The Christ of History and the Christ of Experience
As we read the reports about Pentecostalism and the rapid spread of the charismatic movement in general, it seems that the world is suddenly "turning on to Jesus." The most outstanding characteristic of this development is the testimonials from those who are experiencing Jesus in their lives. They proclaim the Christ of their experience. To them, Jesus seems real – so real that they can witness to it by remarkable experiences in their own lives. The Christ of experience has, therefore, become the great evangelistic point of the Jesus Revolution. Many contend that this Jesus is real and tangible, while the Christ of history is somewhat far off, impersonal and unreal.
In proportion as the Charismatic Movement has exalted the Christ of experience, it has put the Christ of history very definitely in the background. But in doing this, Pentecostalism is in real danger of putting Christianity into the background. Before we get confused with any sentimental or mystic religious experience, let us consider that Christianity is the only truly historical religion. It proclaims a salvation that is based on objective, historical events – events that are entirely outside of a man's personal experience. Every other religion bases its "salvation" on the worshiper's own mystic experience. Thus "salvation" becomes a matter of one's own personal achievement, i.e., the achievement of a subjective experience. It does not matter if the adherent of the religion claims that salvation is by grace, for grace is made to be an experience. And to be sure of salvation, he has to look into his own experience – a very disquieting and uncertain thing at best. The Christ of experience is not so real after all. In fact, he can disappear in the fog of human feelings and impressions, and the worshiper can easily be left with the empty idol of his own mystic experience.
The gospel is good news because
it is sure and certain. It proclaims objective, historical events (see
1 Cor. 15:1-4).
I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you
received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you
hold fast that word which I preached to you — unless you believed in
vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received:
that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that
He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the
Scriptures, NKJ 1 Corinthians 15:1-4
The Forgiveness of Sin
Salvation and eternal life have been brought
to us by concrete events in history – the incarnation, life, death
and resurrection of Christ. Christ has conquered. He has secured forgiveness
and eternal life for poor, lost, sinful men. By His experience in tasting death for every
man, He justifies and forgives all who believe and repent (Isa. 53:11; Heb. 2:9).
"....I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, "testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 20:20-21
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? Romans 2:4
He shall see the labor of
His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall
justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. NKJ Isaiah 53:11
But we see Jesus, who was
made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned
with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death
for everyone. NKJ Hebrews 2:9
It is His experience (a historical
reality) that is of supreme importance. This is to be the focus of the
Christian's thinking, faith and witness. Faith and acceptance with God must rest on something
entirely outside of a man's experience, i.e., the Christ of history.
Of course, this Christ of history
still lives because there has been a resurrection. As repentant sinners put their faith
in what He has done for them and what He is to them, He lives in their
hearts. Experience of the indwelling Christ springs from faith in the
"outside" Christ. Paul could say "Christ lives in me"
simply because he could add, " I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." Gal. 2:20.
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.Galatians 2:20
God is known only in Christ
crucified. The cross is the revelation of God. Any attempt to know God
or to experience Him outside of the cross is idolatry. The only way to
test the validity of a "the Christ of experience" is to ask,
"Was this religious experience gained by the revelation of the cross,
or is it something unrelated to the historic gospel?"