Friday, December 09, 2005

The Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Before I start, I would like you to read an old entry of mine entitled November 18, 1988. Go ahead. I’ll still be here when you get back.

Back already? Good. Let us begin. November 18, 1988 was obviously not a night of mere Bible study. In fact, I don’t think that Bible study was the intent at all. Our intent was to sing praises to the Lord that we said we loved. What happened was far more than we expected. We experienced the world of the spirit in more ways than one.

But how do we process a night like that? What is the line by which such experiences are measured? Those of an evangelical bent would say that we need to judge all experiences by the word of God. The Word is the standard. If it isn’t in the Bible then it isn’t of God. And my answer to that would be threefold. One, the Bible isn’t an encyclopedia. It doesn’t outline every single experience that people can have. For example, in July of 1996 I attended a concert on the Kiss reunion tour. I can remember shouting the words to every song and almost being in tears just out of the sheer joy of being entertained and having fun at the show. Was my experience unbiblical? The Bible talks about joy but doesn’t have much to say about entertainment. Should I not seek to be entertained?

Two, who appointed you to be the judge and jury of our experiences that night? (And by “you” I am speaking to anyone who would attempt to say “you were not having an experience of God.”) You weren’t there, you don’t know. I was there. During the time of worship and praise I felt God’s presence like I’ve never felt it before. During the times of deliverance from evil spirits? All I can offer is an opinion. In at least one case I think it was likely a psychological event, a release of the heavy burdens of the past that hadn’t been given an outlet to be released before. But it was very real to the woman who was going through it. It wasn’t happening to me, so I don’t know for sure. As I said in the essay, deliverance ministry was never readily offered to men. The spiritual lives of men and women are often very different.

If you were to look at videos of Toronto Blessing services, or attend services of some of the crazier Pentecostal/Charismatic churches out there, you would see quite a few women who, when they “receive the Spirit”, scream, moan, and behave in an almost sexual manner. Why is that? This will likely come off as misogynistic, but I believe that women are more prone to ecstatic experiences than men. Not necessarily because they are wired to be more emotional anyway, but because society forces women into specific roles with specific standards of behavior. If a man gets angry, he’s a man; if a woman gets angry, she’s a b*tch. If a man likes sex, he’s a stud; if a woman likes sex, she’s a slut. So pent-up emotions are channeled in different ways for men and for women.

Back to our program. My third response to people who say that every experience needs to be judged by the Word of God is why do you then ignore spiritual experiences that are clearly outlined in the Bible? I mean, heck, there are some crazy things there. Jesus wiped mud in someone’s eyes. A prophet prophesied naked. Another prophet married a whore. So if someone falls out on the floor under the power of the Spirit, and while there has a vision of Jesus halting the beatings that their mother gave them when they were little, the average evangelical/fundamentalist will say that that experience wasn’t Biblical. But when someone speaks in tongues, they say that that experience isn’t valid either, even though speaking in tongues is pretty clearly there, in the Bible. A person dancing in the Spirit is acting in the flesh, but a fundamentalist preacher, who spits and hollers and repeats a point until he gets a loud enough Amen isn’t in the flesh? Oh man.

Let me conclude this portion by saying that in the context of a local church’s services and programs, some spiritual experiences have to be judged. And Scripture is clear on that point. I can’t just get up at Mass and proclaim messages from the Lord. In a church I attended a few years ago, a woman got up after the offering and started confessing to molesting her nephew. She was quickly ushered away. So I do believe in judging in some circumstances. In my private spiritual life, though? Especially if the experience causes me to love God more, confess my sinfulness more, perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy more? It’s between me and the Lord.

In truth, sublime words make not a man holy and just;
but a virtuous life maketh him dear to God.

I had rather feel compunction than know its definition thereof.

If thou didst know the whole Bible by heart and the sayings of all the philosophers, what would it profit it thee without the love of God and His grace.

---Thomas a Kempis, “Of the Imitation of Christ”, Bk. 1 Ch. 1 v. 3 (emphasis mine)


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