Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 11, 1971

A "Religious Experience."


At the considerable risk of being misunderstood, we want to venture the opinion that one big factor in the "tongue-speaking," "dead-raising," "miracle-working" rash that has broken out among some brethren is the lack, or absence, in their lives of any genuine, heart-felt religious experience. With a sterile and traditional background of conventional "Church of Christism," they simply had no spiritual resources with which to meet the demands of modern life. When pressures developed (as they do in the lives of all of us) these brethren realized that there was neither depth nor strength nor meaning in their "religion. Something was wrong! Somewhere along the line they had missed the mark; in the stark and terrible hours of some desperate need in their lives, they had called upon their god — and he had not answered!

Under such bitter disappointment it would be but natural (we would almost say inevitable) that they be highly susceptible to the pleas and persuasions of those who offered them something better — a direct, immediate, instant contact with God, with overwhelming "proof" of the contact in tongue-speaking and miracle-working. This would be a religious experience that would be unanswerable. How can one argue against a demonstration? How can mere words (even words of Scripture) and logic and reason weigh against what one knows in his own heart? Even yet, after forty long and busy years, we can remember the earnestness and fervor with which an aged grandmother in Mississippi informed this young gospel preacher after his sermon on "The Spirit and the Word," "I wouldn't give what I feel in my heart for a stack of Bibles as high as your head. I know I have received God's Spirit; and your words mean nothing to me. You will never convince me otherwise."

She was right about that! She would never be convinced.

So much preaching has been done against the "emotionalism.' of denominational bodies that thousands of baptized believers have grown up in a religious atmosphere almost totally devoid of emotion. A most vital element, indeed, an absolutely essential element has been missing from their religious experience. They have never really known the Christ ; there has been no personal conviction or commitment of him at any level other than intellectual. In shying away from the Scylla of irrational emotionalism they foundered upon the Carybdis of cold ritualism; they achieved a "form of godliness" perhaps, but did not know "the power thereof."

Understanding and informed saints are reduced to no such two alternatives. There is a third choice, the true path of a right and vital relationship with Christ, deeply emotional, tremendously satisfying, adequate to sustain and fortify the soul amid all the trials and pressures of life, and wholly within the realm of revealed truth. This was "the Way" set forth in both teaching and life by those first devout disciples; this was the course our fathers followed in the early days of Restoration history. Read the lives of Campbell, and Scott, and Stone. Indeed, of McGarvey, and Lipscomb, and Harding, and Larimore. Here is no barren ritualism, no sterile, cold formalism. No one can read the lives of such men without realizing that, like Peter and John of old, "they had been with Jesus." One finds here the warm heart-beat of men who knew the Lord, men to whom the Christ was as real and as near as their own breathing. When they sang, "Jesus is all the world to me, my life, my joy, my all," that was exactly what they meant. These men needed no miraculous power to convince them of the reality and nearness of God; they walked and talked with him each day, "as good friends should and do."

Somewhere along the way, that emotional content faded out of the religion of many of our brethren during the terrible depression of the thirties, the bloody war of the forties, and the mounting fears and pressures of the fifties and sixties. Thousands of young Christians came to maturity during these years, were baptized as a matter of course, and never had any real understanding of either the Lord or of his church. Ketcherside, Garrett, Meyers, and Boone are but the vanguard of many thousands of "Church of Christers" whose basic problem lies in the fact that they grew to maturity without ever really confronting the Lord — they had had no vital religious experience!

— F. Y. T.