Christian Spirituality Lecture by Rev. Dr. John Kleinig, Lecture 4
Back in the winter of 2003, I was blessed to take a course at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, in St. Catharines, Ontario, with Rev. Dr. John Kleinig, who was in St. Catharines on faculty exchange from the Lutheran Seminary in Adelaide, Australia. The course was called Christian Spirituality. This is the third in a series of fourteen lectures. I will add each lecture as I recorded them by hand. As I heard Dr. Kleinig teach and then wrote down my notes please understand this is not necessarily what he said word for word but my quick writing of what he said. If you see a phrase and not a full sentence that is because that is what I wrote down before moving on to what he said next. Any theological error should be ascribed to me, not to him. I hope these lectures are a blessing for you as they were for me almost 20 years ago.
Please note: All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version. ESV Text Edition: 2016. Copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Date: February 11, 2003
Our whole spiritual life is being a beggar before God. This is hard. Meditation is the topic for next week. Synchronizing what you pray with you breathing is one way to meditate. One of the oldest prayers of the church is “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” We pray with our bodies as much as our minds. Breathing deeply in with your diaphragm and then slowly letting the air out is a good way to relax.
For Dr. Kleining, one of the hardest parts of ministry is keeping people from chasing the newest religious fad. People feel that they are missing something. The answer is somewhere else. They think the Spirit is always moving and that the newest thing is the best. This type of person gets burned out. The two equal and opposite dangers are to base your faith on our own experience or to make faith completely objectively based on the Bible and that experience does not mean anything at all.
The danger of basing your faith on experiences
As we saw last week, spiritual experiences are not necessarily wrong and the danger is what we make of our spiritual experiences (e.g. dreams). But Kleinig has found in his work that God gives experiences modified to those he gives them too. Objectively, God works the same way with all of us but he will bend this to suit each individual’s personality. (e.g. if you are a practical person, then your experience will be straightforward). You can’t make an experience prescriptive to everyone. Experiences have to do with subjectivity, the kind of person you are. (Kleinig’s wife went up during her youth 4 times at rallies to commit herself to Christ. When you keep going up you start to doubt which time was the time of conversion. Going up again makes you say the latest one was the most valid. But then you look back and start to doubt. Satan starts working.). If you base your faith on experiences then you also tend to compare your experiences with others. Doubt and uncertainty can come in. If experience is the most important thing for you then you will start to wonder about the church, and want to gather with those who have a common experience. This is how the world thinks. But Christ does not work this way. God brings different people together in the church to bring balance. Why this balance? To enrich us and teach us. If you put emphasis on experience there will be tendency towards uniformity.
But if you go to the extreme, no one has had the same experiences as you. That’s why these type of experience-seeking churches always break up.
Spiritual experiences are also ambiguous. They can be demonic, psychic, or of the Holy Spirit. Take healings. Spiritualists give great healing to the body but at great expense to the spirit. (Satan will not let things happen that will lead to repentance.)
Like knows like. Satan does not know what God is going to do or what righteous people will do. He can only think in terms of darkness. He thinks God will work in the same dark ways he does. That is why God always catches him up.
Two random asides: (1) Anything that is spiritual is going to have psychological phenomena. (2) The antichrist is not one who opposes Christ but takes the place of Christ. End aside.
When you come across spiritual experiences don’t avoid them, but test the experience. Don’t regard every form of demonic activity as evidence of demonic possession. Peter, the great confessor, was a mouthpiece of Satan. That did not have to do with possession. We need to test everything that others say and what we say.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 Test everything. Hold on to good. Reject evil. This is especially for ourselves. How do you test spiritual experiences? 1 Corinthians 12:1-3 “Lead astray” is wrong word in the NIV translation of the Holy Bible. Lead along is much better. It is a feature of pagan idol worship to be lead along by powerful spiritual experiences. Does the person led by these experiences confess Christ as Lord? If not, it will most likely be satanic. 1 John 4:1-3 A false prophet can be anyone who exhibits spiritual powers. John says they have to confess Christ physically in the flesh. (Satan is super spiritual. The ugliest thing for Satan is the incarnation of Christ and His death for us. And also Christ’s resurrection and ours.)
Aside: The “we” in John’s writings include apostles, apostolic ministers (pastors) and apostolic community (all who hold to the New Testament). End aside.
Testing of Spiritual Phenomena
- Confession or Jesus as Lord and his incarnation. 1 Corinthians 12:1-3; 1 John 4:1-3
- Obedience to apostles, ministry of the apostolic word and the apostolic community. (Listens to apostles and scripture. These people won’t reject the authority of the pastors and the church and the scriptures.) 1 John 4:4-6
- Obedience to Christ’s words. Matthew 7:15-27
- False prophets not easy to recognize.
- Recognize them from those who do the will of the father in heaven.
- How do we know the will of God? By the words of Jesus. The fruit is that this person will do the words Jesus says. Other fruits: Put less weight on them.
- Fruits: 2 Peter 2:1-3 (4-22, Jude 4-10) glory, greed, girls/guys
- 2 Peter 2:1 won’t submit to Christ’s authority, that he is Lord. Every false prophet sets themselves up as their own pope.
- 2 Peter 2:2 Spiritual order shows itself most prominent in the sexual realm – sexual promiscuity. Why are the teachers wobbly there? They can’t teach it because they don’t live it.
- 2 Peter 2:3 Greed – Into spiritual things for money. In our western society greed is the biggest problem for our pastors. He who has ears let him hear.
The criteria are truth, authority, goodness and ultimately love. Power is missing. The way of weakness and the cross is Christ’s. Go into the realm of spiritual power and whose realm are you in? How does God undo Satan? By dying and the cross. In practise, this discernment is very difficult. Always pray under each circumstance for the charisma of spiritual discernment when you encounter spiritual manifestations.
How do we apply the Scriptural principle against spiritual phenomena?
Agreement with the Scriptures
- Christ’s command or promise. In the New Testament Christ commands very few things. Those that are very important for our spiritual lives, e.g. the Lord’s Prayer and the Lord’s Supper.
- Based on Christ’s command or promise.
- Precedent of Christ and apostles
- Permitted by apostles
- Consistent with Scripture
- No scriptural warrant
- Inconsistent with Scripture
- Not permitted by Christ and apostles
People usually use 1 or 8 but there is a lot of distance in between.
The Value of Spiritual Experiences
It is important not to judge people’s spiritual experiences unless they are an 8 on the scale. It’s people’s making these experiences normative that is the problem. (The value of speaking in tongues is spiritual edification. In your private devotional life. It is a form of angelic prayer or praise, that goes beyond words. ) Don’t discount the experience but show them it in a scriptural light.
Aside: Speaking in tongues is something that happens. You can control it, but it just does start. End aside.
Usually people will not want to talk about spiritual/angelic experiences because they are just too personal. They usually have a personal value and no public domain value. Even prophesy usually is given to you only to direct your prayers. Healings are usually personal so that the healed person can serve God.
These extraordinary experiences from God are experiences of His grace, not an indication of their superiority. Spirituality come from the interaction of teach of these:
Diagram Description: This diagram is a triangle with Christ at the top and on the bottom the word “Faith” to the bottom left corner of the triangle and “Life” at the bottom right corner of the triangle. Faith and Life have a double arrow between them. On the single line between Faith and Christ is the descriptor “Word”. The other lines don’t have descriptors.
Deciding what you want in a spiritual experience and looking for it is very dangerous when this experience is not commanded by Christ. You can exchange the shadow of God for the real thing and go further and further away from the real thing. This is the great danger of our spiritual life. The value of the spiritual life is to build faith. The experiences will come later, and will come with the real thing.
E.g. marriage – concentrate on the person and the relationship and you will have and gain everything including great sex, the joys of parenthood and great pleasure from the other partner. If you go looking for just one aspect of marriage you won’t find it. But going after the root, the relationship, you get all. It’s the same with a devotional life. Build up faith and everything else comes in.
The parable of the talents. The ones who used the talents got more. When they didn’t use them they lost them. It is the same in our spiritual lives and our ministries. When we rely on on Christ, he blesses this ministry. Don’t go chasing after talents.