How Some Christians Place Personal Experience Over Scripture

How Some Christians Place Personal Experience Over Scripture August 28, 2017

How do believers sometimes place their personal experience as more important than Scripture and maybe not even realizing it?

Personal Testimony

I can recall many people who gave their experience in coming to saving faith in Christ. There have been some pretty amazing stories of grace going through prison walls, nursing home rooms, and into places where you would expect little chance of someone being saved. Accounts such as gang members in Pueblo, Colorado laying down their gang “family” for God’s family; death row inmates in Angola State Prison (Louisiana) sitting on death row yet now possessing eternal life; and people coming out of all sorts of powerful addictions to actually begin or participate in a ministry in which they themselves battled that stronghold. God uses our personal experiences in powerful ways to impact lives, both of those saved and those not yet saved. There are fewer things more convincing than personal testimony because it’s something no one can argue with. Only that person knows what is in their heart (along with God), what they’ve gone through, and how they arrived at saving faith in Christ. The experience of a changed life is worthy testimony, but when we begin to place our own personal experiences above that of Scripture, then we can get into all kinds of trouble, and it’s easier than you might think. Someone can be doing it without even realizing it, so how can we discern whether a person’s experience (like “God told me” or “God spoke to me”) is really from God or not? Place it against Scripture, and if it doesn’t square with the Word of God, it’s the experience that’s the problem, not the Scriptures.

bible-study

Intent

I’ve heard from a lot of different people around the world, and they’ve told me some very incredible things. I can recall reading about many of their own personal experiences with God, or in most cases, a dream or vision of Jesus Christ. And they tell me that changed their life…forever! “Aasif” (not real name) kept having dreams about Jesus, so he started to look around for a Bible so he could know more about Who Jesus Christ is, and after he found a Bible and read the Gospel of John, he was saved, however when someone’s own personal experience is God telling them to do something that is contrary to Scripture, then the credibility of the encounter ends there. A great example of this was when a man was chosen by a very prominent church to go on a missionary trip. The man gladly went through all the necessary training, and after his 8 month training session, the church had raised enough support for him to go, but something was wrong. About 5 weeks before he was to leave, he said that God spoke to him and told him to divorce his wife before he went. He said that it was based upon the previous missionaries work. She was a single woman who devoted her life for missions, and he thought that he was called to do the same thing. He thought being a single missionary would be better because he wouldn’t have to be bogged down with all of the cares of taking care of his family. I hope you can see the obvious problem. God’s will is that the man does not divorce his wife, except for sexual immorality. God would never tell this man (or anyone) to do something that contradicts His Word. Why would God teach that divorce is wrong and then tell this man, “Go and divorce your wife?” He might have been sincere and thought he heard God’s voice, but my question is, “Which god” (2nd Cor 4:4)? His intent might have been good; he may have been sincere, but he was sincerely wrong because it went against what the Bible teaches. You cannot be a missionary for Christ and yet willfully disobey Christ. That’s ludicrous. God will not call someone to something and then tell them to do what His Word forbids. This man’s personal experience (or “encounter with God”) cannot hope to reach level of the veracity and authority of the Word of God. The church immediately canceled the trip, and eventually, revoked his church membership because he thought the church was wrong, however it was the Bible that his argument was against, not the church.

The Word is Exalted

David wrote about God’s Word. In fact, the largest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119, is all about God’s Word, and God’s law, and all of God’s Word is to be exalted, certainly above that of human experience. David wrote, “you have exalted above all things your name and your word” (Psalm 138:2b). When Jesus prayed for the disciples, and those who would later believer, He prayed, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word” (John 17:6). The Bible says “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2nd Pet 1:21), so “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2nd Tim 3:16-17). We cannot say that about experience. Not all personal experience or “God speaking” to someone is profitable for correction or training in righteousness. Using personal “encounters” with God can never equal the Holy Scriptures and whose authors were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” and which were obviously “breathed out by God.” You would think it would be obvious, but nearly every day I hear from someone who has tried to give me a “sure word from God,” but I’m not so sure, especially if it’s contrary the Word of God. God told one young man that he could live with his wife and yet “play the field” because he was saved, but his own personal experience and beliefs about God’s standard doesn’t change the truth that the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom (1st Cor 6:9-10). It’s not what he or we think; it’s what God says. That’s the standard that has all authority.

Conclusion

The Apostle Peter was an eye witness and living proof to Jesus’ transfiguration and hearing God’s voice from heaven (on the Mount of Transfiguration), called the Holy Mountain by Peter. Peter wrote that “we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, 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, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2nd Pet 1:18-20), and certainly, “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2nd Pet 1:21). Of course many have seen visions or had dreams, particularly about Jesus. It appears that God is reaching those who others cannot reach and bringing the Light of Christ to people around the world. God is not limited by space or time like we are, so God can do what God wants to do, but as for people’s personal encounters, visions, dreams, and God “speaking to them,” they may or may not be real. I do know they’re not real if they go against the Word of God. Yes, the person may have had an encounter, but not from God at all (Eph 6:11-12). This I know: I cannot trust personal encounters or experiences like I can the Word of God, because it’s the very breath of God.

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas.  Jack is a writer at Christian Quotes and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • pud

    “This I know: I cannot trust personal encounters or experiences like I can the Word of God, because it’s the very breath of God”

    Your “god” has BAD BREATH!

    Did you stop to consider that EVERY word written in your book of nonsense was based on PERSONAL ENCOUNTERS and EXPERIENCES? LOL You “believe” hearsay and stories thousands of years removed (before video duh) yet discount your neighbor having a beer with jesus in his dream? LOL! You discount some crazy woman in your church speaking in tongues but you accept the burning bush and talking snake? LOL!

    No you do not “know” anything….you “believe” absurdities in your extreme willful gullibility and off the charts credulity.

    Your book IS NOT the work of a deity unless said deity is incredibly stupid, evil, malicious, malignant, capricious, contradictory, genocidal, murderous, inept and ignorant. Even the most stupid person in your pathetic congregation could write a better version by simply writing “thou shall not keep slaves”! Something your invisible magic man who transcends space and time (explain the physics of that dummy) seemed to forget!

    The book of a “god” wouldn’t need dozens of versions, thousands of translations and it wouldn’t need child indoctrinators like you to sell it to the stupid masses! It wouldn’t be filled with hundreds of contradictions, thousands of acts of violence, wouldn’t require bizarre rituals including human sacrifice and it wouldn’t be scientifically inaccurate in every stupid thing it claims!

    You have no clue who wrote the words in that ghastly book of fiction. You accept the writings of madmen you have no knowledge of as absolute. You are the consummate cult member incapable of rational independent thought who’s a slave to mindless ridiculous dogma and your own psychological dysfunctions and fears.

    And you don’t even realize just how sick you really are.

    • Sam Andrew

      “Did you stop to consider that EVERY word written in your book of nonsense was based on PERSONAL ENCOUNTERS and EXPERIENCES”

      I think you got him there, the bible is made up of people writing about other people’s personal experiences (usually decades if not centuries after the supposed ‘experiences’ took place). On which basis who is to say their experiences (lets assume they happened) are any more or less valid that Muhummad being grabbed and squeezed by an Arch Angel in a cave, Joseph Smith talking to an Angel in ‘reformed’ Egyptian, oracles at Delphi receiving visions from Apollo, or Zarathustra seeing a shining ‘Good Purpose’ spirit.

      • pud

        Exactly. This is why “personal experience” is NOT evidence of anything other than someone having had an experience. Jack won’t “believe” the guy on the subway talking to the lord but he will “believe” a story about an ancient man wrestling with a “god” or being swallowed by a great fish. It’s very much as you said…people want to believe this stuff and will construct whatever mental narrative required to validate their chosen flavor of wish thinking.

        • Sam Andrew

          They have their own ‘alternative facts’ and everyone else is just spreading ‘fake news’.

    • George

      Oh lookie – the ever-present drivel-spewing troll.

      • pud

        Oh “lookie” another non argument by the impotent infantile special needs child!

      • NathansFather

        Let me guess … I have D|ck (PUD literally means) “This user is blocked.”
        He/she/it may be a disembodied male part or l*sbian appliance, or a miserable excuse for human skin he/she in which the demon(it) resides. He/she/it refuses to say. We want proof! Sound familiar?
        George don’t bother reading its spew. I just block it. We are instructed not to converse with demons.

        • George

          I take nothing it says seriously. I’m just shocked that it doesn’t get banned from everything on Patheos.

          • NathansFather

            It is at elsewhere on this Evangelical Channel also. Seems as though it is after others also. So Jack, take heart at least you aren’t the only Pastor under its ire. Such a pitiful individual who is filled with hatred.
            Patheos wake up and get this PUD off our screens permanently please.

          • George

            He/it will claim persecution. The irony…

          • NathansFather

            HA Ha ha… It is a mess to be sure.
            Pitiful entity.

          • NathansFather

            HA Ha ha… It is a mess to be sure.
            Pitiful entity.

          • George

            He/it will claim persecution. The irony…

          • NathansFather

            It is at elsewhere on this Evangelical Channel also. Seems as though it is after others also. So Jack, take heart at least you aren’t the only Pastor under its ire. Such a pitiful individual who is filled with hatred.
            Patheos wake up and get this PUD off our screens permanently please.

          • NathansFather

            Oh this is PUD’s latest manifesto it wrote to another other than myself. I block it.

            “… Sure…just as soon as you deranged lunatics learn to keep your insane cult to yourself, disappear into the dustbin of history like all the other “god” cults have and you stop lying to children. Until that day comes I will never be silent. You are my enemies and I wish to see you vanquished and vanished…”

            You can also catch a “pastor” who says there is no hell. Huh??? Sort by oldest first. Normally I don’t post anywhere except here with my dear friend Jack. But the title of the article got my attention on the Patheos newsletter.

            Is Stephen Paddock in Hell?
            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/evangelicalpulpit/2017/10/stephen-paddock-hell/

  • Sam Andrew

    Personal testimony is the fall back of virtually every religion, it’s always God whispering to someone ‘You’re the prophet/apostle/chosen one…now go tell everyone else!’, where a charismatic individual is involved and able to sell that vision to others it is a religions greatest strength and is seen in cults (especially spiritual healing ones) all around the world today. But when you run up against the fact so many people claim experiences with different divine beings (check out Patheos Pagan for people who have stories about experiences with pagan spirits and deities), it becomes clear the common denominator in all these cases are people who want to believe and go out seeking experiences.

    Combined with human propensity to allocate ambiguous events to a conscious agent, psychological issues, effects of psychoactive drugs (which are commonly used in a vast number of folk religions to this day), sleep related states such as hypnagogia, and mild forms of hallucination (typically auditory) which are experienced by a large majority of the population at some point in their life, and you have a wide array of natural explanations for virtually every supernatural experience.

    • pud

      Blasphemer!! lol

    • Maltnothops

      I had fatigue-related (well, I assume that was the reason*) hallucinations last week. I had been without sleep for about 40 hours. I was a passenger in a car on a dark night. Traffic was very heavy. The vehicle in front of us was kept changing shape, or so it seemed. It was alternately a car, a big truck, and a pickup pulling a trailer loaded with two motorcycles. I kept warning the driver, who wisely ignored me. Funny thing is, I have very clear memories of what I “saw”.

      * Of course, it is entirely possible that it wasn’t fatigue at all. It may have been that the vehicle really was changing shapes and my driver was hallucinating that it wasn’t. No way to know for sure.

      • Sam Andrew

        That’s quite plausible, I’ve worked previously with people with mental health issues, and certainly fatigue, intense states of psychical of psychological arousal etc. can all result in distorted perceptions up to complete hallucinations. The brain is extremely complex in the way it collects and interprets external information, and the more we learn about it the more we find that our perceptions and experiences are not exact representations of physical reality, but mediated by internal processed (e.g. hormonal). Best way to know for sure is to have multiple witnesses…something personal experience in religious contexts often lacks….

  • Aren’t some of the biblical scriptures written by people who have “personal experiences” but claim that that God spoke to them. e.g. the myth about God speaking to Moses at the alleged burning bush (except that Moses probably did not write the Pentateuch). The writer of the book of Revelation may have been on hallucinatory drugs, but claims that he received a “revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him to show him things that must soon take place” .

    In the last analysis, belief in God or gods seems to come down to subjective experiences. There is no way of independently verifying such experiences which may simply be going on in a person’s heart or mind. Are these experiences of God or just wishful thinking? I think the answer is probably the latter.

  • The Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians claim to have received the baptism of the holy spirit as evidenced by speaking in tongues (gobbledegook) and many of them, on this basis, would say that this experience convinces them that the bible is the verbally inspired Word of God. Yet this book has God commanding the Israelis to commit genocide and murder little babies while, this book has Jesus tell us to love our enemies, not to kill them, and let the “little children come unto him for of such is the kingdom of heaven”. Jesus doesn’t command the murder of children, but Yahweh is alleged to have done so.

    Personal experiences of God are not reliable. If God doesn’t exist, then they are delusional. The bible is no reliable guide, either.