Experimental Religion

The Scripture advises us all, as Paul once advised his child in the faith, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.” (2Timothy 2:15) We must all learn how to handle the Word, and the need was never more critical in Christian history than now, when there are so many doctrines, independent ministries, self-sent messengers, cults, and nominal churches.

We must know how to handle the Word, and the way in which Creation Seventh Day Adventists do so is “fundamentally.” The term “fundamentalism” has become one of the newest dirty words in many circles, because it evokes (the mainstream media has seen to this) images of another phenomenon, which is extremism. Unfortunately, these two concepts have become blended in the public mind, and while the latter refers to people who will go to unsanctified extremes to promote their faith, fundamentalism means only that those who believe in a religious body of work, such as the Bible, believe it to be essentially, and in most cases literally, true.

I say in “most” cases, because fundamentalism is not the same as strict literalism. The effective Bible student recognizes that while the doctrinal discourses are to be taken just as they read, there are also parables, prophetic symbols, and poetic descriptions of various events. Mainstream Christianity has often run afoul of this principle; for example, it wrongly applies parables such as that found in Luke 16 to theological conclusions, while simultaneously spiritualizing or symbolizing the doctrinal statements in the Book of Ecclesiastes and ends up with a belief in eternal torment in everlasting hell for the lost souls – an arrangement set in place, they nevertheless claim, by the boundless wisdom of our loving and omnipotent God.

At heart, however, the Bible is a practical book. Yes, we must learn to identify Its symbolism and parables; but even there, these literary devices exist primarily to reveal the face of Yahweh to His people, and to thereby explain to our human understanding what it is He wants of His people. What God wants of His people – what the doctrines teach, the symbols express and the parables reveal – is that we experience an “experimental religion.”

Seventh-day Adventists who are familiar with the writings of Ellen G. White will be quite familiar with this concept. Here are a few of her more poignant statements on this subject.

“Experience is knowledge derived from experiment. What we need is experimental religion. How shall we know for ourselves God’s goodness and his love? The psalmist tells us--not, hear and know, read and know, or believe and know; but – ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’ Instead of relying upon the word of another, taste for yourself.” [The Signs of the Times, January 11, 1883]

“A man may hear and acknowledge the whole truth, and yet know nothing of personal piety and true experimental religion. He may explain the way of salvation to others, and yet himself be a castaway.” [Evangelism (1946), page 682]

“It is the privilege of all who comply with the conditions [of Christ’s promises] to have an experimental faith, to know for themselves that pardon is freely extended for every sin. God has pledged his word that when we confess our sins he will forgive them and cleanse from all unrighteousness. Put away unbelief. Put away the suspicion that these promises are not meant for you. They are for every repentant transgressor, and God is dishonored by your unbelief. Let those who have been filled with doubt, only believe the words of Jesus fully, and thence forward they will rejoice in blessedness of light.” [The Review and Herald, September 21, 1886]

Obviously, an “experimental” religion does not indicate one that “might or might not work.” It means that it is something we learn from personal experience, from trying the faith for ourselves. The Creator, rather than simply demanding blind faith, actively encourages His people to demonstrate the effectiveness of His covenant with them. He says, by way of example, “‘Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith,’ saith Yahweh of hosts, ‘if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field,’ saith Yahweh of hosts.” (Malachi 3:10, 11)

So important was this concept to the mind of Mrs. White that she wrote this advice to one individual, “You have been afloat in the world, but the eternal truth will prove an anchor to you. You need to guard your faith. Do not move from impulse or entertain vague theories. Experimental faith in Christ and submission to the law of God are of the highest consequence to you.” [Mind, Character, and Personality Volume 2 (1977), page 765]

She goes so far, in fact, as to attribute much of the “Great Awakening” that led to the very development of the Advent faith to this factor: “…toward the close of the eighteenth century a great change took place. Men became dissatisfied with the results of rationalism, and realized the necessity of divine revelation and experimental religion.” [The Great Controversy (1888), page 287]

The Book of Proverbs, the teachings of Christ, the exhortations of the prophets and apostles all point firmly to the “earthiness” of the true Christian faith.

While “worldliness” is entirely excluded, we find the Bible telling those who would be spiritual, “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, ‘Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled,’ notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit?” (James 2:15, 16)

Divine revelation and experimental faith are the handrails of the stairway to Heaven. In the spiritual darkness of this world it is natural, particularly for the “natural man,” (1Cor 2:14) to stumble and fall out of the way. The converted individual, however, will rejoice in the guidelines provided, not seeing them as barriers to freedom, but necessary gifts from our Father in Heaven. The Scriptures, answered prayers, the words of the prophets and the “keys to the kingdom” in the hands of the faithful Church (Mat 16:19) are all examples of divine revelation. Experimental faith is where the concepts of self-denial, living for principle, and the born-again experience are emphasized.

The above elements of these two ideas are all either offensive or foolishness to the carnal mind. The Bible explains that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1Cor 2:14) Far too often the churches are guilty of using the term “spiritual” in a way that makes it seem less than real, yet we are told, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” (Luke 16:10, 11)

Indeed, even the most sublime goals in the Scriptures, such as the eternal inheritance of Heaven, the unity with the very Creator of the universe, and life in a world free of sin and suffering; even these are attained, not by some mysterious process, but by the practical task developing our characters. The height and depth of mercy that went into crafting the plan of Salvation will contain elements of mystery for all eternity, and nothing we may say of practicality can ever diminish that; but the way God has outlined for His people to traverse is not shrouded in any dark clouds. “For this commandment which I command thee this day; it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in Heaven, that thou shouldest say, ‘Who shall go up for us to Heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, ‘Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?’ But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” (Deu 30:11-14) This is the way in which Yahweh explains the rationality of His word, the nature of the Bible as it is to be fundamentally understood.

Ellen White once wrote that, “Those who visit [a specified location] carry away the impression made by you and other of the youth who do not enjoy experimental religion, that there is no reality in religion.” [Testimonies for the Church Volume Two (1868-1871), page 175] Here we come to the very heart of the matter. Unless our lives reveal the “reality” of God’s love through both speaking the Gospel and living the life of His Son, we are not doing the work that we were called to do.

This was precisely what Yahshua said in His prayer to the Father before His disciples: “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” (John 17:22, 23)

Sadly, most Christians today are not living as if they believed these words. The truth is that the words are not true for them – they have not received, not accepted, the glory that Christ has given to them. And lest it be thought that this statement is unduly judgmental, we need only turn to the Word by which we may know that this observation is true: “Whosoever abideth in [Christ] sinneth not; whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil, for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His Seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest [i.e., made visible or revealed] and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” (1John 3:6-11)

Often new converts to Creation Seventh Day Adventism have high hopes for certain ones in their former churches, pastors whom they remember fondly from their past experiences, and friends or relatives that they are sure will love the message of victory over all known sin that is the very heart of this uncorrupted Gospel. Yet very (too) often, they are disappointed. They go to them and share the truth of the matter: that God’s love is greater than man’s sin, that Christ has died to give us true freedom, that those who are born again are drawn to the practical reality, the experimental experience, of salvation. They tell them that when we are truly one with Christ in the way that the Bible describes, the commission (i.e., the deliberate act) of known sin becomes a practical impossibility – it does not happen in practice.

Yet this light is rejected more often than not… “we are still in the old man until the resurrection,” they say, denying the power of the resurrection. (2Cor 5:17) “We all sin,” they (even pastors) say, misquoting Paul’s statement that we all “have sinned” (Rom 3:23) before coming to realize our need and surrendering our entire wills to the guidance of the Almighty. A number of other positions are advanced, all of which our members have catalogued and refuted, with the essence of the argument being, at its very core, “I don’t believe we can really live the life Christ has died that we may have.” And why do they not receive this life? Why do they not have this life? “Ye have not,” James informs them, “because ye ask not.” (James 4:2) And they ask not, if the truth be known, because they want not.

What they need is a desire for experimental religion. We read, fundamentally, that the Bible is a Book written to explain to man that, though we are depraved and lost in sin of ourselves, the gift of grace was given so that we may choose which master we will serve, (Luke 16:13, Josh 24:15) and experience the miracle, the absolute miracle, of a victorious life. There can be no Gospel, no “Good News,” for sinful man but this.

Those who accept the promise of Victory are abiding in the experience of conversion. They are relying upon Christ completely for the first time in their lives, and like Peter on the waters of the sea, (Mat 14:29) they depend upon His power to sustain them above the waves of transgression. The beauty of the Victory message is that it connects in a most visible and dramatic way the theories of spirituality to “real life.” Converts to the Gospel, taught undimmed and undiluted as it is in the CSDA movement, are really living the life outlined in the Bible and described as that enjoyed by such individuals as Noah, (Gen 6:9) Job, (Job 1:1) Enoch, (Gen 5:24) and, if the reader can receive it, the life enjoyed by Christ Himself when He walked among us in human flesh. There is no merit in the human being that makes this possible; all are invited, and all may receive.

The genuine Christian testifies, openly, and with true Biblical humility, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” (Gal 2:20) They then say, with equal humility, yet true moral courage, precisely what Paul said, who was but a sinner saved by grace, (as are we all) “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” (1Cor 11:1) Until the Christian can say these words with a clear conscience and in the context of a practical experience, he or she will never be anything more than “nominal.”

In the experience of our evangelists, many people lose faith in Christianity because it is not “real” to them. It is, in a term I use to describe it, a “wispy” and ethereal supposition with little connection to the daily business of earning a living, paying the bills and dusting the furniture. Responsibility rests squarely upon theChurch and Her members to demonstrate Yahshua the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to the world in a real context.

“Many say that all we have to do is to believe, but they make the service of Christ altogether too superficial. They are satisfied with a nominal belief in Christ; but it is not enough to merely assert that Jesus is the Son of God. We must abide in him as the branch abides in the vine. We must have an experimental faith, a faith that works by love and purifies the soul. Then we have evidence that we bear fruit to the glory of God. What is it to bear fruit to the glory of God? It is to manifest the love of Jesus in our daily life, to be kind and courteous and forbearing to those around us, and to try to lead them to the Saviour. The divine light that shines in the face of Jesus shines also in the heart of the believers, and they walk in the light as he is in the light. That same Jesus represents himself as standing at the door of our hearts and knocking for entrance. Every one of us has a work to do to open the door, if we would have Jesus as our guest. The work of perfecting the soul through obedience to all God’s requirements must be constantly going on in our lives.” [The Signs of the Times , March 3, 1890]

The above paragraph may appear quite dreary and “worksoriented” to the carnal mind. Yet to those for whom practical faith is a daily joy, and for those who have committed themselves to the service of our Savior, the above is an exciting premise indeed. To “manifest the love of Jesus in our daily life” and to reveal Him with our courtesy, our example, and our open testimony that we have overcome the world because of our fundamental faith (1John 5:4) is to promote true Christian unity. Our experiences are raised to the level of a song, a “new song” that only the genuinely Redeemed may learn and sing, (Rev 14:3) and this divine music is a key element of the grand chorus that is swelling around the world into a loud and powerful cry.

The CSDA Signet
A publication of CSDA believers