Belonging before Believing – do you need to believe in God before becoming a Church Member?

The Church of Scotland Moderator has come out with an article in Life and Work which was reported in the Daily Mail as you don’t need to believe in God before you can be a member in the Church. No – that’s not a Monty Python joke – thats a serious notion of ‘christian’ evangelism….my response is below – thoughts appreciated.

http://www.christiantoday.com/article/belonging.before.believing.a.recipe.for.a.dying.church/39171.htm

53 thoughts on “Belonging before Believing – do you need to believe in God before becoming a Church Member?

  1. There is truth in what you are saying David about the Church of Scotland yes with being inclusive there is the outcome of people who are not being Christian becoming members and even minsters in the church.

    On the other hand there is truth in that some denominations (perhaps the Free Church included) the “Word of God” has undergone interpretation, the outcome being tribalism and insensitivity between differing factions.

    Is it any wonder that in an imperfect world, with imperfect people that both/either happens?

    Caricaturing the Church of Scotland with a claim about their approach being a joke and not being as equally vocal about issues in the Free Church serves to unnecessarily pit one against the other.

    What you mentioned last year is still relevant today David with there being a need to repent from “stupid games” and return to “the God of the bible”.

  2. David, i agree with you! The Church does require believers. And the lack thereof is why churches are dying. Especially in Europe as they continue the progression away from superstition, as started by the Enlightenment. Christianity is simply no longer believable (Barna polls show most people don’t accept the typical dogma). But, isn’t this how Christians want it? The Bible says the way is narrow and few will find God. I agree with the Bible here. (It’s hard to find a god when it doesn’t exist. 😉 )
    I think it’s important, however, for a brand to distinguish itself and fundamentalism sells itself as an exclusive club for only the most fervent. It’s all about finding similar brain types, and the more you can find, the more money you can make. (Since lukewarms can’t be relied on for a sustained income)

  3. A great article. I started attending the Free church at the request of my wife and son. As a confirmed agnostic I expected the same limp religion of my youth in the Church of Scotland. Instead I found a robust evangelism supported by a deep theology and a caring community. I was by grace converted, I cannot believe that any other approach would have worked with me.

  4. Just last week I said to someone I might as well go down the pub as go to a CofS. This weird synchronicity is becoming frequent – what’s the next instalment?!

    I began to think in my Sunday School days that it was believers who were most unwelcome in the church and so it seems to have continued.

    Finding your “faith” is just syrup, dissolving when life is less than OK, is utterly demoralising.

    It came to mind that some Alice in Wonderland characters lived down a “treacle-well” living on nothing but treacle. Alice remarked they couldn’t have done that, they’d have been ill. And so they were, said the Dormouse – very ill.

    My faith has become isolated and the memory of “churchiness” certainly contributes; I don’t want to revisit the treacle-well. As does fear that the faith I have might fail if brought into a treacle-free one. Starting over is a daunting thought. The enormity of faith seems greater still when it sits alongside religious mediocrity. And anger can come too, when hearing what has been previously overlooked.

    “Be good, be nice and it’ll all be OK” isn’t enough. Because we’re so not.

  5. I have not read the original article in Life and Work, so cannot comment on the Moderator’s article directly, but the topic is a fascinating one.

    I was at a Christian men’s conference in Belfast a few years ago when the (evangelical) speaker gave a talk on Believing, Belonging and Behaving. His key message was that Churches often get things the wrong way round. First, we require them to believe certain things and behave in certain ways, and only then will they find a place of belonging. The problem with this is that it is a conditional love based on behaviour, which can lead to the dangerous path of teaching salvation by works.

    The speaker argued that firstly, we needed Churches to be communities where people could Belong, even if their behaviour didn’t match our expectations (and by this, he was meaning things like dressing appropriately, using the “right” language etc). Once people got a sense of belonging, they would be exposed to the body of Christ in action, and from here, we pray for them to have a personal encounter with Jesus which will bring them to a place of Belief. From then, we allow the work of the Holy Spirit to transform lives and the Behaviours that follow. Belong first, believe follows, behave happens with the Holy Spirit. Of course, all 3 can happen together.

    So, in this respect, I think there is something to be said about people belonging to the Church and identifying with it and feeling a sense of family within it, even if they are on a very early journey of faith and have not yet made a commitment. However, I personally feel that membership vows are more than just belonging to a community – they are a statement of faith (particularly in the Church of Scotland with its covenant theology views on infant baptism). So, without having read John’s article, i would say that giving membership vows requires a commitment to faith.

    Where this leads me would be to say we can have active “members” who are an active and lively part of the community, but membership vows should only be taken and encouraged by those wishing to profess our faith.

    That’s my view, anyway!

    1. INteresting article. It may be of interest to you that Presbyterian churches like the Free Church already practice this – we do not require our members to sign up to every aspect of the Churches doctrine because members do not vote on doctrine. Elders are required to do so, but members are just required to be Christians with an ‘accredited’ profession of faith – ie. their lives don’t contradict their profession.

  6. Giving the Church of Scotland “a good kicking” is somewhat of a national sport, and one which has been greatly championed by the Free Church over many’s a decade long before any hint of gay ministers of anything.
    As a youth who grew up in a Free Church family but became a Christian under a Church of Scotland minister and joined his congregation, I spent some hard formative years being attacked and lampooned by Free Churchers (including still current ministers). I was offering “strange fire” by singing hymns to musical accompaniment, I was reading corrupt scriptures by not having the Authorized Version. Such is the historical revisionism employed by the more media-savvy Free Churchers – in their beautiful new website there isn’t a single woman in a hat!

    Anyway, I’m not sure if David Robertson is trying to assume Benedict XVI’s mantle as “God’s rottweiler” as Chief of the FC Propaganda Department, but the constant tirade of sectarian & politically-charged bile is becoming almost ridiculous.

    As a CofS member I am well aware of some appalling aspects of my denomination, and i haven’t been able to find the actual article referred to about faith and church membership. The above article put a lot of words in his mouth – i want to know what he actually said.

    But just because the post 2000- Free Church Disruption Church has employed the slick media propagandist practices of the more media-savvy type, there are myriad issues in the Free Church that also bare scrutiny.
    Although the new Website has airbrushed out women’s hats and grey suits, will David Robertson take to his keyboard in his next diatribe and rail against those majority Free Churches who forbid women to pray in public, or do anything other than make the tea, clean the toilets and teach in Sunday school (or anything else that men don’t want to do)??

    As Jesus has advised us all “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matt 7:5)

    1. Kenny, thats a very sad post – full of bitterness, rancour and anger. I’m sorry for whatever drove you to that – and for whatever part the Free Church played in that. Given that you say you became a Christian I’m sure you are aware of what Christ says about forgiveness and love. Perhaps you might consider actually following Christ instead of pouring out poison?

      Apart from the tone, sarcasm and bitterness there are several other things wrong with your post.

      1) It is so out of date. I have been a Free Church minister for 28 years and it has been decades since I heard anything about the AV, woman wearing hats etc. In case you had not heard the Free Church now allows musical instruments and biblical songs and hymns other than the psalms.

      2) There is no sectarian or political bile. (I think you need to either define what you mean by these terms or provide some evidence of this extraordinary assertion.

      3) The article did not put words in the moderators mouth. It was a press release from the C of S HQ – and is in an article in Life and Work.

      4) I have often in public argued for woman to pray in public – and many Free Churches already have that. Again you are very out of date. I have yet to come across a Free Church which fits your rather silly caricature –

      Your whole post is disproportionate. You rant against a caricature Free Church whilst saying nothing about the main issue – the moderator stating that it is not necessary to believe in Christ, to belong to Christ’s church! Personally I don’t care if it was someone in the Free Church or the C of S who said this – its nuts whoever they are! Meanwhile I would encourage you to take a deep breath, go pray, read your bible and try to find it in your heart to get rid of the anger and bitterness and try to speak the truth in love. And then together we can stand for the Gospel – whatever denomination we are in.

  7. Thanks, I have thankfully eventually overcome the damage of being held to ridicule as a senstive young man by yon FC abusive ministers etc – and as you say the FC has done a complete about face in its doctrine about sung & accompanied worship. The best thing to do is to let go and pray.

    As for the AV and hat wearing women – i attend my parent’s FC where these thing are pretty much sacred. Given that the vast majority of Free Church people are from Lewis – I find it unimaginable that you are unfamiliar with AV-only folks and hat wearing women – or perhaps Dundee is a bubble in and of its own?

    What is even more exotic to the majority islanders from this sanitized “modernised” website graphic representation is women out on the front leading worship (sans hats or not!) – a complete Anathema to the vast majority of Free Church Congregations!

    I recall in my parents FC in Lewis that they employed a decon who couldn’t string two notes together but rather gave out a peculiar mono-syllabic drone – but thankfully a few women of the congregation would hijack his drone and impose a recognizable melody upon his woeful offering. It was female precentors via the back door – but God forbid that they offer up of their God given talent from the precentor’s box!

    Making the tea, cleaning the toilets & the church, teaching Sunday school – do all sorts of things that plenty men don’t want to do – that is in no way a liberated ministry. Its a disgrace!

    1. I’m glad you are recovering from your religious abuse! It always helps when you stick with the truth as well – for example the ‘vast majority of Free Church people’ are not from Lewis – at the last count I think it was about 20% (which is not in my book a ‘vast majority’. You really do need to stop working with such prejudices and stereotypes. I do know that very few Free Church congregations are AV only and hat wearing women – there are some but they are very much in the minority – and so what. Do you not believe in diversity?!

      The Free Church has had female precentors for many years (again time for you to catch up) although of course we don’t have women elders and ministers (we do try to follow that book called the Bible – the one the C of S seems to have given up on!).

      And you do seem to have a wee fetish about cleaning toilets, teaching SS and making tea. You will be glad to know that men are involved with all of that at St Petes and most other Free Church congregations….I think its time you got out a wee bit more and saw what was actually going on – rather than judging by the past and by your prejudices!

  8. For those who say they haven’t seen it, an article by Mr Chalmers on this topic is here: http://www.scotsman.com/news/john-chalmers-doctrine-getting-in-way-of-faith-1-3474850

    I do not know if this is his original article or an excerpt, but it gives enough to know that the man is not describing Biblical faith or the way a church should operate. Faith comes by the work of the Spirit through the Word of God, not by “belonging.”

    Mr Robertson has not misconstrued the article or made any unfair criticism in his article. The Moderator is espousing something which is far from what Scripture says, and the suggestion that true doctrine can get in the way of faith is directly contradicted by Scripture. His article is a travesty.

    1. Thanks for sharing this link Jon. From the article shared, I cannot find any disagreement (personal or “biblical”) and think it’s an interesting and important discussion to have.

      1. Hello, Mr. Monk, what a strange taste in names your parents must have had. 🙂

        OK, dumb jokes aside, a question. Three, actually.

        1. When you say you cannot find any disagreement, are you saying you can’t find any disagreement with Mr Chalmers, or you can’t find any disagreement with my statements about his article?
        2. Why do you write (personal and “biblical”) instead of just biblical? Just for clarity so we don’t end up running around in circles, do you accept the Bible as the sole authority on questions like this or not? What is the significance of the quote marks?
        3. Do you see any significant difference between Mr Olson’s article (to which you linked) and Mr Chalmers?

  9. Read both the article by the Moderator of the Church of Scotland and the reply by Rev Robertson. I think the Rev Robertson’s stand is biblically correct.

  10. Hi Jon
    Thanks for the follow-up and apologies if I wasn’t clear. Yes, being Christened “Musing” is not one I’ve heard before but I wouldn’t be surprised nowadays! 🙂

    1. I was meaning that I found no disagreement with what John Chalmers wrote (as quoted in your link).

    2. I write personal and biblical as I think we all make personal judgements and it is impossible to base all of our opinions on purely what is written in the Bible. We have to make our own judgements and discerning. For example, there are different views regarding how the government should help the unemployed in our society. There are arguments on different sides, some of which are biblically informed. I am wary when I hear someone claiming to be biblical. This is why I commented that I had no personal issue with it (I was not wishing to give the impression that I believed arrogantly that all my opinions must be God’s, although I do my best to discern God’s will and act accordingly).

    Your question about the Bible as “sole” authority perplexes me. I see God as sole authority. I see the Bible as the Word of God. I believe the Holy Spirit is required to discern, counsel, lead and guide. I believe personally that God’s will in all situations will be coinsistent with what is revealed in the Bible, although it is very often challenging and difficult and not all we read in the Bible is God’s will being done – many texts are historical accounts of our (sinful) relationship with God, for example. I do not believe the Bible is a simple textbook where we find answers sitting there for us to apply. If that were the case, we would not require the Holy Spirit to guide us, we’d just need a very big concordance. The reason I put biblical in quotes is because I wanted to be clear I was meaning my interpretation of what the Bible reveals. I did not wish to say a simple “yes” to your question as I sadly believe there are some people who see the Bible as authoritative, without having a personal relationship with the God who wrote it.

    3. I will need to do a bit of comparative study to fully answer that question, and unfortunately have a school run and work to get to!

    God bless
    MM

    1. Thanks, MM. Not that I completely agree with Roger Olson (on this article or a lot of other things he writes 🙂 ), but I do see a significant difference.

      I thank you for your in-depth reply to my second question. Though I would agree with much of what you say, I asked about “sole authority” intentionally. I am persuaded that the Bible is indeed our sole authority on how a church should be structured and operated, based on the sufficiency of Scripture as taught in II Timothy 3:16-17. If the Scripture is silent on a matter, then there is no authority on that and there is freedom — but in terms of such fundamental questions as Mr Chalmers raises, I do not believe the Scripture is silent.

      I asked the question because you said it was worth discussing, but if we are approaching it from different foundational assumptions, it is difficult to discuss anything without at least recognising those differences.

      I wrote on Mr Chalmers’ article before Mr Robertson did, and as I often do, I “sat on it” and avoided hitting publish to give myself more time for reflection. In the interim, I found that Mr Robertson had written what I believed to be a fine article on it, so I linked to it in my article.

      But I always think it is good to actually cite Scripture directly on these things — otherwise, it can become just my ideas and thoughts vs someone else’s ideas and thoughts. But everyone’s ideas must bow to Scripture. I’ve briefly given a few Scriptural principles which, I’m persuaded, point to key foundational flaws in Mr Chalmers’ article and philosophy. It’s here, if you are interested: http://mindrenewers.com/2014/08/05/no-belief-needed/.

      In keeping with your answer to my second question, I am certainly welcome to any suggestion that I may be misinterpreting or misapplying those Scriptures to Mr Chalmers’ article. But I’m not prepared to diminish Scriptural authority. No church should accept Mr Chalmers’ ideas without addressing those Scriptural principles. He presented his ideas without recourse to Scripture. He did not address Scriptures which any serious Bible student would recognise as, at least on the surface, problematic with his views. It gives the impression that he simply does not expect Scripture to be a significant factor for the Kirk in how it operates. Sadly, this is not the first time the Kirk has sent that message.

      We’ve lost that good old statement, “Thus saith the Lord.” There’s not a trace of it in Mr Chalmers article. Not even a hint of, “God says this so we should do thus.” It reads like someone trying to build attendance and membership in a club, rather than like someone wanting to help a church be more in line with its God.

  11. Thank you Jon. Another early morning quick reply, I’m afraid!

    I found your thoughts on Scripture teaching or Scripture being silent an interesting one, particularly the idea that if Scripture is silent then this means we have freedom.

    This is not a view I personally hold, as I would see it that there is no silence on any issue, when Scripture is viewed as a revelation of God’s will for how we should live. The practical application of the Greatest Commandments requires the Holy Spirit to guide, but I would not personally view this as silence. So for example, if I am trying to decide which charity to support, I might pray and turn to the Scriptures. I don’t expect to find a verse that says “give to the second cancer charity on your list” but I do expect God to speak to me through the Holy Spirit and the Bible to guide me.

    I do not have any problem with John Chalmers not directly quoting scripture in an article such as this, bearing in mind the audience and the clear references to Christ, his death and resurrection. When Jesus met those of other faith, he connected with them in a personally meaningful way and did not always turn to Jewish scripture to convince them of God’s love for them.

    Going back to the freedom issue, although I believe we all have free choice, which is freedom of sorts, I don’t believe there is ever a situation where we have freedom to decide our own morality. I believe we (Christians) need to seek God’s will in all situations and there is no silence. This is what I was meaning when I said the Bible is not a text book with all the answers, but it certainly does reveal God’s will for all situations IF we have the personal relationship with the Holy Spirit to guide us in seeking it.

    God bless

    MM

    1. “it certainly does reveal God’s will for all situations IF we have the personal relationship with the Holy Spirit to guide us in seeking it.”
      This sentiment is the scariest thing in the world for me and i will continue to seek to have it eradicated from humanity… just so ya know.
      The “Holy Spirit” is an excuse for people to find their own morality and then provide no more Reasoning behind it than “I felt the Holy Spirit guiding me”.
      The “Holy Spirit” has women killing their own children, or people flying planes into buildings.
      The classic response is “the Holy Spirit wouldn’t guide someone to kill”. That’s pure hogwash. Bush used the “Holy Spirit excuse” to go to war and we don’t need to rehash the leaders who have used it in the past.
      By brainwashing the masses into thinking there is a Holy Spirit and that it can guide morality opens the gates for leaders to abuse the idea. It opens the gates for hoi polloi to abuse the idea.
      If your only reason for morality is “the Holy spirit” I’m afraid you are antithetical to human flourishing. Even if the Holy Spirit “tells” you to do nothing but Good, you are a traitor to Humanity; to Reason. You have effectively said “FU, people, i’m not going to pay attention to your morals, but my own – then i’m going to call them from God! impeachable! Unquestionable!”
      It doesn’t matter if you read them in a book.

      After all, I’m sure you wouldn’t accept a Muslim claiming to have moral authority because they have a book.

      Secularism can save us from primitive morals and irrational beliefs – at least in society (you are welcome to believe any crazy thing you want in the privacy of your own home and Extreme Book Club). By propagating the “Holy Spirit” meme, ministers and priests are harming humanity, but all the while calling themselves more righteous and more moral.

      I’m sure this will be scoffed at, and you think it’s funny, but this is the ground swell from secularism – and it’s growing. The Church is shrinking because it has no moral authority and no effective means to address the human condition. Fantasy stories of talking snakes and donkeys only impress children. Human sacrifice only impresses the insane.

      1. Brent, as someone who would never say anything without evidence, perhaps you could let us know when and where Bush said that the Holy Spirit told him to go to war?!

      2. You’ll find I don’t make unsubstantiated claims like you tried with Hitlers diaries… Remember that snafu you committed?

        Read:
        Bush: God told me to invade Iraq
        Rupert Cornwall
        2005

        Bush’s religious claims are well documented. He believes he was guided by his god to invade Iraq. He refused the advice of his real father, and said he answered to a higher father. Isn’t that the same thing you believe?
        Now, how do you prove your communications with the Holy Spirit are more correct than his?
        How do you convince me Bush was wrong and you are right?
        Do you see the absurdity of religious claims? Everyone can make them, no one can verify them.

      3. Sorry Brent – I need the evidence. Not rumour not gossip. Where did Bush say that the Holy Spirit told him to go to war – as you claimed. If they are well documented please provide the documentation….I can wait.

      4. Are you saying you don’t accept eyewitness testimony? Please answer!
        I have provided evidence, and here are additional quotes supporting the fact that Bush was a religious nut case:

        #8: “I believe God wants me to be president” is a Bush’s statement that came during a meeting with Rev. Richard land, head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, in 1999.

        #9: [I was] “chosen by the grace of God to lead at that moment”, is a Bush’s quotation reported by Michael Duffy in Time magazine immediately after 9/11.

        #11:“I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job” is a Bush’s remark to a group of Amish people he met with privately on July 9, 2004, and as published by the Lancaster New Era, July 16, 2004.
        #46: “…But what if God has been holding his peace, waiting for the right man and the right nation and the right moment to act for Him and cleanse history of Evil?

        George W. Bush, January 28, 2003, State of the Union address

      5. It depends who the eyewitnesses are! I don’t accept hearsay. But you havn’t provided any eyewitness testimony. You simple stated that Bush said the Holy Spirit told him to go to war. All I asked was when and where and for you to provide some evidence. The fact that you have been unable to do so and instead bluster with a different set of quotes says a great deal….And you can’t even get them right (a wee hint – check your sources!)…But you are so desperate to believe your own prejudices that you just blindly accept anything that fits with them. Take for example your ‘quote’ from the 2003 State of the Union. Its fake. Bush did not say that – you can actually read the transcript for yourself (if you use your mind you should be able to work out when you google and come across the various fake ones)…the trouble is that you have lifted a series of quotes from one of your atheist websites….you believe it because you want to and you then post it as fact. Always go to primary sources and don’t rely on Wiki or your various atheist propaganda sites….If you want something that Bush actually said from that address, how about the conclusion “We Americans have faith in ourselves, but not in ourselves alone. We do not claim to know all the ways of Providence, yet we can trust in them, placing our confidence in the loving god behind all of life and all of history.
        May he guide us now, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.” – there is no doubt he professed his faith in GOd…or that he explicitly denies the claim that he knows ‘all the ways of providence’….somewhat different to your fantasy version. But doubtless you will try to find some way to wriggle out of that one….you do after all have to keep the faith!

      6. 1. Please explain the difference between hearsay, gossip, rumour and eyewitness account. I find this fascinating and a fertile area of inquiry. You don’t like a contemporary news report, but you love an ancient document, written generations after the event by anonymous writers… Please explain!
        2. You said I didn’t give evidence but I gave you the account from eyewitnesses. (Are you disputing the difference between God and the Holy Spirit? I’d be fascinated how you parse that nut).
        3. I notice you pick that one comment out of a rather lengthy post – did you agree with the rest of it? Or was this meant to be a Red Herring because you had no other response?
        4. Further, there are many examples of people of Faith claiming the Holy Spirit guided them to war. First, it’s in the Bible, so if you don’t like the reference to Bush, simply pick another Trinitarian who has gone to war. Clearly, the point is that the holy Spirit has been an excuse people use to do all kinds of things, good and bad. War is one example, if you’d like, let’s talk about religiously motivated murder…

        or…

        5. Let’s talk about how the Holy Spirit is cited as a reason for refusing equal rights to gay people, or stifling science (stem cells), or refusing women to control their own bodies, or rejecting proper standards in science class, or other examples where Faith has trumped intelligent, objective methods to improve society. (For example, did you know that fake pedophilia porn actually reduces attacks on children? I bet you would simply pray and ask people to stop hurting kids and you’d consider fake porn as bad as real porn (Something about what Jesus said about the thought is as bad as the crime). Whereas, I’d rather have real children safe.)

        I’m sure you want to focus on Bush because you don’t want to talk about the actual issue: Faith is a hindrance to human flourishing; The appeal to the guidance of the Holy Spirit is simply an arrogant way of asserting one’s subjective moral values and defending one’s actions.

      7. Oh dear – you get caught out telling porkies and bearing false witness and you still persist! As I say I will happily listen to what you say when you provide evidence (ps. a wee clue – putting something in “” does not count as sourcing something)…

      8. David, first you lose face on your Hitler Diary comments, now you are trying to accuse others of being a liar like you… sad.
        Here is the source:
        President George W Bush told Palestinian ministers that God had told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq – and create a Palestinian State, a new BBC series reveals.

        In Elusive Peace: Israel and the Arabs, a major three-part series on BBC TWO (at 9.00pm on Monday 10, Monday 17 and Monday 24 October), Abu Mazen, Palestinian Prime Minister, and Nabil Shaath, his Foreign Minister, describe their first meeting with President Bush in June 2003.

        Nabil Shaath says: “President Bush said to all of us: ‘I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, “George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.” And I did, and then God would tell me, “George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq .” And I did. And now, again, I feel God’s words coming to me, “Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.” And by God I’m gonna do it.'”

        Abu Mazen was at the same meeting and recounts how President Bush told him: “I have a moral and religious obligation. So I will get you a Palestinian state.”

        It is a quote from an eyewitness: Nabil Shaath, Foreign Minister.

      9. Again you have still not grasped the concept of evidence. You declared that the Holy Spirit told Bush to go to war.. the ‘evidence’ you have given is hearsay gossip (not proof) from someone who has an interest in making Bush look stupid….

      10. Where is your evidence Bush didn’t say it? Are you saying it didn’t happen? Are you suggesting the eyewitness is a liar?
        More to the point, are you suggesting people haven’t claimed the Holy Spirit communicated to them?
        This is fascinating!
        You are arguing against eyewitness testimony of someone claiming God communicated to them…
        Either way, I gave you a source, yet you are calling me a liar, and now this other guy. You are a peach!
        And, you still avoid the topic- that appealing to the influence if the Holy Spirit is ridiculous.
        I will also state the obvious: my eyewitness testimony that acknowledges a person believes your god spoke to them is better than the entire Bible, yet you reject it out of hand. Remarkable.

      11. Brent a wee bit of advice. When someone makes a claim and they are asked to present evidence for it then they can’t just turn round and say well you prove there is no evidence! The onus is on the person making the claim. And I don’t accept hearsay evidence….and I don’t just believe people because they say the Holy Spirit told them…you really need to get a grip on your concept of evidence, because so far it seems to be that if it agrees with you then it is fine, if it doesn’t then it is rubbish…not the most rational way of behaving!

      12. This is hilarious. It’s going in my blog.
        I gave you the source of my claim. Whether you like it or not it is evidence. It’s not not evidence!
        You reject it because you don’t want to accept its true. That’s fine, I can question it too – but it is still evidence that Bush may have believed God told him to go to war. Just like stories in the Old Testament that you accept, yet they have far less support.
        You claim you don’t believe this because it’s hearsay, but it’s not. It’s an eyewitness reporting what they saw. If I didn’t have the quote, but said “I heard someone say that bush said…” That would be hearsay… Which is what the Bible is…
        I love that you are skeptical of this story, yet, a story 4000 years old is legit to you?!? Fascinating stuff.
        So, what evidence do you have of the Holy Spirit, David? Some guy told you? Isn’t that hearsay?

      13. Glad to provide material for your blog. There are different kinds of evidence…there is hearsay. In this case that you cite it is the report of a report. You do understand that that is what hearsay is – ‘I heard that he said this’…? The question is, is it true? You have no evidence that it is true. You really need to learn to be more sceptical and ask more questions – don’t just believe what you hear. Question. On the other hand you did give me verifiable evidence when you cited Bush’s presidential address – which you quoted as fact. So I went to verify it. I read the transcript of the speech and found that it did not contain what you had quoted. It was just a made up quote from a spoof website that in your gullibility you believed because it suited your prejudices (I hope you put that in your blog as well!)..And you also seem to have another problem with evidence – you are a chronological snob – you seem to think that the fact that something is old means that it is less likely to be true. There is of course no logical reason for saying this. Anyway….come back to me once you work out what evidence is and how you can evidence that you have evidence!

      14. The quote I provided came from an eyewitness. If the other quotes are false, fine, my bad. I’m not writing a technical paper, i’m having a chat. The point has been made, and you haven’t refuted it: People claim the Holy Spirit tells them to do things we would consider evil. Surely you don’t deny this.
        Bush is a vocal Evangelical Christian who believes he has some kind of relationship with Jesus. It’s a small step to believe the he believes God communicates to him in some fashion. It’s very likely he believes God guided him in his actions as President – and we have at least one eyewitness who claims that is true. If that eyewitness is a liar, it doesn’t make me a liar.
        The larger point – one you refuse to acknowledge – is that people routinely think God is telling them to do something. Bush was one example. Perhaps I should have used Andrea Yates? Or how about the many examples of people claiming the Holy Spirit/God commanded them to kill?
        I’d like to get you to stay on point. I will cede I have no proof the holy Spirit spoke to Bush,
        I have no proof the Holy Spirit exists.
        Perhaps you’d like to provide proof for the Holy Spirit/God/Jesus and their communications to people.

        Again:
        1. The point is that people claim the Holy Spirit guides them to do things we’d consider evil or bad. If Bush is a bad example, fine, but I am at no loss to find examples of people claiming “God told me to kill”. I’d offer up Calvin, Moses, Samuel, Sampson, or other ‘godly” men you admire.
        2. If you don’t like eyewitness testimony, then I’m afraid your insistence on the Bible being reliable suffers. Since the Bible is not eyewitness testimony, but anonymous writings generations after some possible event you have nothing to ground your Faith on. There is no rock. There are a few shreds of parchment and a tradition of hearsay.
        As you say, maybe Bush never said what that eyewitness claimed. It’s right to be skeptical, especially because he’s claiming something absurd: that Bush thinks he communicates with a god. That’s ridiculous, isn’t it. It’s ridiculous to think gods exist or communicate to people.
        It’s scary to think some people might take those “voices” seriously.

      15. But does the eyewitness have proof? The quotes I have about the resurrection and life of Jesus come from eyewitnesses ‘the apostles’….

        Besides which as regards Bush you are putting two and two together and making five!

      16. The gospels are not eyewitnesses according to all scholars except Bible-Believing Christians.

        The larger point, which again you seem to refuse to address, is the point about the characteristics of the communication from the Holy Spirit.

        Let’s drop Bush for a moment (I’m willing to discuss it, but not until you acknowledge my larger point).

        Let’s talk about Samson who was commanded by the Holy Spirit to kill women and children. Let’s talk about Andrea Yates who was commanded to kill her children.

        Or, if that is too sensitive, lets talk about how people are commanded by the Holy Spirit to speak out against homosexuality, find ways to change their homosexuality, or otherwise find justification – from the Holy Spirit – support anti-homosexual laws.

        Then, let’s talk about pastors and Christians commanded by the Holy Spirit to do the exact opposite.

        This conversation began about the Holy Spirit being a guide in developing church actions, or personal actions.

        There are different denominations (30,000) because the “Holy Spirit” has guided these people to split away from an existing church.

        The point is: The Holy Spirit is unreliable – it’s as if it’s as unreliable as people.

        Yet, in your posts and other Christians posts, they praise the Holy Spirit for proper guidance.

        If the Holy Spirit guides people in contrary ways, or commands people to do evil, then how do we determine if it is the Holy Spirit doing to commanding, or the person? ESPECIALLY if the Bible isn’t clear on the issue?

        Isn’t, then, secularism, ultimately, a better system? We don’t have to determine an action based on the burnings in different bosoms, we only need to rely on our Reasoning and come to some consensus.

        Sure, it’s not perfect, but how is the Holy Spirit any better when the Holy Spirit can’t even create a monolithic Church? (Not to mention, do only people who hear from the Holy Spirit get to make policy? That’s patently undemocratic.)

        I’d love to continue the discussion about Bush, and eyewitness testimony, but right now I need you to acknowledge the main reason for this thread of posts: The claim the Holy Spirit is a good guide.

      17. Try reading Richard Bauckham – Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

        If the Bible isn’t clear I wouldn’t trust people who say the Spirit told them! The Spirit speaks through the Word.

        I’m glad there are many denominations – one monolithic church would be so boring and dangerous! You would get a Pope and then look what could happen!

      18. I’ve read a bunch of those books but that doesn’t make me an expert. I rest on the consensus of experts, not one person: they say they aren’t eyewitness accounts, and they don’t claim to be.
        Why should we listen to any Christian, if they can’t settle on doctrine and dogma? Is it exciting to you that, if your version of Christnaity is true, that people who believe Jesus will allow practicing homosexuals into Heaven will be tortured eternally?
        Seems sick.

      19. As for chronology, it’s pretty rational to think ancient documents are less reliable than modern documents, not because of their age, but because of the better likelihood of their source being found.
        You are a font of irony.
        In a few moments you were able to find a quote was not true because if the internet. I bet you can’t do that for any quote in the Bible (except perhaps the Pericope Adulterae).
        Why, David? Why was it so easy to prove me wrong about the source of a Bush quote, but so impossible to find out if Jesus actually said what is in the Bible?
        what is the difference, David? It’s the fact that the trail is dead.
        It’s the same reason police say the first 24 hours are most important in a murder case. After time, memories change, evidence gets destroyed, etc.
        So, you have an ancient, superstitious claim you base your faith on, yet, it’s not as well supported as the quote I gave you – a quote from someone you could call up today to see if he actually said it.

      20. David, i listened to your interview from 12 Sept 2009 where you voiced your mockery and displeasure when you’d write lengthy posts on Dawkins forum only to have them ignored or deleted. I’ve appreciated your responses and posting, but by far, you have not addressed my lengthy posts. (Which I am careful to # each point)
        How can we rectify this? I’d hate to think you have adopted Dawkins methods.
        Perhaps you have a minion who can take over, and like the author of 2 Peter spoke for Peter, this minion can speak for you?
        Not sure what the rules are for Christians… 😉

      21. Sorry for not replying….I have numerous posts and am not able (time wise to answer all of yours!)…I don’t have any minions because in Christianity we are all equal but if you would like I could pass on some of your concerns…for discussion…

      22. I understand. As I have said, I am appreciative you respond at all.
        BTW, did I mention I was a “friend” of Richard Morgan’s? We have exchanged a number of emails, now branching out past the drudgery of apologetics…
        I’m hoping to bring Richard back into the fold… 😉

      23. I will, and yes, he does believe – and we don’t let that get in the way of our friendship… though. Actually, he doesn’t try to convert me, nor I him.
        We have a wonderfully normal, Earthly friendship, as much as can be over a few emails.
        No doubt, he still maintains much of his secular morals. 😉

    2. Thanks, MM.

      Do you think that the Spirit and the Word are likely to tell us whether we should start our Sunday morning services at 10:00, 10:30, 10:45, or 11:00? Or do you think we have freedom on the matter? Just wondering how far you want to push this.

      We have people who travel some distance. It would be unkind to start at 8:00 and expect them to get their children (under the age of five) there by that time. It would be unkind to plan a service to significantly overlap the normal meal times, especially since most of our families have young children — and of course, if there are any people with diabetes, that would need to be considered. It would also be unkind to finish close to normal meal time unless we are providing for the needs of those who travel. And we are certainly commanded to be kind. We should not plan for a time and place which is likely to result in services which are not “decent and in order.” We should not plan services in the middle of the night which might disturb our neighbours when we arrive or leave, for we are to love our neighbours. So I do not believe Scripture is entirely silent.

      But within those and any other Scriptural principles that may apply, there is freedom. 10:30 vs 10:45 is not something the Scripture speaks to, nor is there any basis to say that one time is more Spirit-led than the other.

      As to John Chalmers, there are no clear references to Christ’s death and resurrection. He quotes Joan Bakewell referring to Good Friday and Easter. That is the closest he gets. A lot of the people in the society in which we live don’t even know what Christians (many of them) remember on those days.

      You are going to have to choose — is he writing for the unchurched, or for the church? If for the unchurched, part of your argument makes sense, but to them he said nothing about Christ’s Person or Work. Nothing.

      And if for the churched (and it was written for “Life and Work,” and it IS telling people in the C of S how he wants them to behave), then if the church is functioning as a church, it should be saying, “Where’s the Scripture that tells me to do anything at all like what you are saying?” Or, as that old hamburger campaign said, “Where’s the beef?” All Chalmers offered was tofu, which is fine in its place, but not if you wanted a quarter-pounder.

      But maybe you can help me out. Is there any Scriptural reason that I should implement Chalmers’ ideas? Are the Scriptural objections I raised unfounded? Though I do believe there is freedom on many things (things which theologians have sometimes called “incidentals” such as the time of meeting), I do not believe there is freedom on the things Chalmers said. So if you think he is right, please help me out with some Scriptural principles here, since he hasn’t done so. Perhaps a monk can show the Moderator how to use Scripture. 🙂

    3. MM, it appears to my eye that “Holy Spirit” is a euphemism for “one’s conscience”.
      How do you recognize the difference? How would I know if you can recognize the difference?
      Clearly, many honest, well-meaning people have come to vastly different conclusions based on input from the “holy spirit”.

  12. Dear Jon and Brent

    Thank you for your replies to my posting. It is clear you are coming from very different perspectives, and it would be very difficult to continue two conversations in an online forum like this.

    However, I would like to explain a bit about my view of the Holy Spirit leading in a way that partly addresses some of both your points.

    My view is one that is formed from both a Bible passage on the teaching of Jesus and also a personal experience of it in my own life.

    The passage is John 14. The whole passage is relevant, but a key passage is here:

    “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

    I personally believe that when someone becomes a Christian and invites Christ into their lives, the Holy Spirit comes and resides within them. So, to answer Jon’s question about choosing a start time for a worship service (or any other of life’s challenges), I believe that when we pray and ask for guidance, we can find wisdom and leading in conversation, prayer, Bible study and so forth. For example, there was a time when I was unsure whether or not to give some money to a Christian cause, when I was a poor student. I prayed and studied my Bible and found guidance about the love of money and the blessing of giving to others in need. The sense of peace I got within me gave me confirmation that it was the right thing to do.

    However, despite Brent’s mission to have such things eradicated from humanity, I would have to say I agree that it is not enough to say “I felt the Holy Spirit leading” and just go and do it. The Bible teaches us that we are a body of Christ and I believe we have accountability within that body. We also need to test out our sense of calling – it needs to be consistent with the teachings of Jesus, and we often need the wisdom and discernment of other Christians also. It is so easy as a Christian to make a mistake or to abuse power by saying something like “God told me…”

    I have friends who are very charismatic/pentecostal and would walk round a supermarket asking God what things to buy that day. I don’t take things that far (but respect that they do). However, I do pray about things such as what time to start a service, how to plan and structure my time, what to do with my finances, how I should eat/exercise/live etc. I believe God is interested in the small details (such as whether we start a service at 10.45am or 11.00am) and also the bigger issues of the world. I also think God is not just interested in what we decide, but where our hearts are during that decision making process. Who are we trying to please and serve in making these decisions, for example?

    I have no doubt in an attempt to deal with two highly diverse replies, failed to satisfactorily address either poster, but hope this gives some insight and perhaps reassurance into my way of living out my faith as a Christian.

    God bless

    1. Hello, MM. I certainly believe that if God cares whether we start at 10:45 or 11:00, there will be a Scriptural principle that applies, and the Holy Spirit will bring that to mind. I certainly believe in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The passage you cited tells us the Holy Spirit will come and help us to obey the Lord’s commandments. It doesn’t say anything about having some kind of feeling about things which God hasn’t commanded, and that those things are then the Spirit guiding us. It’s not in those verses.

      I don’t believe that “having peace” is a reliable guide to anything. I don’t see anywhere in the Scripture that tells us to check our peace-meters to determine what to do. Not that I agree with Brent on much of anything, but he is right that many honest, well-meaning people have come to vastly different conclusions based on “input from the Holy Spirit.” Maybe it is because they are wrongly assuming that their feelings are the Holy Spirit? Can you cite any Scripture for this “sense of peace” as a means of the Spirit guiding us, or is it entirely a human construction? Obviously, not your construction, a lot of people have used it, but from where does it come?

      And I wonder why you think God cares about a 15 minute start time for a worship service and doesn’t care which things you buy at the supermarket on a particular day. What’s the Biblical basis for drawing a distinction between the areas where God leads / directs and the areas (like the supermarket) where He gives freedom?

      We’re far off-topic, I’m afraid. Perhaps if Mr Robertson wants us to take this part of the discussion elsewhere, he’ll tell us so. 🙂

    2. “I have friends who are very charismatic/pentecostal and would walk round a supermarket asking God what things to buy that day. I don’t take things that far (but respect that they do).”

      Why don’t you take it that far? If you believe God exists and communicates, why wouldn’t he do that? Perhaps you are lukewarm in God’s eyes?

      I submit you have a smaller r precuneus than they do, which is why you don’t take it to such extremes – but if it’s simply a matter of brain type, what value is Faith?

    3. MM said, “However, despite Brent’s mission to have such things eradicated from humanity, I would have to say I agree that it is not enough to say “I felt the Holy Spirit leading” and just go and do it. The Bible teaches us that we are a body of Christ and I believe we have accountability within that body. We also need to test out our sense of calling – it needs to be consistent with the teachings of Jesus, and we often need the wisdom and discernment of other Christians also. It is so easy as a Christian to make a mistake or to abuse power by saying something like “God told me…””

      This is just it. Wouldn’t wisdom and discernment be enough when judging an action?

      If the Holy Spirit is unreliable (it’s not enough to say “God told me”), and it’s proven to be unreliable (the Church has no standard) then how is this helping?

      How do you judge whether people are really using the HS to distinguish between one action or another?

      To me it sounds like two psychics claiming the other one doesn’t have the complete picture – that one is better than the other, but they don’t have any way of officiating!

      You say “We need to” (the “we” of the Church), but does that mean only people who REALLY have the HS speaking to them should be allowed to make Church rules? What about people who have a little HS voice? How do you judge whose HS communication is best? By wisdom and discernment? Isn’t that what we can use anyhow?

      I don’t see what this Holy Spirit thing is or does. It seems to be another word for “Conscience”.

  13. These are fascinating questions Brent. You talk of wisdom and discernment and the sufficiency of them and of conscience.

    Do you have the presupposition that the Holy Spirit is unreliable?

    Of course the Church is unreliable. The Church as a human institution or movement is not without flaws. No real security can be found in any human movement. Can you think of any that is without flaws? No.

    Therefore when someone says “I feel the Holy Spirit is leading me to…” or “God told me to…” they may be indulging their own desires so of course it requires discerning and wisdom to determine what is accurate in these instances and in others where God / the Holy Spirit is not mentioned too.

    So then when engaging with wisdom and discernment, and acknowledging the imperfection of human nature, what is to determine whether this is in error too?

    Unless there is something central that is without flaw then no amount of acting in conscience with “wisdom and discernment” is any better than someson saying “God told me to…” or “I feel the Holy Spirit is leadning me to…”.

    Which then leads to you comment about the Holy Spirit. Does he exist and is he without flaw and reliable or a figment of the imagination and unreliable?

    1. Adam, first, thank you for engaging in this conversation with me. I realize everyone has the option to ignore debating their cherished beliefs, so when someone does engage, I’m always appreciative.

      You ask, “Does he (Holy Spirit) exist and is he without flaw and reliable or a figment of the imagination and unreliable?”

      I would say, “I don’t believe the HS exists and believe the HS to be a figment of the imagination, but maybe I don’t understand what you are proposing when you say “Holy Spirit”. Surely, if I don’t understand, it doesn’t make you right or wrong (about its existence). Likewise, if I do understand what you mean when you say “holy spirit”, it doesn’t mean it exists or not. Correct?

      That is, if I say to you, “Do you presuppose your Chi is un/reliable?” you ought to ask me to define it properly, then you would have me establish it actually existed in order for us to determine if it is un/reliable.

      So, the claim that a HS exists firsts needs to be established before we ask if it has a certain quality (un/reliability).

      Then, you would have to assess when the HS is acting versus people CLAIMING the HS is acting. That is, once you have shown the HS exists, then you have to show the HS actually acts, when and where.
      This is critical. I’m not sure how one would do this, but one (bad) option is assess how many HS claims there are and then establish how many actual cases the HS actually acted. If the claims are 100, but it’s only proven the HS acts in 1% of them, then we can’t know if the HS is un/reliable, but we know that any CLAIM is unreliable.

      But, of course, the reason this is a bad way of assessing the HS’s reliability is because we still wouldn’t know if the HS attempted to act reliably in the other cases.

      If ALL claims of the HS acting are known to be true, how do we know the HS intended what action was performed via the HS?

      I was going to continue, but I’ve run into a problem – I have to ask you: How do you know if the HS can be reliable? How do we know when the HS acts and that the person did what the HS intended?

      For example, the HS (or Yahweh) commanded Saul to kill men, women and children and the livestock. What if the HS only told him to kill the livestock?

      How do we assess the reliability of the HS?

      Assuming it exists in the first place?

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