The following was inspired by the January 21st entry in Consuming Fire, the daily devotional version of George MacDonald's Unspoken Sermons.
The Christian experience, if it is anything, is a supernatural experience. It is a life continually dependent on prayer, and one that pleads for God to intervene into the affairs of humanity, as well as in our own lives. We ask for spiritual strength, for hope, love, peace, joy, and a multitude of other gifts and graces to be bestowed upon our lives. MacDonald, understanding this better than most, tries to help us understand that the Bible is not an end in and of itself, but rather the means by which God has pointed man to Jesus, the Son of God. God intended for mankind to have a relationship with himself, and that always is what lies behind his purposes. He longs to draw us into himself that we might abide in him, and he in us.
In John's Gospel, Jesus said, “It is necessary that I go away or else the Spirit of Truth will not come. But if I go, I will send Him to you and He will guide you into all Truth.” He goes on to say, “He will take of mine and reveal it to you.” The whole point of the Christian experience is one of experiencing God in a revelatory way. Why else would there be an emphasis on being “filled with the Spirit,” if there is no possibility of a divine encounter with God? The mystery of God has come to man, and in this sense has made us all mystics. Not in an occult way, through secret or hidden knowledge, but in a revelatory way, meaning that the mystery of God is being revealed.
Spiritual truth is not simply obtained by reason or rationalization, but by what the ancient Christians called the “rule of faith.” Long before this term was applied to the Apostle’s Creed, it was used to apply to the concept that doctrine grew out of the worship experience. It is what happened to Peter, when our Lord asked the question, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” After the rest of the disciples tossed out guess after guess, Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” To which Jesus replies, “Blessed are you Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but my Father in heaven.” (Matt. 16) This is what is meant by the rule of faith. In 1 John chapter one, John says, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” Robert Webber said that the early church practiced, “Lex orandi, lex credenti,” which means the rule of prayer is the rule of faith. Theology grew out of a genuine encounter with God in Christ, through the Holy Spirit working within the human experience.
Of course, this kind of thinking could lead to a whole bunch of people claiming some new truth given to them by God (as did the Gnostics), and that is why the Apostles Creed came into existence and became known as the rule of faith. The Apostles left this statement to guard against heresy; they said, in effect, if you get a revelation from God that supersedes these truths, you need to go back to prayer. The early church understood that guidelines for faith were necessary to avoid heresy, but those guidelines were simple and basic. Orthodoxy was marked by the Apostle’s Creed, but freedom to experience God and to receive divine revelation through an encounter with Christ was much encouraged. They remembered the words of Jesus, who said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Truth and revelation are primarily personal matters intended for us to personally experience and know who we are in relationship to God. No one does a better job of communicating how the truth of Christ can set us free, than George MacDonald. His sermons, novels, fairy tales, poetry, and even his essays nearly all point to the personal redemptive work of individuals as they encounter God through personal revelation in the workings of the Spirit of Truth. As MacDonald says, “The Son of God is the Teacher of men, giving to them of his Spirit, which manifests the deep things of God, being to a man the mind of Christ. The great heresy of the Church is unbelief in this Spirit.”
Prayer: O Spirit of Truth, come now and search me as David cried, “and see if there is a hurtful way in me.” Help me to take the log out of my own eye before I try to remove the speck in another's eye. Amen.