For many years now, in Evangelical and Reformed circles, there has been a reaction against ‘crisis experiences’. The majority of Evangelicals have rejected any idea of a ‘second blessing’. Thus, not only the Pentecostal or Charismatic idea of ‘baptism in the Spirit’ has been rejected but also the old Keswick message of ‘Full Consecration’ has been abandoned, and in most cases, for very good reasons. But while there were errors and over- emphases in these teachings, it seems to me that evangelicalism has lost much of its power and effectiveness. There seems to be a lack of emphasis upon prayer, consecration, soul- winning, and even holiness. When did you last hear anyone preach against worldliness?
The idea that prevails today is that once a person has been converted there is nothing further to seek. That’s it! Just read your Bible, say your prayers, and attend church regularly. Even worse, in some ‘Reformed’ circles, christening as a baby is all that is needed. The infant is then regarded as a Christian. As they grow up they are simply instructed that they are ‘in the covenant.’
Very often the result is formal Christianity and unconverted church members. Such professing Christians are hardly distinguishable from the world, apart from formal church affiliation. But this is hardly distinguishable, in practice, from Roman Catholicism.
How are we to address this situation? First, let us observe that throughout the Bible prominent servants of God experienced steps and stages in their Spiritual experience. Abraham had a number of encounters with God, and so did Jacob. Moses, too, had various encounters with the Almighty, and one could add the experiences of David, Solomon, and some of the prophets. In the New Testament the Lord’s disciples had various experiences or stages in their development even after their first call to follow Christ. The Mount of Transfiguration, the in-breathing of the Spirit, the Day of Pentecost spring to mind. The apostle Paul’s experience included several stages. After his conversion he was discipled, had an ‘out of body experience’ and a dramatic vision directing him to Macedonia. Even in the life of Christ there were significant stages and experiences.
In reading Christian biography it is significant that very, very many people who were greatly used of God had some sort of crisis experience after conversion. One thinks of John Wesley, Hudson Taylor, Samuel Logan Brengle, John Bunyan, Amy Carmichael, Oswald Chambers, John Hyde, D. L. Moody, Andrew Murray, Samuel Chadwick to name but a few. In Evangelical and Reformed circles these historical facts are either ignored or downplayed. In seeking to avoid error are we missing something?
It is a fact that in the New Testament, indeed, even in the Old Testament, there are various exhortations to move on to another stage of experience. “Let us follow on to know the Lord”, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice”, “Let us press on to perfection,” etc.
The danger with crisis experiences is that those who have them are often tempted to make them normative for others. The experience is given a name such as baptism in the Spirit, second blessing, perfect love, entire consecration, and other Christians are urged to seek this. But we are not to seek a particular experience but to seek God! As the hymn expresses it, ” My goal is God Himself.” There is progress to be made. We need to set aside special times of prayer to seek the Lord. Surely it is highly significant that throughout the Bible God met each of his saints in a different way. There is no sameness about God. Nevertheless any experience is to be tested both by scripture and by the resulting fruit.
One aspect of this problem is that in the average Evangelical or Reformed church the members do not have a specific goal to aim at. They may be urged to grow, but growth is not usually a conscious experience. Many do grow and become godly with radiant lives. But many do not make progress but simply stagnate. They need something to aim at.
Errol Hulse has a very helpful book entitled ‘Crisis Experiences‘. In it, while rejecting ‘second blessing’ type teaching, he indicates that there are several types of legitimate crisis experiences that believers can and do have.
Among the crisis experiences that Mr. Hulse considers legitimate are, a leap forward in holy living, recovery from backsliding, the crisis of discovery, the crisis of empowerment, the crisis of discipleship, a crisis in the realm of assurance, the experience of sealing, the discovery of the beauty of God, and a visitation of the Holy Spirit. Some might be tempted to remark that ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ and sometimes differences among evangelicals do amount to terminology. We should never seek experiences for experience sake, but we should certainly seek God. Any experience should be judged by Scripture, and the ultimate test is the fruit that results. As a result of any experience we should ask, do we love the Lord more? Do we love our fellow believers more? Are we more zealous, less worldly, more prayerful? Are we more obedient, less selfish, more faithful? Are we more diligent in prayer and more faithful in Bible study? However, we should not be constantly taking our spiritual pulse, but a measure of old-fashioned self-examination would not come amiss with many of us.