The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the Christian faith is utterly “unreligious”, not in the sense of being in contradiction with rituals or ceremony, but in the sense of being in direct contradiction with “internal” “subjective” experiences or mystical raptures or whatever which seems to constitutes the essence of the phenomenon of religion.
This is of course a particularity of monotheistic religions, especially of the Abrahamic root, to exalt the external objective and public Word or divine text over all else as the center piece of the life of faith, no doubt this going hand in hand with their transcendence of the divine and their prohibition of divine representation or presence in this world.
But the testimony of the Bible is quite clear, as St John puts it in 1 John 4:12, “No man hath seen God at any time.” No one! Despite thousands upon thousand claims or reports of mystical visions or raptures or seeings or experiences or whatever with the most respectable tradition or pedigree, St John annuals every single one from every single time and age by this single apostolic word, No man hath seen God at any time! By this negation the hubris of man in attempting to ascend into the heavens by parting the clouds of the Hidden God of wrath to peer into the divine glory is cast straight down to earth. All such mystical experiences, visions, seeings are a lie and nothing but an illusion created by their own imagination. No one hath seen God at any time! This divine judgement thunders into the dreaming fantasies of the “religious man”, rudely awakening him from his delusion.
In fact, it is clear that the Christian faith considers such “seeing” or “experiences” to the a weakness, a denial of faith which precisely grasp what one does not see or experience. This is the testimony of St Peter who wrote,
Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls. The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation; they inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things which have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:8-12)
Experience is the negation of Faith, to the extend we see we do not believe, to the extend we believe, we do not see. The faithful only require the pure announcement of the good news to believe. Experience is a detraction from the Word which proclaims the good news and which alone is the object of faith. What was Christ response to St Thomas’s demand to see the sides of Christ? “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29)
To be sure, God is merciful to our weak faith and does condescend to grant or give such experiences or visions as a concession to our weakness, as Christ allowed the doubting Thomas to feel his wounds. But this is precisely a concession to weakness, not a sign of Christian faith. Thus contrary to popular perception, Christian mystics and the seeking after experiences and visions is not a sign of faith but the lack thereof. For the faithful need no such seeings or experiences but simply believes in Word which is proclaimed, and to ask for such experiences or visions is precisely a sign of the lack of belief and inability to trust what is announced and vouched by divine authority.
In this, therefore, Protestantism places a higher demand upon our faith, to discard the icons of the Eastern Orthodox, the visions and experiences of the Catholic mystics, and calls us to forsake such false seeings in favour of the pure Word alone and to entrust our whole lives to his Word without the need for subjective crutches and to believe that this testimony is truth, for it is vouched by the Truth himself. As Melanchthon puts it so beautifully,
Inasmuch as he has called us, we should accept his word and Holy Spirit Having heard the gospel, we should not consciously continue in sin or remain mired in doubt, foolishly thinking, I will wait until I feel God’s miraculous rapture upon me. These are the words of enthusiasts and Anabaptists. The heart should trust itself with God’s word, and immediately the Son of God himself will work in us and strengthen us with his Holy Spirit, and at the same time we should beseech him to help us, for Christ says, “How much more will your Father give his Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”