Babies in Church (part IV): miraculous, ordinary, conversational experience

03 Jun

Luther said that prayer, meditation, and suffering made the theologian.  19th century American Lutheran C.F.W. Walther said that the art of discerning Law and Gospel can only be learned in the school of experience.  And yet, Lutherans today, wary of Pietism, still tend to downplay experience.  After all, a husband may begin to see his wife in an idealized fashion, forming an image of her to suit his own desires (and removed from his true, everyday concrete interactions with her).  In like fashion, the Christian’s experience with God (and hence His Church) may fall prey to vain imaginings.  Not only this, but when we speak of experience, it does us well to emphasize that the Word of God testifies to an “incarnational” event that did not occur “in a corner” (Acts 26) – only for the enlightened ones – but in a very public way, available to men everywhere (see Acts 17). 

And yet.

Although the Word of God is the foundation of the Church’s faith (in that faith comes by hearing the Word) Lutheran theology and worship necessarily *presume* experience, as the justified / regenerated aim to think God’s thoughts after Him.  We simply can not deny that true Christian believers are those who really do seek spiritual experiences, at least understood in the sense that we desire to confess the following words as our own: “let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me” (Jeremiah 9). 

The Church’s goal then is really the “experience” of conversation with God Himself:  We want to know what He has to say to us about who He is, who we are, who those are around us, what we have done, what He has done, and how we ought to live accordingly.  Strong feeling may or may not accompany us as we learn such things, usually in very ordinary and unspectacular ways (I think the great stories of miracles in the Bible are literally “highlights” rather than any map of the “normal Christian Life”).

Of course, infants will always be impressed (and “impressed upon”) by things we consider ordinary and unspectacular. 

God’s simple children just want to connect with the True and Living God through His precious words to His people – and again, this involves constantly referring back to the Scriptures recognized, treasured and kept by the Apostolic Church (while not ignoring [failing to be interested in, give time to] the experiences of Fathers, Councils and Popes as important testimonies and witnesses to those Scriptures).  If what we are experiencing does not find testimony with those sure witnesses, it is certainly suspect and to be treated with caution, if not to be outright rejected (depending on the nature of the experience).  For it is ultimately God’s revelation to us, and not our experiences per se, that is the firm foundation of our faith.  Though again, let us remember: “remaining within the Word of God” – or with the Holy Spirit – is itself an “experience” – although usually a very ordinary one.  

Certain kinds of “religious experiences” that go beyond this are not part of the “normal Christian life”/experience – or even one that only the mature obtain – but something, like miracles, that we may seek (at certain appropriate times), but never demand – meaning that if we don’t have them or they don’t pan out the way we want, we somehow justified in thinking that God does not love us, exists, etc.  In general, when it comes to these things, it is far more likely God would have us “get over ourselves” and “grow up” by simply hearing and believing His words like a child – so that we may impart His life to those around us (see Philippians 2).

In the reconciliation effected by Jesus Christ, the lost sheep are given “peace with God” (Romans 5:1) – or in other words: true safety, security, surety, assurance, confidence, certainty, and hope in, with, and through Him.  We “fear and tremble” primarily when, in working out God’s universal salvation, we more fully recognize that God really does entrust to us the carrying and communication of this priceless treasure to our neighbor for whom He bled and died.

1 Comment

Posted by on June 3, 2009 in Uncategorized


One response to “Babies in Church (part IV): miraculous, ordinary, conversational experience

  1. Nathan

    October 23, 2009 at 6:02 pm


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