Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Danger of Experiential Church

We live in a world today that is all about the experience. Our modern American cultures sells us the experience and we line up to buy the biggest and best. Even going to the store has become experiential, with sights and smells, music and pleasant decor and lights and colors.  We pay for the experience, bigger and louder and in 3D.  We market the experience, and we have become infatuated with wanting to experience more and the newest greatest things.  The experience has become expected in our culture.

The modern Church is a reflection of the culture of the people who make up the congregations.  The church has been effected by the larger societal outlook.  One of the major outlooks that have shaped the end of the 20th and dawn of the 21st century is the Postmodern view of experientialism as foundational in truth.  What we experience becomes reality.  Individuals no longer believe those things which have been foundational or even orthodoxy and have submitted their experiences and those things in which they can explain in their place.  The Sunday Morning Service has been one of the most impacted areas of this experiential view on what is true.  We see it effect the way we structure and organize the experience, opting for new d├ęcor, a more modern wardrobe of those on stage, lighting and sound control and effects, themes and motifs as well as the music selection.  Each of these things exists to create a mood, an environment, an atmosphere and an experience.  The goal is no longer transformation, but a movement to a directed feeling or experience.  This culminates in the alter call experience, which is the height of the emotional draw in the modern worship service.

In an effort to market salvation in this experiential mode, we have substituted Biblical ideas like being drawn, surrendering your life, confession and repentance for more relational terms.  We speak about a personal relationship, inviting Jesus into your heart, making Jesus your best friend.  The alter call has become a mixture of sudo-Biblical language combined with modern psychobabble and feel good experiences to create an emotional high.  It is not uncommon to see people crying and wailing for reasons that they cannot express.  Many will attribute this to a movement of the spirit, but this action is not seen anywhere in scripture.  Often these people experience little to no real life transformation at all, simply have an experience that plays on their emotional state.

The most fundamental problem with this method of operation is the effect on orthodox theology.  Scriptures become subject to experience and individual interpretation based on preferences and not exegesis.  Passages are no longer being exposited and understood, they are simply a tool to lead the preacher or teacher into the topical message.  This masquerades of exegetical preaching, but it is a farce of topical preaching usually on the agenda of the speaker.  The context of the verse is given little consideration, and there is no real study given to the actual meaning or the original usage.  Scriptures become a tool to communicate an idea instead of the divinely inspired instrument of teaching, training, reproof and correction in righteousness.  

We have taken the Biblical idea of Salvation and turned it into an experience to the point where the average church attendees cannot tell you if they are saved, how they become saved, or what Salvation really is.  They have an idea of saying they are sorry and saying a prayer.  Concepts like propitiation, substitutionary atonement and imputed righteousness have no meaning.  Many have never heard about the wrath of God that is upon sinners, and the concepts of election are not even discussed, even though they clearly exist in the scriptures. The average church goer feels they are saved by an experience, and we find newer and better ways to market salvation. Our pews are full of false converts, trusting in an emotional experience and not Christ.

In many ways, those churches which have taught the inerrancy of scripture have set up a system by which they cause the scriptures to contradict themselves.  They teach there is no election, no predestination and man has free will, and they use a series of verses to substantiate their claim.  The issue arises when there are verses that speak of election and predestination, there becomes a contradiction and class in the scripture.  This leads to two outcomes, the scriptures are no consistent or an interpretation is incorrect.  Since the verses that speak of election and predestination are much more clear than those which can be interpreted to represent free will, the second option is ignored.  This leaves a fractured Bible in which church members are free to pick and choose which parts they would like to support their theological, moral and ethical ideals.

The outcome has become churches, denominations and a country that is splintered, divided and broken over debates, arguments and beliefs that are not Biblical.  These are based on our experiences, what we want to experience and how we think we can cause others to experience.  We have used guilt, fear and coercion to try to manipulate the masses to the point the church itself is shrinking and drying up.  The church is unable to compete with the entertainment factor of the media industry.  The church has lost so much of the truth that they are no longer able to offer doctrine that is really life transformational.  The result is a revolving door that people come in for an emotional high and are gone when they hit a low.  When they find that their view of God and their experience in reality don’t match, they will walk away, only to return when it climbs back up again.  The solution is Biblical foundation based on orthodoxy in a body of Christians who are unwilling to compromise on the truth of the Word.  It will not be popular, it will be a slow and steady reform and it will be hard to build a megachurch or continue with church growth, but it is the only way to curb the slide towards heresy.

True community and a Biblical doctrine that holds the test of time will build the church that will survive the destruction that experientialism brings. In the end, the megachurch may be an thing of the past, but the community of committed believers will continue on.

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