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Allow me to clearly illustrate the existence of controversy by way of examples.

As a first example, consider the book Marvels & Miracles: God Wrought in the Ministry for Forty-Five Years, which includes a synopsis featuring an inspiring message for those seeking a deeper relationship with God (bolded):

Often described as the 'Grandmother of the Pentecostal Movement', Maria Woodworth Etter was a figurehead of the early Pentecostal and Charismatic Christian movement. Her ministry would touch hundreds of thousands and eventually through the power of her books, millions. Thousands more would attend her Holy Spirit-filled meetings, bringing the sick, the lame, the possessed and the lost. In those meetings the Holy Spirit would visit in such a powerful way that men and women would "lay like dead" while other would start trembling or speaking in tongues. Marvels and Miracles is Maria's accounts of the marvels and miracles that took place during her ministry. It speaks of her calling, her initial lack of self-belief in being able to follow that calling and the signs and wonders that followed once she had accepted it. For anyone seeking a deeper relationship with God or for those who are yearning to read about what he is able to do through those who pick up the mantle of faith, Marvels and Miracles promises to show you.

As a second example, consider Jack S. Deere's teachings in his book Why I Am Still Surprised by the Voice of God: How God Speaks Today through Prophecies, Dreams, and Visions:

Not only does God still speak to us apart from the Scriptures—we should expect Him to.

This is the story of how Jack Deere learned to hear the voice of God in his life and how you can too.

It’s clear that the ideas promoted by these books would raise some eyebrows among critics like Jordan Standridge from Grace Community Church, who expressed his views at the Cripplegate, where he wrote:

Three Reasons God is a Cessationist

[...]

God is not the author of chaos. And that’s the only way to describe what happened in 1914 at the Azusa street revival. For more than 1800 years of church history, God had stopped giving men sign gifts until supposedly He let man out of his box again. This produced speaking in unintelligible languages. It produced unconfirmed and unprovable healings, and, ultimately, turned prophecy into unreliable and fallible statements. It produced women preaching, and all kinds of ecclesiological problems.

And as we look around today, so many questions arise. As we hear of all the miraculous gifts that are being claimed all over the world, we have to ask ourselves a simple question. Has God taken man out of his “can’t do miracles box” after 1800 years of church history and given them back the abilities that a few people at the beginning of the church age had? If he has, why has he entrusted these TBN money-hungry charlatans with these abilities?

However, J. P. Moreland—an American philosopher, theologian, Christian apologist, and distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University—would counter with his latest book, A Simple Guide to Experience Miracles: Instruction and Inspiration for Living Supernaturally in Christ, whose synopsis states:

Does God Still Do Miracles Today? A Simple Guide to Experience Miracles will give you confidence in and awareness of the supernatural realm as you learn how to flourish spiritually by experiencing more miraculous interventions in your life and ministry. Internationally renowned philosopher J. P. Moreland looks at the nature of miracles and explains why bearing and receiving credible testimony to God's miraculous acts is a crucial feature of a mature Jesus-follower. He also shows how to distinguish a real miracle from a mere coincidence. Miracles bring comfort to believers, strengthening faith in God and creating boldness in our lives.

In other words, for J. P. Moreland, diving deep into one's relationship with God and maturing as a follower of Jesus means embracing the miraculous aspects of Christian living.

However, let’s set aside the controversy surrounding the miraculous for now and let's focus instead on seeking God’s face—a central theme throughout the Bible. GotQuestions explores this in their article titled What does it mean to seek God’s face?, which explains:

The true nature of worship is to seek God’s face. The Christian walk is a life devoted to seeking God’s presence and favor. The Lord wants us to humbly and trustingly seek His face in our prayers and in our times in His Word. It requires intimacy to look intently into someone’s face. Pursuing God’s face is equivalent to developing an intimate relationship with Him: “O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory. Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you!” (Psalm 63:1–3, NLT).

[...]

Seeking God’s face means desiring to know His character and wanting Him—His presence—more than any other thing He can give us.

According to GotQuestions, seeking God’s face involves developing an intimate relationship with God and pursuing His presence. Essentially, one mystery is explained with two mysteries. If we concentrate purely on the aspect of pursuing God's presence, one might consider the approach of Brother Lawrence, a 17th-century Carmelite friar, who authored the well-known classic of Christian mysticism, The Practice of the Presence of God:

The text attempts to explain Lawrence's method of acquiring the presence of God. A summary of his approach can be gleaned from the following passages. "That he had always been governed by love, without selfish views; and that having resolved to make the love of GOD the end of all his actions, he had found reasons to be well satisfied with his method. That he was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of GOD, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts." "That in order to form a habit of conversing with GOD continually, and referring all we do to Him; we must at first apply to Him with some diligence: but that after a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty." Lawrence pleads that all work is valuable to God and one need not accomplish great things to please Him. The labourer is as valuable to God as the priest.

(Note: a comprehensive list of 17th-century Christian mystics is available here.)

Yet again, someone like John MacArthur, in his sermon The Promise of the Holy Spirit, Part 2, would offer a contrasting viewpoint:

It was a number of years ago now – it’s probably been 20 years or so ago – when I was surprised to see a wave coming into the church under the title Experiencing God, Experiencing God. If you go to any Christian bookstore over the last 20 years or more, you’re going to find books on experiencing God. There were a couple of Southern Baptist pastors who developed, not only the books, the perspective, but then began to develop curriculum, and more curriculum, and more books; and this literally became an all-encompassing, all-engulfing movement in the evangelical church experiencing God.

[...]

Christian mysticism, through the Middle Ages, and even until now, has always sought to find God in some experience, some feeling, some emotion; some means by which the senses imminence is present. This has become a popular notion in evangelical churches that there are ways in which you can feel God, in which you can sense God’s presence.

Perhaps the most popular one is music. If you get the right music, if the music is sort of musically seductive enough and emotionally energized enough, people will say, “I just feel the presence of God. Don’t you feel the presence of God?”

Well, of course, that is absolute nonsense. You can’t feel the presence of God. You don’t have any mechanism to feel the presence of God. I’ve never felt the presence of God; I don’t even know what that means. But I do know this: He’s here. And more than that, He not only inhabits the praise of His people; is joined to His people in union all the time so that the church itself literally is in constant communion with God collectively; it’s not only true that where two or three are gathered together, He is in the midst. But, this is true.


Why is there such a controversy among Christians over defining core and fundamental aspects of Christian living, particularly in regard to understanding the nature of a relationship with God and what it entails, including what Christians can yearn for, aspire to, and expect from such a relationship?

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    Attempting a diagnosis of 'Why is there such a controversy ?', especially over a matter which is experimental (some call it 'experiential') seems, to me, to be, inevitably, a matter of opinion. Every individual has their own experiences. And occasionally, I meet someone with similar experiences to myself. And then we have fellowship . . . . . .
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 23 at 14:16
  • @NigelJ But shouldn't a careful study of the Bible settle such controversies? Unless the way the Bible ought to be interpreted is also controversial ...
    – user61679
    Commented Jun 23 at 14:22
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    If it were not the case that 'the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked' then you could be correct. But it is not so. And here we are, in reality.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 23 at 14:25
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    "Allow me to clearly illustrate the existence of controversy by way of examples." — The examples are unnecessary; everyone here is already aware of how controversial just about every aspect of nominal Christianity is. ¶ So what remains is "Why is there such a controversy among Christians over defining core and fundamental aspects of Christian living[?]". And that is different from the Title question, so at least one of them should be removed too. Commented Jun 23 at 15:40
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    "Unless the way the Bible ought to be interpreted is also controversial" — do you know anyone that isn't aware of this fact? Commented Jun 23 at 15:42

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The reasons are many. To deepen your experience of God from where you are to where He is calling you, you need qualities that must be cultivated. Absent that, you will have a partial view and may be suspicious of Christians who see things differently. All of these qualities are given in the Bible. Here are some.

  1. Humility
  2. Thirst
  3. Focus
  4. Hearing
  5. Discernment
  6. Wisdom

Humility is spoken of by Paul. He says that we are not all eyes, or hands, or feet in 1 Corinthians 12. Individually, we were not all meant to experience God in every way that He can be experienced. As a well-constructed body, the church can experience Jesus more fully than any member of it. So part of the reason for the disagreement is that we still have not absorbed Paul's message to the Corinthians.

Thirst. Paul said to eagerly desire the greater gifts. Jesus said to "hunger and thirst for righteousness" in his Sermon on the Mount. Are you afraid to be disappointed? To look weird? Or does your passion steamroll over those thoughts?

Focus. It is a matter of priorities. What do you value? What are you willing to spend decades studying, praying for and pursuing? I spent twenty years searching for the names of the heavenly treasures that Jesus calls upon us to pursue. When I had the list, I took the top item, "The Glory of God", and spent three years praying and fasting one day a week, asking the same thing each Monday, "Lord, show me your glory." If there is some experience being touted by someone with whom you disagree, have you pursued it yourself, long and hard, and had God tell you, "No!" ? If not, why not?

Hearing. It is easy for God to speak, but hard for us to hear. When I had already been a Christian for twenty years, taken classes at seminary, gone on two short term mission trips, volunteered for many ministries in my church and read widely about my faith, God told me that I was spiritually deaf. "How?", you may ask. God was very blunt. He made me deaf in my left ear. A month later, after taking steroids and being scanned multiple times by an ear specialist, the doctor admitted that he didn't know why I had gone deaf. He was pessimistic about me ever regaining my hearing. In his waiting room, I took out my Bible and a little card that I carried that told yo which Bible verses to read each day. I looked up the day's reading. It was Exodus 4. Here is what got my attention:

The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

  • Exodus 4:11-12

As far as I know, that is the only verse in the Bible that says God makes people deaf. Reading those words, I knew that God was in the room with me and I was at peace. I stopped praying for healing, trusting that God had a good plan for me. Two days later, I got my hearing back. Over the coming years, I would realize that I was spiritually deaf and needed God to heal me in that way, too. This he has begun to do. It has resulted in me changing my ideas about some Christian beliefs by reading the Bible in a new light.

If after twenty years of being a Christian, I was still spiritually deaf, what can be said for many other Christians? My journey towards understanding has been long and full of suffering. I can only imagine what it might be like for the others around me.

Discernment. It is not enough to hear, you must also judge. As a young Christian I was plagued by nightmares of the end of the world that I thought were from God. They were not. Only after seeking prayer with my pastor, and reading and meditating on Psalms and Isaiah for months, and repenting for occult practices from before I became a Christian did I find relief. I imagine that some Christians, having had a bad experience with false spiritual influences, whether demons, mental illness, drugs or the influence of the wrong people, may turn away from all supernatural experiences. I can't blame them. Over the years, I have come into contact with individuals and groups pushing false ideas, including a counterfeit revival, a deliverance ministry with faulty theology, and a Christian psychologist whose synthesis of science and religion had gone astray. Well read, mature, college educated friends fell for some of these things. Discernment is more than reading books.

Wisdom. Acquiring wisdom is a process. Proverbs makes much of how intense a pursuit you must undertake if you are to achieve your goal and become wise. Over the last six years I have researched and written books about Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Ten Commandments, with detours through Psalms and Matthew. From the immense amount I have learned from this pursuit I am able to appreciate how ignorant I was before I began.

For example, the Orthodox venerate icons. As a Baptist, I always looked askance at such a practice, until I had an experience in line with what they teach. Likewise, I took issue with the Roman Catholic beliefs about Mary and how she visits the faithful bringing blessings. That ended the night I was in agony, awaiting surgery for a fractured and dislocated upper humerus. I would ultimately need a plate and seven screws to repair the damage. Lying on my couch, I praised the Father for rescuing me from the icy waters of a nearby pond where I had fallen through the ice while skating, saying, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty, who is and was and is to come." What did God do? He sent me a vision of a woman. She wrapped her arms around me in a big hug. My pain instantly disappeared. Then she was gone. Was it the Virgin Mary? My relief from pain was real and lasted until morning, allowing me to sleep. Now if a Catholic friend expresses confidence that Mary can bring healing, I won't argue.

So why do the many churches disagree? Some of us have fallen for counterfeits to which we still cling. Some of us have had our eyes opened and we are chastened. We do not want to be fooled again. Others of us have limited experience and wisdom, so cannot fathom the ways that other Christians believe and act.

It is not easy to grow. To do so, you may have to skate on thin ice.

Just do it metaphorically.

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