November 23, 2009
I feel the need to clarify a few things. In general — but in this post especially — when I say belief, I refer specifically to the belief that God exists as described in the Bible. When I say believer or saint, I refer specifically to those who have believed and known God, and henceforth accepted the provision of the Gospel: Jesus Christ. Unless in the pre-stated context of Roman Catholicism, when I say the church, I refer to the body of believers and saints spread across the world.
The biblical definition of a believer is one whose spirit has been regenerated by God. Does this mean that any person who utters with their mouth "I believe" is regenerated thusly? Certainly not. Although the church is the body of believers, not every person who attends church believes. In fact, the Bible grimly suggests the opposite, and such is borne out by the testimonies of former Christians everywhere. The difference between being a member of the church and simply attending church is precisely this matter of regeneration. Again, belief refers to something that actually happens to the subject in the spiritual realm. Anything less than this is a mere puffing up of the religious mind.
I prefer these words to the generic Christian or Christianity because they tend to provoke less emotional activity and confusion. I further believe that denominations are error, and please take caution not to interpret that statement as an expression of smugness: I'm not saying that all denominations are false and that I myself am privy to some special revelation besides that which God is freely willing to give to whomever He pleases. Rather, I mean that the existence of denominations is itself an error of division within the body of believers. In the interest of promoting unity, I will tend not to categorize believers as Baptists or Calvinists or Methodists or what have you.
That being said, I would like to make it clear that belief cannot be effected by reason, intellect or religion. The reason simply stated is that only God can regenerate a dead spirit. Only God can enable our belief (John 6:65). We will expound on these points in much greater detail in weeks to come, as they tie directly to the tripartite model of consciousness we'll discuss later this week.
In my short life, I've spent a decent amount of time engaged in various arguments for God and/or things supernatural. Inevitably in our discussions of (a)theism, the matters of evidence or proof arise. Atheists and skeptics want to know how to test for God's existence before they're willing to believe that God or any related claims are true. Such people state that without evidence, they refuse to believe in God or their own spirit — but if the premises are true — neither God nor their spirit needs their permission to exist.
Here's the catch: belief is purported to be a spiritual phenomenon that flows from God to the believer. This means that no amount of anything we initiate can effect belief. Because it is their nature to "permit" their beliefs with evidence beforehand — which is an exercise of one's own intellect and reason — atheists and skeptics naturally assume belief is also best apprehended via one's own intellect and reason. Woe to us believers who also mistakenly believe thusly!
Speaking on these distinctions, Watchman Nee explains,
God does not explain Himself via man's reasoning; never does man come to know God through rationalization. No matter how clever man's mind is nor how much it understands about God, his knowledge of God remains veiled. All he can do is rationalize what is behind the veil, because he has not penetrated the reality hidden from view. Since he has not yet "seen," man can "understand," but he can never "know." If there is no revelation, personal revelation, Christianity is worth nothing. Everyone who believes in God must have His revelation in his spirit, or else what he believes is not God but mere human wisdom, ideals or words. Such a faith cannot endure the test.
–Watchman Nee, The Spiritual Man V.II
To think of it in Boolean terms, let A represent all the intellect and reason a person can summon, and let B represent God's regeneration of that person's spirit. The Bible tells us in plain language that A cannot effect B. Literally — if these premises are true — then nothing a person can initiate can ever restore themselves or another to a right relationship with God. No amount of science or evidence or philosophy or argumentation can suffice, and every fruitless intellectual discussion with an atheist belabors this point. In the same vein, every religion is revealed to be mere vainglory: no amount of dogma or sacraments or confessions or services can regenerate a spirit that is dead unto God.
Nee continues along these lines,
People shall never enter the kingdom of God through our encouragement, persuasion, argument, inducement, excitement, or attraction; entrance can be gained only by new birth, by nothing less than the resurrection of the spirit.
We might be tempted to say, "That's not so, after all, I came to believe because of such-and-such evidence or so-and-so's argument." If that's the case, our spirits may not have ever been regenerated at all. If you fancy yourself a believer, do you feel an emptiness despite that fact? Religiosity and biblical knowledge mean nothing; they become but mere Christian drapery without their proper spiritual foundation.
Many atheists and skeptics claim they will believe in God if they can just see the evidence. Yet, in so doing, they draft the entire contract on their own terms by beginning with the assumption that the epistemological device they're most comfortable with is the right one for this particular job. And this with no less than their own Creator! Do children set terms for their parents? I cannot but express the very hopelessness and foolishness of that assumption: hopeless, because only God can enable belief, and that by nothing less than a spiritual act; foolish, because Satan and his minions are often more than willing to jump through hoops in order to gain converts. This is why Jesus often rebuked those who demanded miraculous signs: they're a cheap form of flattery easily employable by any supernatural agent who's gained a foothold. We must rely on faith to interpret all supernatural experiences. As such, those who hanker thusly put themselves at risk of being deceived. They may end up believing in the supernatural — but this does not make them believers or saints — hence belief in the supernatural remains as useless as anything else that's not God's regeneration.
Again, belief cannot be effected by our reason, intellect, science, religion, evidence or rational abilities. Then, does this make belief ultimately an irrational matter of whim? Does this mean that these things are mutually exclusive with belief? Most certainly not, and we will expound on this later. The point for now is that our powers of reason and intellect are the faculties we use to understand and explain belief, not to effect it. If it is true that belief cannot be effected by our reason, intellect, science, religion, evidence or rational abilities, the onus is on the skeptic to either humbly ask God to help them accept this limitation, or risk perishing in their stubbornness.