Elijah, Mount Horeb and the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience

R. Scott Clark, professor at Westminster Seminary California and author of the book Recovering the Reformed Confession, has a phrase called QIRE – the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience. By that, Dr. Clark refers to the desire to experience God outside of the “ordinary” means of grace in the preaching of the Word and the administration of the ordinances. That quest takes all kinds of forms – from charismatic excesses to the desire to hear that “still, small voice”. Don’t believe me? Look up a list of the fastest growing churches – the vast majority caters in providing outlets for QIRE candidates. Few cater to believers who simply want to hear the Bible taught in-depth and without frills.

Ironically, whenever I think of people who fuel their faith on the experiential and objective, I am always drawn back to the “still, small voice” passage:

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 1 Kings 19:11-12 (English Standard Version)

I’ve remarked dozens of times in my Bible studies that if we stuck a good deal of Christians there on the mountain and gave them all of the loud, earth-moving stuff and there were no still, small voice, they’d say, “Yup, God was there – it was emotional. I even knelt  down and cried because it was so powerful.” But the text is clear – for all the bells and whistles, GOD WASN’T THERE!!!!!

I am convinced that many Christians are seeking the power of God and carry about the notion that only when they see or feel something are they truly experiencing God. So…when they are sitting in church under the ministry of God’s Word, responding in prayer and the sung praise of God, fellowship with the brethren and Christian service, they are bored senseless, because they are still on the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience, rather than receiving the ordinary means of grace.

Think about some of the conferences and meetings that people attend and what makes people flock to them. We ought to love and appreciate conferences, workshops and special times of fellowship. But when any conference fosters a dissatisfaction with godly, sound, “ordinary” local church ministry, then we have a problem. The local church is God’s own appointed missions agency, training center and family hub – with the Scripture at the focus. No other experience, no other meeting, no other means will give us the lasting and powerful impact that Bible-driven local churches can.

Praise God for those churches which are faithful to the mission we have been given – and pray the Lord to help more believers to love, accept and support the ministry of their local churches as they minister the Word. Hopefully, they can retire from the Quest and begin the real journey.

[Contributed by Kofi Adu-Boahen]

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