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Pointers along the way #710

Doctrines vs. experience

- Jacob Ninan

Christian doctrines must be based on teaching in the Bible, and not on traditions or someone's experience. This may be further qualified by saying that the teachings of Christ and His apostles must supersede the teachings of the old testament, since we are now under the new covenant which Jesus brought (He.8:13). One contrast between the Roman Catholic Church and evangelical Protestant churches is that the Roman church gives almost gives equal value to church tradition as to biblical teaching, and evangelical churches profess to follow 'only the scriptures'.

But even among evangelical Christians there is difference in practice about how doctrines are formed. One man said that in all his years of experience he had never seen a Christian partially controlled by a demon while he had the Holy Spirit. I have. But my teaching is not just based on experience but what the Bible warns a believing Christian not to give the devil a place in his life (Ep.4:26,27). Another man said that laying on of hands for the baptism in the Holy Spirit and receiving spiritual gifts was the prerogative of only the apostles, because he was not aware of anyone who was doing that now. Again, based on experience! But what do we see if we look at the Bible for teaching? He.6:2;1Ti.5:22, etc. There are whole denominations who teach that the time for spiritual gifts was over with the apostles because they have not seen them among them, and there are other denominations who proclaim such experiences. Who is right? We just have to see why three chapters in the Bible were given to us (1Co.12-14) on this subject! When we evangelical Christians on one hand say that the Bible is the inspired word of God for all times, how can we also say that some portions were only for the church in Corinth? Especially when we take 1Co.13 out of that portion with great veneration?

True doctrine must be based on the Bible, must be consistent with the teaching of the Bible as a whole, and must be also consistent with experience. If some doctrine is very profound but not true in general experience, we need to examine it further. Perhaps there are things we are not doing right from our side to experience what is given in the doctrine. But then there must be at least some others who have experienced it. If no one has experienced it, the teaching becomes doubtful. (This is similar to the old testament guideline about prophets if what the prophet says doesn't happen, he wasn't a true prophet.) If no one has experienced it, the doctrine may not have been understood properly.

This is one reason why all of us must be open to correction about what we believe. We must recognise there are many things we don't know, and when others who know some more or some other things tell us something, that can improve our knowledge. Which is more important, to know the truth and to experience it, or to hold tenaciously to our viewpoints, protect our denomination and lose true experience?

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