Experience required

1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Experience is one of the four elements of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Together, scripture, tradition, reason and experience add to our theological reflection and understanding. As a reminder, the Bible (scripture) is the foundational element. We begin with scripture and we return to scripture. The other three parts of the quadrilateral help us develop our sense of faith in God.

There is much to say about each of the four segments. Today, though, let’s consider what we mean when we speak of our experience.

We tend to have a loose idea of the term. That is, bring whatever experience you’ve had to the table. This often happens when churches compile leadership rosters, for example. One person has experience in management or finances. We want them to bring that to our meetings. Or we may want someone with church experience. Someone who knows and understands the ins and outs of church politics.

To be sure, those experiences can be helpful.

But the experience John Wesley taught the church to consider is different. This is Christian experience. These are moments one has experienced “the assurance of one’s sins forgiven (a definition provided by Albert C. Outler)” Did you hear a convicting sermon that changed your perception of discipleship? Have you had a day of prayer led by the Holy Spirit that showed you what ways you have strayed from holiness? These are the kinds of experiences Wesley had in mind.

As far as leadership goes, too often, our churches have not relied on those experiences. We want people with the business or organizational forms first. That is an unfortunate reality. Church politics or even church participation doesn’t automatically qualify us. And what of everyone else in the pews? Should we expect them to have the kind of Christian experiences we’re talking about today? Are we even praying for such a thing to happen?

Our answers to those questions dictate what kind of church we will be.

The apostle Paul addressed a divided and unfruitful church in Corinth. He planted the church there. Now, infighting, pride and sexual immorality were their most notable characteristics. Part of Paul’s effort to realign them to Christ was to call upon the experience of God’s people. He reminded the Corinthians of the great experience of the exodus and miraculous food in the desert.

Not even experiencing those powerful things saved the people. Many still turned from God. They continued to complain and desired their former life. Their example provides a helpful warning to us: If you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Now, none of this means your church or work experiences are meaningless. They are not. But what needs to be primary are our experiences with the Holy Spirit. The times when we learn all the more that we must depend on God. Times when we recognize who and what we have been and trust that God has indeed renewed us.

Stay blessed…john

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John Fletcher

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