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A Question of Authority: Scripture Vs. Experience

Chapter 21

One issue which inevitably arises in the discussion of the temporary nature of some gifts involves the question of authority. Without exception (to the best of my recollection), each time I have endeavored to show to one who believes that miraculous and revelatory gifts are for today that the Word of God teaches that these gifts are no longer given to the church, the response is (in this or similar wording), "But I have seen it happen," or "But it has happened to me! How can you deny that?" After looking through many portions of Scripture regarding the issue, one such man said this: "I see what you are saying, but I just can't believe that all these wonderful, sincere Christians could all be wrong!" To which I replied, "What about all these other just as sincere Christians who believe the opposite? Do you think they all could be wrong?"

You see, games like that can continue ad infinitum. For every experience that can be shown to prove one thing, another can be given to prove the opposite. The fact of the matter is that someone is wrong, whether or not he is sincere; he may be sincerely wrong but wrong nonetheless. This is what I tried to point out to the man with my reply. It becomes clear in the midst of conversations and confusion like this that the question can only be settled in one way: "What saith the Scriptures." The conversation must proceed in another direction entirely. The only standard which can adequately answer such a question is Scripture, not experience. To appeal to an experience or to the sincerity of another Christian in order to settle a matter of doctrine differs very little, in the final analysis, from the liberal who denies Scripture altogether. Only "Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for doctrine" (II Timothy 3:16); a theology based on experience or sentiment is a hollow one at best.

It may seem sacrilegious to some, but when I consider what is right or wrong in matters of religion, I really don't care about your experiences, nor do you need care about mine. All that matters is what Scripture says.

One of the great tenets of the Reformation was Sola Scriptura -- "Scripture alone" is the infallible and all-sufficient guide for faith and practice.

The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. The Testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The Statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. The commandments of the Lord are pure, enlightening the eyes. The Fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever. The Judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether (Psalm 19:7-9).

In short, Scripture, in and of itself, is completely sufficient for every need. One of the most wonderful and valuable possessions God has given His people is Scripture, which is His Word. It provides for every need and answers every question. A Christian, then, does not judge an experience on its own merits but by the Word of God! Scripture is not only infallible, but it is enough! It is all we need, and it is all God wants us to consult in settling all matters of faith and practice. To appeal to anything else is an affront to the very character of Scripture.

Now why is it so important to consider "Scripture alone" in matters of faith and practice? The answer is obvious: simply because it "cannot be broken" (John 10:35); it is sure and unerring in every detail (Matthew 5:17-18). As such, it and it alone is the standard; nothing else can be, for everything else is fallible and subject to error. To interpret Scripture by experience is to invite doctrinal confusion, disaster, and contradiction; to interpret experience by Scripture is to find truth. What the Christian is required to do is first of all look into God's Word to see what it teaches about a matter; with that established he can then properly understand his experience. He must look to Scripture first, because it is sure. With that settled he can then evaluate experiences, which are by themselves unsure, and weigh out all the alternatives concerning them.

Peter addresses this very issue in a fascinating way in II Peter 1:16-21. He is speaking of his experience on the Mount of transfiguration where he saw and heard the testimony of God the Father to the majesty of Jesus Christ. It was unquestionably a truthful and God-sent experience. Yet Peter does not leave us to trust his experience; he rather points us to Something "more sure" (verse 19). Scripture, he says, is given by God (verses 19-21), and so it is much more reliable than experience! This is fascinating, because it is precisely contrary to common thinking today. We tend to think that Scripture is confirmed by experience. Peter says, "No, experience is confirmed by Scripture."

Now there is no question that what Scripture teaches will be born out in our experience, but it is Scripture that is normative, not experience. Our experience may be real and wrong at the same time. Furthermore our experience may be misunderstood and/or misinterpreted. But Scripture is "more sure" and "cannot be broken"; it cannot fall down at any point. Scripture alone is the guide to truth, nothing else and nothing less. God intends for faith to rest on something much more credible than even miraculous experiences; He requires faith to rest on His Word alone! "We walk by faith, not by sight" (II Corinthians 5:7) or signs or any other experience.

After a few minutes in the conversation mentioned above, I said to the man, "This entire conversation should bother you!" "Why?" he asked. I replied, "Because through it all I have appealed to Scripture only, and all you have cited is experience! Which is more important to you?" This is when he made his appeal to the sincerity of his friends, which was shown to be an endless game as well. The point of it all was simply this: neither side of the issue can be finally settled by anything but Scripture. The Word of God is supreme, not experience. The wisdom of man will fall to the ground, but the Truth of God's Word abides forever.

The Word of God alone is authoritative. Let us never abandon this wonderful treasure. Sola Scriptura!

Spiritual Gifts