Friday, 5 December 2008

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church - 08

Christians and the Magical World-View

The growth in the influence of the Charismatic Church has in many instances had the unfortunate effect of encouraging Christians to a magical world-view. This is well illustrated by an encounter I had with some Christians preaching and witnessing in my home town. The short sermon over, the preacher sent a couple of Christians into the square to talk to people. Seeing me using a walking stick they made for me and I immediately knew what was about to happen and regretted sitting there for just that bit too long. They asked if I believed God could heal me. I said that I did and that I was a Christian.

When they offered to pray for me I politely refused simply because I knew what they were after; they wanted to effect a remarkable healing in the expectation that others in the square would be so impressed that they would want to be Christians. They were determined to pray for me but I resolutely refused and they finally moved on to do what they should have done in the first place, i.e. talk to others who were not Christians.

Another consequence of this magical world-view is that it makes Christians impatient when the simple pronouncement of truth “doesn’t work”. Some seem to expect Scripture texts to work almost as a charm. They understand that Scripture speaks with authority; that “God’s word never returns to him void” (Is.55:11) and “is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword” (Heb.4:12) and they use it like a weapon of supernatural incantation instead of as a tool of reason and explanation. This is not to deny that conversion is a supernatural phenomenon but it does not bypass the thinking process, otherwise what on earth are people being converted to?

Saving faith is consistent with accurate knowledge and understanding. Indeed, faith can be defined in three steps; intellectual understanding, emotional approval and personal decision. It is not true that Christians are asked to emotionally commit to a message that is intellectually inadequate and the Bible makes frequent appeals to our intellectual processes and to evidences that challenge our thinking.

Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Ro.10:17). The call to faith, the message, is based on real events, evidenced by historical verities and eye-witness reports. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Christ was portrayed as crucified” (Gal.3:1). There was an empty tomb, living witnesses, names, dates, places, and an historical provenance all of which could be known intellectually.

Of course, facts alone do not make saving faith. Even the demons have a firm grasp of the facts (James 2:19). But Christians are saved because of the facts not in spite of the facts or in the absence of facts. Of course truth is revealed to the heart by the Spirit, but it is the intellect that conveys to the heart the facts to which the Spirit testifies. If there are no facts there is nothing to know, and nothing to which we can reasonably commit ourselves.

It might be argued that conversion is seldom so neat a process, personal commitment following on from emotional approval based on intellectual understanding. However, whether ours is a crisis experience or a process nevertheless intellectual content is always a substantial part of conversion. Many come to faith out of an instinctive realisation of a need for and a seeking after God only afterwards seeking intellectual order to what they have come to believe. Nevertheless, the Bible still challenges us to deal with known facts and intellectually established truth.

In light of this, no matter how immanent God is in our lives there are things that are essential in witnessing, that cannot and should not be dismissed, that we should not expect to be made redundant by supernatural feats and miracles. If we fail to recognise this simple biblical fact then we risk that “the name of God should be blasphemed among the nations because of [us]” (Ro.2:24) by confirming people’s suspicions that our message is socially irrelevant and intellectually vacuous. There are three areas on which Christians should be concentrated if we are to be good witnesses.

Social skills

Many Christians often have no more than a passing relationship with non-Christians. Apart from people at work and those with whom they do business, they spend all their time with other Christians and simply haven’t the skills to relate to people not like themselves. It is also true that too many Christians in my experience, influenced by the magical world-view, throw out any rules of courtesy and respect in their dealings with the cultist. Do you know how to talk to people?

Reasoning skills

The ability to simply reason with people with a different world-view is essential and often a helpful starting point in discussion. To have the courtesy to listen and show respect and then the skill to explain and demonstrate truth from a Christian world-view is essential. To be able to go on to apply reasoning skills to the Bible – reasoning from the Scriptures – is vital. Can you reason and reason from the Scriptures?

Bible Skills

I sometimes hear Christians say, usually in a breathless whisper, “You have to admit, they know their Bible.” I can only say that if you are impressed with the Bible knowledge of a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness it says more about your own Bible knowledge than it does about theirs. If you knew your Bible you simply wouldn’t be impressed by the schoolboy Greek of the average JW or the sketchy proof-texting of the average Mormon. Can you correctly handle the Word of Truth?

Previous posts:

If These are Christians
The problem with the Church
The Problem with Anti-Cult Ministry
The Fear is Irrational
The Prejudice is Petulant
The ignorance is Inexcusable
The Indifference is Frightening

Future Posts:

Ambiguity Tolerance
When "They" Look at the Church
What the Former Cultist Needs

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