways. Many immature believers find themselves tossed to and fro by waves of difficulty and disappointment. Carried about by every wind of doctrine they prove themselves unskilled in the word of righteousness. With experience as their guide, their spiritual journey follows a bumpy and unproductive route fraught with sharp turns, wasteful digressions and troublesome setbacks.
The Strength of a Christian
What is a Christian to do? Those whom we are to imitate (Heb 13:7) must not only cultivate godly character but also must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9). In other words, a mark of maturity, strength and wisdom is a man’s hold on the word. Has he been taught the true faith? Can he give instruction in sound doctrine? Can he rebuke those who contradict? The church needs godly officers, men of stable Christian character, who adhere unwaveringly to the teaching of Christ. They will model the Christian life for the rest of us. In spite of feelings or circumstances, both of which can be deceptive and discouraging, an elder must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught. Herein lies the strength of a Christian, and humanly speaking, the strength of a church. We are not referring to first century Pharisaism which idolized Scripture to the exclusion of Christ (Jn 5:39). We are referring to the means by which a believer is to be gladdened, guided and governed. Experience is important, for we are called to taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8). Let us avoid becoming Stoics! But if our experience of Christ is to be pleasing to Him and profitable to us, it must be grounded upon and guided by and governed according to the trustworthy word. They revive the soul, make wise the simple, rejoice the heart and enlighten the eyes (Ps 19:7-8). The Scriptures are more to be desired than gold and sweeter also than honey (Ps 19:10).