“What do you do that an atheist can’t do?” This was the beginning of a conversation I had with God a few years ago. Did you ever notice that whenever God asks you a question, He’s not looking for information? Actually, it’s usually the beginning of revelation…for me. And I was about to get a big one.
Now, I didn’t perceive any rebuke or condemning tone in the voice. More that of a gentle loving father. But as the leader of a local church, He had my attention. At this point in the conversation, I was sure there was plenty that I could do that an atheist couldn’t do. Of course, I was about to have my world turned upside down.
Here’s essentially how this conversation went…
“What do you do that an atheist can’t do?” I heard from God.
“I can preach…” I countered…
“Atheists can motivate people with inspiring words too,” came the return.
“I can teach the Bible”
“So could they if they studied it and were trained to do so…”
“We have very moving times of worship during our services…”
“There are talented atheist musicians and songwriters that can move people’s hearts, even to tears, too”
“I can give good counsel…”
“So can their psychologists and counselors…”
“I can give people principles for a better life”
“So can they…”
“We have stronger families and marriages…”
Then I remembered a Barna group statistic I saw where it found that atheists have a better track record in successful marriages than Christians…that was depressing.
At this point, I was getting the basic idea of what God was driving at…
“Okay, I give up. I guess there wasn’t much that I could do, or that we do in our church services, that atheists can’t do.”
The only sure thing I knew I had over the atheist was that I believed I was going to heaven when I died. They don’t….but they don’t care about that either.
Now I was ready for revelation…
And the revelation was two-fold: First, there are many things that Christians can do that atheists can’t do, but all of them require faith and/or a demonstration of the supernatural power of the Spirit.
The second revelation was personal and hard to take. I was an unbelieving believer.
I was stunned.
Here I was, a so-called “Bible-believing” Christian for about 25 years at this time. And I was no cessationist. I was a Spirit-filled Charismatic pastor, fully convinced that the gifts of the Spirit and everything in the Bible is for today, even having had many personal encounters with God. Now suddenly realizing that I have bought into a brand of Christianity that isn’t much different that being a good atheist.
Oh yes, I agreed that all of the word of God was inspired and 100% truth…I just didn’t believe it. You see, you only believe what you practice. And I didn’t practice most of what it said I should be doing…apparently, other than things that atheists could do in their own power.
Very little in my activities, or the activities of my church, resembled anything we see Jesus doing, or in the book of Acts, nor did it have near the same world-changing effect on my culture that they had. Our so-called “Spirit-filled” services were still very predictable and at a very human level. Oh, we had great worship, occasional prophesy, tongues, the usual Charismatic fare…. Nonetheless, we had essentially the same relational squabbles and problems that unbelievers in the world have. We faced the circumstances and issues of our every day life just like unbelievers did…on a human level. We had the same limitations and powerlessness as they in just about everything. And we thought that was normal! I hadn’t seen that Paul actually rebuked the Corinthians for acting like mere human beings (1 Cor.3:3).
I was believing in Jesus, but I wasn’t believing like Jesus. Jesus’ life and ministry was not my standard for Christian living and ministry. My culture and what other churches are doing was my standard. As Jonathan Welton points out in his book, “Normal Christianity,” I was an “average” Christian instead of a “normal” Christian (see link below).
What I finally saw was that what we do and value in our version of Christianity was not what Jesus and the New Testament writers did and valued. They went around doing good by healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead. We trust medicine, psychology, and have funerals for those things (and I’m not against any of these things). We value knowledge, seminary degrees, charismatic personalities, eloquent preaching, good programs, and scholarly teaching. Again, none of that’s bad, in and of itself, but we fail to see that Paul trusted in and valued something else. And he actually rejected his religious scholarship in favor of real experiential knowledge of Christ and walking in Holy Spirit revelation (Phil.3:4-8) .
Paul wanted his worldly Spirit-filled Corinthians to trust in something totally other-worldly too. Look at what he said to them…
“And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (2 Cor.2:4-5)
Do you see that? Paul wanted them to actually put their faith in the supernatural power of God more than just clever preaching! We do the opposite. We value and trust persuasive words and are fearful and suspicious of supernatural power. We’re no show and all tell. We want to argue people into the kingdom rather than demonstrate it.
You see, Jesus seemed to think that believers would lay hands on sick and they recover (Mk.16:17-18). Apparently, unbelieving believers don’t. I used to say that’s for special people with a healing gift. And my prayers were begging God to do something He told me to do. I said “amen” to the theory of “Christ in me” (Col.1:27), seated in heavenly places (Eph.2:6), but I acted like He was “out there” somewhere. I lived like an orphan, waiting for Papa to come home. Like the elder brother, waiting for things He said I already had (Lk.15:31). And I certainly didn’t believe that I could raise the dead! (Mt.10:7,8). But Jesus seemed to think I should do all of these things in the normal course of ministry, and even greater things (Jn.14:12). You see, I said God’s Word was true, but I didn’t really believe it with my actions. My faith was humanistic, based on what I could understand with my intellect and do naturally, and the Kingdom of God coming to earth was something that only happened when Jesus returned. My small and powerless Christian world was being rocked at its very foundation.
And this is the version of Christianity I saw all around me. And this facsimile we call faith is taught to us everyday, even in popular Christian music.
To give you an example of what I mean, while I love Jeremy Camp’s music, I realized that his popular song, “Walk by Faith” was actually teaching something else. For the chorus states, “I will walk by faith, even when I cannot see…” But isn’t faith, by definition, always when we cannot see? (2 Cor.5:7). I mean, when we can see it, it no longer requires faith, right? Do you see what I mean? We have adopted this absurd view of faith that isn’t actually faith, but we think it is.
But again, I saw that my “faith” was more influenced by my culture and popular teachers of doctrine than by what God actually says in His Word. I realized I had changed what He said about me and how I was supposed to live into something compatible to my cultural surroundings. And it’s cultural because we don’t really believe in miracles, signs, and wonders as a matter of course in our naturalistic Western churches, even though these are happening with regularity through very common people in other parts of the world.
The problem with cultural influence is, if you say something long enough, and it sounds biblical, it becomes orthodoxy. And as Sam Soleyn points out, “Cultural longevity legitimatizes absurdity.” And we have inherited almost 500 years of humanistic, enlightenment Christianity that teaches us a lot of good things but denies the miraculous and supernatural (unless to say it’s the devil doing it), which makes our Churchianity look more like Greek philosophy than Kingdom reality. Of course, we can just dismiss and demonize people who dare to believe what the Bible calls “normal” as hyper and extreme, a false gospel. I laugh at the utter irony of it all when I think about it now.
So this paradigm-changing revelation of my unbelief was the beginning of a journey for me. And I certainly haven’t arrived yet, but I know I’ve left the shore! Since this encounter, I have been contending for a life of faith, taking God at His Word, learning from the best who walk in this supernatural Kingdom reality, and learning to do what I see my Father do (Jn.5:19; 20:21). I have seen hundreds of people healed, many on death’s door, many of incurable diseases. I have seen financial miracles in my own life and in the life of others, and hopeless marriages restored. I have seen people miraculously set free from all kinds of demonic strongholds, and best of all, I have had many love encounters with my heavenly Father as I learn to rest in His embrace.
Now, we have also not seen miracles when we thought we should. I have had people literally die in my hands as I was praying for their recovery. But many are living now that wouldn’t be because we risked taking God at His word. I still see too much sadness and not enough joy and victory. But I’m never going back to my old powerless “unbelieving” orphan Churchianity again. It’s too late for that. I’m determined for Jesus to get His full reward in and through me. I will live in the tension of believing what I cannot see more than what I can see. To get out of the boat of my comfort zone and learn how to walk on the water with Jesus until my experience matches my understanding.
Beloved, this world we’ve been called to is too broken, too crippled, too sick, too hopeless, and too bound by Satan’s lies and bondages to just sit back and let him destroy the very ones Jesus paid a terrible price so they could be free. It really matters what we believe.
I think it appropriate to end with a line from Jonathan David Helser’s song, “Earth Like Heaven” that I believe is what’s happening to me, and what I see happening all over the body of Christ in this hour…”She’s not dead, she’s just sleeping…and she’s waking up.”
- “Are you an “average” Christian or a “normal” Christian?” (melwild.wordpress.com)
- “The Changing Face of Christianity” (marklhen.wordpress.com)