Editorial: Protest or Perish
Lately I have been looking through a variety of “Protestant” journals. It is amazing how they are almost totally preoccupied with religious experience. Everyone seems to be lusting after “a satisfying Christian experience” and making that the central point of concern. Says one of these publications: “The gospel is about an experience of Jesus Christ in your own heart.” Another declares: “Righteousness by faith is simply a real, vibrant experience with the Lord.” Another proclaims:”The gospel is about a mighty inward change of the heart and an experience of being baptized in the Holy Spirit.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. The gospel that was proclaimed by the apostles and recovered by the Reformers was an objective truth completely outside, beyond, and above our experience. It was about God’s liberating act in Jesus Christ (see Rom. 3:24 NEB). While the whole world was lying in sin and rebellion, God did something for all men. In the person of His Son God satisfied the claims of the law for us, put away the sins of the world, satisfied justice, opened the floodgates of mercy, defeated Satan, destroyed death, and opened Paradise for the most guilty of Adam’s race. In the words of Martin Luther, “Christ has vanquished! This is the joyful news! And we are saved by His work, and not by our own.”
The Christian religion is the only religion that bases its message of salvation on objective historical events rather than on subjective experiences. Our salvation was secured by historical events outside the realm of our own experience – that is, by the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Acting in Jesus Christ, God did something for us two thousand years ago. “He has taken us into His favor in the person of His beloved Son. “ Eph.1:6 Knox. “In Christ our release is secured and our sins are forgiven.” Eph. 1:7, N.E.B. And there is an empty tomb to prove what God has done for us. Good news! Good news! Ring throughout the world!
It is unquestionably true that faith in this good news brings to us a new experience of joy, for we have become conscious of something already in existence. There is cause to be exceedingly glad, for our salvation does not rest on our experience, but upon Christ's experience for us. The prophet says, "By His knowledge [that is, by His experience of doing and dying] shall My righteous Servant justify many." Isa. 53:11.
Certainly the gospel is related to human experience. Its acceptance brings repentance for sin, renews us, transforms and sanctifies our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. But the gospel must never be confused with Christian experience. This is the essential error of Romanism, mysticism, and Pentecostalism.
The "Proclamation" of the objective Gospel must never be confused with the subjective "Invitation" of the Gospel!!
All these things have their place and should be urged as a response to the gospel, but in themselves they do not constitute the gospel. For the gospel does not tell us to do something. It proclaims what God has done. The gospel does not tell us how to get to God. It tells how God gets to us. It is not man's way to God, but God's way to man.
When sinners hear the gospel of the doing and dying of Christ for the sins of the world, the Spirit is present to draw them to Christ and invites them to personal repentance towards God, personal faith towards Christ as Savior and Lord, and a new birth in Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Yet the Spirit's activity in human lives is not the proclamation of the historical gospel and must never be substituted for the invitation of gospel to personal faith and repentance.
Protestantism was born out of protest. It protested against that great medieval system which extinguished the light of the New Testament by putting Christian experience in the place of the gospel. The same error is with us today in the modern charismatic movement. Protestants must protest or perish!