When Bill Wiese released his book that recollected a vision he claimed to have had of hell, a wild fire of criticism from the Christian community erupted.
When the film, “Heaven is For Real” hit theaters last Easter it was met with much the same reaction.
These are only two recent examples of what has been a long standing tradition of the Church to be critical of supernatural experiences.
We could go back further naming some of the early charismatic leaders such as Kenneth E. Hagin, John G. Lake, or Smith Wigglesworth, who claimed to have witnessed many miracles and the onslaught of criticism they were met with.
When asked the reason for such critical attitudes, Christians will usually respond with something along the lines of, “well, the experiences were unbiblical. What these people claim to have witnessed can’t be found in the Bible.”
One person I talked to concerning Bill Wiese’s story said they doubted it because, though much of his description did seem to match the biblical hell, Mr. Wiese claimed to have seen demons torturing humans. And since the Bible does not say anything about this (at least we think it doesn’t), the experience was highly suspect.
Others said, “nowhere in the Bible does it say God would show people visions of hell.” And this, they felt, justified them rejecting the claim.
When someone purports to have been supernaturally healed by prayer, there is a large portion of the Body of Christ that comes forward demanding documented, medical proof. When proof is not forthcoming, they declare the whole thing to be a sham.
Two Noteworthy Observations
Having spent the greater part of my Christian life witnessing the Church do this time and again, I have made two observations:
Firstly, the logic surrounding the rejection of these accounts seems, for lack of a better word, a bit odd.
For example, we start by saying the experience is unbiblical. When probed for why, the answer is, “The Bible does not ever record anyone getting sick, being taken to heaven, then coming back to tell about it.”
. . . Well, it doesn’t.
So I guess, the rule here is that the experience has to be in the Bible? I mean, it’s not enough that it says in the last days people would have dreams and visions. It has to be a specific kind of vision?
. . . Alllllllllright.
So what do we do with the other testimonies that are not found in the Bible? . . . You know, the every day kind like the bum who stumbles into a church service and finds Jesus. Shouldn’t we scrutinize that story just as much, demanding evidence that it went down the way he says it did?
Or how about the person who tells us God completely delivered them from drug abuse? I don’t know of any Scripture that says God did that for someone.
I know people who say they got saved when they raised their hand in a church service and said a prayer. There is no Scripture that records this practice.
Where is the outcry from the Christian community over these kinds of testimonies? Why are we not demanding proof or additional evidence to support the claims being made? If it isn’t enough that the Bible mentions signs, wonders, and visions, in order for us to accept those other accounts, then should it be enough for the Bible to mention people being saved, for us to accept these?
. . . A little weird, right?
The other phenomena I’ve observed over the years is that no matter what the claim is, even if it sounds like it came right out of the Gospels or Book of Acts, the majority of the Body of Christ still seem to reject it. If it isn’t rejected, every aspect of it is meticulously critiqued, rigorously questioned and at best labeled, “suspicious.” In addition, whoever makes the claim is subject to a thorough (and often unfair) investigation into their character, what kind of doctrines they believe, and if there is any sin in their life.
Because, . . . You know, . . . God only does supernatural things for good Christians with the right denominational beliefs . . . Like those folks in Corinth who were getting drunk at communion and boasting about the incest among them . . . wait . . . I meant Galatia where they were falling for a different gospel . . . or, uh . . . Peter who had to be rebuked by Paul—hold on, hold on . . .
. . . eh, I got nothing.
Say It Ain’t So . . .
I’ve thought long and hard on this and when considering all the factors, there really is no explanation for the bizarre and seemingly contradicting behavior among Christians.
None of it makes sense.
Until we introduce the unthinkable.
Is it possible that even though we claim to believe in the supernatural, deep down, we kind of, sort of, in all actuality, don’t?
People may object insisting they believe in the creation account, Jesus as the Son of God, the hope of heaven, and everything else in the Bible.
All of these have one thing in common–none are tangible in the here and now. You know as well as I do that when it comes to things past, future, or unseen, they’re just easier to believe. Or at least easier to convince ourselves that we believe.
Intangible things don’t quite put the same stretch on our natural reasoning that an extraordinary, observable claim does. When someone says, “Aren’t you glad you’re going to heaven when you die?” We can say, “Amen!” without skipping a beat. But if the same person says, “I just raised my grandma from the dead” All of a sudden things change, don’t they?
We go from church cliche’s to . . . .
And so while no one seems to want to admit it, this is where I have found we have drawn the unspoken line.
If the extraordinary is to be believed among the majority of Christians today, it must fall under one of these categories:
a. Something that happened in the distant past
b. Something that will happen at an unknown date in the future
c. Something that is spiritual in nature, thus abstract and cannot be quantified.
In other words, if it can’t effect us in any measurable way, Christians are more prone to be accepting of it. If, on the other hand, it has sensational overtones and wreaks of something out of the Book of Acts, it’s suspicious.
Over the years I have quietly kept this criteria in mind and observed that I can actually make predictions with it as to whether an idea will be accepted or rejected by a majority of Christians.
This is by no means an open and shut case. In science, a phenomena is referred to as a theory if you can use it to make predictions. So that’s what I would call this—a theory for consideration.
It isn’t meant to condemn anyone. Lets not forget all of Jesus’ disciples were unwilling to believe He had been raised when they first heard it. It’s natural to be skeptical of things and I am not at all suggesting we should be gullible. That being said, I think we need to be willing to consider the possibility that we have, in some areas, allowed unbelief to creep in and become a driving force in our Christian lives.
Lets not forget, everything in Christianity from start to finish is amazing.
It’s freaking extraordinary!
All I’m saying is maybe it’s time we start expecting a little something extra in our ordinary.