There are few things as entertaining on TV or DVD as what my wife and I witnessed the other night. Tired of all the commercials on regular TV we got out a DVD from our “stash”. The story was about a displaced Canadian Mounty and his wolf that go around Chicago solving crimes. This particular episode featured a pack of dogs the wolf befriended. The show is hardly realistic but it is lighthearted and amusing, but our real entertainment came through the reaction of our eight year old Jack Russell/Poodle, Pippin. From the time the dogs first appeared on the screen, Pippin was in her protective mode. Whenever, the dogs appeared Pippin barked out her warnings for them to stay clear of her territory. She was not about to let them take over our house. When the dogs barked she barked. When the dogs ran out of sight on the screen, Pippin went behind the TV to see where they went. She was sure they had to be somewhere, lurking. Despite my attempts to reassure her, Pippin remained vigilantly on guard until the show was over. To Pippin those images on TV were real. We humans in the room couldn’t stop laughing.
I began to think how this compares to how people perceive reality. Pippin, who has absolutely no concept of electronic gadgets, saw what she interpreted in her doggie brain as real. Nothing on my part would convince her otherwise. Her eyes and ears told her there were dogs coming into the room and that was it. She had no way of knowing that what she saw was not real. Perception is based on interpretation of information gathered through the senses. Pippin’s senses could only give her some of the facts, leading to faulty conclusions. Similarly, we people make conclusions about the world about us. While we make judgments to the best of our ability, relying on our senses and past experiences, what we perceive is not always accurate especially when our perception involves matters of a spiritual nature. Paul called this “seeing through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). As Pippin could only see part of the picture, so it is with us as we try to understand the total picture of the world that surrounds us.
Happily God has provided us with His Word to assist us in interpreting true reality. Nothing else can help us interpret what is right and what is wrong. Nothing else can show us what is in actuality true. God’s Word can provide guidance for each step we take, helping us avoid the pitfalls of going in wrong directions. God’s Word validates what is true and right. God’s Word is the basis for strong faith and sound doctrine.
However, there is a growing tendency within Christian circles to interpret the dealings oneself without going first to Scripture. Note the rising popularity of “Christian” self help books that contain wit and wisdom from the secular world, but little Scripture and little, if any, Gospel. Huge ministries have been built, based on warm stories that make people feel good, but intentionally leave out any mention of sin and Jesus’ substitutionary atonement on the Cross (which are seen as divisive). While many may feel encouraged and even strengthened by such as these, without the guidance of God’s Word, they are basing their faith on an inadequate perception of reality that will ultimately fail them. Much hardship and heartache could be avoided if they would validate the truth of what they are being taught rather than deferring to individuals they consider being experts. Scripture needs to be our guide, for it is the only way by which we can validate truth. To think otherwise is to consider Scripture inadequate.
There is another growing tendency in Christian circles that is perhaps more dangerous than the first in that it has permeated churches that claim to be Bible believing and Bible teaching. This is the tendency to exalt experience over Scripture instead of using Scripture to validate experience. What God has told us in His Word, doesn’t seem to be enough on which to base our faith. Some kind of spectacular experience seems to be required as well. Witness the tremendous popularity of books that emphasize extraordinary experiences in an effort to bolster faith. Apparently, what God has revealed us in Scripture is inadequate. People want to hear from those who have visited heaven. Others have gained comfort from reports of loved ones now deceased but have returned in some way to comfort those that are bereaved. While such stories are said to be Biblical in that they claim not to contradict Scripture, they are in fact extra-biblical giving information that God has not chosen to include in His Word. Consequently believers are asked to accept as truth, things that by nature remain in doubt.
In addition, churches are increasingly made vulnerable to misleading by those who claim to have a prophetic gift. Dreams and visions have replaced prayer and study as the means to add to or interpret understanding of the Bible. The written Word of God has become secondary to experience and as a consequence such a church becomes vulnerable to strange and even heritical teachings. The practice of making sure that everything taught within a church must line up entirely with Scripture must never be abandoned. Experiences that add to what God has revealed in His Word should never be placed on an equal basis with Scripture.
We need to get back to seeing God’s Word as the sole authority for faith and practice. We need to study and cherish it. We need use it as a lens to interpret and validate experience, not the other way around. Only through God’s Word will we know truth. Anything that does not line up with God’s Word is false. God’s Word must come first if we are going to avoid making false conclusions and avoid being to be like Pippin, chasing things that aren't there.