Divine Doctrine and Spiritual Experience

As a young adult living in California, I love to travel and experience all that God has created.  Road tripping to see the crystal clear blue water of Tahoe, cruising on ATVs on the never-ending, golden sand dunes of Pismo Beach, falling asleep on a houseboat in Lake Shasta with a view of the magnificent night sky, enjoying a midnight run for juicy, delicious burgers at In-n-Out burgers are some of my favorites things to do.  I can’t wait for the weekend to hang out with friends, try new restaurants, and explore the wonders of California.

I can describe these experiences to people new to the Bay Area and there are tons of websites that explain these experiences to those interested; however, it’s one thing to read or listen about something and it’s another to experience it.

And I often feel the same way about my faith. There are times during church gatherings and sermons when I was very intellectually stimulated and growing in my theological understanding but felt emotionally indifferent after leaving. I imagine you’ve found yourself in situations where you feel the same. It is one thing to read about God and another to experience it.

The Bible teaches that those who have great theological insight without the emotional experiences of God are missing out on the great joys of the Christian life.

Though most Christians have heard of the apostle Paul, few have heard of his friend Apollos. Luke says Apollos was a native of Alexandria in the book of Acts; Alexandria was the capital of the Roman province of Egypt. Josephus says the city had a library of more than half a million scrolls and it was also a hub for philosophers, and Philo, a Jewish philosopher and eloquent preacher, lived there. The ancient city of Alexandria is similar to the Bay Area that it is also an intellectual haven for the world. The Bay Area is home to the world-renowned universities of Stanford, Cal Tech, and the UC school system. Where many of those graduates work for many of the world’s largest high-tech corporations, including the headquarters of more than 30 businesses in the Fortune 1000. It is estimated that about one-third of all of the venture capital investment in the United States, which has helped it to become a leading hub and startup ecosystem for high-tech innovation. The San Jose Metropolitan Area has the third-highest GDP per capita in the world (after Zurich, Switzerland and Oslo, Norway), according to the Brookings Institution.

There are not many Scripture passages about Apollos, but he was an important mention in the history of the early church and what we do read about him reveals the importance of the spiritual experience.

Apollos is described as “eloquent,” “mighty in the Scriptures,” and “instructed in the way of the Lord” (Acts 18:24). When Priscilla and Aquila discover him teaching boldly in the synagogue they invite him to their home. At that time, Apollos’ understanding of the gospel was incomplete, like other men Paul found in Ephesus, Apollos didn’t understand the baptism of Holy Spirit as he only knew of the baptism of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-2).  The baptism of John is an act of repentance and the text doesn’t explain what Apollos doesn’t know. Likely, Apollos knew everything John the Baptist taught, including that Jesus is the Messiah (John 1:23, 29–34), but he hadn’t experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in his life. (Luke 3:16). Aquila and Priscilla spent time with Apollos and shared the scope of the Gospel message—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His knowledge was not enough, he needed more spiritual understanding. He had to experience the power of the Holy Spirit before continuing his journey.

It is also important not to just chase the rush of spiritual experience. I have left a couple Christian youth retreats with the spiritual “high” of the weekend camp only to return to daily life rhythms without fundamental transformation. Christians need to grow in the theological understanding found within the scriptures and biblical preaching.

Divine doctrine and spiritual experience are the foundations of a Christian life; the transformation of a person through following the daily practice of this faith is the daily living out of its doctrine. Tim Keller, in his book on prayer, writes, “We are not called to choose between a Christian life based on truth and doctrine or a life filled with spiritual power and experience.” If you are like me reading that Keller quote then you may be feeling overwhelmed or inadequate; however, this balance of the Christian life is not something achieved overnight.

It is very hard to fully surrender your life to the Christian pursuit. Christian life in California is more than just experiencing God’s creation of Tahoe, Pismo Beach, Lake Shasta, and In-n-Out while not allowing those experiences to become an idol. The church today is in need of shepherds who understand divine doctrine and spiritual experience empowered to teach God’s people like Priscilla, Aquila, and Paul.

Discipling someone is walking them through life and teaching them to perceive all of its experiences with a divine insight.  That’s what discipleship is. It’s not a class on Thursday night, or any other night. It’s not two hours of reading a book. It’s interpreting life with the mind of Christ.

John MacAruther 

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