Religious view on transformation in the Sunday service church

How do people get transformed in character? Here is a ridiculously
simple answer: by hearing the “Word of God”. There’s also a bible verse
for it: “[F]aith comes from listening, and listening comes through the
word of Christ.” [Rom 10:17 ISV]. So the idea is that the “Word of God”
is something special that transforms people supernaturally, probably
because the Holy Spirit produces the “fruit of the spirit” [Gal 5:22
ISV]. If this notion is correct, then we’d be correct to offer a Sunday
service, preach to them, and that’s it.

This view on transformation bears at least the following problematic
implications:

  • Character transformation is supernatural. It is effected
    by God, cannot be done by men, and cannot be reproduced by natural
    means. Therefore, followers of other religions are suspected to be
    essentially untransformed people. Which is not appropriate to many
    non-Christians unfeigned kindliness and happiness.
  • Sunday services include a supernatural encounter with God.
    Where people think that God speaks through a sermon and transforms
    people supernaturally they start to think that a Sunday service means
    meeting God. Practical expressions include: the idea that one can be
    “close to God” when worshipping; the idea that our positive emotions
    when worshipping are something God creates in us; the idea that every
    prayer is a talk with God as close as interpersonal dialogue; the idea
    that God “speaks” to persons by purely subjective inner immpressions,
    feelings and thoughts, on a regular basis, and about quite meaningless
    details of practical living. These
    ideas are simply problematic because one finds testimonies to such
    phenomena also in religions with totally different content, i.e. where
    Christians would expect that God is not present (e.g. the LDS
    movement
    ). Of course I admit that God does
    (sometimes) speak immediately through a sermon to people, e.g. be
    hidden prophetic elements. But it is a big difference to view this as
    the basic principle of transformation, or as rare occasions where
    people have special needs. And besides, transformation is not
    supernatural on these occasions either: God speaks, and that’s natural
    interfacing with people because people can speak also.
  • Didactics have to be avoided in the church. Where God is
    believed to transform people supernaturally through the sermon, human
    contributions are seen as inappropriate, even impediments. Therefore,
    didactically skillful teaching is avoided in church, resorting to
    ex-cathedra lessons. People might quote to support this:

    “(17) For Christ did […] send me […] to preach the
    gospel, not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied
    of its power. (18) For the message about the cross is nonsense to those
    who are being destroyed, but it is God’s power to us who are being
    saved. […] (20) Where is the wise person? Where is the scholar? Where
    is the philosopher of this age? God has turned the wisdom of the world
    into nonsense, hasn’t he? (21) For since in the wisdom of God the world
    through its wisdom did not know God, God decided through the nonsense
    of our preaching to save those who believe. (22) Jews ask for signs,
    and Greeks look for wisdom, (23) but we preach Christ crucified. He is
    a stumbling block to Jews and nonsense to Gentiles,” [1 Cor
    1:17-18,20-23 ISV]

    Note however that these verses speak about how the central, saving
    message of the Gospel is communicated, not about how people should be
    teached in the less central matters once they accepted Jesus as their
    saviour.

  • Naturally inviting conditions are inappropriate in the church.
    Again: where God is believed to transform people supernaturally,
    comfortable housing for a church is believed to be annoying accessory,
    and unspiritual. One of the best examples that I know of are served by
    some
    unpleasant church meeting rooms of closed
    brethren
    in Germany.

Natural transformation by truth …

As shown above, one might view transformation as solely
the
supernatural work of God, but experience indicates otherwise. In
addition to the problematic implications shown above, here are
confirmations that transformation happens in natural ways:

  • The truth will set you free. Some words from Jesus:

    “(31) So Jesus said to those Jews who had believed in
    him, “If you
    continue in my word, you are really my disciples. (32) And you will
    know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (33) They replied to
    him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves to
    anybody. So how can you say, ‘You will be set free’?” (34) Jesus
    answered them, “Truly, truly I tell you that everyone who commits sin
    is a slave of sin. (35) The slave does not remain in the household
    forever, but the son does remain forever. (36) So if the Son sets you
    free, you will be free indeed!”” [John
    8:31-36 ISV
    ]

    Disciples (“learners”) of Jesus continue in his word, that is, continue
    to hear what he says [John 8:31 ISV]. In the course of doing so, they
    get to know the truth to the full, because Jesus will tell them the
    truth [John 8:31]. And this truth sets them free, esp. from the slavery
    of sin [John 8:34 ISV]. So Jesus presents sanctification as a result of
    learning the truth from him. And not of a supernatural immediate
    re-programming of the believer.

  • Accepting authority empowers education. Repentance is,
    basically, accepting God as authority. This is
    a proper foundation for successful education, as such people are
    willing to obey. There seems to be no need to demand other differences
    between Christians and non-Christians than this, which fully and
    naturally explains the differenteffect of Christian teaching on both
    groups. Repentence resp. accepting God as authority might also be
    verbalized as “being
    humble in spirit” (admitting to be wrong, where applicable, and turning
    one’s way) or to “convert”. Conversion experiences are also found in
    other religions, so they are natural and cannot prove the Christian
    faith to be true, as supernatural conversions (i.e. miracles) could.
    But this shouldn’t bother, as the Christian faith gets its proof from
    God’s supernatural signs (see below). It’s
    not the form that makes the Christian faith unique (there are other
    religions as well, where religion means pursuit of something
    supernatural), so there’s nothing to bother about when seeing analogies
    in form. But it’s its substance, its true content, that makes the
    Christian faith unique.
  • Christian education produces nice non-Christians. The
    character of people who where brought up in a Christian
    context but are not (yet) Christians themselves indicates that
    education
    builds character and that no supernatural work is implied therein.
  • Truth produces nice non-Christians. There are other
    religions which emphasize love and friendly behavior, and these
    religions produce authentically friendly people (at least to some
    degree). It is truth that love and friendly behavior are good things,
    so becoming loving and friendly people is here an educational effect of
    this truth.
  • Everything human is spiritually relevant. Psychological
    defects like being overly shy due to some traumatic experiences of
    rejection are of spiritual relevance because they are impediments to
    spiritual life (here, to encouraging andreproaching people). Character
    transformation here needs to cope with “psycho-mechanical” issues, and
    it does, my “psycho-mechanical” means (education). The idea
    that human attributes like temperament are “unspiritual” is itself
    unspiritual: we are the collection of our human attributes.
    God does not want to free us from our human attributes until we are
    some abstract spiritual being, but to
    cleanse and then perfect all of our human attributes.
  • Being a disciple. Jesus
    termed his followers “disciples”, i.e. learners; see e.g. [Luke 6:40
    ISV]. Learning is a way how human beings get deliberately
    “re-programmed” by experiences and teaching. To add some rather
    speculative thoughts: the human “spirit” might describe a complex
    infomation system, not an atomic unit; see also my crazy article [Wesen
    der Personhaftigkeit, Wesen des Geist-Seins
    ]. The human spirit
    might include the information system implemented in our brains, and
    some other information system which is independent of material
    substrate. So learning might be seen as changes to this “spirit
    program”. The “fruit of the Spirit” indicates something growing, so
    probably something that the Holy Spirits sows by teaching people the
    truth, and what then changed their “spirit program”, i.e., “grows up in
    them”.
  • The permanence of the flesh. Christians know something
    they call “sinful nature”, “flesh nature”, “flesh” and the like. It can
    be described as a program directed to do evil. Everybody has it, and
    the fact that Christians never get fully rid of it (though it gets
    weaker) proves that Christians
    remain “normal” people by substance, i.e. their character
    transformation is effected by education, not by substantial changes.
  • Natural effects of the Bible. Here’s a passage where
    Paul admonishes his young co-worker Timothy:

    “(14) But as for you, continue in what you have learned
    and found to be true, because you know from whom you learned it. (15)
    From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures that are able to give
    you the wisdom you need for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
    (16) All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for
    reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (17) so
    that the man of God may be complete and thoroughly equipped for every
    good work.” [2 Tim 3:14-17 ISV]

    Note here that he attributes the source of the “Holy Scriptures” to
    God, but lists only natural effects: one learns them, may find them to
    be true, may have trust in those who taught them, may gain wisdom
    through them, may get teached, reproofed, corrected and trained in
    righteousness by them or by people who apply them. Together, these
    effects amount to a full transformation of character [2 Tim 3:17 ISV].
    So the Bible works by transporting truth and educating in the truth,
    just as every other book that contains truth. The Bible has no special,
    supernatural way of changing people. That God is the source of this
    book should not make us expect a quasi-magical mode of operation.

  • Challenging Bible passages. The natural, educational
    mode of operation in Christian teaching can be shown from various
    examples of Bible texts, which are Christian teaching and serve as the
    basis for further teaching. For example:

    “(11) Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and exiles to
    keep on abstaining from the desires of the flesh that wage war against
    the soul. (12) Continue to live such upright lives among the Gentiles
    that, when they slander you as evildoers, they may see your good works
    and glorify God when he visits them in judgment.” [1 Pet 2:11-12 ISV]

  • God’s grace educates us.

    “(11) For the grace of God has appeared, bringing
    salvation to all people. (12) It trains us to renounce ungodly living
    and worldly passions so that we might live sensible, honest, and godly
    lives in the present world” [Tit 2:11-12 ISV]

    Paul uses here the word “παιδευοω” (Strong 3811), transliterated
    “paideuo”. It means to educate, parent, bring sb. up. Nothing about
    supernatural,
    quasi-magical experiences.

  • Educators in the church.

    “(11) And it is he who gifted some to be apostles,
    others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, and still others to be
    pastors and teachers, (12) to perfect the saints, to do the work of
    ministry, and to build up the body of Christ (13) until all of us are
    united in the faith and in the full knowledge of God’s Son, and until
    we attain mature adulthood and the full standard of development in
    Christ.” [Eph 4:11-13 ISV]

  • Recognizing God’s children. The fact that Christians
    should be recognizable needs not to imply a supernatural
    transformation. As with every children, it will be apparent who brought
    them up and educated them.
  • Where God’s word does not transform.

    “(6) For some of these men go into homes and deceive
    foolish women who are burdened with sins and swayed by all kinds of
    desires. (7) These women are always studying but are never able to
    arrive at a full knowledge of the truth.” [2 Tim 3:6-7 ISV]

    These are people who do study the
    Word of God
    but do not get transformed because they don’t want to
    accept truth in exchange for their lustful life. So not the Word of God
    transforms (in some supernatural way), but it communicates truth, which
    would transform people
    upon accepting this truth.

  • The Spirit as the implantation of God’s law. The
    following promise of God for the New Covenant seems like a confirmation
    for the view that God supernaturally transforms people by directly
    re-programming them, changing their substance or implanting something
    in them:

    “I will also give you a new heart, and I will put a new
    spirit within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your
    flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.” [Ezechiel 36:26 WEB]

    But read on:

    I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk
    in my statutes, and you shall keep my ordinances, and do them.
    [Ezechiel 36:27 WEB]

    Viewing this as an explanation of the preceding verse, the “new spirit”
    and “new heart” is identical to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
    Which is a person, communicating with the persons she dwells in. By
    teaching the truth ever and ever “from the inside”, the Holy
    Spirit is God’s law “in our hearts”. So the difference to OT
    believers
    is not a supernatural change in our substance but having the Holy
    Spirit as a companion who will never leave as he did back then. Thus,
    we will never be without the truth any more, never lost in a situation
    where transformation stops because nobody tells us the truth.

  • God’s educational dealings with peple. From the Holy
    Spirit it is said that he is the Spirit of Truth [John 14:17 ISV] and
    that he teaches and reminds Christians of all that Jesus teached and
    said [John 14:26 ISV]. So it appears that even where God (through his
    spirit) interferes immediately with individual people, he does not
    change them supernaturally but educates them, using natural means such
    as interpersonal education.

… and supernatural confirmation of truth

Christians believe in the supernatural reality of God and his son
Jesus Christ, whom the believe to be their savior. In the above
discussion of practical Christian living we found a natural mechanism
only: transformation by education. Natural mechanisms could work
without God, or if God would cease to be. In fact, education (to the
good) is at work in other religions, which Christians believe
to be “without God”. So natural mechanisms cannot
prove believed supernatural content: the Christian day-to-day
experience serves no justification to believe in God.

This is a problem. Therefore, God shows up and proves the believed
supernatural content by supernatural acts:

“(3) It was the Lord who first told people how to be saved.
Then those who heard him told us the true way. (4) God also proved that
it was the true way. He gave signs. He did things that surprised
people. He did many things by his power. He gave the gifts of the Holy
Spirit to people just as he wanted to.” [Heb 2:3-4 BWE]

“(17) “These are the signs that will accompany those who
believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new
tongues; (18) they will pick up snakes in their hands; even if they
drink any deadly poison it will not hurt them; and they will place
their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” […] (20) The
disciples went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord kept working
with them and confirming the message by the signs that accompanied it.”
[Mark 16:17-19,20 ISV]

“(7) They made them stand in front of them and began
asking, “By what power
or by what name did you do this?” (8) Peter, filled with the Holy
Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people! (9) If we are
being questioned today for a good deed to someone who was sick or to
learn how this man was healed, (10) you and all the people of Israel
must understand that this man
stands healthy before you because of the name of Jesus from Nazareth,
whom you crucified but God raised from the dead. […]”” [Acts 4:7-10
ISV].

Of course, Mark 16:20 does not imply that the Lord does nothing else
on earth that performing these signs (think of answerig prayers, e.g.).
But this verse shows that signs are there to prove believers to be
right. And not to help the believers in their everyday life. Healing is
not to help people
but to show God’s power and character, so it’s not unjust that some
people don’t get healed.

God also justifies the content applied in transformational education
by these supernatural acts. And by contemporary supernatural acts he
shows that all this content is still true. With such an
enormous confirmation for our faith, there’s no problem with
transformation by natural means: as there’s no need any more to search
for confirmation in a supposedly supernatural transformation process.

Here’s a short explanation why God’s supernatural acts indeed prove
Christian’s believed supernatural content. Truth means that the
difference between reality and a piece of information about reality is
zero. In post-modern times people realized that their ability to
perceive reality is quite limited, so they argued that we can never get
to know the absolute truth. This neglects, however, that truth might be
revealed to us by a being that knows better than we, namely, by an
omniscient God. God shew his omniscience and character of integrity
throughout history to let people experience that he can be trusted.
That is, trusted in what he says about Jesus today. One problem
remains: as God is invisible, we know about him by information, which
is a coded representation of reality, referring with names like “Jesus
Christ” to entities of reality. But how can we be safe from
misinformation, perhaps coming from evil sources to deceive us? How can
we be sure what information about God is true? The answer is simple:
“God” is per definition the mightiest being, so he can hinder other
beings from misusing certain names. He proves that Jesus is his son and
the Messiah by laying power to the name of Jesus: outstanding miracles
happen “in the name of Jesus”, which are impossible in any other name,
showing that there is a connection between Jesus and the Almighty.
Jesus told of several such signs [Mark 16:17-18 ISV], and gramatically,
the term “in my name” refers to each of them, is the centerpiece of all
these signs. This, by the way, explains why non-Christians are able to
do miracles “in the name of Jesus” [Mt 7:21-23 ISV]: God lets them
happen as he wants to give evidence that Jesus is the Christ, not that
the miracle-workers are godly people.

Summing up: natural transformation by truth makes up a natural,
non-religious day-to-day life; and supernatural confirmation of truth
makes up a sure,
justifiable faith in God. The separation between the natural, normal
and the
supernatural, exceptional element in Christian living is probably
sharp, that is, everything belongs either fully to one or fully to the
other category. At least, the difference is much sharper than most
Christians believe; wherefore it could be described as a “dichotomy”.

20 ideas to freak out of Sunday service church culture

It made me feel quite relaxed and free when I realized that
transformation is effected by education, and that it’s religious to
believe that all transformation is supernatural. Which is my
expericence for today that the truth sets us free [John 8:32 ISV]. I’m
free from the burden of eliciting or imagining ongoing supernatural
events in a “naturally supernatural
Christian life”. This new freedom grants some fascinating new thought
about congregation!! Originally, I wanted to name this article “I don’t
believe in church anymore”, and to whine about congregations being
without a sweeping effect on people. I wanted to give up hope for this
to ever change, as I never saw anything different and had no idea what
was wrong. Missing any rewarding or motivating effect, I wanted to
resign active service for the congregation thing, focusing on
intentional community as an alternative for personal sanctification.
Now, things have changed. If transformation happens by education in the
truth, we are welcome and even obliged to apply truth in our
congregations in ways that change people radically, intensely,
absolutely crazed, and even more radically, to more and more personal
Christ-likeness. Here are 20 ideas, and you might have some more:

  1. Encouraging lowering the privacy barrier. One of the
    biggest impediments to an educational church is our reluctance to
    approach one another, be it for correction or encouragement. At least
    in Germany. Because privacy is a taboo, and we fear uncomfortable
    experiences when ignoring it. There are some things we can do to lower
    our sense of privacy, especially growing mutual trust: being together
    until as a group until it feels “normal”, common undertakings and the
    like, see also below. But the biggest part is to get the courage to
    ignore the privacy taboo, even risk the relationship to somebody to
    help him or her. Interfere with people, get in their way. Pray for
    this. And, again, a practical tip, origninally from Dale Carnegie:
    practise what you fear and you’ll lose your fears.
  2. Communal setting. The kind of rooms can hinder or foster
    the educational purpose of a congregation, because education is
    implemented in natural means. Rooms that invite to hang around,
    socialize and spend time with people, in groups and in one-to-one
    settings, foster mutual education through the application of individual
    gifts.
  3. Supporting the family. Families are the basic units of
    education, and children experience a 24/7 education therein, which is
    close to ideal if the education’s quality is close to ideal.
  4. Pooling books. When the members of a church pool their
    books, cheap access to pre-selected quality lecture is possible for all
    without problems. This is by far better than to sell books in church,
    which is often practised today.
  5. Experiencing extraordinary situations together. Risky
    undertakings, dangerous situations (even moderately dangerous ones) and
    other extraordinary stuff binds people together as it produces “social
    ecstasy”, tipping over many taboos. Volunteering as a team to help in
    catastrophy relief and humanitarian missions is a practical idea here.
  6. Travelling together. These times will turn out to be
    filled with intensive community, mutual openness and mutual dependence,
    also in practical issues. Remember Jesus and his disciples on these
    dusty roads. Also, you’ll undergo lots of extraordinary situations
    together, binding you together.
  7. Doing sports together. Can have some of the effects of
    travelling together. Also, physical efforts makes people come out of
    their shell.
  8. Making music together. Avoid the typical presentation
    setting where one worship group plays the music and others sing along.
    Instead, create an open setting for several hours where people are
    encouraged to take part in prominent and experimental ways, like
    improvising another part when singing, playing percussion and so on.
    Things are fine when the groups happens to play in flow state, as then
    all reluctance to interfere with each other, to take a prominent
    position and to make errors is gone, and this will lower interpersonal
    barriers.
  9. Temporary community living. Weeks oder months long
    phases of being together 24/7 could turn out to be times of intensive
    character changes. Because one has to bear all those nice people 24/7.
    After such phases, a recreation phase might be advisable, i.e. a
    temporary return to Sunday service congregationalism. Practically,
    community living might take place in somebody’s home, but people must
    not be reluctant to experience the proximity.
  10. Intentional community integration. At least one part of
    the congregation might be an intentional community, inviting especially
    broken people as a community setting provides a better opportunity to
    help those who need more care.
  11. Intensive discipleship. Practise much mutual
    encouragement and correction.
  12. Training in interpersonal communiction. Thinks like not
    interrupting people, developing trust, detecting and describing one’s
    own emotions, detecting and understanding other people’s emotions,
    special hints for cross-gender communication.
    Women practise sometimes a special variant: they take an audio-visual
    lecture (they view a soap-style feature movie), then discuss the
    character’s emotions, decisions etc..
  13. Training in convincing people. Where transformation is
    natural and conversion is no miracle, mission is the attempt to
    convince people of the truth. God’s Spirit will do the same when on
    mission: using sommunication to convince people.
  14. Training to rebuke people. Peope are reluctant to say no
    and to criticize people because they don’t know how. So train this, by
    enacting ficticious situations, videotaping and then discussing them in
    the group. This idea can be extended to enacting complex social
    situations, perhaps even creating a feature film from this, thus
    training social competency. Then, more realistic situations can be
    created by performing real talk show discussions with non-Christians,
    perhaps to be sent over an community channel / open channel.
  15. Coaching in approaching people. Getting to know new
    people and approaching people naturally is no wide-spread
    qualification, at least not in some western industrial countries like
    Germany, Great Britain and Switzerland. Wherefore sharing this
    qualification in practical midtown hands-on exercises is a good idea.
  16. Training in pastoring and counselling. Modern management
    sometimes likes agile systems, e.g. training everybody in everything.
    Why not train everybody in church in pastoring?
  17. Being enthusiastic about good. “[Jesus] gave himself for
    us to
    set us free from every wrong and to cleanse us so that we could be his
    special people who are enthusiastic about good works.” [Tit 2:14 ISV].
    Enthusiasm is a typically human attribute, something natural. And as
    such it has its place in church.
  18. Non-religious emotionality. Because supernatural
    encounters with God are the rare case, we should not expect this to
    happen every Sunday morning. Which means for our emotions, to view them
    as natural phenomena. If we do so, we can use them in non-religious
    ways: being exceedingly emotional in a Sunday service is fully
    appropriate for every guy and gal, if its a reaction to what we know
    about Jesus, not to what we think Jesus says to us right now.
    That is, if it does not bear the idea of being effected immediately by
    Jesus (or
    the communion with him) in this very moment.
  19. Non-religious use of religious language. Religious
    language
    is outrageously suggestive of immediate encounters with God, things
    that God said to individual people and stuff. However, a prosaic view
    on the Christian day-to-day life as being essentially natural needs not
    result in prosaic language. To express the greatness of God and our hope
    to see it, we might use religious and lyrical imagery language, if we
    know what we’re getting into: if used with non-religious intention,
    images are just images and must not be understood word-for-word.
  20. Using diverse didactic means. Seeing the huge
    educational aspect of church, I wonder why we think it fit to use
    lecture-style teaching only (in the sermon). Didactics offers so much
    more possibilities, and for most cases at least one better one
    (audio-visual education, computer-aided instruction, hands-on
    experiences, discussion groups etc. etc.). People who are gifted from
    God to be teachers should discover the didactic implied in their task.
    Today, church is perhaps the only place where out-dated ex-cathedra
    teaching is the predominant form of education, and is even widely
    believed to be the ideal!

One word of caution: we’ve seen that it is fully o.k. and “spiritual”
to desire a better
educating church, one that changes, not just teaches people.
But one must keep the focus on deep education that changes character,
not just drills behavior. Though Christian living comes by education,
there is a big difference
between quick and dirty drill of behavior and real transformation of
character. Especially the performance goals of strategic church
planting tend to seduce our focus from transformation to drill, e.g.
when we’re contented with appropriate visitor numbers in the church
services — wherefore it might be advisable to dismiss all goals and
just be the church, everybody with his and her gift; see also my
article [Be
your congregation
]. Then we’ll hopefully be surprised one day by an
“unplanned” deep transformation process in our church.

Answering objections

Here is some possible criticism, and some answers to
that. This
section is in draft state yet.

  • When character transformation is a natural
    process, why are
    people obviously unable to transform themselves?
    Perhaps, the
    (religious or humanistic) self-education of people towards truth fails
    because our quality is below a certain threshold. See for example the
    French Revolution, which succeeded and preceded tyranny with
    brotherhood. So we need Jesus to educate us personally, where no man is
    in place to do it. And because we were not even able to recognize the
    truth ourselves [citation needed], we needed Jesus to come down from
    heaven and tell us (that which is now traduced in the Bible). Note
    however, that education by people is the normal case, and immediate
    education by Jesus or the Holy Spirit the exceptional case.
  • How to deal with the fact that God
    educated Israel all the
    time and they did not get changed in character?
    There are some
    possible answers:

    • some individuals only did change in
      character, which is just
      the same as in Christianity today
    • there is one supernatural element implied
      today: that God gave
      us his Holy Spirit which “wants” to do God’s will in us though another
      part of us does not; but a basic directedness towards God is there, the
      basis for effective education
    • they did not have the indwelling Holy
      Spirit as a continuous
      educator
  • We need here a good exegesis of Jesus’
    words “Nobody can come
    unto me it be then that the Father draws him.”
  • When being filled with the Holy Spirit,
    people’s character
    changed spontaneously, didn’t it?
    It seems that being “filled with
    the Spirit” is about short-term empowerment. Peter’s courage at
    Pentecost towards heathen and in dangerous situations and his lack of
    courage towards those of James lateron illustrates this. Being “filled”
    is no change of character: it’s ability that is not our own. While
    God’s education indeed changed our very character (see Hebrews on that:
    where is a father who does not discipline his child).

Start date: 2007-09-09
Version date: 2007-09-12 (for last meaningful change)

I’m here in the course of trying to find how to live with God practically. (Jus’ to be clear: with the God of the bible, as there is no other being who deserves this title, as it means: the supreme being, the highest one, above all.) Now, umh, here I’m going to deal with the question: what is receiving wisdom from God?
The question arises from the following verses from the apostle James:

“(5) Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to everyone generously without a rebuke, and it will be given to him. (6) But he must ask in faith, without any doubts, for the one who has doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. (7) Such a person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. (8) He is a double-minded man, unstable in all he undertakes.” (James 1:5-8 ISV)

I will continue to examine these verses from the perspective that the relationship to God is in the average case “mediate”, i.e. without individual interaction between God and men. (By the way, I realize that this perspective needs a name to identify it.) Choosing this perspective willingly is not to say that it is the ultimately correct one, but to examine its validity on the go. What follows is a selection of theses and arguments for them:
  • Getting wisdom is not getting a concrete answer what to do but goodness ability. When trying to understand a text one has to use the meanings (or: connotations) that an author attributed to his words, not one’s own. This is esp. important when dealing with old or translated text as both changes the language and might increase the difference in meaning to the average use of words today. This holds true somewhat for “wisdom” here. Intuitively, we will understand this verse as: if you don’t know what to do in any concrete situation, if you lack any answer, pray to God for it. However, James has a more general concept in mind, as appears from his following words: “However, the wisdom that comes from above is first of all pure, then peace-loving, gentle, willing to yield, full of compassion and good fruits, and without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” (James 3:17 ISV). Cf. also the context: James 3:13-17 ISV. For James, wisdom is the ability to live rightly. The same seems to be true in King Solomon’s case (I Kings 3:7-12 NASB): he prayed for wisdom and received an ability to be wise “himself”, not a communication channel to ask God whenever he needed a decision.
  • Wisdom from God comes without concrete interaction, on average. We saw that wisdom does not consist in concrete answers but in ability to generate concrete answers. This opens the possibility that God might give wisdom not in a concrete, delimited interaction but without it. This assumption is supported somewhat by James’ not saying what experience we’ve to expect when receiving wisdom from God. And by the experiences of those who prayed: it seems to happen very infrequently that we received wisdom from God in an explicitly supernatural way. Instead, the wisdom might “just be there” or “just grow up”, just as it seems to have been with Solomon.
  • Wisdom is the agency of the Holy Spirit. When comparing James’ description of wisdom (James 3:17 ISV) and Paul’s list of the “fruit of the spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23 ISV) it appears that both is the same, in essence. So wisdom, the ability to live, is due to the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is unclear however if it is something “human in essence” as the effect of the Holy Spirit’s teaching and educating, or something “divine in essence” as the concrete agency of the Holy Spirit as our “new core”. Or both. This is however not that essential …
  • Answers for concrete situations are termed “knowledge” in the bible instead. One of the charismatic gifts is the “gift of knowledge”, enabling people to recognize what God thinks about a situation and what he proposes concretely. Quick hint: in I Corinthians 12:8, speaking wisdom and knowledge is identified as two separate gifts.
Date: 2007-08-04
Last major change: 2007-08-08
In my articles “The third way of life in this world” and “What kinda company with God is possible?” I argued that God’s mediate gifts are the normal case and immediate contact with God is the rare case. Immediate contact with a supernatural being as God is itself supernatural by character, and supernatural experiences are indeed the rare case in this life.
Thinking and talking about this again, I found that this is not all. My conception of classifying contact with God in the “mediate” and “immediate” area was simple but not enough. Between these is a third area, which I just touched in “The third way of life in this world” when I said:
There might be a greater number of cases where you cannot discern if it was really God (e.g. having some spontaneous thoughts, some visionary images and dreams, and for events where you suspect supernatural coordination). This is just normal and shouldn’t bother.
What I am going to do now is surveying well-founded reports from believers about this “cream white area” of contact with God. (Umh, this wording is just to avoid “grey area” to describe something undecidable … grey does not harmonize with God’s character as grey is boring and akin to darkness, and God hates darkness.) I will use here the Bible as my source for finding such reports. Before showing some examples I define interpretable immediate contact with God (or, creme white immediate contact) as something that fulfills these conditions:

  • What happens seems to be a context-sensitive and individual gift. It seems to be something intended for the present individual situation as it is quite rare (not one of those omnipresent or highly probable good things) and one of a small number of things that can help in the present situation.
  • No supernatural experiences are involved. Supernatural experiences include those which break the laws of nature, but also those which conform to the laws of nature but unquestionably show a supernatural agency. The latter is the case e.g. for prophetic dreams that reveal something to the dreamer he could not know – for example if a code appears in the dream like a bible verse reference, and the decoded verse hits to the ground of the situation.
  • The result is not the intended result of human agency. Both an immediate and mediate gift of God might involve a human being as the actual “giver”. If the gift’s effect is just what the human giver intended, this is a mediate gift: it’s good because God’s creation contains people who know what is good in a certain situation. If however the gift’s result was unpredictable by the human giver (e.g. comforting somebody regarding a problem unknown to the giver), this might be an immediate gift from God … and in other cases, chance.

Because no supernatural experiences are involved, one cannot unquestionably argue for God’s agency. But because what happens seems to be a context-sensitive gift which comes not from humans, the situation is open to interpret it as an immediate encounter with God. Such a situation is undecidable: this might be an immediate encounter with God (just implemented in natural means); or it might be a purely mediate gift which seems to be context-sensitive by chance. In any case, one has the same reason to praise God, but the amount of comfort to draw from this would be different. So in the practical case, interpretable immediate contact with God generates an amount of comfort between that of mediate gifts and (uninterpretable) immediate contact with God.

Cream white contact 1: God comforts Paul by the arrival of Titus

“But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.” (II Cor 7:6-7 NIV)

What does this mean?

Cream white contact 2: supernatural gifts

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (I Cor 13:1-2 NIV)

This is case that hardly fits in the “cream white contact” category … because here, supernatural experiences are involved, but the other two above conditions apply: it seems to be an individual gift and the result is just as intended by the transmitting human. So, it has the “good, self-supporting system” character from mediate gifts, and the supernatural character from immediate gifts. One can clearly see God’s agency, but it is not clear what part of this gift’s context-sensitivity is God’s and what is human’s. So the immediateness of this gift form God remains open to interpretation.

The thing searched after: life

As humans, we search for many different things: friends, food, love, a living room, sex, a notebook, a family, some money and so on. Let’s summarize: we search for a happy, meaningful life, for a life worth living. Some people argue that God is where to find life because the Bible says: “[G]odliness has value in all things, having the promise of the life which is now, and of that which is to come.” (I Tim 4:8). Sadly, these people are somewhat clueless how to take grasp of what God promised. They have taken different roads to live this life out, here called the “first” way and its counter movement, the “second” way. Sadly, these ways do not work in practice and are “religious”, as will be seen. As an alternative, the “third” way is developed, not by averaging the opposed extremes but by taking a third direction.

The first way: cloistered orthodox piety is life

When searching the life that God promised you will quickly hear that the “world” is evil and unholy. The first thing that comes to your mind is to avoid as much interaction with it as possible. What remains is your action-less faith, i.e. orthodoxy only: you know what is right and believe and say it, but you do not know how to experience it because spiritual things are invisible. So you simply repeat the orthodox spiritual facts over and over, and that’s all you do. The facts do not change and you see no reason why you should change how you repeat them, so things quickly develop into a formalistic, traditionalistic, liturgic faith ” life”. Needless to say that it does not feel at all like ” life”. This is not what you searched.

The second way: face-to-face community 24/7 with God is life

Now you think about your first way and you realize that you are far from the ” world” but you feel not near to God. You’ve heard that God is life so you decide to find close company with God in order to find life (and so did I). The intuitive conception of the closest company with God is perhaps as follows:

  • God speaks to you at least once in a day through spontaneous thoughts, visionary images, dreams and also with an acoustic voice.
  • The relationship to God is “symmetrical”: just as you direct prayers and worship to God directly and personally you expect him to direct answers and gifts to you directly and personally.
  • Experiencing the supernatural power of God and his Holy Spirit is the normal case: healings and other miracles are just as usual as one intuitively thinks they were in the book of Acts.
  • God speaks to your congregation regularly through concrete prophecies.

This conception of company with God is modeled after the personal, immediate face-to-face company we experience with other people. In this sense, it is very understandable. When it comes to practice, people often report the following as their experiences with God:

  • They report to feel and encounter the presence of God in a Sunday service.
  • They sometimes feel deeply emotionally touched when singing worship songs and take this for a direct encounter with God.
  • They report that God talked to them personally through a Bible passage they read in their Bible time. It might be a passage that really hit its reader and helped him in a special situation or acute problem.
  • They report that people prayed for them prophetically and it really hit to the ground of what they needed.
  • They believe that lots of the details in everyday life are coordinated by God. So if they had a good day they thank God for providing this good day for them.
  • They often have spontaneous thoughts and visionary images in their head and believe these to come from God.

When examining the biblical testimony, it is apparent that at least some such experiences are indeed possible:

  • On Pentecost, the first congregation of Christians had a direct encounter with God when the Holy Spirit came on them (Acts 2:1-21).
  • Peter experienced a vision when praying on the flat roof of a house (Acts 10:9-20).
  • God spoke through prophets to the congregation and to individual persons, e.g. through Agabus (Acts 11:28; 21:10).
  • Paul had the gift of healing and astonishing things happened because of that (Acts 19: 11-12).

There are good indications that all of these direct, supernatural encounters with God that we read about in the book of Acts do also happen in these days. There is however one big question: how often. That is, does God intend that direct encounters with him fill all of our days and life, does God intend immediate 24/7 community or not?

My preliminary result to this question is: such direct encounters with God are rare. I fully admit that this is not the impression one gets from reading the New Testament: the NT and especially the four Gospels and the book of Acts have the problem of being far from representative because they recount the highlights and special events only, and this from decades, a multitude of places and a multitude of people.

This preliminary result is also based on critical observations of supposed-to-be encounters with God (remember that Bible says that we should test prophecy etc.). Some of these experiences are genuine, as reasoned for above. But most are not (I think) because they can be traced back to purely emotional, psychological processes or to sociodynamic processes or might happen by chance without any problem. Let us define: whenever a person interprets a natural event as an immediate encounter with God, this is a “religious element of faith”. It’s simply not true.

This is not to say that a 24/7 immediate relationship to God wouldn’t be life. It would, and in heaven it will be just that way. But as long as we live in this world such immediate company with God is rare and we simply need to cope with this truth.

The third way: being a free and cared for child of God is life

The alternative to the lifeless first and the illusionary second way is here called the “third” way. One should read about its both elements before making up one’s opinion. And keep in mind that this is just a proposition that remains to be tested in real life … so please comment on its weak points and on your experiences with it rather than just throwing it away as a whole.

For a start, let’s consider some of our day to day experiences:

  • You eat bread and thank God for it. What do you mean? Let’s say you bought the bread at a supermarket. The supermarket bought it from a large industrial-style bakehouse, the bakehouse bought the cereal from a wholesaler, the wholesaler from, I dunno, some other guys who bought it from an agriculturist. Who in turn used seed to grow the ears, buying the seed in the first instance from a wholesaler of cultured seeds, developed in several hundreds of years from wild cereal plant species. The plants reproduce automatically from the beginning of the world … and there, at creation time, we find a concrete deed of God, namely, creating the archetype of cereal plants. And perhaps it’s the only concrete deed of God regarding your daily bread … .
  • You got to be friends with someone and thank God for this guy or gal. What do you mean? In nearly all cases this will be simply a natural consequence of how God created men: he created them so that they love to socialize and enjoy friendship, which enables you to make friends (cf. Gen 2:18). So actually you thank God for the way he created this world!

Natural things like these make up our day, and the supernatural things make up perhaps 0,3% only (audacious estimate). Now “natural” should not mean that t
hese things have nothing to do with God; in the Bible, every good gift is attributed to God (James 1:17). But they have an observable mediate character: we receive these gifts because God created once a system that produces these gifts on its own accord (e.g. food, human relationships). And not because God personally and directly distributes these gifts – in this case one would have to explain e.g. why God distributes the food on the world in such an unfair manner.

What then is an adequate reaction to God’s mediate gifts if we cannot thank him for providing them individually to us? We can live in these things “for God” in that we are conscious that we are free to deal with such seemingly ” unspiritual” but enjoyable matters because God himself made our relationship to him whole through Jesus Christ. We are free to do what we see fit and interesting because God has done anything else for us so that we do not need to bother about our redemption any more!!

Another thought: God wants to teach us how to deal right with the huge amount of freedom he imparted to us by a world full of mediate gifts where we can act as it seems fit to us. God, as a father, takes care of us: giving us all freedom that’s possible, just limiting it where he needs to protect us from hurting ourselves or others. We just need to take care of our relationship to God: as long as nothing is between God and us (i.e. nothing is more important than God and what he says), everything is fine and we’re on the right track. So if God keeps silent it means usually: everything’s o.k., just move on; or: just remember what I said and the truth you read in the Bible, and you’re fine, knowing all that’s necessary for now. Probably we should fully dismiss the idea that the amount of time and effort invested into our spiritual and our worldly life says anything about their respective quality and about their importance to us. Not time but the quality of our relationship to God (in analogy to the quality of human relationships) defines the quality of our spiritual life.

Now, the second part of the “third way”: if there would be nothing else than these natural experiences, these mediate gifts of God and mediate words of God, this would be a mildly deistic point of view. Because then we’d think that God created the world once and then left it alone as a gift for us; and that he gave us his word once in the Bible and then left us alone with this truth; and that no direct immediate contact with God is possible in this world, until we arrive up there.

This, indeed, would be no life also. Men would have to feel helpless and alone in this world, sort of marooned by their heavenly father in a big, cold world, all on their own, without any concrete help. So let’s be glad that this is not the case! 🙂 There is the second element:

As argued for above, there always was and still is God’s immediate, direct agency, his dealings with us personally, our direct encounters with him. As said also, this is rare. There are not yet any measurements what frequency you can expect, but: if you experience one really, justifiably supernatural encounter with God every several months you are lucky. There might be a greater number of cases where you cannot discern if it was really God (e.g. having some spontaneous thoughts, some visionary images and dreams, and for events where you suspect supernatural coordination). This is just normal and shouldn’t bother. And additionally, there might be an even higher dark figure of God’s immediate agency where he works below the threshold of what is perceivable and measurable. But anyway, the mediate agency of God as demonstrated above occupies by far the largest part of our experiences.

While God’s immediate agency is rare, it is important, and enough to encourage our faith. We see God at work therein, in the 21st century!! This reignites our faith and proves anew that God is still alive, that he will help us when we need it and that he will fulfill all he promised to us. Jesus talked about this experience when saying something about praying in his name: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.” (John 16:24 WEB).

To take the most encouragement out of these highlight experiences it seems a good idea to write them down. Just as Luke did in the book of Acts, encouraging millions until today. That way we won’t forget what God did in our life, and we can share it with others. And, seeing the misuse of the “miracle” term today and therefore the problems of many people to accept something as a miracle, it seems a good idea to collect well-funded contemporary miracles in a book and publish it.

Summing this up: a world full of mediate gifts and words from God is there to have fun with before God, and immediate encounters with God are to encourage your faith in an invisible God and sometimes to correct you. Together, this makes up the “life in this world” promised to us in I Tim 4:8, namely: enough experiences to believe and to know that God cares, and enough mediate gifts for a grateful, interesting, satisfying life until we go up there. Every attitude (such as the first and second way) that does not value the material world as our place to enjoy God’s gifts is ” religious” and simply does not work.

Summary. This short article discusses what company is possible between human beings and God, and contains some initial thought on how to live these insights out.

Company with God: as intended by God for this world, not as according to human’s intuitive ideal conception

When this world was just finished, new and perfect, and everything else was good, God found something that was still not good: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” (Gen 2:18 WEB). So right from the beginning men couldn’t have company with God in a way that would fully satisfy him. Men need other people (… here, a woman). Each human being having the company with God that is possible in this world but having not the company with other people is alone!
This means for today: human beings need “more” than even the full company with God in this world. Company with God lacks the many, permanent concrete experiences possible in inter-human relationships. Inter-human relationships are a surrogate to fill up what’s missing in the company between God and men. They’re thought to “materialize”, to “flesh out” how the company with God is meant but not yet experiencable.
This is important to see: God did not create this world with so little immediate encounters with Him because he would be unwillingly to allow this to his creatures. On the contrary: he intends humans in this world to resemble him, and their relationships to resemble his love. This is a near-closed system where we learn about God from the images of God (cf. other examples beyond “company”: God our father, being child, loving each other etc.). And in the other direction, where God says that we should love him he means “love your neighbor” to be the equivalent: “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (I John 4:12) and “Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these mybrothers, you did itto me.” (Mt 25:40).
So Christians should not expect their company with God to develop towards a more and more concrete, immediate, permanent company. Instead, to experience concrete permanent company they should focus on their fellow Christians who “represent” God in this world.
Now, this is not meant to say that Christians will never have immediate encounters with God as a person. These happen, indeed. But one cannot find them, one can just be open to them and be hit by them when God seems it fit. Which is on rare but weighty, most important occasions.
The new testament testimony is a further indicator for the rareness of immediate, personal encounters with God. These things did happen (miracles, answers to prayer, prophecies etc.) but no NT character is reported to have had a permanent personal encounter with God, face-to-face discussions so to speak. Even Paul needed to be corrected by the Holy Spirit several times in his travelling plans … something that couldn’t have happened if Paul had the permanent immediate company with God.

How to live without the permanent immediate company with God

Here are some hints:

  • Be open for immediate encounters with God, but be not desperate that your everyday life lacks them. For example, look at how the “Mobile Freak Gemeinde” lives (http://www.mfg-home.de, German).
  • Search company with God’s people and a meaningful life task to fill the space where you lack immediate company with God. Until heaven, company with God is incomplete (I John 3:2) and you need something interesting to do until then. For example: “hanging around without agenda” with friends, a world tour, a meaningful job that is to the good of others.
  • Practical Christian living is not so much about two-hour personal discussions with God Almighty but about a holy life and doing good.
  • View the NT reports of miracles and visions of collections of the remarkable highlights of the Christian’s experience with God. It’s far from representative for everyday life!
And now some tips how experience your immediate encounters with God to the full:
  • Track your prayer requests and God’s answers, perhaps in your diary or by audio recording on your mobile phone or notebook.
  • Pray for the gift of prophecy: “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.” (I Cor 14:1). But keep in mind that you cannot force God to give this gift to you, just pray and then wait. You also do not need to fulfill special prerequisites to receive this gift … it depends on your God!
  • Let your fellow Christians in your congregation serve you with the gift of prophecy.

… das ich aktuell habe, ist: Es gibt keine dauerhaft erlebte Bestätigung dessen was ich glaube.

Also brauche ich einen anderen Grund es zu glauben. Welchen? Geschichte? Dann sollte ich Archäologie und Geschichtsforschung betreiben. Einzelne persönliche Erlebnisse? Dann sollte ich Journaling betreiben und eine fundierte Analyse des Erlebten. Wunder und andere einzelne Erlebnisse anderer? Dann sollte ich mich mit Berichterstattung, Journalismus, Objektivierung, Beweisführung usw. beschäftigen. Das »Reden Gottes« durch Gedanken, Eindrücke usw.? Dann sollte ich Verfahren finden um direkt oder nachträglich erkennen zu können dass Gott geredet hat trotz dass es sich »angefühlt« hat wie normale spontane Gedanken und Gefühle.

Es könnte sinnvoll sein nach einer Basis des Glaubens zu suchen die ohne Erleben auskommt … denn das Erleben oder zumindest der subjektive Eindruck davon ändert sich beständig und würde dann zu neuen Problemen mit dem Glauben führen.

Es ist eine gute Beobachtung dass alle Menschen zu allen Zeiten (… und fast alle heute) aus ihrer Erfahrung ihren Glauben leben mussten – das muss also möglich sein. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zur Wahrheitsfindung können Menschen normalerweise nie einsetzen. Dafür waren die Erfahrungen (manchmal?) so deutlich dass Zweifel wertlos sind (Wunder, …). Vielleicht sollte ich auch beginnen einfach nur Erfahrungen mit Gott zu sammeln und so den Glauben zu leben?

Was wäre ein gutes Paradigma für die Art wie Gott mit der Welt umgeht? Ist Gott eher die Ursache hinter allem und jedem oder eher ein Charakter der auf der selbstgeschaffenen Bühne »Welt« mit auftritt?

Wohl eher letzteres. Das zeigt sich daran dass Gott sich stets einzelnen Menschen in ihrem Leben offenbart. Und insbesondere daran dass Gottes letztes Reden an die Menschen gerade das war: sein eigenes Auftreten auf dieser Bühne, als Mensch Jesus Christus.

Vielleicht sollte man Gott also einen »deliberativen Deisten« nennen: die Welt ist nicht deistisch weil Gott nicht anders könnte, und in Einzelfällen ist sie ja auch alles andere als deistisch. Sondern weil Gott es so will: dass die Welt und ihre Wesen ab dem Zeitpunkt ihrer Erschaffung frei sind, was auch bedeutet, dass sie die Konsequenzen all ihren Handelns selbst tragen, und auch, dass sie sich gegenseitig schädigen können. Man kann sich die Materie als ewig vorstellen und Gott als den der daraus zu Anfang eine Welt gemacht hat … die nun selbst abläuft, aber Gott beobachtet und greift auch ein. Das bedeutet aber auch dass Gott an keinem konkreten Unglück in dieser Welt direkt Schuld trägt.