Christian Mysticism

Mysticism refers to any direct source of divine communion or revelation. For the most part, mysticism can be dismissed as people falsely attributing a divine origin to their own thoughts. God no longer communicates special revelation outside of Scripture (Heb 1:1–2).

However, the Holy Spirit is transforming believers into the image of Christ. This communion with God cannot serve as a source for theology or doctrine. Our experience with God is not revelatory; despite common Christian phrases, God does not “tell us” things apart from Scripture. However, one cannot overestimate the effect that the believer’s walk with God has upon the task of theology. False teachers are known by their lifestyle (2 Pet 2:1–22). Theologians must be progressing in their personal sanctification if they ever hope to arrive at correct doctrine. Furthermore, Sin is deceitful (Heb 3:13). Christians who permit sin in their lives are choosing to believe lies that will destroy them and corrupt their doctrine (1 Cor 9:27). Correct doctrine depends on more than mere academics.

A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) is frequently charged with being a mystic because he stressed the believer’s need to experience God in sanctification in order to understand God. In a sermon titled “What Difference Does the Holy Spirit Make,” Tozer refutes the charge of being a mystic. His remarks are worth reading.

“Some of my friends good-humoredly—and some a little bit severely—have called me a ‘mystic.’ Well I’d like to say this about any mysticism I may suppose to have. If an archangel from heaven were to come, and were to start giving me, telling me, teaching me, and giving me instruction, I’d ask him for the text. I’d say, ‘Where’s it say that in the Bible? I want to know.’ And I would insist that it was according to the scriptures, because I do not believe in any extra-scriptural teachings, nor any anti-scriptural teachings, or any sub-scriptural teachings.

I think we ought to put the emphasis where God puts it, and continue to put it there, and to expound the scriptures, and stay by the scriptures. I wouldn’t—no matter if I saw a light above the light of the sun, I’d keep my mouth shut about it ’til I’d checked with Daniel and Revelation and the rest of the scriptures to see if it had any basis in truth. And if it didn’t, I’d think I’d just eaten something I shouldn’t, and I wouldn’t say anything about it. Because I don’t believe in anything that is unscriptural or that is anti-scripture” (14:24–15:36).

The Bible is the Christian’s only authoritative source for understanding God. Christians experience God daily as they are being transformed into His image. Even while reading Scripture, Christians are being illumined by the Holy Spirit. Although such experiences are necessary to properly understand Scripture, Christians should seek to interpret their experiences via Scripture, not vise versa.

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